Renting issues? How advocacy can help those most at risk of homelessness

By Pamela Hunter, Community Services Manager 

The great Aussie dream has always been to own your own home. But for many Australians, that dream is fast slipping away, with high prices and stagnant wage growth being two major factors in a decrease in those owning their own home. For the more vulnerable in our community, it can be even more challenging, as the number of Australians renting increases year on year.

There are a number of cohorts within our society that face difficulty in finding the right place to live. It’s a national crisis: We are facing a generation of Australians who may never own their own home and will rent for their entire lifetime. For those renting, even when they have found something suitable, many factors can make keeping that property difficult. Where do you go to find support and understand your rights?

This is where tenant advocacy can help.

Support is available

Fortunately, there are a number of programs available, all designed to help tenants know their rights and responsibilities, and to provide support throughout the process. VERTO proudly offers one of these services.

The Tenants’ Advice and Advocacy Services (TAAS) provides free advice and advocacy support to residential tenants to uphold their legislative rights, and to understand their responsibilities under that legislation. This ensures that tenants have access to the same type of specialised advice and advocacy that landlords can access through real estate agents. TAAS focuses on the most vulnerable tenants and covers a range of support services.

Early intervention by TAAS prevents homelessness, including homelessness as a result of domestic and family violence. As a result of advice and advocacy by specially trained TAAS consultants, homelessness is avoided in 82 per cent of cases where tenants are at risk of termination.

This program can be accessed throughout South Western New South Wales via VERTO, at no charge to our clients.

The benefits can be enormous

For me, the benefits of this are two-fold. Firstly, the legislation around tenancy can be quite complex, meaning that it is not immediately apparent to the layperson what their rights are. It can feel in these situations that they have little or no rights, and all the power sits with the real estate agency and/or landlord, but this is simply not the case. There are protections available to tenants, and these services can help to clearly define what they are.

Often these situations can be quite confronting; for example, a tenant may be unfairly removed from a property or urgent repair requests ignored, putting a tenant in a very uncomfortable position where they may feel helpless. In these circumstances, it can often end up at a tribunal hearing, which has all the same hallmarks as a court and can rattle even the most confident person. Our consultants are trained to help people in this position, both to understand the legislation and to support them through the tribunal process, including attending tribunal hearings.

Secondly, the impact on homelessness cannot be underestimated. It’s a fact that as housing prices rise, more and more Australians are renting. Around 30 per cent of the population rents today, and that’s projected to rise dramatically. There are plenty of individuals and families that are vulnerable to becoming homeless, and these programs go a long way to stop that from happening.

The knock-on effect on the community can be huge, and is often underestimated. The impact of homelessness on everything from health care (mental, as well as physical), charities/not for profits, prison systems, government spending…the list goes on. Homelessness stretches our already thin resources in this space, and preventing it is extremely important.

Results show it works

At VERTO, we have seen some fantastic results and this is what motivates our team every day to help those in our community who need it the most.

In the 2018/19 financial year, VERTO took on over 3000 clients for tenancy support in New South Wales alone, amassing over 7000 hours of support for those who are vulnerable in the community. That support ranged from legislation advice to supporting clients facing difficult circumstances, such as domestic violence. To see these people (including their young children) remain in their homes after facing a range of difficulties, is the best part of our role.

The challenge of homelessness is not going to be solved by one cure-all solution. If we continue to support programs for tenants, we can, however, continue helping those who often feel they have no help at all.