Legal Aid Slams NFP Housing Groups
10 February 2015 at 10:05 am
Victoria Legal Aid claims Not for Profit community housing groups are not being held to the same standards as the Government, despite offering a publicly funded service.
The claim comes as an elderly pensioner is facing homelessness in a case which Victoria Legal Aid says raises questions about the responsibilities of publicly funded housing groups.
Victoria Legal Aid says it has taken action in the Supreme Court “to protect the rights of 68-year-old Andrew Forbath who was threatened with eviction without being given a reason or a right of reply”.
“The action to prevent Forbath’s eviction has implications for more than 19,000 people who are living in public housing provided by community organisations,” Legal Aid’s Social Inclusion Manager Joel Townsend said.
“It also has the potential to impact on the rights of other Victorians receiving Government-funded services provided by community organisations.”
He said Victorian Governments frequently outsource housing for vulnerable people to community organisations.
“Victoria Legal Aid’s concern was that community housing groups were not being held to the same standards as the Government, despite offering a publicly funded service.
“Andrew has been living in a rooming house for eight years and, apart from one disagreement over the pruning of his garden, has had no complaint against him that he’s aware of,” he said. ”Then suddenly he’s given notice by Social Housing Victoria to vacate, without knowing why.
“If Andrew was living in Government housing, a decision to evict would not have been taken without giving him a genuine opportunity to put his case. Consideration would also be given to the consequences of evicting a pensioner who has no family support or alternative accommodation.”
Townsend said it was vital to ensure that the basic human rights of community housing tenants were respected.
“It is vital that community housing tenants, who are among the most vulnerable people in our community, have the same safeguards against arbitrary eviction as people in Government housing,” he said.
“In many cases, the organisations delivering this essential service through the support of the Government are refusing to comply with basic principles of fairness and don’t consider their decisions open to review."
Tenant Andrew Forbath said the most frustrating thing was not knowing why he was being evicted and the fear that it could damage his chance of getting accommodation in the future.
"I’ve always thought of myself as being a good tenant," he said. "The point is now my reputation is being damaged and I’ve always been very careful of that. I don’t think a notice to vacate is really appropriate in a public housing environment because you’re dealing with people with issues and you’ve got a duty of care."
The Supreme Court granted a temporary injunction preventing Social Housing Victoria from taking steps to evict Forbath on Thursday 5 February. It will hear further arguments on 11 February.
There are currently around 63,000 public housing tenants in Victoria and a further 19,000 low-income tenants in community housing managed by Not for Profit organisations. Victorian Legal Aid said about 35,000 people remain on the waiting list for housing.
Social Housing Victoria, a subsidiary of YWCA Victoria, told Pro Bono Australia News that the organisation had followed all the correct procedures under the Residential Tenancy Act.
“Our case was upheld in VCAT, however, Victoria Legal Aid chose to take the case to the Supreme Court,” CEO Jan Berriman said.
“We are an independent housing provider and charity, offering services to low and disadvantaged people, predominantly for women.”
She said her organisation cannot give details of the case, and as a charity it would probably have to withdraw from the Supreme Court hearings because it cannot afford to fight on.