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When Warren and Jessica needed assistance with a tenancy issue, they got in touch with the Mid Coast Tenants' Advice and Advocacy Service.

Lila talks about the help she received from Central Coast Tenants' Advice and Advocacy Service.

Tenants' Money - Tenants' Services

Tenants' bonds generate a lot of money for the NSW State Government. More of that money should be used for the benefit of tenants, through improved funding for Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services (TAASs).

Tenants' bond money

Over $1 billion of tenants' money is lodged as bonds at the NSW Rental Bond Board. This money generates tens of millions of dollars in interest each year: about $60 million in 2012-13. The NSW State Government decides how this money is spent.

Most of the money — about two-thirds of the total — is paid to NSW State Government agencies, primarily the NSW Department of Finance and Services, and the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

A small portion is used to fund the TAASs. Other smaller amounts go to other community services (such as financial counselling services, and the No-Interest Loans Scheme) and affordable housing programs.

A tiny amount is paid as interest to individual tenants when they claim their bonds at the end of their tenancies.

After these payments, the Rental Bond Interest Account retains a surplus. Accumulated surpluses now amount to about $60 million.

What TAASs do

TAASs are community organisations that work for tenants. Across New South Wales there are 15 local TAASs, and four local Aboriginal TAASs, that provide:

  • phone advice (more than 22 000 cases in 2013-14);
  • advocate on behalf of tenants in resolving problems with their landlords or agents (more than 4 600 cases);
  • represent tenants in Tribunal proceedings (more than 2 000 cases); and
  • conduct community education about tenancy rights and responsibilities.

There are also two resource TAASs, the Tenants' Union of NSW and Dtarawarra (Aboriginal Resource Unit), that provide the local TAASs with legal backup, training and other support, and provide tenants with:

  • factsheets and sample letters (almost 600 000 downloaded in 2013-14); and
  • a voice in tenancy policy and law reform.

TAAS funding — falling behind demand

Half the funding for TAASs comes from the Rental Bond Interest Account. (The other half comes from interest paid on agents, statutory trust accounts – which includes tenants' money too.)

Total funding to TAASs has not increased in real terms for over 12 years. However, the number of tenants has grown by 25 per cent over that time. This has left TAASs stretched thin. Increasingly, tenants are missing out on the services they need and deserve.

What do we want?

We're calling for funding to TAASs to be increased now by $5.2 million per annum — and going forward, funding for TAAS should grow in line with the number of tenants in New South Wales.

The increase would:

  • Restore the real value of funding to TAASs (based on 2002 levels) ($2.5 million.)
  • Provide properly for TAAS duty advocates at the Tribunal. This is a highly valued service for tenants most in need of assistance, and TAASs have been doing more of it — but at the expense of phone advice. ($1.6 million.)
  • Provide properly for the Aboriginal TAAS, including an additional Aboriginal TAAS serving southwest New South Wales. Currently, tenants there are serviced by the Aboriginal TAAS based in Batemans Bay, which struggles to cover such a large catchment. They need a local service. ($900 000.)
  • Restore the value of funding for the TU's projects in relation to older tenants and residential parks. Funding for these areas of work was reduced at the last funding round, despite their growing importance. ($200 000.)

And tenants individually should get more of their bond interest. The interest rate should be tied to the Commonwealth Bank's Everyday Account rate for a deposit of $100 000 (currently 0.2 per cent per annum) rather than $1 000 (0.01 per cent – the lowest rate offered). This would return $2.9 million per annum to tenants individually (instead of $132 000 currently).

These proposals are affordable. After paying its share of the funding increase to TAASs, and increased interest payments to tenants individually, the Rental Bonds Interest Account would ordinarily still be in surplus.