22 Jul 2016

MSD can't recall warning over garages

8:08 am on 22 July 2016

The Ministry of Social Development is denying it knew 18 months ago about a property manager renting out garages to beneficiary families, saying the manager cannot recall the conversation.

People living in a garage in a South Auckland suburb

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Senior South Auckland social worker Reremoana Darlington said yesterday the ministry had ignored her pleas to stop sending beneficiaries to Debbie Iskandar, who was letting out garages and single rooms to entire families in Manurewa.

Ms Darlington is a senior social worker with Whānau O Tumanako in Manurewa - which is contracted by the Ministry of Social Development to work with at-risk whānau.

A family placed by Ms Iskander also said Work and Income "shipped people off" to her, and she would charge them "top dollar" for single rooms.

Yesterday, the ministry said Work and Income did not vet accommodation and it was up to individuals to make their own decisions before signing a tenancy agreement.

But Ministry of Social Development national commissioner Penny Rounthwaite told Morning Report the manager Ms Darlington said she talked to could not recall the conversation.

"Six months ago the manager advised staff to stop using this landlord, we're not aware of the conversation from the social worker that referenced 18 months ago.

"We'd spoken to the manager that was a Manurewa at that time, she doesn't recall that conversation, but certainly we had some concerns some time ago."

"I'm quite honest about this ... the manager recalls having a very good relationship with that social worker she just does not recall that phone call.

She said things definitely should have been looked at faster and the ministry would do what it could to speed that process up.

"Certainly what we could've done faster and what we certainly will do in future is if we have concerns raised with us about accommodation then we'll get that up to authorities that have got regulatory responsibility."

She said it was not just Ms Iskander - there were many other landlords involved, and it was not MSD's job to vet private rentals but to ensure people had the money to be able to pay for it.

"As your social worker has advised there, there weren't a lot of options for accommodation around in that area, so this was one of the options that was being provided until our manager took this step to advise staff not to continue to provide information on this landlord."

She said the landlords were not registered with the ministry and were a private landlord who was given "a direct deduction basically on behalf of the tenant for bond, for rent in advance and for some tenants they ask for their rent to be paid directly to the landlord".

"We're certainly helping people to find out what is available in their local area, I mean we work with over 8000 people every day come and see us, and we see about 2000 people every week who need some sort of one-off help with accommodation.

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