25 Jul 2015

Changes for social housing, sole parents

9:00 pm on 25 July 2015

The Social Housing Minister is warning that state tenants who refuse to accept a house offered to them without good reason might be dropped to the bottom of the waiting list.

Paula Bennett has told delegates at the National Party's annual conference in Auckland that between November 2013 and last October, 4155 offers of a state house were declined.

National MP Paula Bennett during caucas run April 2015.

National Party MP Paula Bennett Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

She said some people had a good reason for refusing a house but many did not.

"Often we are having people that are declining houses without good and sufficient reason, and if that is the case then I don't think they should stay ahead of others on the list. And we should, there should actually be some repercussions for that."

She said if the waiting list was small that might not matter, but at any one time 4,500 are waiting for a house.

At the same time, Social Development Minister Anne Tolley rejected criticism of iniatives in the Budget requiring sole parents to be available to work more.

Under the changes, sole parents will have to be available to work once their youngest child turns three, rather than five at the moment, and work 20 hours not 15.

Mrs Tolley was asked at the conference why the Government was waiting until next April before increasing the benefit for beneficiary families by $25 a week.

She said the Government had considered increasing the payment immediately on Budget night, but decided against it so that people would be able to make submissions to the select committee on the changes to the work obligations for sole parents.

Mrs Tolley did not explain why the Government could not have simply increased the benefit payment now, but still allowed a proper parliamentary process in respect to the other changes.

Changes to the Health and Safety Reform Bill

During break-out sessions, conference delegates also got a briefing on the Government's changes to the Health and Safety Reform Bill.

Unions and Opposition parties said it had watered down the Bill, particularly by removing the requirement for small businesses to have elected health and safety representatives.

National MP Jacqui Dean said the Government's aim was to ensure the regulations were "pragmatic and give certainty to the end user, the customer".

It was clear she meant the businesses which would have to meet the requirements of the legislation, not the workers it is meant to protect.

Meanwhile, the Council of Trade Unions has organised a vigil outside the conference on Sunday to protest about the changes to the Health and Safety Reform Bill.

The CTU said it would be led by Deborah McMillan, whose husband died in a forestry accident, and include hundreds of crosses signifying the deaths of workers since the Government promised to improve health and safety laws following the Pike River Mine disaster.