20 Sep 2018

Housing NZ to reimburse hundreds evicted on flawed meth testing regime

1:21 pm on 20 September 2018

Housing New Zealand has committed to compensating hundreds of tenants it evicted from state homes based on meth testing, some of whom were made homeless.

The woman and her family were evicted from their state house and ordered to pay $20,500 in costs after the house returned a positive meth test

A woman who was evicted from her state home. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

A report ordered by Housing Minister Phil Twyford has found roughly 800 tenants suffered as a result of the agency's approach which it said was "wrong and ignored many of the issues".

Affected tenants are expected to receive between $2500 and $3000. The compensation in total is expected to cost up to $5 million and a further $2 million in outstanding debt wiped.

"We're not proposing to compensate people for hurt and humiliation for example. The payment system is designed to provide assistance to help people deal with material losses they suffered as a result of what happened,'' Mr Twyford said.

The previous government should apologise to the hundreds of tenants evicted from state homes based on the flawed testing, he said.

Housing NZ board chairwoman Adrienne Young-Cooper is overseas and did not front at this morning's press conference or offer her resignation in the wake of the scathing report.

Asked whether she was on personal leave instead of attending the report's release, Mr Twyford declined to comment.

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said she did not think the compensation being offered to tenants was enough.

She said the hysteria the previous government whipped up about these tenants was the "lowest form of electioneering'' and she questioned how they could sleep.

Any politician who was not ashamed by what had happened to the tenants was bordering on "inhumane'', she said.

Mr Twyford said the approach to methamphetamine from 2013 was a "moral and fiscal failure'' that led to the "wellbeing of tenants being ignored''.

Housing NZ chief executive Andrew McKenzie said he apologised in June to the tenants and families affected and does so again to those who had their lives "disrupted''.

"We plan to put things right, and that means not just looking to re-house those tenants who had their tenancies ended but to provide other forms of assistance,'' he said.

Mr McKenzie said the agency would assess each individual's case and work to put it right.

Mr McKenzie told Nine to Noon Housing NZ was "actively reaching out" to the former tenants by working with other government agencies to find them and would also be advertising.

Housing NZ will offer a range of assistance options including discretionary grants for household items and moving costs, cancellation of all methamphetamine related debt and a refund of any money paid and re-housing of tenants who used to be HNZ tenants but were moved.

The report said Housing NZ had failed, in some individual cases, to follow the principles of natural justice.

Mr Twyford did not know whether anything could be done for other tenants who were dealt with through the Tenancy Tribunal, because the tribunal was part of the judiciary and outside of the scope of the government.

National's housing spokesperson Judith Collins wants Mr Twyford to explain why taxpayers are compensating people for breaking the law.

"The fact is the previous National government acted on the best available expert advice. We repeatedly questioned that advice but it remained - it was unsafe to put people in a house which had been used for smoking methamphetamine.

"Housing New Zealand did not evict tenants purely for the level of contamination of methamphetamine if it couldn't be proved they were responsible - those tenants had to have broken their tenancy in some other way. Otherwise they would have been re-housed,'' Ms Collins said.

Millions of dollars is being paid out including to people who were smoking or cooking P in state houses while deserving, law-abiding families waited on the waiting list, she said.

"There might have been cases where people were unfairly removed. If that's the case they should be compensated and Housing New Zealand management should answer for it. But it defies belief all 800 households were evicted unfairly. If they broke the law or their agreement and were smoking P in their state house they should not receive money from the taxpayer.''

In May, a report by the prime minister's chief science adviser found there has never been a documented case of someone getting sick from third-hand exposure to meth.

It followed a warning from the country's top scientists saying New Zealand has been gripped by hysteria of people testing their homes for meth.

Mr Twyford at the time said dodgy meth contamination rules had led to hundreds of millions of dollars being wasted and needless clean-ups and evictions.

Since 2015, Housing NZ has pursued dozens of tenants through the Tenancy Tribunal for the cost of testing and cleaning state houses where traces of methamphetamine had been found.

After the release of the report, RNZ in August reported it took Housing NZ nearly a month after learning the meth testing regime was bogus before it called off the debt collectors.

  • Tenants still paying meth debts a month after report
  • Meth tests: Housing New Zealand boss wanted 'low key' media response
  • Sir Peter Gluckman: Meth fiasco shows science advisors crucial
  • Housing NZ chief executive Andrew McKenzie: Just two solo interviews in 20 months
  • Twyford: 'Housing NZ is a landlord - not the police'