30 Oct 2018

Meth evictions: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says tenants won't be penalised twice

1:42 pm on 30 October 2018

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the government will ensure compensation to state house tenants wrongly penalised over flawed meth testing is fair.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

It was estimated that about 2400 people, from 800 tenancies, had been wrongly kicked out of their state houses because of a zero tolerance policy.

A Housing New Zealand report in September acknowledged the approach had had a far-reaching effect on tenants, including losing their tenancies, their possessions, being suspended from the waiting list, poor credit ratings and being made homeless.

It found 542 tenants were charged nearly $7 million in total for meth contamination between 2013 and 2018.

The government promised to compensate those affected with a $2500-$3000 reimbursement. However, as it stands any financial compensation would be treated as cash assets and could reduce beneficiaries' payments.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford said he received urgent legal advice to that effect only a week ago and that a required regulation change to resolve the issue could be dealt with by an Order in Council and signed off by Cabinet quickly.

Ms Ardern told Morning Report the move would ensure tenants were treated fairly.

"What's really important is in making that compensation you wouldn't want that then to be deducted because it was classified as a particular form of income," she said.

"That's the way our system works, obviously if you are on government support and you require additional income it can lead to your benefit abating away and you wouldn't want that to happen.

"It's just about making sure that when those payments are made that they are treated correctly, and if that means we have to make some adjustments to the way that the regulations treat that payment then it's better that we get it right than see people penalised."

She said the delay to compensating people resided to the fact Mr Twyford was advised by officials a change in legislation may be needed to ensure people were not penalised twice.

It was hoped payments could be completed before Christmas, she said.

Social justice campaigners have criticised the delay as a cruel and unnecessary oversight.

Mr Twyford confirmed more than 200 of the 800 tenants affected were eligible for a payment and they would receive it in the next few weeks.

In May, the prime minister's then Chief Science Adviser Professor Sir Peter Gluckman produced a report which said there was no evidence that third-hand exposure from methamphetamine smoking caused adverse health effects.

The report found remediation in most cases was needed only in homes that had been former clan labs producing the drugs and where meth had been heavily used.

The prime minister also defended under-fire Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway after he released a letter yesterday outlining the conditions a drug smuggler from the Czech Republic must abide by to remain in New Zealand.

Jan Antolik, whose real name is Karel Sroubek, was jailed for five years for importing nearly 5kg of MDMA, commonly known as Ecstasy, with a street value of $375,000.

Mr Lees-Galloway said the decision to grant residency was made after careful consideration of all the information available at the time and that the man's stay in the country was subject to significant conditions.

Ms Ardern said it had been a difficult decision by the minister and that if it was a simply a matter of someone having criminally offended in New Zealand then it would be an obvious case of deportation.

"The fact it wasn't a deportation order and the fact that the minister has said it was a very difficult decision gives a bit of a hint that there was obviously other information put before the minister," she said.

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