5 Dec 2018

Payouts for flawed meth testing regime: 'If we're unsuccessful, we won't give up' - Housing NZ

10:30 am on 5 December 2018

A special team has been set up to try and find the 500 families who were wrongly evicted from their Housing New Zealand home, that have not yet been in touch with the organisation.

A close up photo of two hands with gloves on, swabbing within a 100 square centimetre stencil stuck to a wall. By swabbing within that area, testing companies get a sample that corresponds to Ministry of Health guidelines for meth.

Testing a house for meth contamination. Photo: Katy Gosset/RNZ

The government estimates that about 2400 people from 800 tenancies were kicked out of their state houses due to a flawed meth testing regime.

On Monday, 55 people were paid an average of almost $8000 each in compensation and got a formal apology. Another 92 have had claims approved and were waiting on an offer to be finalised. Hundreds remain unaccounted for.

Head of Housing New Zealand's Meth Assistance Programme, Andrew Clapham, told Morning Report the agency had made good progress and another 33 people would be paid this week.

He said, as of yesterday, a further 92 cases had been approved and once the offer is made and accepted, they will also be paid.

The agency is working with the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) in tracking down people they haven't yet contacted. MSD has provided the most up-to-date contact details for 780 people and an outbound call approach is being deployed.

If unsuccessful by phone, Housing New Zealand is writing letters and inviting them to come forward. A further outreach campaign will target community newspapers and advertising.

"If we're unsuccessful, we won't give up," Mr Clapham said.

Mr Clapham said the response team had only been operational for eight weeks and he thought the progress was "excellent" so far.

"It's awful what has happened to these people, we don't resile from that. We're absolutely committed to making it right for the people who have been wronged by Housing New Zealand," he said.

The $8000 average was figured out by talking to major New Zealand retailers Harvey Norman, Big Save, and The Warehouse about the cost of furnishing a new home.

However, people who were forced out of their homes and into motels will still owe a debt to Ministry of Social Development for their stays.

"There's some good homework that has gone into these offers and the response we've had from people so far has been one of absolute joy," he said.

Mr Clapham said the highest payout so far was $18,000 and the lowest was $1000.

He said the response to the payout amount had been positive.

"People are grateful that Housing New Zealand is taking ownership and making an apology."

"Our prime concern is to ensure that people are happy with the amount that we're paying them. If people feel that isn't enough, then we'll certainly consider an increase over that.

"We don't want to put any strings on how they spend their money. We're concerned and hope they spend the money on replacement household items.

Mr Clapham took the opportunity to make a public apology on behalf of Housing New Zealand.

"I would sincerely like to apologise for the major disruption, the profound negative impacts we've caused to people's lives," he said.

"We appeal to people, to anybody who might be listening, that we have not yet connected with or has not yet come forward to talk to us to come and share your story because we'd like the opportunity to put things right for you."

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