Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Petition to wipe debt incurred for emergency housing handed to Anne Tolley

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley accepted the petition this morning. Photo / File
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley accepted the petition this morning. Photo / File

A petition calling on the Government to wipe debt racked-up by people to pay for emergency housing has been delivered to Social Development Minister Anne Tolley.

Ms Tolley has ruled out such a move, but officials are looking to see if a new grant for emergency housing can be made available sooner than September.

ActionStation members met with Ms Tolley this morning and handed over the petition.

Ms Tolley accepted the petition and recognised the problem debt could cause vulnerable families, ActionStation member Kyle MacDonald said.

They were told Work and Income officers have discretion to give grants - not loans - in cases where a person's homelessness is no fault of their own. There is also discretion to write-off debts in some cases.

Mr MacDonald said in many cases people weren't able to find accommodation through no fault of their own, and landlords in Auckland could find reasons to decline or remove people, fair or not.

He started the petition last week after hearing a media report on a young mother who took on significant debt to Work and Income, in order to pay for emergency housing for her family.

"It angered and deeply upset me. What would you do? Nowhere to live, small children, winter pounding on the door and this is the only option being offered," Mr MacDonald said.

How to help people seeking emergency housing has been put in the spotlight after recent media reports on people living in cars and garages, particularly in Auckland.

Prime Minister John Key says a new grant for emergency housing could be implemented sooner than the scheduled September 1 date. Photo / File
Prime Minister John Key says a new grant for emergency housing could be implemented sooner than the scheduled September 1 date. Photo / File

Prime Minister John Key this morning told Radio New Zealand that the Government was looking at whether a new grant for emergency housing could be brought in sooner.

The grant for one week's accommodation will be given to people who need emergency support from Work and Income, and will come in from September 1.

Mr Key said that date could be brought forward.

"I never want to see people getting themselves into debt -- it's one of the reasons why we took this step long before it became this public issue."

ActionStation asked that the one-week grant be retrospective, to benefit people taking on debt to get shelter in the coming winter months.

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox met the ActionStation petitioners today, and said she supported their petition.

If people were to be made to pay back money for emergency housing, it should be set at the rate they would have paid had social housing been available, Ms Fox said. The remaining cost should be met by the Government.

The Herald has reported on the case of a mother of eight who was lent $60,000 by Work and Income to pay motel bills because she has been banned from state housing for a year.

The Mangere woman, aged 28, has been put up in motels with her partner, 30, and eight children aged from 5 months up to 11 years for the past 10 months.

Work and Income is paying $1200 a week for their current motel, where they have been for five months. Some of their earlier bills were for up to $1700 a week.

Social Development Ministry housing chief Carl Crafar said the family was evicted from the house last July due to the meth contamination.

"They are currently not eligible for a Housing NZ house, and have admitted to using meth in their past three Housing NZ properties," he said.

The woman said the contamination occurred before she moved into the house three years earlier.

- NZ Herald

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