Housing New Zealand is being accused of causing homelessness by evicting people who can't get rehoused anywhere else.

The Tenancy Tribunal made 1430 orders involving Housing NZ last year, an average of 27 a week, and 717, or an average of 36 a week, so far this year up to May 16.

Auckland Action Against Poverty advocacy co-ordinator Alastair Russell said the state-owned agency, which exists to house people who can't get housed elsewhere, was "pursuing an aggressive policy of eviction based on non-payment of rent".

In one case, he said, a mother of a 7-month-old baby faced eviction today over $666 in rent arrears due to being placed on a sickness benefit instead of a sole parent benefit after the baby was born. Work and Income agreed to pay the arrears after Mr Russell intervened.

Advertisement

"We are seeing cases where people are increasingly being charged market rent, for example when they don't fill in the yearly returns [reporting their incomes].

"Then Housing NZ says they have accrued rent arrears and will automatically take them to the Tenancy Tribunal, and we are having to intervene on their behalf.

"They are not talking to Work and Income to resolve people's issues through Work and Income assistance which could maintain their housing.

"They are acting without a shred of social responsibility and callously locking people out on the street for very minimal reasons, and actually causing people to become homeless."

Other housing advocates said problems started when Housing NZ staff were told in August 2011 to "stop delivering social services", and worsened since social housing rent assessments moved to Work and Income in April 2014.

Sister Anne Hurley of the Sisters of Mercy at Wiri said state houses in Wiri were now changing hands every few months as successive tenants were evicted.

A Housing NZ spokeswoman said eviction was still "a last resort" after making "numerous and significant attempts to engage with the tenant, including providing options to pay the arrears in small, regular payments."

Ministry of Social Development Associate National Commissioner Te Rehia Papesch said the ministry had set up a new provider line so a three-way conversation can be had between client, their tenancy manager and central unit housing staff to talk about any issues about income-related rent.

Refugees caught in government housing mix-up

Two refugee households in Hamilton have been threatened with eviction by Housing NZ due to rent arrears caused by two parts of Work and Income not talking to each other.

The agency has applied to the Tenancy Tribunal to terminate the tenancy of Ethiopian refugee Fatuma Ali, 41, unless she pays $735 in rent arrears that arose after her husband left her and went to Australia, leaving her alone with two children.

The agency's branch at Five Cross Roads in Hamilton granted her a sole parent benefit a year ago. But its housing assessment unit in Auckland put her rent up from $109 to $284 a week because her ex-husband's name was still on the tenancy agreement and she had not supplied information about his income.

In the other case, two young Eritrean refugees, Muhyaddin Salih, 36, and Idrees Idrees, 30, faced a tribunal hearing on June 16 to end their tenancy for $2601 in rent arrears arising from their rent rising to $345 a week when both men were working, but not being reduced again when Mr Idrees' job ended after a 90-day trial.

Community Law Waikato stepped in to get Work and Income to reduce the men's rent to $140 a week and pay the arrears last Thursday, after the Herald asked about the case. HNZ has now withdrawn its eviction notice.

Ministry of Social Development associate national commissioner Te Rehia Papesch said the ministry was "still trying to get in touch with Mrs Ali so we can sort her issues out".

But Angela Smith of Community Law Waikato said she had previously been unable to get any response from the ministry's housing unit even after she supplied a release of tenancy signed by Mrs Ali's ex-husband in April.