Law change 'likely' before meth compensation can be paid out
Lisa Owen, Checkpoint presenter
A law change is likely to be needed before Housing New Zealand (HNZ) can pay compensation to tenants who were evicted over flawed methamphetamine testing.
Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly
The Ministry of Social Development said that was because any compensation paid to beneficiaries would be treated as cash assets and could affect what support they received, such as accommodation supplements.
It is preparing urgent advice to government ministers.
Last month, Housing Minister Phil Twyford announced tenants evicted over flawed methamphetamine testing could be eligible for compensation.
However, he said he only learned last week that a law change might be needed before anyone could receive compensation.
In a statement, he said: "This issue has only recently been bought to my attention. It obviously wasn't the government's intention that any compensation for meth be treated as income or assets. I am expecting advice on how to solve this issue shortly."
He said he did not know about this issue when HNZ announced its compensation package. He was expecting advice shortly and said the issue would be resolved as soon as possible.
More than 800 tenancies were terminated due to meth contamination. HNZ said it was in touch with 194 tenants who have made claims for compensation, and 43 cases were in "progress". No payments have been made so far.
Aucklander Rima Herbert has made a claim for compensation. He said he was first in contact with HNZ on 21 September, but was yet to have any conversations with them about compensation.
He said HNZ told him a week ago they were still working through the "logistics" of it.
Mr Herbert wants $15,000 in compensation for all the belongings he threw out after his house was found to be contaminated.
Casey McCarry, whose father Robert Erueti was evicted from his HNZ home in 2015, said she also had not had any detailed conversation with HNZ about compensation, despite both her and her father contacting the Crown agent.
Mr Erueti threw out all of his belongings out of fear they were contaminated.
"Precious things like photos and paperwork and things that belonged to different family members that he kept, that were actually sentimental to him and what actually happened was I said to him 'look, you're going to have to get rid of everything, you can't keep anything', and he said 'why is that Casey?' and I said 'well look what it says on the letter from Housing New Zealand, it says your house is uninhabitable and it's a health risk'," Ms McCarry said.
"We threw out everything. Everything."
The government spent close to $50,000 on motel accommodation for him after evicting him over miniscule methamphetamine results - which no one believed he was responsible for.
Mr Twyford met with Mr Erueti to apologise to him in person after Checkpoint first highlighted his story in December last year and HNZ found him a new home within a week of the story being made public.
However, that home will soon be redeveloped and Mr Erueti is being moved to another HNZ home. He had hoped to furnish it using the money from compensation.
"It's dragging on so bad, I believe it's unfair," Ms McCarry said.
"He can't afford to buy the furniture. The plan was to reach out to different charities and hopefully get some lovely donated stuff."
While she said she was upset it was being dragged on, she would hate for her father's benefit to be cut due to the compensation being treated as income or a cash asset.
Mr Herbert hoped to get his payout by Christmas, but is not holding out much hope.
"I'm disillusioned with the whole thing to be honest... right now I feel I've been pushed aside and maybe it's because it's out in the news media, so maybe they've said 'let's leave this family to suffer a little bit more'. I don't know, but I feel gutted to be honest."
When asked if HNZ had forgotten about him, he said: "Yep, that's how I feel right now."
Housing NZ was approached for comment, but said it had nothing further to add to its earlier statements on the issue.