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Pansy Speak: Giving senior citizens a fair go

Pansy Speak

Giving senior citizens a fair go

Speaking from his hospital bed, the only consolation for Freemans Bay pensioner Ross Bradburn was that he had won his case against Housing New Zealand about a rent dispute of around $26 a week.

Mr Bradburn, a 77-year-old pensioner, is in hospital with a broken leg after he was hit by a cyclist while crossing Queen Street in Auckland. It's expected that his hospital stay could last up to eight weeks.

Ross Bradburn is a very respectful gentleman who takes pride in his appearance, shows courtesy for others and still contributes to society. I first met him on the campaign trail where he told me his story, with tears running down his face, while we sat on a bench in Ponsonby.

His dispute with Housing NZ began in 2003 when his pensioner flat was transferred from the Auckland City Council to Housing NZ. The Labour Government's income related rent policy would have put Mr Bradburn's rent at $112 a week, as he was still working part-time.

However, it was decided that rents would be capped, so Mr Bradburn continued to pay $85 a week. A week later, Housing NZ decided that Mr Bradburn had stopped his part-time work, so his rent was reduced to a quarter of his superannuation, or $59 a week.

One year later, when Mr Bradburn filled out his annual return, his rent was increased to $109 because he was still working (a fact that hadn't been checked by Housing NZ the year before). The Department then put the rent back to $87 one week later when they checked and found that the transitional period for rent was still continuing.

Of course, this constant chopping and changing caused Mr Bradburn considerable stress and he asked if he could pay the lower rent to allow him to adjust to the new payment. After all, this was a considerable chunk of his income that he would have to now pay to the department - who of course said no.

Mr Bradburn found later that he could appeal the decision, but the time for making such an appeal had expired. He then had to seek Court approval to make an appeal, which Housing NZ also objected to.

The feisty 77-year-old won the right to an appeal, despite being up against the hotshot legal counsel hired by Housing NZ. I was moved by his reasons for continuing this fight - he felt aggrieved at the Department's actions and their suggestion that he did not disclose his income in full.

I accompanied him to the last hearing at the District Court and quickly realised that he had a formidable opponent. He knew his argument through-and-through and kept all the details in meticulous order.

Sense prevailed and the judge ruled against Housing NZ, saying that Mr Bradburn should have had the chance to apply for a new determination of his rent based on special circumstances.

Whatever possessed Housing NZ to fight a pensioner for $26 a week (from a short period of time of around a year) remains unknown, but I am sure they could have gone about it in a much more reasonable fashion. All Mr Bradburn wanted was a chance to appeal his rent.

It appears that along with Immigration NZ, Housing NZ has dropped service from its work ethnic, and perhaps the Ministry of Education has done so as well.

I was contacted a few weeks ago by the Waiheke Marketplace, a local newspaper on the island, regarding road works that weren't completed during the construction of the new Waiheke Primary School. Homes along Seaview Road are now flooding every time it rains because kerb and channelling work hasn't been done.

Cladding on one home has been damaged by floodwater and the garden at another is constantly swamped. Affected resident and former policeman Ray Batchelor had to spend three days installing trenches around his home to avert the floodwater, at a cost of more than $600, because no-one would take responsibility for the problem. He was told that if he didn't do this his insurance company might not cover his claim.

It appears the Ministry of Education has passed the buck to their contractors, who passed the buck to Auckland City Council, who than passed it back to the Ministry. After months of this, the Council and the Ministry agreed to install kerbs and channels by the end of this month - it is no surprise that as of yesterday these works hadn't begun. Today, I received confirmation from the Education Minister that he hadn't received a formal briefing on this issue. I will be asking him why.

I understand this work would have started in February but am told it was delayed due to the PM's visit to the new school! These residents have been, and still are, at the mercy of bureaucrats while their homes and gardens are flooded each time it rains.

I was also surprised to find that the Waiheke Marketplace has put in calls to Auckland Central MP Judith Tizard, but are still waiting for a response. It is perhaps lucky for me that under MMP I can be of real service to those living my area.

These two cases are true David and Goliath battles - in Mr Bradburn's case it shows that the 'little guy' can win. However, it is appalling that government departments (and local councils) cannot respond to our senior citizens with compassion.

I have asked questions of both the Housing and Education Ministers about these cases, and I won't stop until I get to the bottom of both.

Pansy Wong


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