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Release of information to assist landlords

10 October 2002 Media Statement

Government seeking practical solution to the release of personal information to assist landlords

The government is working on a new data-matching programme to assist landlords in the recovery of tenancy tribunal debts and is seeking an interim order delaying the release of beneficiary addresses under the Official Information Act until a court ruling is made, Social Services and Employment Minister Steve Maharey said today.

The Ombudsman has recommended that the Ministry of Social Development should release the addresses of clients to the Department for Courts in four cases where landlords are seeking to recover debts from former tenants. Advice from Crown Law recommends against releasing the information, and because it has far reaching implications for all government agencies, it suggests that we seek the Court’s interpretation of the Official Information Act on the point.

Steve Maharey said he had discussed the government’s preferred solution with landlord representative organisations the New Zealand Property Investors Federation and the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand.

“The government sympathises with the situation landlords face recovering unpaid rent and we are determined to sort this issue out properly. I have asked for two pieces of work to be undertaken as a matter of priority.

“Firstly, the government is looking to establish a data matching programme authorised under the Privacy Act as soon as possible to provide a practical solution to this issue. I have asked officials to advise the government on the implementation issues.

“If the Department for Courts, on behalf of landlords and other judgment creditors, is to have access to information the Ministry holds about beneficiaries, it may be better that Parliament address the matter directly. The Ministry of Social Development is at present working on advice for Ministers on this issue. We will consult the Privacy Commissioner and public comment will be sought in developing the solution.

“Secondly, the government has agreed that the Ministry of Social Development should file court papers seeking a declaratory judgment on the Ombudsman’s recommendation and an interim court order allowing the Ministry to wait for that ruling. We are not seeking to challenge the Ombudsman or his office, however we do consider that a declaratory judgment is the best way to get a clear view on these issues.

Both the New Zealand Property Investors Federation President Craig Paddon and President of the Real Estate Institute Graeme Woodley said property owners and managers welcomed any initiative where there was constructive cooperation between government departments to ensure Tenancy Tribunal and Court decisions were properly enforced.

Both organisations also welcomed the Ministers assurance that matters are to be progressed with some urgency.

Steve Maharey said that Crown Law advice is that the consequence of the Ombudsman's recommendation would be to insert state agencies into the middle of private parties' litigation and debt recovery dealings.

“As a matter of principle, I think this is a decision that should rightly be made by Parliament.

“The government also considers that implementing the Ombudsman’s recommendation might create a number of new requirements on government agencies that would be difficult to implement. It could make government agencies the first port of call for people wanting to recover debts, and we need to be sure that is what the law requires,” Steve Maharey said.

ENDS

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