Trial helps tenants repay debt

MOUNT Druitt public housing tenants who are behind in their rent have been put on notice.

State families and communities minister Pru Goward has written to the federal government asking it to expand a NSW trial to help tenants pay back their debts and avoid homelessness.

It follows a success in Bankstown, where many of the 49 tenants at risk of being evicted have settled their rent under repayment plans, in which tenants have a portion of their Centrelink payments redirected for rent.

More than 20 per cent of public housing tenants around Mount Druitt are behind in rent, despite a specialist arrears team set up four years ago to address the problem.

The total debt for the area is $387,295, the highest in NSW.

Among the worst was a Tregear tenant who owed $3432; tenants in Emerton and Mount Druitt owed similar amounts.

Steps toward eviction cannot start until the tenant is more than 14 days in arrears.

"As with any landlord, [the department] is bound by the Residential Tenancy Act and would need to take action at the tribunal, which can be a lengthy process during which rent arrears may build up," a department spokesman said.

Labor Mount Druitt MP Richard Amery supports the proposal as a stand-alone policy.

"But there's nothing for the welfare of tenants," he said.

"It needs to include budgeting and financial management skills. Most people who are behind in rent want to keep their homes and will come to an agreement."

The department spokesman said the federal government had the final say about when and where the program would be expanded.

He has a message for public housing tenants and the initiative's critics.

"Paying rent is the most fundamental of a tenant's responsibilities, be they public or private tenants," he said.

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