Govt tweaks rental scheme

The Daily Examiner - - WORLD - JOHN ROLFE

EX­CLU­SIVE: The Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment has re­vamped the $3 bil­lion Na­tional Rental Af­ford­abil­ity Scheme so hous­ing in­vestors can aban­don a mid­dle­man ac­cused of with­hold­ing pay­ments.

From this week, NRAS clients of Ash­ley Fenn’s Ethan Af­ford­able Hous­ing will be able to ask the Depart­ment of So­cial Ser­vices to move them to an­other provider on the new grounds of “un­fair con­duct”.

The DSS has re­ceived 400 trans­fer re­quests; more than 300 are from Ethan clients.

But the com­pany says the prob­lems with the scheme lie with depart­ment.

At a Se­nate Es­ti­mates hear­ing in June, DSS head Kathryn Camp­bell said the ma­jor­ity of com­plaints about Ethan “went to not pass­ing on the NRAS in­cen­tive to in­vestors”, a claim the com­pany strongly de­nies.

So­cial Ser­vices Min­is­ter Paul Fletcher told News Corp Aus­tralia there was a small num­ber of providers who “act against the spirit of the scheme” by de­lay­ing or not mak­ing pay­ments, or forc­ing in­vestors to use par­tic­u­lar prop­erty man­agers.

“Th­ese changes will stop this be­hav­iour in its tracks,” Mr Fletcher said.

Once moved, Ethan clients who want to trans­fer will get a com­bined $2.6 mil­lion of sub­si­dies the DSS had not paid out of con­cern the com­pany might keep some of the money.

The way NRAS was set up means all sub­si­dies — worth up to $11,000 a year — are paid via a provider.

Also, the DSS is still as­sess­ing a fur­ther $15.6 mil­lion of Ethan client claims for 2017-18. Out of 130 providers, Ethan is the only one whose claims for last fi­nan­cial year haven’t been paid.

Mr Fenn ran un­suc­cess­fully for the se­nate on Fam­ily First’s Vic­to­ria ticket at the 2013 Fed­eral elec­tion and he was a ma­jor donor to the party.

At an Es­ti­mates hear­ing last month, La­bor sen­a­tor Doug Cameron called him a “crook”.

“In­vestors are be­ing ripped off,” Mr Cameron said.

Mr Fenn yes­ter­day said Mr Cameron’s state­ments “have no ba­sis”.

“The last ALP Gov­ern­ment blun­dered the set up and ad­min­is­tra­tion of this im­por­tant pro­gram and con­tin­ues to try and di­vert at­ten­tion away from the pro­gram’s prob­lems,” Mr Fenn said.

The min­is­ter hadn’t been in con­tact to “ver­ify the verac­ity” of his pub­lic com­ments ei­ther, he said.

Ethan had been try­ing to exit NRAS and had ap­plied to the DSS to have its clients trans­ferred, he said. Months had passed but the depart­ment hadn’t made a de­ci­sion, he added.

“Ethan con­tin­ues to en­sure that all NRAS in­cen­tives that have been re­ceived from DSS are passed on in ac­cor­dance with the con­trac­tual ar­range­ments,” Mr Fenn said.

NRAS was set up by the Rudd Gov­ern­ment in 2008 to in­crease the sup­ply of new and af­ford­able rental homes though in­cen­tives to in­vestors for let­ting prop­er­ties at 20 per cent be­low mar­ket rates. There are 35,000 homes in the scheme, which runs un­til 2026.

A Syd­ney-based Ethan client, who asked not to be named, told News Corp she is owed about $100,000. She said her griev­ances were mainly with the DSS.

“I’ve had to go back to work at 67 to keep up main­te­nance on the mort­gages,” she said.

A Mel­bourne-based Ethan client who claims she is owed tens of thou­sands said: “It’s been a to­tal de­ba­cle.”

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