Thursday, December 4, 2014

Happy 20th birthday, TAASs

Twenty years ago this week the first generalist Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services commenced operations. This was the start of the State-wide network of local TAASs that continues to inform, advise and advocate for tenants throughout New South Wales today. We estimate that more than half a million tenants have gotten phone advice and other assistance from TAASs over that time.

NSW Fair Trading Minister Matthew Mason-Cox has kindly sent a warm note of congratulations on the anniversary:

NSW Fair Trading is proud of its association with the Tenancy Advice and Advocacy Service and the work it is doing to empower tenants. To provide a continuous community service for 20 years is a significant milestone and I congratulate the services and their staff for their continued dedication to ensuring all tenants are able to exercise their rights.

Now it's over to legendary tenants advocate and TU Older Tenants Project Officer, Dr Robert Mowbray, to tell the story of how the TAASs came to be.


Let’s jump back in time and see the circumstances around our birth. The earliest reference to a tenant organisation in New South Wales is the Rent Payers Association. They campaigned for fair rent legislation in the period 1910 to 1916 and also gave advice to tenants: ‘If you are in trouble about rent, ring up Telephone No. Paddington 752’.

In 1975 the Australian Government Commission of Inquiry into Poverty identified seven main areas in which tenants required assistance. The first was ‘access to informed advice on their legal position and on the rental market generally, both before and after entering into a residential lease’. The Poverty Inquiry was a fillip to the emergence of Tenants’ Unions in a number of states. So, in 1976 the Tenants’ Union of NSW was established.  In its early years it relied heavily on active members, social work students on placement, resources provided by South Sydney Community Aid (a neighbourhood centre in Redfern), and was assisted by a few young lawyers. It built up a network of volunteer tenancy advisors across a number of locations to provide information to tenants. At the same time it campaigned for fully funded services. 

In the 1980s, the Tenants’ Union was successful in lobbying the NSW State Labor Government's Housing Minister, Frank Walker, for the funding of the Housing Information and Tenancy Services (HITS) Program. This commenced 1 January 1986, and provided a network of nineteen Tenants’ Advice and Housing Referral Services (TAHRS) across New South Wales. The program, however, was short lived. In December 1988, following a change in government, the Coalition’s Minister for Housing, Joe Schipp, terminated the program – against the recommendations of his senior management.

Following cancellation of the HITS Program there was a constant pressure on the State Government for its reintroduction from a broad range of community groups across the State. The Uniting Church became actively involved in the campaign through its Board for Social Responsibility and it funded a tenants’ service in Western Sydney. Redfern Legal Centre also provided a tenants’ service. Part-time services were maintained by the local councils of North Sydney, Randwick and Waverley. Community groups maintained pressure over a period of years. Consultations about a State Plan for the Department of Housing in 1990, 1991 and 1992 were held at venues in all Department regions across New South Wales, and these consultations unanimously called for the reintroduction of funding for independent tenants’ services. Community groups made submissions to John Mant’s ‘Inquiry into Certain Customer Service Bodies under the Responsibility of the Minister for Housing’. His 1993 report was supportive.

By the end of November 1993, the NSW State Coalition Government had a new Minister for Housing, Robert Webster. The Minister called a meeting with representatives of the community organisations that had been lobbying for refunding of tenants’ services. At this meeting he stated that the Government would again fund community-based tenants’ services. He advised that he would set up a working party to examine how a Tenants Advice and Advocacy Program (TAAP) might be funded. Subsequently, the Department of Housing contracted the Tenants’ Union to resource a network of generalist services ... and the first generalist TAAS were funded from 1 December 1994. Specialist services for residents of residential parks and for Aboriginal tenants were funded in late 1995.

So, happy 20th birthday to all those TAASs out there!

For a glimpse at the enormous amount of help provided and lives changed by the TAASs, see our posts under the label ‘my3cents’. For the case for greater funding for the TAASs and more advice and advocacy for tenants, see the TU's policy and law reform page

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