Tuesday, November 1, 2016

End of the line for justice in Gosford?

We've just heard that tenants on the Central Coast will lose their dedicated NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) hearing rooms. These have been co-located with the Gosford Fair Trading Centre since 2004. They were established there when tenancy disputes were heard by NCAT's predecessor, the Consumer Trader and Tenancy Tribunal (CTTT), which was administered by Fair Trading until its amalgamation with other tribunals as NCAT in 2013. Now the Fair Trading Centre is moving and NCAT - administered by the Department of Justice - says they can't stay where they are.

It's a long way to Newcastle for tenants trying to avoid an eviction
Commencing early December, most hearings will take place in a single room at the Gosford Courthouse, two days per week. From 2017 onwards, formal hearings will be held in Newcastle or "other Central Coast locations".

This presents a number of problems. The Central Coast Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service outlined some of these in a letter to the NSW Attorney-General, not long after they were informed of the decision:
Prior to having a dedicated Tribunal Centre in Gosford, arranging hearings was a very ad hoc affair with matters heard in Woy Woy Courthouse, Wyong Council Chambers, Edogowa at East Gosford, local community centres and the like.
As with any temporary venue, there was often confusion by some or all of the concerned parties regarding the whereabouts of the available hearing room on a particular day
On occasions the staff at these locations were not notified or otherwise unaware of a scheduled hearing and this often resulted in cancellations, postponements or relocations of hearings.
Because assigned conciliation rooms were not provided in temporary facilities this resulted in a lack of mediation opportunity and therefore matters that could be potentially resolved without requiring a hearing were far less likely.
Other detrimental factors in utilising temporary facilities included a lack of close proximity to public transport, unfamiliarity with the location, lack of privacy, lack of security, lack of amenities and lack of available parking.
Clearly, dedicated hearing rooms in Gosford have meant improved access to justice for tenants on the Central Coast for more than a decade. But even if NCAT addresses each of the concerns above, the significant reduction in its capacity on the Central Coast remains a worry.

We've taken a look at some numbers. NCAT doesn't provide the quality of reports that its predecessor did, so we've had to go back to the CTTT's annual report from 2012/2013. There we can see that in that period there were 3,706 matters heard in the two Gosford hearing rooms over a total of 173 hearing days. That gives us an average of around 20 matters heard per day, at 10 per room. The numbers were similar for the preceding year, so we'll assume they paint a reliable enough picture.

As we've noted above, the current proposal is for NCAT matters to be heard in a single hearing room on the Central Coast, two days per week. Let's knock off a few weeks for Christmas and assume that gives us a maximum of 100 hearing days per year. If they can sustain the rate of 10 hearings per room per day, we can expect them to handle about 1,000 matters each year from December. NCAT is about to start running at a little more than a quarter of its current capacity on the Central Coast.

This will be a real test for their case-management strategies and systems.

About 75% of NCAT hearings are in the tenancy or social housing lists, and about 60% of those are applications made by landlords seeking to end a tenancy. The majority of tenants' trips to the Tribunal are to try and fend off an eviction - but for those who do try to take a landlord to NCAT over repairs and maintenance, expect a long wait. And if your landlord is after termination and possession orders and doesn't want to play nice, the thought of a return trip to Newcastle might prompt you to reach an agreement that's not in your interests, rather than stick to your guns and go to a formal hearing.

Tenants shouldn't be forced to make such compromises. In the interests of justice, NCAT needs to find itself a sensible, permanent venue on the Central Coast.

4 comments:

  1. Don't tenants pay for the Tribunal through their bonds? Why don't we get a say when they cut the service? The central coast has plenty of tenants, surely enough to pay for hearings in Gosford.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a very good point, Anonymous. At the very least, tenants and Tenants' Advice and Advocacy Services should be consulted before a decision like this is made.
      Cheers,
      Ned.

      Delete
  2. For what it is worth, the agents are not happy about it either. Surely we cannot return to the days of the Gosford Japanese Gardens for hearings !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's probably worth a lot, Lisa - if every real estate agent on the Central Coast writes to the NSW Attorney-General about this, it would have some impact.
      Cheers,
      Ned.

      Delete

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