Friday, June 15, 2018

The numbers near the end of the Millers Point struggle: 28, 42 and 200 million


Backyards in Kent Street, Millers Point: Mrs Mac feeding cats, washing blowing on the line, 1985 © Susan Dorothea White

Our title juxtapositions the numbers 28, 42 and 200 million! What is the significance of these numbers? Well, these are the end days of the Millers Point struggle and, in a recent article, Patrick Begley (The Sydney Morning Herald, 11 June 2018, p1) headlines his electronic copy: 'Sally has 28 days to leave her home of 42 years.' But he uses a different heading in the hard copy: '$200m bonus from Millers Point sale'. Let's tell the stories behind these numbers.

28 and 42

In March 2014, the NSW Government decided to evict all the social housing tenants in Millers Point and the Sirius building in The Rocks. To date, 578 tenant and household members in 398 tenancies have been forced to vacate their homes, with one lone surviving tenant. On 7 June 2018, the Supreme Court ordered this tenant, Ms Sally Parslow, to vacate her home within 28 days (by 5 July 2018). Having rejected Ms Parslow's claim to a life tenancy on her home, Justice Guy Parker found that he had no option but to give her only 28 days to vacate her home. (See Paragraphs 203 to 207 of his published decision.)

The time period of 28 days is a by-product of the Government's anti-social behaviour legislation. The short time period is due to the operation of s154G of the Residential Tenancies Act 2010. This section was an amendment which formed part of the Residential Tenancies and Social Housing Legislation Amendment (Public Housing - Antisocial Behaviour) Act 2015, but it flows on to all social housing (including community housing) tenants before a court or Tribunal, even though their eviction has nothing to do with anti-social behaviour. This section requires a possession order to take effect in 'no more than 28 days', unless there are 'exceptional circumstances justifying a later day'. At law, the words 'exceptional circumstances' have a very high bar. This phrase occurs nowhere else in the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 nor its Regulations. It is most commonly used in criminal law matters.

The home had been Sally's for 42 years but speaks to the much longer history of the area and property Sally lives in and others in the area. The judgment describes the history in some detail, and is worth reading. Briefly, the home had been built between the 1840s and 1860s as accommodation for wharf workers. At the turn of the 20th century the government acquired the properties and for nearly a century, first under the Sydney Harbour Trust and later the Maritime Services Board, there were 60 boarding houses run as commercial enterprises. People like Sally used the premises as their home, but also took on both management and risk of running the business. Here's the story told by one daughter of Millers Point. The cost of building the premises never touched the government purse, and even maintaining the premises was with the resident boarding house operators like Sally until 1985.

$200 million

At today's date, there had been 180 sales raising $570.7 million, plus stamp duty of $30.8 million. You can check these sales here. In keeping with requirements outlined in the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009, NSW Property keeps a record of all contracts, including property sales over $150,000 in a Property NSW Contracts Register. These are published and details must remain on the register for 20 working days, or until the contract is complete, whichever is longer. Go to here and click 'PNSW - Government Contracts Register'.

Altogether, 26 properties are still to be sold. 16 properties (comprising 4 sales) in High Street are currently on the market. A further 2 properties in Lower Fort Street are yet to be placed on the market. 8 properties (comprising 2 sales) in Dalgety Road apparently have been withdrawn from sale. The Sydney Morning Herald article refers to 'a final 11 lots are due to be sold this year, including the historic apartment building Sirius'.

In November 2015, the then Minister for Social Housing, Brad Hazzard, set aside 28 properties for remaining tenants and household members.  By late February of this year, 21 were occupied by 19 tenancies. Of the remaining 7 units, 1 is on hold and 6 remain unallocated. The Government will receive a big thank-you if it gives some of the previous residents, who were relocated but now isolated and lonely, the option of taking up the unallocated units.

But Millers Point has changed forever 'from struggle street to billionaire’s row'. You can read the promotions for the 'Workmen's Dwellings', one of the refurbished block of apartments, here (Domain: New Living, The Sydney Morning Herald, 18-19 May 2018 pp 14-15).

A conservative estimate of the total funds from sales to date (which excludes the Sirius building and 28 units where sales have been deferred) is $596 million. The real estate industry estimates $120m plus from the sale of the Sirius building. This provides an estimate, all round, of $716 million. Patrick Begley writes:
When the government announced in 2014 it would sell off social housing in inner-city Sydney, it predicted sales of about half a billion dollars. But Justice Guy Parker, summarising evidence from two [NSW Land and] Housing Corporation witnesses, found "the revised estimate is that $700 million will ultimately be received."
(This quote comes from Paragraph 145 of the published decision.)

You can check an update of FACS Housing webpage for how the proceeds have been spent. We previously wrote an article about delving behind the figures for new social housing dwellings here. Hal Pawson from the City Future's Research Centre at the University of NSW provides a critique, arguing that Housing NSW is overselling its social housing commitment. You can read his analysis here. He concludes:
Thanks to the property boom of the past few years, government has enjoyed a massive revenue bonanza through stamp duty income ... the actual stamp duty income recorded in recent years has amounted to a windfall of no less than $18.25 billion in excess of that “counter factual” revenue. And yet none of this booty has been channelled into expanding social and affordable provision ...
Returning to the title of this article. The Supreme Court gives the sole surviving tenant of Millers Point 28 days to vacate, after 42 years in her home and the Government stands to exceed its expected takings by $200 million. Millers Point changes forever. New social housing dwellings are being built using these monies, but in nearly all cases, they are not close-by. None of the Government's bonanza from stamp duty income has been channelled into expanding the provision of social and affordable housing.

Thankyou to Susan White for kindly allowing us to use her watercolour and pen print called 'Backyards in Kent Street, Millers Point: Mrs Mac feeding cats,washing blowing on the line'. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

The bond is too damn high


Paying the bond is a real hardship for many tenants. Tenants move on average every 2 years, and for many its much more frequent than that! NSW Rental Bond Board data shows of tenancies ending in 2016 and 2017 more than 50% of tenancies ended after less than 18 months, and a full third ended in less than 1 year. That is a lot of people moving home!

To make matters worse, there is often a cross over period between tenancies where a renter has had to pay a bond on the new place, before the bond from the previous home has been released. Tenants also run the ever-present risk that an agent/landlord will make a claim on their bond - whether or not there appears to be any merit to the claim.

However, it is also important to note that the stats suggest that most tenants receive their bond back in full, or with very minor payments to the landlord. Over the two years 2016 and 2017 there were more than half a million bonds released from the Rental Bond Board - 57% of them returned to the tenant in full and 75% of tenants received more than half the bond back.


Of the bonds where some amount was claimed by the landlord, 41% were for an amount of less than $500.


Several companies have recognised the issue of bonds as a pain point for tenants and are pushing the boundaries of the law and math to try and work out how best to insert themselves into this process. For people who don't have the money for the bond there are currently pay day lenders, bond loan specific companies, and bond insurance products. Now come bond “surety” (or “guarantee”) products where the company promises to pay the landlord if there is a compensation claim at the end of the tenancy. Though not technically loans they function in the same manner - you have money in your pocket that you would not have had before, and you pay fees which effectively constitute interest on that amount.

Some bond surety companies have even attempted to promote themselves as a response to housing affordability. The ACT government has apparently rushed to allow at least one such company, Snug, to operate their BondCover product, to the dismay of some in the territory. We examine Snug’s BondCover in a companion piece also published today looking at whether BondCover works well for tenants. In this piece, we’ll focus on the broader issues raised.

Are bonds a tax?

Snug has taken to pointing out recently that bonds are an extra tax on renters. This is true. Bonds do create a kind of tax - but they are levied by landlords who require their payment as a condition of securing a home. While their stated purpose is to act as an assurance for the landlord, the effect of that payment is to cost the tenant the potential benefit of doing something else with the money. As bonds are refundable, strictly speaking the tax is 100% of the potential for using that money for something else rather than the bond itself.

These are known as private taxes – a cost which someone with no alternative is forced to pay to a private entity. For a further introduction to the concept of private taxes, we recommend this article on the subject from economist Philip Soos.

It is clear to us that Snug’s BondCover makes this private tax burden heavier, not lighter. The current rental bond board system doesn't solve the problem, but does change the private tax to something approaching a public one, which allows the benefit of the tax to be shared beyond only the landlord.

Snug's BondCover seeks to convert this back to a private tax, with the benefit mostly flowing to them. In the companion piece we meet a tenant, Jen, who finds that she is even worse off than if the landlord kept the bond themselves - here is a simplified version of a chart showing by how much Jen is worse off if the bond is in the Rental Bond Board or under BondCover.



So what does this bond tax currently pay for? The Rental Bond Board in NSW has $1.4 billion in bonds, which is then invested in a portfolio by TCorp, NSW Treasury’s investment arm. The interest the Bond Board earns on these bonds is spent on various aspects of infrastructure around renting – mostly Fair Trading NSW’s tenancy-related activity such as administering the Rental Bond Board, and administering complaints as well as funding the tenancy-related parts of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

A small portion (about $6million a year) is used to partially fund the Tenants’ Advice and Advocacy Program which assists more than 25,000 tenants a year, and we at the TU receive some of that funding for our role in supporting the services.

We might spend the interest earned on tenants’ bonds differently if it was up to us. There are legitimate questions about the benefit tenants receive from this investment. But it is unquestionably better value than the traditional alternative which gave all the benefit to the landlord. Giving it and more to Snug instead doesn’t seem a better deal for renters.

Tenants will generally be distinctly worse off. Rather than the landlord demanding a fully refundable bond paid to the Rental Bond Board which costs the tenant potential interest, BondCover is an non-refundable amount which costs the tenants both actual fees and potential interest.

So, are there any other ways to reduce the hardship caused to tenants by bonds?

The NSW state government, and other state and territory governments, already has a solution available to them. For several years now, people who are eligible for social housing have been able to pay for their bond in installments over 12 months or more on an interest free loan.

Word from Family And Community Services who administer the program is that this is a highly successful program. It is a low cost, high impact program that effectively reduces the strain on households during their too-frequent moves.

We could consider this a pilot program, and expand its eligibility to every tenant in the state. Most tenants will not need it, but for those that do, it would be a very simple solution. With modern application processes the administrative costs for government are minimal and even if they are passed on to tenants it would be at a fraction of the cost of Snug. Fair Trading NSW could even use the money already sitting in the Rental Bond Board accounts to cover the loans – a true win-win.

Of course, we could also reduce the number of moves by ensuring the private rental market is not the insecure nightmare many experience (by the way, we've got a pretty good idea how to make that fairer too) – or even expand our public housing stock to ensure everyone who needs a home, has one.

Now that would be a real market disrupter.

Disclaimer: As discussed in this piece, the Tenants' Union of NSW receives some funding from the interest the Rental Bond Board earns on tenants' bonds. Details of what the bond interest money is spent on are detailed in the Rental Bond Board's annual reports.

Does BondCover have you covered?

In this article we take a look at a product known as bond surety, or bond guarantee – Snug’s BondCover – and whether it is a good deal for renters. The ACT government has apparently made regulation to allow Snug and other products lawful in that territory, to the dismay of renting experts there. See our companion piece also published today which discusses the rise of these products and offers some ways of thinking about the issue of bonds.

What is Snug’s BondCover?

In Snug's BondCover model the landlord agrees for there to be no 'bond' for the tenancy. Instead, the tenant pays between 5% and 9% per annum fee either as an annual, monthly or weekly fee to Snug (along with an initial administrative set up fee). In exchange for that fee Snug issues a certificate guaranteeing to the landlord that if there is any breach at the end of the tenancy for which a bond claim would ordinarily be made, Snug will pay it out.

To receive coverage by Snug, they must judge you as having a good tenant history and the landlord must also agree to the arrangement.

At the end of the tenancy, if the landlord makes a claim which the tenant doesn't agree with and it's under $500, Snug will assess the claim by the landlord and pay out if they think it's appropriate. It is not clear what expertise Snug has in assessing these kinds of claims. They are backed by IAG insurance though in our experience insurance companies aren't necessarily well-versed in tenancy law either.

If the landlord’s claim is over $500 the landlord will need to make an application against the tenant in the relevant court or Tribunal (in NSW the Civil and Administrative Tribunal or NCAT). Snug will pay the landlord according to the orders made by the Tribunal.

If Snug pays out to the landlord, they will attempt to recover the money from the tenant. If the tenant disagrees with Snug's assessment for under $500 Snug would need to take the tenant through the Local Court. Dealing with disputes in the Local Court tends to be more costly and difficult than dealing with disputes in the Tribunal – which is designed to be more accessible and less formal for tenants.

We understand the Snug contracts attempt to ensure that if they pay out money to the landlord you will owe them the money, even if it can be proven that they paid out incorrectly. For instance a landlord might apply to the Tribunal and be successful initially, but after Snug pays out the Tribunal decision might be overturned. It will be interesting to see how that pans out in practice.

Snug's selling point for tenants is that they will have their money in their hands, to do something more productive with it. Snug asked its potential customers what they would do with the money. 68% said either save or invest. 6% said spend it on a holiday. The other 27% of responses weren't made public.


Material on Snug’s Facebook page appears to encourage people to spend their bond money instead on very risky investment strategies like trying to find the next Amazon. This would be astonishingly poor financial advice for anyone who needs to be concerned with the affordability of their housing.

There are some transparency issues with Snug’s product. When using the example given on Snug’s website (a bond of $1,500), two different prices are given for the same bond amount. The first, static pricing example says $110 for a 2 bedroom. But when you start getting a quote in the second its jumped up to $140 for a 1 bedroom. We haven’t attempted to gain a full quote.

The fee is between 5-9% which is really a large range. It would be good if there was some transparency on how these fees are actually calculated. Clearly the number of bedrooms makes a difference. What else does?

The fee reduces over time as various loyalty bonuses are applied - but note the fine print: you appear to start with an all new administration fee and the higher cost, except for a 5% “no claim” discount, with each new property.

So is Snug’s BondCover worth it?

Let’s take the example from the website and use the example of a $1500 bond for a 2 bedroom apartment that a tenant, let's call her Jen, is going to move in to. To give Snug a bit of help, let's also assume we know Jen is going to get to stay for 3 years (a very long period for most tenants at present – only about 20% manage to stay for 3 years or longer). Jen takes her $1,500 and instead of putting all of it in the Rental Bond Board, she gives $110 of it to Snug. Now she starts the tenancy with $1,390 in her pocket. How much would Jen have to earn on the $1390 to avoid being worse off with Snug?
Assumes interest compounds daily, and tax is paid on interest earned at 2017-18 rates on additional income for a lone person household earning $60k pa - just under the income needed for rent to be considered affordable at $375 per week
After 3 years, Jen would have needed to have achieved returns of 8% a year just to cover the snug fees. In various parallel universes, some Jens who put their money into managed investment funds tied to the stock exchange will have achieved that – but many won’t have. They aren’t at all reliably performing at above 8% returns per year. The Jens who kept their money in high interest bank accounts would be topping out at about 3% pa at the moment, so those Jens are more than $100 worse off. The 6% of Jens who went on holiday effectively paid $223 extra for their tickets.

To explore the issue fully, we also ran the numbers where Jen would be with the money without having to pay a bond at all, and if the landlord held the bond (as they used to before the Rental Bond Board was implemented).



Jen is actually worse off in terms of productive use of her $1500 using Snug than just handing the whole bond over to the landlord.

Who is the real customer of Snug’s BondCover?

So, apart from Snug, who really benefits from this BondCover scheme? Ultimately, BondCover will need to be of benefit to either landlords or their agents if Snug is to run a successful business. It is landlords, not tenants, who choose whether a bond is taken and thus whether BondCover is required. Consider - if a landlord says they want BondCover and the tenant says they don't, the tenant might choose not to move in but you can be pretty sure someone else will. If the tenant says they want BondCover and the landlord says they don't - then there is no BondCover for that tenant.

You might think it could prove difficult to convince landlords to trust a start-up merely promising to have cash available, since landlords already have ready access to cash set aside specifically for the purpose of reimbursing them for any costs at the end of the tenancy. There are two clear advantages for the landlord and their agent.

Unlike a Tribunal member, Snug needs to consider its relationship with the landlord in order to ensure return business – the customer is always right and in this case, landlords are the real customers, even though they are making tenants cough up to pay for it. There will be a real incentive for landlords to make even more claims that come in just under $500, since that avoids the need for Tribunal scrutiny. Even if the claim is unsuccessful it saves real estate agents and landlords both time and money. We would expect to see more, not less, claims made on tenants’ bond money.

The second is that it appears Snug now pays referral fees equal to the first year's fee to real estate agents who sign their landlords up. This has code of conduct implications for real estate agents who need to disclose this kind of payment system in NSW, but it certainly could be enough to grease some wheels.

Is BondCover legal?

No. Not in NSW.

You don’t even need to take our word for it. The Snug website claims that BondCover is legal in all states where it is offered. It isn’t offered in NSW, and there’s a lobbying attempt to have government change the law, so you can be pretty sure it isn’t legal here.

There appears no good reason why a government would make a product like this legal – the math just doesn’t work out for tenants.

Disclaimer: As discussed in the companion piece, the Tenants' Union of NSW receives funding from the interest the Rental Bond Board earns on tenants' bonds. Details of what the bond interest money is spent on are detailed in the Rental Bond Board's annual reports.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Fair renting laws: An idea whose time has finally come?

In 1975 the Henderson Poverty Inquiry handed down its final report. One of the major recommendations in the Law and Poverty section, and the only major one which was not implemented, was ending the practice of landlords evicting tenants without a good reason.


Listen to Brendan Edgeworth, Professor of Law at UNSW speaking on ABC Radio National last year.

Is Australia finally, 43 years later, on the verge of accepting the need for change? In just the last few years we have seen a growing recognition of the issue. A number of campaigns have started - the "Make Renting Fair" campaigns in both NSW and Victoria collectively bringing together more than 160 organisations across the two states including NGOs, faith-based groups, unions, councils and tens of thousands of individual tenants and supporters.
Victoria

New South Wales


Late last year the social housing and homelessness sectors launched their national Everybody's Home campaign - and included in their platform is ending no grounds evictions. While some of the organisations involved in Everybody's Home have been campaigning on this issue for some time, it is significant that it showed for the first time the public support of community housing landlords for ending no grounds evictions.

The Sydney Alliance recently included renting questions in an opinion survey in Penrith and found that 82% of residents disagreed that landlords should be able to evict tenants without giving any good reason).


Now in the last few days, GetUp! has launched their Future to Fight For campaign, with 7 broad-reaching changes including a platform of very positive housing reforms. The platform includes implementing a broad based land tax, increasing public housing, and amongst a range of tenancy law proposals - an end to "no grounds" evictions.
With more tenants than ever before, and more attention to the issue of a fair renting system - are we finally seeing the voices of tenants and their supporters growing loud enough to create real change and bring Australia's tenancy laws, if not into the 21st century, at least in to the 1970s? 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Anglicare Rental Affordability Snapshot 2018

Anglicare Australia have released their latest 'Rental Affordability Snapshot' and find that the rental crisis is worse than ever. The Snapshot surveyed over 67,000 rental listings across Australia and found that there is a chronic shortage of affordable rentals across Australia. The Snapshot is consistently a powerful reminder of how tough it can be surviving in the rental market on lower incomes.

(C) RL Crabb 2015

We've had a look at the numbers for NSW - it's bleak.

Across Sydney, for any household type with children and relying on any form of income support there were 0 properties available and affordable for rent.

Across NSW, for any singles on Newstart or Youth Allowance there were 0 properties available and affordable for rent, including in sharehousing.

Across the rest of the country
– 485 rentals were affordable for a single person on the Disability Support Pension
– 180 rentals were affordable for a single parent with one child on Newstart
– 3 rentals were affordable for a single person on Newstart
– 2 rentals were affordable for a single person in a property or share house on Youth Allowance
– 0 rentals were affordable for a single person on Newstart or Youth Allowance in any major city.

One thing to keep in mind with the Rental Affordability Snapshot and most measures of rental affordability is that they are measuring the rents at the point people are moving. The complete absence of available and affordable options may weigh heavily in the minds of tenants who are living in substandard, inappropriate but not quite as expensive accommodation - what are their real options? Even if they were to move, would any one approve their application?

One of the findings of the report is that there are more rental properties available than before - but it hasn't helped with affordability. The market is failing to provide homes for people on lower incomes. What we need is a massive increase in the number of "market-proof" housing - housing supply which is aimed not at achieving the most profitable outcomes, but the most necessary. This is the role of good government - we hope they are listening!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Getting in to hot water: energy charges for common hot water systems

This post authored by Grant Arbuthnot, Principal Solicitor at the Tenants' Union.There has recently been some developments in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal for renters with common hot water systems. The Tribunal has found, and the TU agrees, that tenants are not liable for paying the energy bill required to heat hot water systems which are shared by multiple homes.



What is a common hot water system?
Some blocks of flats have common hot water systems.  This is where one water heating plant provides hot water to all the flats – individual flats do not have their own hot water systems. This was probably to keep the costs of building the flats lower.
How do they work?
Most common hot water systems are gas fired.  A large central hot water heater is connected to each flat.   Some have a circulation pump to reduce waste by cold water coming from the tap first.  The good systems are well insulated and well maintained. 
In a flat with its own hot water system, the tenant pays the gas or electricity bill used to heat the water. However, this is through an account with their own separate meter.
How were bills being calculated in common hot water systems?
Gas and water entering the plant are metered to allow calculation of the energy per water volume ratio (also known as a common or conversion factor) for the system, over a billing period.  This ratio is then applied to the water volume measured by each flat’s hot water flow meter.  This produces a figure for gas energy for each flat that can be multiplied by the tariff charged by the energy provider on the gas used.
What can go wrong?
We find that with both common and individual hot water systems, some are not well insulated or maintained.  The bad ones leak heat and water and they deliver much cold water, at the tap, before it gets hot.  Gas combustion may also be inefficient by neglect.
In both types of hot water system, because the tenant pays the bill, there is no incentive for the landlord to ensure the efficiency of the system unless the inefficiency can be seen as a repair issue. When tenants complain about common hot water systems, inefficiency is always mentioned. That is, it is very expensive to heat the water and users receive much higher bills than they would expect.
See the end of the article for an explanation of how we might calculate efficiency, and what we should expect in terms of the cost to heat water. It is not unreasonable for tenants to expect an efficiency of 70-80%. Two bills we have obtained from tenants were almost half as efficient and there are common hot water systems that are even more inefficient again.
Good news!
However, there is good news for tenants with common hot water systems. The Residential Tenancies Act 2010 says, at section 38, that the tenant shall pay for gas supplied to the tenant at the premises, if the premises are separately metered.  Further, the Act says, at section 40, that the landlord shall pay for gas supplied to the tenant at the premises if the premises are not separately metered.
With a common hot water system the gas is not supplied to the tenant at the premises or separately metered.  Therefore, the landlord shall pay the gas bills.
This has been backed up by two recent tenancy cases (though neither have been published):
In one, the landlord agreed that the landlord should pay the gas bills before it went to a decision.
In the other, NCAT decided that the landlord should be paying the bills going forward and ordered repayment of some of the tenants’ previous gas payments.


So, if your apartment has a common hot water system, where more than one unit is sharing the hot water tank, then you are not obliged to pay for the gas or other energy used to heat the water. If you think you might have a system like this, get advice from your local Tenants’ Advice and Advocacy Service.
Calculating efficiency
The bills people receive for common hot water systems are confusing because the units of volume are not litres and there are figures called Units, Multiplier, Conversion factor, Heating value, Pressure factor and Base usage.  Bills do state daily use of energy and compare it to prior bills.  This is helpful, but it does not tell you how efficient the plant is.  An efficiency figure would tell us what proportion of the heat of the gas used is actually getting into the water.
It is possible to estimate the efficiency of your common hot water system, by making two assumptions:
  • it takes 4.186 kJ to heat a litre of water one degree Celsius &
  • the water is being heated 500 (from 15 to 650C)
Note that the second assumption may vary between systems and weather conditions.
Based on these assumptions, 209.3 kJ per litre (4.186 x 50) would be 100% efficient.  This can also be expressed as 0.2093 MJ/l.
The two bills we obtained from tenants have effective energy per water volume ratios of 0.494311 and 0.49123.  The bills use MJ as the energy unit.  Assuming the order of magnitude for MJ/l as 0.49… the efficiencies for the bills are:
-        44.33% (0.4433 = 0.2093 /0.494311) &
-        42.61% (0.4261 = 0.2093 /0.49123) respectively.
EWON (Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW) investigated the gas bills of one of the tenants and reported that the common factor [or conversion factor] for an efficient common hot water system ranges from . . . 0.3 to 0.7 . . .
Doing the same calculation (divide into 0.2093) for that range we get:

Factor
% efficiency
0.3
69.77
0.4
52.33
0.5
41.86
0.6
34.88
0.7
29.90

What could we compare these figures with?
An American National Standards and Technology study from the 1990s demonstrates that the greatest difference to thermal efficiency of electric domestic hot water systems is made by insulation.  The uninsulated units averaged 40.6% (which is similar to the cases we described above) and the insulated units averaged 88.2%.  American advertising claims 80% thermal efficiency for a conventional domestic natural gas hot water system.  Elgas (Australia) correlates 4 to 7 star ratings with 73 to 94% for LPG domestic hot water systems.
Note that all the above figures are for the water heating plant only.  They take no account of loss of heat or water between the plant and the flats.  Calculating efficiency figures at the tap would need temperature measurements at the tap.  That would provide information on the efficiency of the whole system, plant to tap.

UPDATE
The second NCAT decision referred to above was briefly subject to appeal - but the appeal by the landlord has not continued.