More than 40,000 children are hospitalised each year with preventable illnesses that can be attributed to poverty and poor living conditions, and vastly improving legislation around the quality and safety of rental homes is imperative if the wellbeing of children is to improve, says Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).
Passing of the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill (No 2), which is due to be debated in Parliament today, will herald a meaningful step forward for the health and wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of children.
CPAG supports ActionStation’s call for further improvements to the new Bill, presented in an open letter to Parliament this morning, that will ensure health and safety standards are met and and adequately monitored.
All houses, including those built before 2000 should be required to be insulated to the 2008 standard. Evidence shows that tenanted housing tends to be in worse condition and inadequately insulated compared to owner-occupied housing. Specific exemptions should not apply where the standards are not able to be met.
An adequate complaints procedure whereby solutions can be actioned immediately must be well-funded and supported as part Tenancy Services.
“Tenants should not have to wait for court proceedings to deem a landlord liable for maintenance when a well-qualified inspector may be able to expedite necessary repairs or upgrades,” says Frank Hogan, CPAG law and housing spokesperson.
CPAG co-convenor Alan Johnson says that renters rights are an area of primary concern and ensuring that a process is in place that supports tenants to have their concerns addressed should be set out in a further amendment to the Residential Tenancies Act.
“The new Government has set out a number of changes to support tenants, especially for those in hardship, such as yearly rent increases as opposed to twice-yearly. We need to see this and more outlined in a new Bill to ensure that families are not being subjected to excessive increases they cannot afford,” says Johnson.
CPAG also agrees that a process for escalation and increasing of sanctions for failure to comply should be added as a clause to the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill (No 2).
“At the risk of landlords simply paying a fine and continuing to breach their obligations, there must he a process in place to escalate sanctions for continued non-compliance,” says Hogan.
“If a health and safety issue is not addressed according to the timeframe provided to comply, landlords must be held to account.
“If you fail a Warrant of Fitness for your car, you can have your car taken off the road if you do not comply with the standard. In the same manner, a higher sanction must be applied for landlords who continuously fail to comply with the minimum standards outlined under the new Bill.”
Minimum standards must also apply to other areas of safety, particularly the safety of children is concerned. These areas include lighting and electrical fixtures, landing and veranda barriers, handrails and latches. Housing must not only be able to be heated, but safely and efficiently.
CPAG says that if these standards were set out in legislation, and processes for compliance and complaints made much more robust, we would be much closer to a Warrant of Fitness-like certification for rental housing, and to increasing the standard of living for many children in low-income situations.
“We would see many fewer children in hospital with preventable illnesses and injuries, and avoid tragic deaths such as that of Emma-Lita Bourne,” says Hogan.
Click here to read CPAG’s 2016 submission on the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill (No. 2).