This evidence based report was researched and written over six months. We covered groups from Onkaparinga to the Yorke Peninsula. We incorporated views from low-income persons from a range of cultural backgrounds.
Our evidence was drawn from research of practices and policies in other jurisdictions, from conversations with over four hundred persons and from financial reports. We contacted and communicated with peers in the sector to align our initial perceptions with long-term practices and views.
We propose thirty-three recommendations, which offer options for different directions to address serious gaps for tenants and others on low-incomes.
No hardship program exists for tenants. SA Water deals exclusively with land-owners, due to the historical fact that water use was a rate akin to council rates.
The lack of a hardship program for tenants pushes water expenses to a land-owner – tenant relationship, which often ends at the SACAT (South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal), where SACAT may end tenancies based on water bills owing from renter to owner.
We recommend that a scheme for allowing tenants to access hardship be initiated.
We further recommend that as hardship is currently captured (recognised and acted upon by SA Water) at $1400 of debt, there is a need to lower this amount to around $520
Water Efficiency Required in Tenancies
Amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act in 2014 saw the cost of water supply shifted from owners to tenants. Our view is that this amounts to ‘double dipping’ and is, along with high-volume water use, the biggest difficulty for tenants on low incomes regarding water as a utility.
In New South Wales, land-owners are required to install efficient fixtures if they are to charge their tenants for water supply and use.
We recommend that water efficiency measures be required in residential tenancies if the owner is to charge the tenant for supply and use of water.
Billing Tenants Directly
Billing tenants directly would alleviate many existing problems for tenants and landlords, and open new solutions – such as facilitating a hardship scheme.
By billing tenants directly, a hardship scheme could be enacted and additional rebates, caps and incentives could be offered directly to tenants. Such offerings could be an additional allowance per child in the household, alleviation of supply costs under certain circumstances (such as a recognised disability) or a usage cap.
Our research has indicated many recommendations relating to tenants on low incomes.
Our recommendations are based on practices from other Australian States and other developed countries, and on mismatches between legislation and practices.
Our research indicated that only 33% of eligible people know about concessions for water use. Consequently, work needs to be done to inform eligible persons of their entitlements.
(Submitted to the South Australian Government by Matthew Holmes, Project Officer, Uniting Communities, South Australia)