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Pensioner's win could slash state rents

Thousands of state house tenants could be eligible for cheaper rents thanks to the dogged determination of a pensioner and a community law office.

In a landmark decision, a High Court judge has ruled Housing New Zealand must find out whether applicants for income-related rents have special circumstances before it calculates how much they have to pay.

More than 60,000 Housing NZ tenants are on income-related rents.

Freemans Bay tenant Ross Bradburn and the Grey Lynn Neighbourhood Law Office took the government corporation to task after both it and the State Housing Appeals Authority failed to consider whether there were special circumstances which would reduce Bradburn's rent further.

The 78-year-old began his battle in 2003 when Housing NZ didn't take into account that his income varied depending on his shifts as a casual front-of-house staffer at the Aotea Centre and whether it justified a lower rent.

The district court ruled Bradburn had not been told about his right to apply for a reduced rent although Housing NZ was obliged to do so.

Housing NZ appealed the decision, arguing it would be "absurd" if it had to tell every tenant about the discretion it can exercise.

But Justice Helen Winkelmann, in her decision released this month, says few people, other than government officials or lawyers who read the relevant act, would know about the discretion.

"If tenants are not told by Housing New Zealand (about its existence), they are shut out of the decision making process..."

Auckland University law lecturer Hanna Wilberg said the decision highlighted a person's right to have all matters considered, irrespective of whether the decision maker thought it was relevant.

"Housing New Zealand seems to be of the view the discretion is limited."

But the judge had made it clear the corporation had to gather all the information it could before it set income-related rents. Any policy Housing NZ developed in advance had to be flexible and applied to each case on its merits, Wilberg said.

Bradburn told the Sunday Star-Times that even though he didn't end up paying less rent, Housing NZ was afraid a lot more people would seek a review as a result of his case. Last year the State Housing Appeal Authority heard just four cases, while only one had been considered so far this financial year, with one more scheduled to be heard.

Despite the victory, the ongoing stress of the case has left Bradburn depressed.

"After all, Housing New Zealand is a government body who should know how to act properly."

Source: Sunday Star Times