A long-standing service for tenants in the ACT has been threatened with closure after a shake-up in government funding.
The Tenants' Union ACT has been giving legal advice for 25 years, but has been told its service is now to be put out to tender.
"I was completely shocked," said its executive officer, Deb Pippen. "There was no indication of any problem with our service."
In February, she went to meet officials in the ACT government to discuss an increase in funding to cover wage rises which followed from a Fair Work Commission equal remuneration order.
Instead, she was told that the service would be up for tender. "I was completely blind-sided," she said.
The ACT government said the Tenants' Union was told at the end of August that it would have to tender for the contract if it wanted to continue its service.
The ACT's Justice and Community Safety Directorate said this was to ensure the service provided "the best value for money and quality of service for the Canberra community".
"The Tenants' Union has been encouraged to participate in the tender process," it said. There would be no gap in the service between the contracts whoever won the new one.
Tenants will not be as well represented. Landlords will just rip them off.Natalie Lang, Australian Services Union
The Tenants' Union in the ACT helps about 2000 people a year with legal advice. It also runs an advice website for both tenants and landlords. It employs three full-time staff and two part-timers on an annual budget of $440,000.
The Australian Services Union, which represents employees of the Tenants' Union, fears that a bigger non-specialist organisation could put in a lower offer for the work but not do it as well.
Its spokesman didn't see how the same standard of service could be maintained on the same budget as that of the existing Tenants' Union.
A bigger organisation like Anglicare might be able to put in what seemed like a fancier application to take over the work, but then not be as good on the ground as a specialist service for tenants, the ASU spokesman thought.
The ASU said the Tenants' Union was extremely careful with money.
"Nobody's going out to lunch. There's no fat to cut," ASU secretary Natalie Lang said. Closure would mean that "tenants will not be as well represented. Landlords will just rip them off."
This decision was made to ensure that the Tenants' Advisory Service provides the best value for money and quality of service for the Canberra community.Justice and Community Safety Directorate, ACT Government
One tenant sang the praises of the Tenants' Union.
Canberra teacher Fiona Game and her partner had difficulties with their tenancy in Lyneham on two scores.
Firstly, she said the landlord was coming round as a tradie and not disclosing he also owned the place. She slowly rumbled the fact as he gave away that he knew more about the property than a random, visiting tradie would.
She had told the "tradie" - or owner - that she thought the rent was low. And, secondly, when the owner evicted them, the real estate agent withheld the bond until every single tree leaf had been picked up from outside.
Ms Game said she contacted the Tenants' Union and their advice was "very to the point". Their advice couldn't get them back into the home they had left but it did get them back their full bond of $1720.
She thought the Tenants' Union people were hard-pressed by the shortage of resources but still delivered a really good service.