The ACT government is facing a major political stoush over a tendering decision which could see the potential demise of Tenants ACT, after quietly reviewing the group's resourcing two years ago.
The Australian Services Union is leading a campaign to save the territory's tenants union - and the advice service it runs - with the backing of more than 30 local and national community organisations and service providers.
For Canberra's more than 100,000 tenants, and the landlords and real estate agents they deal with, it is the only free local service dedicated to helping people navigate the territory's tenancy law.
The Canberra Times understands that during a meeting between the ASU, Tenants ACT and Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay's office last week, it was revealed the government completed the review in 2017-18.
But Mr Ramsay, and his directorate, have to date declined to detail its specific findings and recommendations to the public at large, while the government claims the union was consulted at the time.
It follows the government's shock August decision to put the tenants' advice service out to public tender, as Tenants ACT this year celebrate 25 years of successful operations.
All decisions made about the future of the contract were made with 'the best intentions'.JACS spokeswoman
Mr Ramsay has also declined to answer questions on the nature of those discussions, or the tender, referring all questions to the justice and community services directorate.
Tenants ACT executive officer Deborah Pippen said the August decision had come as a shock during a meeting with director-general Jon Peach, particularly after working with government on recent tenancy law reforms.
The government has said the decision to put the service out to tender last week was partly due to the length of time it had not been tested in the market.
But Ms Pippen said given the tenants union's long expertise in such a niche area of law, the lack of other organisations specialising in such work, it was unclear what other local provider could do the work.
Since then, more than 30 local community organisations and service providers, as well as national groups including GetUp and the ASU, have signed a letter calling on the government to guarantee the union's future.
Among the signatories to the letter were: Unions ACT, Toora Women, ACT Shelter and its national counterpart, the ANU Student Association, Consumer Law Centre and the ACT Council on the Ageing.
While the tenants union is funded by interest on tenants' bonds, without the tenants advice service contract, it would likely be forced to close its doors.
A spokeswoman for the directorate said all decisions made about the future of the contract, which will start April 1, 2020, were made with "the best intentions".
She said the government had ordered a consulting firm to do the review in 2017, with a report finished in May 2018.
"The tenants' union were consulted during this review and provided feedback in response to the final report in July 2018," she said.
The ASU has also written to senior directorate officials, seeking that "the directorate write into any new funding contract, appropriate priority employment arrangements for existing tenants' union staff as a requirement to tender".
Union NSW and ACT branch secretary Natalie Lang said Mr Ramsay knew what the potential solution was, because it was in his "bottom drawer", but he had instead passed the buck to his directorate, leading to a "disastrous tender".
"The under-resourcing of tenant legal services is the ACT's problem, it's Gordon Ramsay's problem, and simply asking a bunch of random private sector providers to fix it is sloppy and lazy; it won't work," Ms Lang said.
The government spokeswoman said the tenants union was encouraged to lodge a tender, and there would be "no gap in service delivery".