Helping renters navigate tenancy rights as COVID-19 left them ‘reeling’

Helping renters navigate tenancy rights as COVID-19 left them ‘reeling’

Monday, 29 March 2021

Tenants Victoria CEO Jennifer Beveridge sitting at a table with Director of Legal Services, Agata Wierzbowski
(L-R) Tenants Victoria Director of Legal Services, Agata Wierzbowski and CEO Jennifer Beveridge.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Jennifer Beveridge, CEO of Tenants Victoria, knew they had to respond quickly to meet urgent need from renters.

Tenants Victoria needed to help people understand and assert their tenancy rights while facing the compound stressors of pandemic uncertainty, changing rules and legislation, and a near overnight shift to remote work.

‘Renters suddenly found themselves on unsteady financial ground and this was directly impacting the security of their housing … We saw this in the increased volume of people contacting our telephone help lines and a 52 per cent increase in page views on our website,’ said Jennifer.

For many people, the COVID-19 pandemic was the first time they had experienced housing insecurity.

Tenants Victoria saw a new cohort of people needing help who had never sought out legal advice before and were unfamiliar with navigating channels for assistance.

‘COVID 19 has had widespread financial and social consequences and these were especially felt by renters. People who had never sought help from the legal assistance sector were coming to us in financial hardship.’

‘Clear, direct language’ to communicate sudden changes

Many Victorians were confused by the shifting rules around evictions and tenancies.

Jennifer said that in Tenants Victoria’s experience people needed succinct and clear information to help them understand their rights and options.

'Renters, real estate agents and landlords were all reeling, and our job was to tell renters of their rights and how to assert them. We aimed to provide clear, direct language to communicate the sudden changes and emergency legislation.'

To better provide renters with the resources they urgently needed, Tenants Victoria:

  • pivoted to an entirely online phone and case management system
  • established new, specialist programs to provide targeted support during the lockdowns
  • updated its website to provide clear guides and assistance
  • delivered a series of how-to guides to help people navigate unfamiliar territory during COVID-19
  • improved its offerings to multicultural communities through resources and outreach in Arabic, simplified Chinese, Dari/Farsi, and Punjabi and Dinka.

These resources ensured people could find answers to their legal problem on their own, reserving more intensive services for high-need clients.

Strengthening partnerships to provide clear, consistent help

Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) and Tenants Victoria, together with other key tenancy providers, have been meeting regularly since the start of COVID-19 to coordinate service responses and advocacy for tenants who need legal help.

This collaborative effort has improved access to information and legal help for Victorian renters by drawing on Tenants Victoria’s sector leadership and experience, and VLA’s service design expertise.

‘Greater coordination of services and sharing of knowledge between providers means referral pathways are clearer for clients and information for renters on their rights and options is accurate and up-to-date,’ said Marie Baird, VLA Service Design Lead.

‘The two organisations are leveraging strengths to develop a systems-level analysis of how connections between different parts of the tenancy system can be strengthened to reduce the ‘referral roundabout’ for clients.’

‘With such high tenancy legal need, we need to work effectively together to assist as many renters as possible,’ said Jennifer.

VLA’s Sector Engagement and Service Design team is available to work with other community legal centres to adopt a similar approach to improve our collective response to community challenges.

‘Our work with Tenants Victoria is a great example of the value of taking a sector-wide view of system problems and working collaboratively to develop more effective and efficient responses,’ said Marie.

‘We can support this sort of work in a range of ways including strategic advice, technical assistance and resources as well as sharing our own experience as a service provider.’

More information

For more information about service planning contact our Sector Engagement and Service Design team by emailing Marie Baird at marie.baird@vla.vic.gov.au.

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