After pledging to consolidate tribunals across the state in order to cut red tape last year, the NSW government has added a new layer to the tenancy dispute process.
At the beginning of 2014, the NSW government established the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) to amalgamate more than 20 of the state’s tribunals, including the Consumer Trader and Tenancy Tribunal CTTT, to provide a single gateway for tribunal services.
The body was established in response to the recommendations of the Legislative Council’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice, which found that the existing tribunal system can be "complex and bewildering".
However, the new ‘simpler’ system has been smashed by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), who want to add a new wheel to the already clunky system, according to the Real Estate Institute of NSW (REINSW).
At present, a tenant with a dispute would approach NCAT for mediation. The agreed solution would be committed to an order of the tribunal, and enforceable. If a solution could not be agreed upon, the matter was put before the tribunal.
“What’s happening now is that the Office of Fair Trading has decided they want to get into this space as well, and are going to offer an additional mediation service,” said Tim McKibbin, CEO of the REINSW.
“So now if you have a dispute, you go to the OFT to mediate. But if you agree to the mediation there is no enforceable order. So parties can agree today, shake hands and then change their minds before they reach the door.”
If this happens, the parties would go to NCAT and pick up where they would have started off.
REINSW president Malcolm Gunning said additional resources should be directed towards NCAT, not towards Fair Trading.
“The NSW Fair Trading service is a waste of time for all parties involved,” Mr Gunning said.
“All it is going to do is increase time. There is no compulsion, participants don’t have to take the advice and in the end, most will end up at NCAT anyway.”
Mr Gunning said the serious consequences of the lost time and money from what is proposed should not be underestimated.
“It is going to affect the consumer because it will lengthen the resolution process. This could be the last straw for some property investors, which could spell disaster for a market that does not have enough stock,” he said.
While the Office of Fair Trading could not respond by the time of publication, NCAT claimed they had not seen the new policy and could not comment until a statement from OFT had been released.