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Housing grant could be in place sooner

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 24/05/2016

The government looks set to bring in a new grant to help people in desperate need of emergency housing sooner than planned.

Earlier this month, Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett announced there would be just over $41 million in Thursday's budget to improve access to emergency housing.

Along with funding for 3000 beds, there will be a new special needs grant to support individuals and families with the cost of emergency housing for up to seven days.

That grant - which replaces support previously provided as a loan from Work and Income - would cover instances where people have no choice other than to stay in a motel.

The new initiatives were due to come in September, but Ms Bennett said people will be able to access the grants earlier than that.

"From the beginning of July we think we can manually do those special need grants for people who are going into motels, so that they are real grants and they don't have to be paid back," she told reporters on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the government has ruled out wiping the debts of those people who've chalked up large loans to pay for emergency accommodation.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said there are some "exceptional circumstances" in which a debt can be wiped, but this discretion is used sparingly.

However, Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox is among those calling for a better solution.

"Earlier this week, the media highlighted the case of a mother of eight tamariki who owes more than $60,000 to WINZ for emergency accommodation costs," she said.

"This is an outrageous situation that highlights the lack of low-cost housing available for vulnerable families. You can only imagine what kind of pressure mounting debt puts on parents and their tamariki."

Ms Fox accepted a petition at parliament on Wednesday calling for the government to forgive WINZ debts for emergency housing.

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