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Tetraplegic woman in HNZ sights

DUBBY HENRY
Last updated 05:00 22/01/2014
Roberta Mahara
DUBBY HENRY/Fairfax NZ
WAITING GAME: Housing New Zealand wants to evict tetraplegic Roberta Mahara from her home in Takanini.

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The search is on for a new home for a bedridden tetraplegic woman waiting anxiously to hear if she is to be evicted.

Housing New Zealand claims mother-of-four Roberta Mahara, 38, has been living with an undeclared partner while claiming government benefits.

It has asked the Tenancy Tribunal to rule on whether it can legally evict her from her Takanini state house for being $5000 behind on rent.

The tribunal's decision was expected two weeks ago but no ruling has yet been issued.

In the meantime staff at Hauraki-Waikato MP Nanaia Mahuta's office have stepped in to help find alternative housing for Ms Mahara.

They are working with Papakura Marae to try to make sure she doesn't end up homeless, spokeswoman Pania Wilson says.

"We're going to exhaust all our avenues to find somewhere for her to go."

But the search is proving difficult. Social housing providers are already overrun with clients and none of the private homes looked at so far has wheelchair access, Ms Wilson says.

The Labour MP's office also plans to act as a go-between Ms Mahara and government agencies - something Ms Wilson says has been "sorely lacking in her case".

Ms Mahara is bedridden after she was partially paralysed when she broke her neck in a car accident in 2006.

She went on a sickness benefit and moved into a state house in Takanini which had been modified for wheelchair access.

She's unable to perform simple tasks for herself, with ACC paying for her 24-hour care. She also suffers from anxiety and severe migraines.

She's now headed for court on a variety of charges.

Housing NZ has charged her with receiving more than $250,000 worth of subsidies she wasn't entitled to from both it and Work and Income.

Investigators believe her former partner Keith Newton has been living with her for the past seven years while she has declared each year that she was living alone.

But Ms Mahara says the investigators have misunderstood the nature of her relationship with Mr Newton.

She needs 24-hour care which can be hard to find and Mr Newton sometimes steps in as a temporary carer.

They have had an on-again off-again relationship and have four children, including a 3-year-old, but they are not living together, she says.

And she says no-one has met with her to ask what was happening.

"I've never met with any investigators. They're outsiders looking in but they don't know me."

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The corporation has also said she "failed or refused" to meet with investigators to discuss the case.

Ms Mahara says that's because her disability prevented her from getting to the meetings.

Evicting Ms Mahara is the "absolute last resort", HNZ's tenancy services general manager Kay Read says.

"We are very familiar with Ms Mahara's circumstances and have been working with her for a considerable period of time to come to a solution other than this," she says.

"We do not tolerate fraud and thoroughly investigate cases where we suspect someone has not fully presented the truth in documentation provided to obtain a state house or subsidised rent they would not otherwise be entitled to. This includes cases where someone deliberately disguises relationships."

Ms Mahara lost her benefit last year when the allegations of living with an undeclared partner came to light.

HNZ raised her rent from $72 a week to market rent of $480 because she was no longer a beneficiary.

Without an income she rapidly fell behind on her rent and HNZ began eviction proceedings.

She was more than $5000 in arrears by the time her benefit was reinstated and she's now paying that off at $20 per week.

A support letter written by Ms Mahara's social worker, Sandie Turei, says her client is a victim of bad advice and poor communication between government agencies and has not received the support she needs.

"It would be a discredit to [Housing NZ] to evict this paraplegic victim along with her 16-year-old daughter, leaving them homeless," the Papakura Marae employee says.

- Papakura Courier

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