Budget guru rescues family

18:42, Jul 30 2013
Michael Gormon
ON A MISSION: City Missioner Michael Gorman waiting to fill up the depleted shelves at the Christchurch City Mission Food Bank.

Christchurch couple Mark McLaughlin and Sarah Davies were on the brink of losing their home and facing a debt of thousands of dollars, when they approached the Christchurch City Mission.

After miscommunication over forms, the couple were told they owed Housing New Zealand (HNZ) more than $5000 and needed to vacate their rental property immediately.

McLaughlin and Davies began renting their Riccarton home from HNZ in late 2011.

McLaughlin does contract work as a screen-printer, while Davies is on an invalid's benefit and looks after the couple's three children.

A year after they moved in, the couple filled in an income assessment form for HNZ, which tenants complete annually to ensure they still qualify for low-priced rentals.

McLaughlin and Davies assumed everything was fine with the forms and kept making their usual rental payments of $126.


However, HNZ had not received the income form and, unbeknown to the couple, had increased the rent to $342 a week.

It was not until February 2013 - months later - that McLaughlin and Davies realised that the rent had been increased, when they received a bill for arrears of $3500.

"There had been a misunderstanding where they hadn't got the form that I sent," Davies said.

"It had spiralled into a huge debt."

Dealing with the mess was extremely difficult for the couple.

Both Davies and McLaughlin suffer from depression and Davies also has anxiety issues, which means she is not confident at expressing herself.

"The everyday stuff is really difficult for me," Davies said. "I felt really overwhelmed."

At a loss, the pair approached the City Mission's budgeting services for help.

By then, HNZ said they owed $5550 and was threatening to end their tenancy.

"We have three children and Mark doesn't have set hours, some weeks he has no work and some weeks just a couple of hours. It was a huge amount of money for us," Davies said.

Phil Brady, the mission's budget adviser, helped the couple by communicating with HNZ on their behalf and attending tenancy tribunal meetings.

"He was my voice. I couldn't have stood up for myself because of my mental health issues," Davies said.

"He convinced HNZ to let me get the forms back together and send them to them again."

At a tenancy tribunal in May, HNZ confirmed it had received the forms and backdated the rent so that the $5550 of arrears were reversed. The couple only had $657 left to pay, which HNZ allowed them to pay in weekly $20 instalments.

The eviction notice was also removed. It was a "unbelievable relief" for the couple, Davies said.

"We're so grateful for their help. I don't know what we would have done without Phil."

Brady had also helped the couple with their budget. "He could see we were in a hardship and didn't judge us."

The Press