The Illawarra Housing Trust has appointed an independent advisor in a bid to fix systemic problems in the organisation’s culture and governance.
Training for staff and board members on ethical conduct and conflicts of interest will also be part of a ‘’renewal plan’’ announced amid allegations of bullying, mismanagement and infighting within the organisation.
The NSW Registrar of Community Housing had given the trust until December 22 to come up with an action plan to address areas of non-compliance with national law – or risk having its registration cancelled. It now has until February 19 to implement changes.
It’s not the first time the trust – which oversees more than 2000 tenants – has come under scrutiny.
In October 2014, former data entry clerk Lalaine Agtarap was sentenced to five years jail after defrauding the organisation of almost $3.8 million over seven years. At the time, Judge Paul Conlon said the fraud was made easier by the ‘’negligence of her supervisors’’.
A Housing Trust spokeswoman said the fraud had had an ongoing affect on morale, however it was now important for the organisation to ‘’look forward’’.
‘’The board has had a renewal plan in place since late last year in recognition that the organisation needed to continue to invest in its leadership development, its systems and its culture to allow it to grow and meet the needs of tenants,’’ she said.
‘’Staff engagement surveys were undertaken in December 2016 and again in August, while there’s been extensive training and the appointment of a new CEO (Michele Adair) in July.
‘’Because of the action already taken, and the new action plan we have developed, we are confident all issues of concern will be resolved by February.’’
Trust chairman David Campbell was sent a notice of non-compliance in late November by NSW Registrar Neil Quarmby.
In the letter, Mr Quarmby said he had instigated an investigation in April – after receiving numerous complaints – and had found a number of ‘’weaknesses’’ in the organisation.
‘’(The trust) has had a history of internal leadership dysfunction which presents as waves of complaints to the regulator by many internal staff for a wide variety of culture-based and governance-based allegations,’’ he stated.
‘’These range from interpersonal allegations of bullying through to inappropriate management decisions and non-compliant behaviours.
‘’The level of dysfunctional behaviours appears to be getting worse and needs to be addressed urgently before these organisational cultural issues impact tenant outcomes and the sustainability of the company.’’
Several former, and current, employees contacted the Mercury after a December article on the investigation findings.
‘’I used the whistleblower policy to make a complaint to the registrar due to the lack of transparency and accountability by the board,’’ one former staff member said.
‘’Staff are leaving in droves due to the ongoing culture of bullying and intimidation. All up 100 people have left since 2012.’’
The trust spokeswoman would not confirm exact numbers but said a previous preference for putting staff on short-term contracts contributed to the high turnover.
However she reiterated that while the trust had not complied with three areas of the national code – governance, probity and management – it had complied with all other areas including tenant and housing services.
‘’We’ve just participated in a national tenant satisfaction survey where we ranked first in Australia in six categories,’’ she said.
‘’You can’t do that if your organisation is as completely dysfunctional, as unhappy and as poorly governed as suggested.’’
Meantime, a letter was sent to tenants, landlords, community partners and contractors after the notice of non-compliance.
In it, the board reassured tenants that there was no possibility they would lose their homes as part of the registrar’s findings.