The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) recently launched their strategic plan for the next five years. In it, VCAT has vowed to create a more inclusive and customer-centric environment by addressing certain systemic issues relating to a tenants’ access to justice through their services. The positive changes include:
- The communication of hearing dates to tenants will no longer solely lie with the landlord or agent. Now, the registrar will contact the tenant via phone and SMS to notify them of an impending hearing.
- The registrar will provide copies of the case to the tenant and/or their counsel upon request rather than directing them to the landlord or agent for this information.
- Tenants will now be provided with access to reasonable support services during hearings such as interpreters and mental health advocates. They will consider changes to the location of hearings where necessary, and provide the option to allow tenants to attend hearings via a telephone link.
- VCAT has employed Koori support personnel with a plan to set up a Koori Court for some hearings in the near future.
These changes bring a breath of fresh air to a process that is often daunting and complex to tenants. It is common for tenants not to attend hearings because they don’t even realise a case has been brought against them until after a judgment has been made. Often, the tenant has not received notification of the claim from their landlord because it was sent to their previous mailing address and no other attempt is made to reach them.
A common headache for support service personnel working with tenants has also been addressed by these changes. Until recently, solicitors were required to provide written authority from the tenant in order to gain access to case documents, which is often a cumbersome and time-consuming process for all involved. Now when a tenant’s solicitor contacts VCAT to receive copies of the matter, it is automatically assumed that they have consent.
For more information on VCAT’s strategic plan and the changes to their services, visit: www.vcat.vic.gov.au/resources/vcat-for-the-future-strategic-plan-2018-22