Kiwis trying to move house across alert levels left 'with nowhere to go' as Health Ministry says boundary exemptions to leave Auckland for relocation won't be approved

Kiwis trying to permanently relocate from one alert level setting to another are feeling "blindsided" as the Government cracks down on who can cross domestic boundaries. 

Aucklanders say they are frustrated over inconsistent information and a change to the alert level rules since the last country-wide outbreak, leaving some with no where to go. 

The Ministry of Health told Newshub it's taking "a highly cautious and prudent approach" to exemption requests to travel across an Alert Level boundary wiith only 464 of 8628 applications being approved. Fiona Connor reports. 

'What do I do?' 

Auckland woman Liz* could have never predicted the COVID-Delta outbreak, but says she's tried her best to accept the changes as they've come - but a change in stance from the Govt this time around left her baffled. 

She and her husband bought a house in Kerikeri before the Covid-Delta outbreak. The couple were supposed to move from Auckland on September 4, but the country was in Alert Level 4 lockdown so accepted there would be a delay. 

"We didn't have a COVID-clause in our agreement initially, but we worked with the vendor and came to an agreement that we'd move when both parties were mutually at level 3 or less," she said. 

The couple locked in to moving September 24, with the seller of their new home moving overseas and already vacating the property. The home she is leaving has a family arriving on September 25. 

"They need to move out of their property because the owner of that property needs to move back in, they already had to negotiate an extension under level 4, and have been facing a lot of pressure that they need to move out. They can't extend their time."

Under Level 3 last time, those permanently moving house could move house until earlier this week, that suddenly changed. 

"The blindside was that you can no longer move out of a level 3 to a level 2  if you are moving to your permanent home," Liz told Newshub.  "You're just left with 'oh my goodness, what do I do?"

"On top of that, you then go to the exemptions and you think 'at least I can do something, I will apply for an exemption and see what I can do' but the site was under maintenance from 7pm until midday today (Wednesday)."

Liz says after seeing the amount of cases being approved, it didn't give her any hope of standing a chance to relocate. 

"I've got four people who live in my home, I have three dogs, I have a daughter who's moved in because of health reasons so I have to find somewhere else to live with three dogs, a house full of furniture and family members and I have very limited options available. Where am I supposed to go?" 

Liz's husband hasn't been able to work under level 4 and stress is mounting. The couple applied for the wage subsidy, and without his normal earnings it's a tough spot to be in. 

"We're making it work, and you have to suck it up, but on top of that now, I'm considering 'do I have to get a storage unit and pay for a storage unit while not earning', 'need to find somewhere to put my dogs, where am I going to put them?

"I'll have to pay twice, taking it once to the storage unit and then again to go North because it's not even clear if the moving trucks can take our furniture without us, so I am sitting here going 'I have very limited options, I have limited people who can give me an answer around what my options are, how many contingency plans do I need to make?"

You could move house under Level 3 last time, then earlier this week that suddenly changed, and now.. the government admits it might need to change the rules again.
You could move house under Level 3 last time, then earlier this week that suddenly changed, and now.. the government admits it might need to change the rules again. Photo credit: Newshub.

Liz is calling for specific criteria to be applied so that people aren't left in the lurch. 

"If they are going to allow MIQ people to go, why didn't they tell us to self-isolate, or say you have to be vaccinated or not, or say you have to self-isolate at the other end and you've got to be able to demonstrate you've been using the COVID tracer app and you where your movements have been in the last week, why don't they put some criteria around it, instead of just going 'good luck with being homeless', and let me combine my bubble with someone else because there's no where else to go," she says. 

"This will not just impact me, and I am beyond words as to how this impacts myself and other families." 

'Powerless position'

Newshub was contacted by a stream of people sharing their frustrations this week who found themselves in confronting situations. 

Lauren, a pensioner living alone on Waiheke Island told Newshub she sold her house and was due to settle on a new home in Nelson just after the country was launched into Alert Level 4. 

She says the settlement has been delayed twice because of level 4 restrictions and was relieved when Auckland went to level 3, under the impression she was able to settle on her sale and move. 

"I found out yesterday (Wednesday) after all these arrangements had been made that I am not allowed to travel one way out of level 3 to level 2 for a permanent move to another region."

She applied for an exemption but isn't hopeful as she understands most requests are being denied. 

"There was no warning that these changes were coming. I live on my own and have been in my own bubble for the last 5+ weeks. I will have nowhere to live after settlement on my house tomorrow. I have followed all the rules as part of the 'team of 5 million' as has been requested however I’m worn down, stressed out, and totally over this." 

Another woman said she and her family have been left in a "very powerless position" now paying bridging finance on a house in Paihia after the alert level dropped and forced them legally to have to settle.

"Like a lot of kiwis who are trying to make a new start out of Auckland. Through no fault of ours - lockdown has put a massive spammer in the works." 

She says after the rule change they got in the car to return to Auckland to pack up their house, only to get turned around at the border. 

One family-of-four sold their house in Maraetai, East Auckland, in July to move to the Blenheim region for work opportunities but lockdown restrictions in the first week of level got in the way. 

They are now stuck in Auckland and have to pay their mortgage as well as the rent on their new property in Blenheim that they have been unable to move to. 

"It has been an incredible stretch for us with 2 young children," mum Belinda Clark explained. 

She says the family is only living off one reduced wage, as her husband finished his job the week before lockdown. 

"Just not knowing, come Monday, where we are going to be. We're a family of four, we've got a dog - trying to find anywhere when you've got a dog is virtually impossible, at this very very late stage as well."

Belinda is disappointed with how events have transpired after the Government announced the move to Level 3 for Auckland. 

Like Liz, Belinda was left believing that in Level 3, as long as you had supporting documentation showing your new residence and negative covid test within 72 hours of travel, those relocating could settle a house and move to a new permanent home, even from level 3 to 2 regions.

On Wednesday morning, as they finalised the packing of our house, she found out that the Governement had changed the rules. 

"The REA, Settled, and real estate agents were completely unaware of the change - and very unhappy about it -, and I believe have been fielding a lot of calls of many clients stuck and effectively homeless.

"The new rules state that you cannot move from level 3 to 2 now, unless you have an exemption, yet moving house is not deemed important enough to get an exemption. 

"This seems crazy that other workers can cross the boundary with negative tests, you can go out and about in Auckland get takeaways and coffees, yet if your house is sold and you have to move out, you cannot get to your new home even with showing a negative test and having all of the documentation. 

"We completely understand the need to keep the border tight and protect the rest of NZ, but if we're not from an affected area, show negative test,s and were fully vaccinated months ago, why can we not travel to our new home?" 

Belinda says her family is now left in "complete limbo".

"As of Monday we will be officially homeless in Auckland with our family and dog, and no way out of Auckland to the house we're already paying for in Blenheim." 

'Very cautious approach' 

The Health Ministry told Newshub it acknowledges the inconvenience caused by Auckland’s Alert Level boundaries.

"Auckland is in Alert Level 3 because there is still COVID-19 in the community. Travel out of Auckland into less controlled Alert Level 2 regions, is highly restricted to minimise potential spread of the virus.

"At this stage, applications for a boundary exemption to leave Auckland for relocation are not being approved.

"We are taking a very cautious approach to applications for personal travel exemptions to travel across or within the Alert Level boundaries – with just 464 exemption applications approved out of nearly 8628 requests received to date. Exemptions are only granted in the most exceptional circumstances, on a case-by-case basis, and only where this is consistent with the public health response to COVID-19."

A spokesperson said exemptions are only granted in exceptional circumstances, on a case-by-case basis, and only where this is consistent with the public health response to COVID-19.

"The ongoing public health risk of the highly transmissible Delta variant is high, and these restrictions are to minimise the spread of the virus to other parts of New Zealand – ultimately to keep the whole country safe."

The Ministry acknowledges that rules around movement across alert levels can be inconvenient and at times distressing, but says the highly transmissible Delta variant means strong precautions are necessary.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson accepts challenges are arising. 

"A decision was made that movements would stay the same under Level 3 as they had been under alert level 4, however we note that the longer outbreak goes on, the more difficult it becomes." 

The Government is understood to be considering making a change but it's not quite the reassurance those without a home were hoping for in the meantime. 

*Name has been changed