'Hidden' homeless behind grant scheme blowout - Bill English

Bill English has blamed a blowout in the Government's emergency housing grant scheme on "hidden" homeless coming out of the shadows.

Newshub on Sunday revealed the Government had only budgeted for 1400 grants a year, costing $2 million. But in only three months - October to December 2016 - it spent $7.7 million, handing out 8860 grants for people to stay in motels.

Speaking to The AM Show on Monday morning, the Prime Minister denied the blowout - 19 times the Government's estimate - would put the scheme in jeopardy.

"It's a demand-led grant, so if people show up, they get it… We'll just keep paying as people need it."

The Government's offer, he believes, is "flushing out people who are in difficult housing situations" who might not have considered asking for assistance before.

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett, who was Social Housing Minister at the time the grant was introduced, admitted to Newshub on Sunday the Government had "no idea" how many people would apply.

"They're often hidden from us."

Mr English, like his predecessor John Key, denies New Zealand is in the midst of a housing crisis. This is perhaps at odds with his insistence National is the only party taking the "housing challenge", as Mr Key put it, seriously.

"Not everyone shares our sense of urgency about it… We all want to get our foot on the accelerator, but getting the houses out of the ground, getting the roads built, getting the pipes in the ground, all this takes time - particularly when you have to meet quite often legitimate community concerns, but sometimes people just don't want to see development happen."

Record house prices and a lack of affordable accommodation is a "good problem" to have, in Mr English's view, because it shows there is "strong demand" - not just for houses, but the New Zealand way of life.

"The main thing driving it is 40,000 Kiwis who are not leaving, as they used to every year."

The Ministry of Social Development has in recent months begun to crack down on the number of grants being given out.


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