Host: Belinda Heit – Communication and Education – RTA
Host: Natalie Townsend – Acting Director of Customer Experience – RTA
Host: Welcome to the Talking Tenancies podcast brought to you by the Residential Tenancies Authority, I'm your host Belinda Heit. Join me as we explore everything you need to know about renting in Queensland with experts from the RTA and industry. We're here to help make renting work for everyone.
The RTA empowers people across the state to navigate the rental market and provides a range of other services to ensure renting works for everyone. In this episode, we look at the RTA's role in renting in Queensland. Today's expert from the RTA is Natalie Townsend, Acting Director from Customer Experience. Welcome Nat.
Guest: Thank you.
Host: Now can you tell us about your role at the RTA and what you're responsible for?
Guest: So, as you just said, I'm currently Acting Director of Customer Experience and I normally reside as the Director of People and Culture, so this is a really interesting and exciting challenge for me at this point in time, but it also gives me great insights to our frontline services.
Host: Yeah, so you are overseeing the Customer Experience call centre at the moment, aren't you?
Host: If we look at the primary role of the RTA in renting in Queensland, what would you say that primary role is?
Guest: Well, my technical response is that we administer the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act 2008 (the Act), but put more simply for the general public and for me personally, is that what we're most known for is managing rental bonds. So, when you pay your bond to your landlord or property manager, those funds need to be provided to us in trust, and when your lease ends, that's when it gets paid back to you.
Host: Excellent, so as you've just said, you know we're well known for managing rental bonds for a very long time. Can you tell us about how that's evolved over the last 30 years?
Guest: Yeah, and more importantly, maybe over the last 12 months to 2 years we've really evolved and have seen some massive transformations in that space. So, we've gone from a paper product of lodging your form by paper and post. And over the last 12 months launched our web services, which means you can lodge your bond or get your refund online and also have the ability to pay through BPAY and credit cards.
Host: That's such a huge change to the industry, isn't it?
Guest: Very much so.
Host: And a huge time and money saver for both us and the industry.
Guest: It means that we get to rather than, you know, processing all those high-volume transactional activities, we get to do more of the complex customer facing activities that we really want to do.
Host: Which is what we're really good at.
Host: So, if we look at the bond refunds that are mutually agreed between a tenant and owner or managing party, what kind of volumes have we got coming through at the moment?
Guest: So, almost 65% of our refunds are always agreed to, so that's why we have a web services product that's called fast track. So, where people have already agreed upfront, they have the potential to get their refund on the same day that they lodge it.
Host: Oh, that's incredible. That's a huge change.
Guest: Significant, rather than waiting for the post to get here, then to be processed, and then for the bank funds to clear.
Host: I know I can remember getting bond refunds and it felt like you were waiting forever so this is a huge change.
Guest: And some of our data analytics that sit over our forms, at this point in time, tells us that that fast-track process takes about a minute and 22 seconds.
Guest: So, where people mutually agree, it's an awesome way to get your money back quickly.
Host: Oh that is life changing stuff. So, what kind of volume are we looking at? Tenants got the full refund back at the end of the tenancy.
Guest: Just over 50% of tenants receive a full bond refund.
Host: OK, that's pretty good.
Guest: That's still getting people to agree upfront, so you know some people in the sector may be using their bond as their last week's rents, which is not something that we encourage, but we know that that does happen in the sector and so that's where sometimes they're not getting a full refund back is because they've used the funds for other things, and we certainly don't promote that, of course.
Host: Yeah, makes it a bit tricky. So, other than managing those rental bonds, we also provide tenancy information and support. So, how do we do that?
Guest: So, our contact centre plays a big role in this space. So, tenancy means that when they call us, it's very unique to them, so it's whatever's happening in their rental tenancy process. We call that the life cycle and what they're calling us about, whether that be beginning a tenancy, during their tenancy, or at the end of it, and that can be from how do I lodge my lease? or who pays the water bill? things like that, that is completely unique to their scenario. That's where our contact centre helps on a case by case basis.
Host: Yeah, and I know I've sat in on some of those calls and every call is different and unique and a different story every time. It's a really fascinating place to be and they do an amazing job in helping everyone.
Guest: Yeah, and the diversity of those calls is really amazing and particularly even just sitting listening to them without listening directly in on calls. Some of the topics that they cover are really diverse to say the least.
Host: They don't have a dull day, that's for sure.
Guest: No, I heard all about cockroach infestations this morning.
Host: Oh it takes all kinds. Now we put a lot of information on our website as well about the different stages of tenancy and we get a very culturally diverse audience here in Queensland too, don't we
Guest: Yeah, we sure do. We do a lot of packaging of our products and as we evolve in our technological space we will continue to evolve to help those customers that aren't from an English-speaking background or culturally diverse tenants generally.
So, we do offer products that are in different languages currently, in terms of brochures and updates that they can get, and then we're looking currently at our website as to what we can offer in our website renewal project. (Note - based on the time of recording).
Host: Yes, I know all about that one. And I know that we produce a lot of videos and webinars and things like that, and they go into a lot of detail around certain products that we have, whether it be web services or bond refunds or even water charging and things like that. So, there is a lot of diversity in our content.
Guest: Very much so. And for us we don't look at information as ours. For example, we don't offer any seminars that’s focused on, “hey, let's come and hear about the RTA”. We love to get out and about to those sectors that need us the most and learn what topics are hitting them.
So, we often do a number of webinars. We've started introducing our podcasts as we're doing today, but I guess we're trying to tap into those different parts of the sectors and tailor our services and education programmes, but also products to meet their needs.
Host: So why do you reckon it's so important for us to provide this information to the community?
Guest: For our Queensland community, everyone's life is different and not everyone is the same and we’re not clones of each other, so we need to be able to provide information that is going to meet the mark for all of our customers, not just the clones of each other.
Host: So, another free service that the RTA offers is a dispute resolution service. What does that do for our customers?
Guest: So, for our customers that don't have the smooth sailing like our fast-track customers do, this is an opportunity for the parties to come together and try and talk things through with one of our conciliators.
So, this is a free service as you said, and it's an opportunity to try and get a resolution to have their matters heard. If they can't go to that resolution space and get an agreement up front, then unfortunately their only option is then to go through to QCAT as the official tribunal for that.
Host: And you know, it's always better to try and prevent those disputes from happening in the first place. And I think one of the things that I've learned in doing this podcast and chatting to so many people from Customer Experience is the key thing to preventing this is open communication.
Guest: We cannot undersell that message, and a lot of dispute resolution is just to be heard, and so that communication and having people try and resolve upfront, and to have that open communication between all parties really does help de-escalate issues that don't need to go through this process.
Host: Yeah, and I mean that just means less people through the tribunal and wasting time and money as well.
Host: So, as we mentioned before, encouraging compliance is a really big focus for us here at the RTA and we have our investigations unit and they help to enforce that compliance when it's needed. This is where those prosecutions come into play. When things do go wrong, can you tell us about that?
Guest: Yeah, so our investigations unit looks at offences against our Act, so people that aren't doing the right thing, whether that's a tenant or a property manager, or lessor. For example, one of the biggest ones is bonds actually being lodged, because you know, I know when I was renting, I paid my rent and my bond to the on-site manager in cash, didn’t get a receipt, and you know, I guess there's a lot of education to be done in that space.
So, our investigations team work very closely with our Communications and Education team to try and do some proactive approaches in that space. Because you know, our business is not to penalise people, it's to try and educate people, but we will prosecute those that aren't doing the right thing.
Host: Yeah, and some of the common things that float up in in that area are around Bond lodgement. For those people that don't know, when an agent or owner receives a bond they need to lodge that within 10 days, right?
Host: And quite often they don't always meet that.
Guest: No, not it all. And some agencies like to clear their accounts at the end of every month. It's really against that 10-day tenancy time frame in terms of not ‘what's best for your business’.
Host: Yeah, and the other cool thing to sort of circumvent that is obviously with web services, tenants can actually lodge their own bond now.
Guest: That's right, so you don't even have to provide your bond to a property manager or lessor. You can send it straight to us and you get your receipt electronically.
Host: Yeah, great transparency there. So, other examples that I've heard about were around entry to properties and things like that when they don't have the authority to do so.
Guest: Yeah, so there's rules and regulations around when you can and can't enter a property. What those access points are, and the time frames are associated with that and then does that impact what is referred to under the Act as ‘quiet enjoyment’? And that's one of our big prosecution areas and where we've had some really successful cases.
Part of that is also, as I said, the education process of where we do prosecute. We don't want re-offences from those people, so at the moment we've got an outreach regional roadshow and part of that is also doing some proactive campaigning as to the regions that we're going to - who is lodging on time? What are those property agents doing? How are they going with their education? Can we play a role in that while we're out there?
Host: Yeah, so really proactively trying to minimise these kind of prosecutions?
Guest: Yeah, because that's not the main focus of our business. It's very much the customer focus and how can we help our customers rather than hitting them with the big stick.
Host: Yes, so as you've just said, we're very active in the community education space, and this podcast is evident to that. What else can the community access from the RTA?
Guest: So, we often attend multiple peak bodies within our sector, a lot of community supporting groups, and we're happy to go and attend. As I said, we try and tailor things to be particular for their needs rather than trying to make every customer the same.
We also do a number of webinars, so that’s for people we cannot see face-to-face, and we can't reach everybody in Queensland, the webinars are an ideal way that you can listen to in your own time. You don't have to listen live, and it gives that education and awareness focus.
So, we go out and speak to our peak bodies. We also have a quarterly forum that we bring those peak bodies to us and give them regular updates, but it really is an opportunity to educate our sector.
Host: And I'm actually in that team. And we are busy, busy, busy.
Guest: Yes, you are.
Host: And like you said, we're doing road shows now and we're out on the ground and we will be for a number of months, I think.
Guest: Yeah, we're going for the next six months. We'll be heading to 16 different areas across the state, and that's also to grow our web services products to promote them and to do a bit of a show and tell to say, for those that haven't signed up yet, this is really easy and we can help you do it while we're there.
Host: Yeah, and I mean obviously if you haven't signed up for our emails, please do so. Jump on our website rta.qld.gov.au and you can find out where the nearest roadshow event is to you, along with all the other news and events, and information that we provide.
Guest: Yeah, we also have our news subscription list so that gives us your tips and tricks in keeping up to date on everything that's happening in the RTA.
Host: Thanks so much for joining me Nat.
Guest: Thanks for having me.
Host: Thank you for listening to the Talking Tenancies Podcast. For more information about the Residential Tenancies Authority, visit rta.qld.gov.au.