Ask Abe: Subletting your room

Dear Abe,
I’m going away at the end of the semester for four weeks, and need to rent out my room to help me pay for my holiday. Is there anything I need to know about what I can and can’t do, and do you have any tips for how to get someone in.

Looking for air in my b&b.


Dear Looking for air in my b&b,
Most lease agreements state that you need written permission from the landlord to sublet your house. I am unclear about whether subletting just your room would be illegal or not. If you do decide to go ahead with your plan, there are many facebook pages and websites that you can use to advertise your room for free. It would be a good idea to ask the person for a deposit for any damage and check their references. Any damage that they do to the house will be your responsibility.

Abe

The SRC can help with tenancy and accommodation issues. See our online guide or call us.
srcusyd.net.au/src-help/accommodation-issues/accommodation-guide/

International Student Concession Cards

In 1989 the NSW government withdrew access to transport concessions for International Students. Since then international students have had to pay full price to use public transport. The SRC has always opposed this discrimination.

As a result of students’ vocal opposition to this discrimination the Government made a small compromise giving international students the opportunity to buy long-term travel passes at a slightly discounted rate. However this concession is no longer available. That means international students, while being full time students, and being unable to earn full time money, and still contributing to the Australian economy as our 3rd biggest export, still have to pay full fare.

So having said all of that, the SRC strongly advises students to only use correct tickets (e.g., Adult Opal card) when travelling. Transit police frequently check buses and trains and will fine anyone who has not paid the correct fare for their journey.

If you would like advice about a fine you’ve received, you can contact the SRC’s free Legal Service. Email your questions to help@src. usyd.edu.au or if you prefer to talk to someone in person, call 9660 5222 to book an appointment.

The SRC will continue to fight to international students to have the same rights to transport concessions as local students. To join this fight contact the International Students’ Collective on 9660 5222.

Ask Abe: Withdrawing & Discontinuing

Hi Abe,

At the beginning of the year I enrolled in 4 subjects but I’ve had some family stuff happen and now I don’t think I can cope with that workload. What should I do?

Overwhelmed


Dear Overwhelmed,

The HECS census date in Semester 1 is Sunday March 31. This means that you can drop any subject before then, without any academic or financial* penalty. Before dropping any subject, make sure that you understand the impact it will have on Centrelink payments, visas, and travel concession cards. Dropping from 4 to 3 subjects will not affect your full time enrollment status, but if you are an international student you may be in breach of your visa. International students require faculty approval to reduce their study load.

Abe

*International students have an administration fee deducted from any refund.

Ask Abe: Flatmate Problems

Hi Abe,

My housemate doesn’t pay rent. Can I break into his room and sell his stuff to make the money that he owes?

Practical


Dear Practical,

No. That would be illegal, and leave you vulnerable to being prosecuted. Your choices for action are dependent on whether he is on the lease and whether you are on the lease. Start by asking him to pay his rent. This is by far the best solution.

If that doesn’t work, and you are not on the lease, you could notify the landlord of your situation and see if you are able to pay your rent separately. Chances are the landlord will not care who is not paying rent, and take you all to the tribunal, but as you are not on the lease you are not financially liable, and can find somewhere else to live. Keep receipts of you paying rent just in case.

If you are on the lease and he is not on the lease you could have him move out. If he has no written contract he has no rights, and you can ask him to move out immediately.

If you gave him a written contract, he is considered a sub-tenant, and you would be the head tenant, meaning he is covered by the Residential Tenancy Act. To get him to move out will require you to be compliant to the law, and you should seek legal advice (e.g., from the SRC Legal Service) to do this properly.

If you are on the lease and he is too, you are co-tenants. The easiest thing to do here is to leave the tenancy. Bear in mind that you are financially liable for whatever debts are incurred both as an individual, and as a group. Again seek legal advice to ensure that you get the best possible outcome.

Abe

Moving Out: How to End a Rental Agreement

Make sure you are informed about how to end a rental agreement.

Are you going to stay for the length of your agreement?

Refer to your original contract or lease. It should state an end date. If it is a contract you should be able to give notice to your landlord equivalent to the frequency that you pay rent that you are moving out on the end date. Sometimes contracts will have a clause about the fee for ending the agreement early. If it is a lease this amount of notice is either 14 days (fixed term agreement) or 21 days (continuing agreement). Notice should be in writing. This does not include text messages and may not include email. It is best to send this by letter. Allow 4 days extra for mail to arrive.

What if you want to leave early?

This will usually cost you lots of money. If you have a lease agreement you will usually have to pay four or six weeks worth of rent, depending on what percentage of the agreement you have already completed. Sometimes you can find someone to take your place in the agreement to avoid paying all of this money. The replacement person has to be a “reasonable” replacement. For example, they need to have a similar capacity to meet rental payments and a good rental history.

If you’re under a contract you may need to pay the equivalent of the rent up to the end of the contract. Sometimes you can find someone to take your place in the contract or start a new contract, but that is completely up to the landlord.

When am I considered to have left?

You have only completely left your accommodation when the landlord (not another tenant) has received all copies of all of your keys and other door locking devices (like swipe cards). You also have to provide “vacant possession” which means all of your belongings have been moved out.

What if I want to move out and my housemates want to stay?

You will need to find a replacement for yourself. If you are on the lease or contract have that changed before you go. If you are on the lease, regardless of whether you live there, you are legally and financially liable for the condition of the premises. Make sure you keep a copy of the new lease or contract to show that you are no longer on there.

How do I get my bond or deposit back?

After you have moved out take photos to show the condition of the accommodation. This is to avoid disputes with the landlord’s assessment of the condition of your accommodation after you moved out. The cost of any repairs or cleaning will come out of the bond or deposit. The rest of your bond (leased property) should be returned in the form of a cheque or electronic transfer from the Department of Fair Trading. Deposits placed on contracted properties are less regulated. Make sure you have your receipt to prove that you did pay it in the first place. If there is any dispute about getting back this money talk to an SRC Caseworker.

ASK ABE: Earning while on Youth Allowance – Student Income Bank

Dear Abe,

I am on a Youth Allowance payment and I also work a casual job with varying hours. Sometimes I receive the full payment just under $500, but other times I get much less than that. I heard that there is some sort of banking system that affects the amount of money I get, but I am very confused by all of this. Could you please explain why my payments vary?

Nursing Student
…………..

Dear Nursing Student,

The banking system you are talking about is Centrelink’s way of keeping track of the extra money you are earning. It is called the Student Income Bank. Each fortnight you are allowed to earn $427 without any reduction in your Youth Allowance. If you earn less than $427, the left over carries over to the following fortnight. For example, if you only earned $147 in the first fortnight, you will be allowed to earn $727 ($427 + $300) in the second fortnight. This process keeps going until you’ve accumulated a maximum of $10,600. Your Youth Allowance payment is reduced when you have earned more than your Student Income Bank. That is, by 50 cents in the dollar for amounts between $427 and $512, then by 60 cents in the dollar for income over $512. If you are unsure about whether you have been paid the correct amount, gather all your paperwork and talk to an SRC Caseworker about it.

Abe

They’re Picking on Me! Harrassment and Discrimination on Campus

The University is bound by state and federal laws, to protect you against harassment and discrimination. But what should you do
if you feel you are being harassed or discriminated against?

What is Unlawful Harassment?

The University’s Harassment and Discrimination Prevention Policy and Resolution Procedure defines “Unlawful harassment” as “any type of behaviour that:
the other person does not want; and
offends, insults, humiliates or intimidates them; and is either sexual, or targets them because of their race, sex, pregnancy, marital status, transgender, sexual preference or orientation (including homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality and heterosexuality), disability, age, carers’ responsibility, political belief, lack of a political belief, lack of a particular political belief (including trade union activity or lack of it, and student association activity or lack of it), religious belief, lack of a religious belief, and/or lack of a particular religious belief; and
that, in the circumstances, a reasonable person should have expected would offend, insult, humiliate, or intimidate.”

It then goes on to define Unlawful Discrimination. “Unlawful discrimination is any practice that makes an unlawful distinction between individuals or groups, so as to disadvantage some people and advantage others.”

What can you do if you feel you are being harassed or discriminated against?

Contact an SRCHelp caseworker. They can gather your information and act as an advocate for you to place a complaint with the Student Affairs Unit.

What if the bad treatment you receive is not technically harassment or discrimination?

The definition of harassment and discrimination is very specific. If you are being treated badly in another sense perhaps it is more like bullying or just unprofessional behaviour. This does not mean that it doesn’t count. It just means that your complaint would be framed in different terms to suit a different policy. SRC Caseworkers are still a good point of contact.

Who does this protect from?

Students are protected from other students, teachers (permanent, casual and contract), placement supervisors, and other contractors on campus.

Ask Abe – International Student Super & Tax Returns

Hello Abe,

My friend told me that I can get back the superannuation payments that my boss made while I was working here. I am going home to my country in December. What do I need to do?

Overseas Money

—————–
Hello Overseas Money,

The news on this is great for international students. If you worked here your boss could have paid money into a Superannuation fund for you. This is meant to be savings for your retirement, however, since it is unlikely that you will be here then, you can usually have it now. Of course there are conditions like your visa has expired or been cancelled and you have to be out of the country to apply. You’ll need all of the details of your Superannuation fund so keep copies of the statements that they send you. Go online to apply – www.ato.gov.au/content/downloads. Normally you will get your money about a month later.

Remember also, that you can fill out a tax refund from any wages you earned. Do this before you leave Australia. Again ask the Australian Tax Office for the forms you need.

Abe

So you can’t be scammed? Think again.

A scam is a trick to take your money directly or indirectly by getting your personal details. There are new, imaginative scams being hatched everyday. They even target low income earners like students and come in many forms including mail, e-mail, telephone and door-to-door.

Fake websites can easily be set up to look like the real thing. Giving your personal details to anyone should be handled with a large degree of caution. Even leaving your phone number to be called back by a sales rep can end in harassment or worse.  Ask yourself why they can’t give you their direct number for you to call them. How many websites have you supplied with your name, address and date of birth in order to win a competition?

Some of the more recent scams have included lotteries, sweepstakes and competitions. Some are obviously fake, like the Nigerian millionaire dying scam, but some are very subtle, like the competition to win a new mobile phone or an iPad. Some scams involve government departments like the tax department asking you to confirm your tax file number so that you can claim your lost superannuation. Some involve people pretending to be from a large computer company offering to help you rid your computer of viruses.

Banks have very strict rules about how they identify you to speak to you. However, they do not seem to be so strict about contacting you and asking for your details. Ask who they are and call them back on the number you find yourself. Do not give any details, no matter how incidental, until you are sure of who they are.

Mobile phone ring tone offers are another potential scam. Once you sign in or subscribe, you may not be able to sign out. This will lead to huge phone bills.

Health and medical scams may offer products or services that will cure your health problems or offer a simple treatment. Often these cures and treatments do not work. The diet industry is littered with scammers.

Follow these golden rules to avoid being scammed:

  • Don’t respond to offers, deals or requests for your personal details. Stop. Take time to independently check the request or offer.
  • Never send money or give credit card, account or other personal details to anyone who makes unsolicited offers or requests for your information. Get a receipt for any money you do spend.
  • Don’t rely on the glowing testimonials they provide: find solid evidence from independent sources (not those provided with the offer).
  • Never respond to out of the blue requests for your personal details.
  • Always type in the address of the website of a bank, business or authority you are interested in to ensure you are logging into the genuine website.
  • Don’t open unsolicited emails.
  • Never click on a link provided in an unsolicited email as it will probably lead to a fake website designed to trick you into providing personal details.
  • Never use phone numbers provided with unsolicited requests or offers as it probably connects you to fakes who will try to trap you with lies.
  • Don’t reply to unsolicited text messages from numbers you don’t recognise.
  • Always look up phone numbers in an independent directory when you wish to check if a request or offer is genuine.
  • Don’t dial a 0055 or 1900 number unless you are sure you know how much you will be charged.
  • If you are scammed contact the SRC Legal Service or the NSW Fair Trading. You can also lodge a complaint online.

For more information, visit www.scamwatch.com.au

ASK ABE: Centrelink payments cut off

Dear Abe,

I hope you can help me with a problem I have with Centrelink. I am in my third year of my health science course and I am on a Youth Allowance payment. Even though I didn’t receive anything previously, they say that the one year I did at another uni doing a similar course counts towards the amount of time I’m allowed to study and my payments will run out in the middle of the year. Is this true? And if so, what can I do?

Healthy Now

——-

Dear Healthy Now,

The basic formula for the “satisfactory progress” (or maximum allowable time for completion for Austudy) of your course is the normal length of your course plus the length of one subject. For example, for a Bachelor of Arts course that would be 3 years plus 1 semester. If you had completed the previous course, you would be allowed the full 3 years plus 1 semester. If you withdrew from the course, because of “special circumstances beyond (your) control”, you would also be allowed the full 3 years plus 1 semester. However, if you did not complete the previous course, and you did not have special circumstances causing you to withdraw, the amount of time allowed would include the time spent at the other course.

So to answer your question, if you had special circumstances (with documentation) you would be able to study for 7 semesters in this degree and be payable. If you did not have special circumstances, you would be eligible for 7 semesters minus 2 semesters (from previous study).

If you were on an Austudy payment this answer would be completely different!
In terms of alternative payments for the period not covered by Youth Allowance you should talk to an SRC Caseworker to see if there is another payment available.

Abe.