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U Studios refunds WINZ

U Studios in Masterton. PHOTO/FILE

Story by Soumya Bhamidipati

The owner of U Studios in Masterton has confirmed that some of the additional money invoiced to the government for an emergency housing client who stayed for two nights instead of seven, has been repaid.

The confirmation comes in response to earlier questions raised by the Times-Age about whether the unused portion of the invoice would be remitted.

At the time, the U Studios manager [who the Times-Age decided not to name] said the issue was a private matter between the Ministry of Social Development [MSD] and the company.

However, U Hotel group owner and director Katrina Suresh has since stated the amount charged for five of the seven nights had been repaid.

“We take all WINZ [Work and Income New Zealand] guests on the same conditions.

WINZ pays weekly. If a guest finds housing within the paid period, any balance is returned to WINZ. This case was no different, the five nights of unused accommodation was returned to WINZ. The invoice is issued to WINZ, not the guest.”

She noted the price charged per room was based on the size of the unit, and the guest had agreed to the rules before moving in.

“The guest was staying in a self-contained two-bedroom unit, which has two separate bedrooms off the living area, which has a couch, table and chairs, not a standard studio, which is one room that has the bed and a small seating area,” Suresh said.

“We have rules in place for any long-term guest, these are agreed and signed on check-in.

“These rules are in place due to many issues that we have had in the past. These rules are for the safety of all guests and our staff.”

MSD regional commissioner for social development Katie Brosnahan said a payment was received from U Studios, but disputed the amount paid.

“We can confirm a repayment was made by U Studios Masterton for three of the seven nights paid by an Emergency Housing Special Needs Grant.”

Upon further questioning by the Times-Age, Suresh confirmed three nights, not five, were refunded.

“That statement from MSD is correct. As agreed with MSD, three nights were returned by U Studios Masterton, as 48-hour notice is required if a guest is to check out early.

“The guest did not return the key till the morning of day four.”

The Times-Age previously published a tax invoice from U Studios which showed a charge of more than $1500 to MSD for a 1-2 day emergency accommodation stay for Masterton woman Melissa O’Donnell and daughter Charlli. The pair had alleged the facilities provided were unclean and not up to standard.

Masterton woman Francis Wilson had stayed at U Studios twice while in need of emergency accommodation. She said the O’Donnell’s account did not align with her experience.

“They were great,” she said, “They were good to me.”

Wilson said how the manager had moved furniture out of the motel room before her arrival, so she could furnish the place with her own belongings.

Staff at another motel had told Wilson she would be unable to stay with her dog, Fonz, however, U Studios had allowed her to keep him.

“How many motels would take a dog?” Wilson said.

“The second time I went in, I said that the bottom rubber [of the door] was sticky, and she fixed it. She’d fix anything as long as you told her.

“It wasn’t filthy. If it was, I’d be the first to complain.”

The rules, previously described by the other residents as “draconian” were reasonable, Wilson said.

“The world doesn’t owe people like me a living, and we can’t go into this establishment and make those demands. I don’t say that we have to live in a pigsty, but this place is definitely not.”

According to the MSD website, if a client left emergency accommodation early, they should notify the ministry as soon as possible.

The unused portion of their special needs grant for emergency housing may be refunded by the provider to the ministry, but this would depend on the provider’s refund policy.

If a client left early and did not notify the provider, the provider may not be able to re-sell the room or refund the ministry, the website said.

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