Queensland homebuyers lose out on $25k grant due to satellite images

EXCLUSIVE: Queensland disability support worker Melissa Bloomfield scrimped and saved for years to try and get into the property market to buy her first home.

In September 2020, she finally did it, signing on the dotted line for an off-the-plan unit in Redland, 25km south-east of Brisbane.

The 28-year-old said her decision to buy the unit had been based partly on the promise of the Federal Government’s $25,000 HomeBuilder grant, which was announced just a few months earlier.

Melissa Bloomfield, pictured in her new unit. (Supplied: Melissa Bloomfield)

“Everything lined up so perfectly. I’d been working so hard, doing long shifts and saving,” Bloomfield said. 

“I spent a year staying with friends and family so I had no bills – and then the $25,000 grant came up.

“My unit was sold to me – by the real estate agent, the developer – it was all sold to me with the 25 grand pretty much promised.”

Bloomfield had no idea that all of her carefully laid plans were about to be scuppered by a single satellite image.

The first and only indication Bloomfield had that something was wrong came when her application for the grant was suddenly rejected in a letter sent by the Queensland Revenue Office.

While the grant is a Federal Government initiative, the states and territories are responsible for administering it.

Bloomfield said she was stunned.

“When I first read the letter I was thinking ‘surely not’. I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

“I had absolutely no idea. I was very, very taken aback because I was just waiting for the grant to come through. I thought there was no way it would be rejected.”

The department said a satellite image showed construction was started on the site of the apartment block before the grant came into effect on June 4, 2020, making the property ineligible.

A satellite image used to reject Melissa Bloomfield's application for the Homebuilder grant.
A satellite image used to reject Melissa Bloomfield’s application for the Homebuilder grant. (Supplied: Melissa Bloomfield)

The satellite image in question showed a dirty patch of land, where a house previously on the property had been demolished.

Confused, Bloomfield said she went to the developer and builders, who both provided letters – seen by 9News.com.au – stating construction work had not started on the development until at least August 2020.

Another letter from Redland City Council shows the development application to change the use of the property was not approved until June 4, 2020, the same day the government stipulated work could not begin before.

“You just think to yourself, well, how could they have started building before then if it wasn’t even approved by council,” Bloomfield said.

Bloomfield said she was still waiting to hear back from the Queensland Revenue Office after lodging an objection to their decision.

The site on which Melissa Bloomfield's unit was built, pictured in September 2020 just before construction began.
The site on which Melissa Bloomfield’s unit was built, pictured in September 2020 just before construction began. (Supplied: Melissa Bloomfield)

While she still had some hope it would be overturned, Bloomfield said it felt like the government had broken its promise.

And losing the grant would be very tough financially, she said.

“I’m already working a ridiculous amount of hours. I finally thought I would have a little bit of a break once I moved in, that I could finally slow down for a little bit, but no.”

Bloomfield is not the only homebuyer claiming to have had their grant unfairly refused on the basis of satellite images used by the Queensland Revenue Office.

A Facebook group dedicated to the issue has been formed and has 84 members.

One of those members is Erica Newman, who bought a newly-built home with her partner Josh in Ipswich, in March 2021.

The couple, who have a one-year-old son, said they were told by the developer – Stockland – the house was eligible for the grant because construction for it began during the applicable time period.

“All the paperwork said November 2020 – that was when the site preparations and the slab was laid and the prep work was done,” Newman said. 

Erica Newman, pictured with her one-year-old son outside their new home.
Erica Newman, pictured with her one-year-old son outside their new home. (Supplied: Erica Newman)

However, like Bloomfield, the young couple were shocked when they got a letter in February this year informing them that their application had been rejected as work had started before June 2020.

A satellite image showed vegetation had been cleared off the property earlier the same year.

“Some basic clearing was done on our lot earlier in 2020 long before the building plans – obviously to make the street safe and presentable, but that’s what the department is using to deny our application,” Newman said.

A letter provided by Stockland, seen by 9news.com.au, backs up the couple’s claims.

“Prior to November 2020, there were no site works carried out that related to the construction of the home,” the letter reads, noting building approval had not yet been granted for the development at the time.

“Any satellite images from June 2020 show the lot in its vacant state, prior to the commencement of any works.”

A satellite image of Erica Newman's property in June 2020.
A satellite image of Erica Newman’s property in June 2020. (Supplied: Erica Newman)

A Queensland Treasury spokesman said the Queensland Revenue Office (QRO) used the best information available to assess grant applications.

“As new information becomes available, QRO will use this to confirm an applicant’s eligibility,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“Where an application is found to have incomplete or inaccurate information, QRO will take steps to ensure the process is fair for all applicants.”

In its letter to Bloomfield, the QRO noted its definition of excavation and site preparation included land clearing, rehabilitation works, excavation and site cut and fill.

However, Stockland argued the QRO had failed to properly distinguish between civil works conducted by the developer and excavation site or preparation works undertaken for individual home sites.

Newman said she and her partner had been left feeling cheated and misled by the grant.

“It just seems really unfair and like they’ve sort of made this up to get out of paying the grant to as many people as they can,” she said.

“It’s a lot of money for a young family like ours not to have when you’re expecting to get it – and when you know that you are entitled to it.”

Contact reporter Emily McPherson at [email protected]

Reference-www.9news.com.au

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