Queensland home buyers miss out on $25k grant due to satellite imagery

EXCLUSIVE: queensland Melissa Bloomfield, a disability support worker, scrimped and saved for years to try to buy her first home.

In September 2020, he finally did, signing on the dotted line for an off-plan drive in Redlands, 25km southeast of Brisbane.

The 28-year-old said her decision to buy the unit was based in part on the promise of the federal government’s $25,000 HomeBuilder grant, which was announced just a few months earlier.

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

“Everything lined up so perfectly. I had been working really hard, putting in long shifts and saving up,” 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, they sold me the whole thing with the practically promised $25,000.”

Bloomfield had no idea that all of his carefully crafted plans were about to be ruined by a single satellite image.

Bloomfield’s first and only inkling that something was wrong came when his grant application was suddenly rejected in a letter sent by the Queensland Revenue Office.

Although 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 ‘sure not.’ I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

“I had absolutely no idea. I was very, very baffled because I was just waiting for the grant to come through. I thought there was no way I was going to be turned down.”

The department said a satellite image showed construction began on the apartment block site before the grant went 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 piece of land, where a house previously on the property had been demolished.

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

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

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

Bloomfield said he was still awaiting a response from the Queensland Revenue Office after raising an objection to its decision.

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

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

And losing the grant would be very difficult financially, he said.

“I’m already working a ridiculous number of hours. I finally thought I’d get a little break once I moved in, that I could finally slow down a bit, but no,” he said.

Bloomfield is not the only homebuyer to claim they have been wrongfully denied their grant based on satellite imagery used by the Queensland Revenue Office.

A dedicated Facebook group has been formed and has 84 members.

One such member is Erica Newman, who bought a newly built house with partner Josh in Ipswich in March 2021.

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

“All the paperwork said November 2020 — that’s when the slab and site preparations were 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 surprised when they received a letter in February this year informing them that their application had been rejected because work had started before June 2020.

A satellite image showed that the vegetation had been removed from the property earlier in the same year.

“Basic cleaning was done on our lot in early 2020 well in advance of construction plans, obviously to make the street safe and presentable, but that’s what the department is using to deny our request,” Newman said.

A letter provided by Stockland, seen by 9News.com.au, supports the couple’s claims.

“Prior to November 2020, no site work related to the construction of the home took place,” the letter says, noting that building approval for the development had not yet been granted at that time.

“Any satellite image from June 2020 shows the lot in its vacant state, prior to the start of any work.”

A satellite image of Erica Newman's estate in June 2020.
A satellite image of Erica Newman’s estate 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, the QRO will use this to confirm an applicant’s eligibility,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

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

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

However, Stockland argued that the QRO had failed to adequately distinguish between civil works performed by the developer and the excavation site or preparation work performed for individual home sites.

Newman said that she and her partner felt cheated and cheated by the grant.

“It seems really unfair and like they made this up to avoid paying the grant to as many people as possible,” he said.

“It’s a lot of money for a young family like ours not to have it when you expect to have it, and when you know you’re entitled to it.”

Contact reporter Emily McPherson at [email protected]

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