Thousands of public housing tenants in New Zealand will receive millions of dollars in compensation and an apology from the government for being wrongly evicted after incorrect meth testing of their homes. Under the previous government, Housing New Zealand (HNZ) ended more than 800 tenancies on the basis that the houses could be contaminated because methamphetamine had been cooked or smoked on the premises. Evicted tenants were advised to leave all their possessions behind, and were often barred from accessing state housing again, meaning they had to foot the bill for new homes, bonds, furniture, clothing and household goods. Some evicted tenants became homeless as a result of their evictions.

“There is currently no evidence that methamphetamine levels typically resulting from third-hand exposure to smoking residues on household surfaces can elicit an adverse health effect,” Gluckman concluded. “This means that, because the risk of encountering methamphetamine on residential surfaces at levels that might cause harm is extremely low, testing is not warranted in most cases.” said chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckmen

Tenants who were evicted from their homes – regardless of whether they had smoked methamphetamine or not – would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, HNZ said. The tenant holder would receive up to NZ$3,000 (£1,500) in compensation, which would include costs associated with moving, securing new accommodation and buying new furniture and household goods.

Ross Bell from the New Zealand Drug Foundation said the compensation was too little given the devastation wrought, and said the housing minister, Phil Twyford, had indicated to him more money would be made available soon.

“The country got caught up in this widespread hysteria regarding meth contamination that drove all of the decision making. When experts tried to inject some science and rational thinking, they were ignored,” said Bell, who added that state housing stock that was urgently needed during the housing crisis was also unavailable due to ill-founded contamination fears.

“A lot of people just left their house with all the stuff in in because they were so fearful that everything was contaminated. The scale of this is just huge.”