Greater housing security for low income Australian households

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A homeless man sleeps on the pavement in Paris as cold winter temperatures continue in France, January 18, 2017. Reuters/Jacky Naegelen

The Turnbull government has taken another step to give greater housing security to low income households. It has introduced legislation to help those in social housing keep on top of their rent and prevent eviction.

Minister for Social Services Christian Porter talks about the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Housing Affordability) Bill 2017 in a media release, saying it includes a new Automatic Rent Deduction Scheme (ARDS). This would help social tenants ensure their rents are paid on time and avoid eviction through rent default.

Porter revealed that in 2013-14, over 8,900 social housing tenants were in serious rental arrears, with more than 2,300 people evicted by local housing authorities because of rent defaults. He argued it is apparently a serious issue for families impacted by rent arrears and evictions.

The minister said it also places “enormous strain” on homelessness services and local support, and all too often leads to families with children sleeping roughly.  “Through ARDS, social housing tenants would have their rent and other housing costs automatically paid to their social housing provider out of their welfare payment, ensuring their housing costs are met every fortnight,” he explained.

Automatic Rent Deduction Scheme

Alan Tudge, the minister for human services, said the ARDS was expected to be available from March 2018 and would build on the existing Rent Deduction Scheme (RDS) by Centrelink.

Tudge said RDS is voluntary and easy to bypass, failing both tenants as well as social housing providers. He cited that in 2013-14, about 80,000 households in social housing stopped their voluntary deductions, which put them at greater risk of falling behind in their rent.

According to the minister, state and territory governments tell them that the social housing system is losing over $30 million per year from unpaid rent and related administrative costs. Such losses are expected to make social housing less attractive to private investors.

The ARDS will be available for state and territory governments. It can be utilised to deduct utilities that are part of a social housing lease.

“We have already secured the agreement of New South Wales, Western Australia, Queensland, the Northern Territory and South Australia to be part of the scheme and we hope other states will follow their lead to ensure the housing security provided by the ARDS is available right across the country,” Tudge said. The bill also includes amendments to the National Rental Affordability Scheme Act 2008 (NRAS Act).

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