This session was part of the Advocacy Sector Conversations forum held on 30 July 2015 at the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre in Melbourne. Other sessions at this forum included:
Navigating appropriate housing options in victoria is complex. Public , community, private and supported housing tenures all operate under different acts with different application processes and eligibility criteria.
Pauline Williams, Housing Rights Coordinator at Action for More Independence in Accommodation (AMIDA), facilitated a panel discussion to identify what support and information services are out there and how these can be utilised by advocates to get the best outcome for their clients.
Panel members included:
- Nicola Connolly, Housing Initial Assessment and Planning Coordinator at Launch (formerly HomeGround)
- Gulden Otar, Regional Officer at Consumer Affairs Victoria
Nicola evidenced the negative effects that inappropriate housing and homelessness has on all areas of life and outlined the various housing options available in Victoria.
Gulden provided information on the areas that Consumer affairs covers for people living in or owning a rental property, caravan park, rooming house or movable dwelling in Victoria.
Action for More Independence and Dignity in Accommodation (AMIDA)
T: 9650 2722
T: 1800 825 955 (open 24 hours each day)
Transcript & audio
I’m going to hand over to Pauline Williams who will tell us about her organisation what she does and then Pauline will be facilitating this upcoming panel and discussion around housing and accommodation services. You will be hearing from Pauline again after lunch because she will be facilitating our next speaker’s panel as well. Pauline over to you.
Thank you Robyn. Thanks to the DARU for organising this forum on housing. As Rob said I’m Pauline Williams.I work for AMIDA. AMIDA stands for Action for More Independence and Dignity in Accommodation. We’re an independent disability advocacy group. My role is to advocate with and on behalf of people with a disability.
AMIDA has a strong focus on housing rights and on self-advocacy. Though we’re open to all people with a disability our area of specialisation is to people with an intellectual disability. Our independent advocacy is not connected to any housing provision or support provision. It’s managed by a not for profit committee or management. We believe that independence of advocacy is important to avoid conflict of interest and to best represent our clients interest.
I’m not going to go into too much detail but I want to give you a bit more information about our organisation. First I have to say that we’re small as most advocacy groups are. AMIDA’s core advocacy funding comes from Government via the National Disability Advocacy Program, which is a Federal Program. We employ 1.2 effective full time advocacy staff. We’re all part time and all together we add up to 1.2.
AMIDA provides four types of advocacy within that. Firstly individually advocacy and we seek to uphold the rights and interests of people with disability on a one to one basis addressing instances mainly of discrimination, abuse and neglect. An example in the housing context, a person with an intellectual disability who is living in a group home or a supported residential service who’s subject to unfair or unwarranted restrictions, is typical of the sort of advocacy we get involved in on an individual basis. It spans the whole range of models of housing and tenancy as well.
Self-advocacy is another area we work in and predominately that’s in providing information and education to people with a disability either individually or in groups about their rights. Developing skills and confidence to enable them to advocate on their own behalf. An example, recently an individual who is renting through the Office of Housing and felt their rent was unfair. It’s a complicated matter to be reporting, income and rents can move around. This person wanted to have a review of their rent but didn’t know how to go about it and what their rights were. We engaged in information and resourcing and support so they understood the policy. They went off and advocated on their own behalf and came back to us to feedback on what was said, what do to next, etc., etc. It took nearly 18 months I have to tell you to get a fair review.
Family advocacy is another area we work in. That’s around enabling parents and families to act as advocates with and on behalf of their family member who has a disability on a short term or issue specific basis. Again it’s about resourcing with information, knowledge of policy, knowledge of rights so that families can advocate effectively on behalf of their family member with a disability. An example of that was some resourcing information we’ve provided to a family whose daughter was evicted from the group home she was living in. They were at a loss to understand what the whole rights framework was. Together we provided a lot of resourcing and information and at some point stepped in with individual advocacy but then stepped out again because over the long term we can’t stay involved in everyone’s individual life.
Systemic advocacy is the other area. That’s around seeking to influence and secure positive long-term change, remove barriers, address discrimination that’s systemic. An example, we fed our experience and that of the people we work with, into the Senate Enquiry into Violence Abuse and Neglect in residential settings, which is just happening at the moment in the hope that some of the sorts of patterns that we’ve seen over time will be picked up, and systemic recommendations for change might be made and then acted upon.We’re also the lead partner in the Self-advocacy and Resource Unit or the SARU, which is funded through State Government. In that service we employee 1.8 workers effective full time. That unit’s resourcing the State of Victoria to support existing and emerging self-advocacy groups for people who have either an intellectual disability, acquired brain injury or complex communication issues and also where there are groups that involve all of those disability types although most of the self-advocacy groups we find tend to be disability type identified. That’s another whole program, I won’t particularly go into that today but it’s part of our umbrella.
As an advocate I need to be able to assist people to navigate what is a very complex housing system though where there are different supports, different models, different tenancies. There are also various different mechanisms to seek to have your rights respected in housing in every different tenure type. There are various Acts of Parliament that establish rights in these different housing tenures. There are various Government Departments and sections of Government Departments that may control access to the housing, that may control complaints around it, that may have mechanisms for appeal and arbitration. There is also the private sector. There are different private operators some of whom like the SRS are monitored by Government. There is the Public Housing Authority with a massive amount of policy, practice and manuals most of which are available online but there is a lot of documentation around how the system works and how to use it. There are also community-housing providers who also have housing. There are different policies and practices as providers and also as supports to get into housing.It’s not straightforward and it’s not easy.
I’m really glad that DARU are having this forum today. Hopefully it will be an opportunity to talk through some of these issues and get a better understanding but it’s an ongoing process. We hope today to be able to answer some of your questions and start to get a clearer picture of the housing system. I encourage you as you go and listen to speakers to think of questions that occur to you. We will have question time and I would encourage you also to contribute the knowledge and experience you have. We have worked in the area and have built up some experience of things that you found worked or didn’t worked, that’s useful to contribute.
For me I still want to know how does the housing system work, does it work and what services are out there to support people who are trying to get housing, trying to deal with issues in housing. And are those services accessible to people with a disability or is the disability sector supposed to solve everything ourselves?How do we advocates assist our clients to maximise their opportunity or chance of getting appropriate, accessible and early housing that’s affordable? Once they do get it what can you appeal about and how do you go about that?How do you get into social housing? I have contacted social housing providers, they don’t have waiting lists. They’ve closed their waiting lists. How do you get into social housing if the waiting lists are closed, how does that work? What rights do you have to accessible housing in either the public or community housing sector or even the private housing sector?Also what tenancy arrangements are there out there and how does Consumer Affairs help, who do they cover? How do they help people to manage their tenancy if they do cover that model? How do tenants find accessible private rental properties? I have plenty of people contact me and say where is the Office that keeps the listing of all the accessible private rental properties – there isn’t one. You have to go individually to landlords and real estate agents and that’s massive.
How open are housing providers to their residents using advocacy services, can we get in the door even?Those are my questions and I’ve been asking these questions a long time. Sometimes getting great answers but I think we have to keep knocking on the door.
Today we’re thinking it should be about more practical useful information but I can’t help but put in a plug for systemic advocacy as well. Helping people just one at a time won’t deliver the gains that people need. What we’ve seen in Victoria and probably across Australia is the provision of public housing has been in decline. VCOSS did some studies and found the public housing sector just in Victoria has diminished. In 1996 for example 4.1% of housing was public, it’s now 3.7 and going down. If we compare ourselves to other countries – Canada has about 6% of their total housing is public, New Zealand 7, France 17, United Kingdom 20. Ours is 3.7 and going down.
Our big sector is private rental. We have 22% of private rental. Unfortunately as I said not very much of that is accessible. At this point in time the other problem is if you do get into a private rental and it’s not accessible under the current law, the Residential Tenancies Act, a landlord doesn’t have to agree to you modifying their property even if you pay for the modifications and pay to take them out again when you leave. They don’t have to agree. This is a big area. We think systemic reform is needed to provide a more accessible housing private rental system if that’s the majority of what we’ve got. Even where people can pay and with the NDIS coming in perhaps some people will be able to pay out of their packages, that’s not clear. But we are going to need to have modified stock if that’s the case.
We do believe there is a need to change building regulation and we would agree if accessible housing was something that the State Government had chosen to go ahead with regulating 5 years ago when they reviewed this, perhaps now things might be a little different. It’s never too late. The Australian Network Universal Housing Design and Rights Inclusion Australia believe that the homes we build today should be fit for all of tomorrows Australians. You can support their call to the Australian Government to regulate minimum access features in the National Construction Code for all new and extensively modified housing. If people don’t know the Australian Network for Universal Housing and Design they have a website and you can sign on. I would encourage groups to do that because the more groups that sign on to that, and there are a large number of organisations that have already signed on, we might be able to push that issue further up the agenda.
Other policy changes that would help would be for State and Local Government to mandate and either to regulate for or encourage a percentage of affordable and accessible units in all developments. There are good examples – the Boyd Building that Melbourne City Council are redeveloping has that and Moorland City Council have set a goal of 20% affordable housing. It can be done. The State Government could also adopt a policy position that any redevelopment of public housing must increase the available, affordable and accessible housing, which in previous redevelopments they’ve made private/public mixes. In some cases for example, (inaudible) Estate the number of public housing has been reduced and accessible wasn’t even in the picture.We know the State Government is currently reviewing its approach to housing so we would encourage all advocacy services and others to write to the Minister Martin Foley now. They’ve just recently had a day’s brainstorming around what needs to be done where they got leaders of some of the peaks to come along. Although they haven’t officially announced a consultation it never hurts while they’re thinking to be putting through some suggestions.
That’s enough from me. I would now like to introduce our panel members for this first session. I need to first put in an apology from our speaker from the Appeals Office of the Office of Housing – Robert Eade who had to cancel his attendance today due to other demands on his time. We did attempt to get a replacement but no one was available to come and talk to a room full of advocates. I would encourage any advocate who is investigating an appeal to contact the Office of Housing Appeals Office. I have found them to be fantastic, they’re very good at providing information on the process and the policy and talking you through it. Unfortunately Robert couldn’t be here but we will try and get some comments from him if possible to include in the information that goes up on the site later on.
Thankfully though we have a Community Housing worker who is going to talk to us and talk a little about the system. I’d like to welcome Nicola Connolly who is from HomeGround Services based in Collingwood. I think you’ve changed your name to Launch. Nicola is the Housing Initial Assessment and Planning Coordinator. Thanks Nicola.
Hello, like Pauline said my name is Nicola. I’m the coordinator of the IAP Team at Launch Housing in Collingwood. Launch Housing is an organisation that formed in July this year. It’s a merge between HomeGround Services and Hanover Welfare Services. That might be a bit confusing. I might say HomeGround accidentally during the presentation.
So what does Launch Housing do? We work with people who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness to try and link them with support services and mainly to try and find them housing. That’s our big thing. We help people also to sustain public housing, community housing and private rental. We work with a lot of different Government systems like public hospitals, the justice system and mental health services. We really want to prevent people becoming homeless when they’re going into the homeless service system, when they leave these services, which is something we see a lot of at Launch Housing. We also undertake research and do a lot of advocacy for reform to ensure that groups at risk of homelessness are identified early in mainstream system like education, health and child protection.
Now we’ve become Launch Housing we operate across fourteen metropolitan sites across Melbourne. We’ve become quite a large organisation. I’m just going to talk today about the services that we run at the Launch Collingwood site because otherwise it would take too long.Initial assessment and planning that’s the crisis response service. That’s the program that I coordinate. IAP services are access points. We’re the first port of call for anyone who is homeless or at risk of homelessness. There is different access points located throughout Melbourne and they all cover certain catchment areas. We do operate under a framework if someone presents to our service that day and they’re homeless we will see them, we are not going to refer them to a different service that day. We might do something short term and then refer them to the most appropriate service after that. I will talk more about IP but go through other programs first.
The accommodation options for families program that’s a case management program for families who are experiencing homelessness. That came out of a lot of research that was done that found a lot of families were living in rooming houses. Obviously that’s not very acceptable. So AWEP was set up to get those families out of rooming houses and into long-term housing. Really it’s case management for those families in crisis and the aim is to support them while they’re going through I guess the crisis housing to get them into long term housing.
The IAP Program works very closely with AWEP and a lot of families that would present to us as homeless will be referred to AWEP. We’ve seen some really great results from that.
We’ve also got the Home Ground Out Reach Support Service. That services offers case management, people in the City of Yarra. They work with a lot of single clients that come through our service. It’s a similar aim to AWEP, it’s case management. It’s to work with someone who maybe has multiple complex support issues. The big aim as well is to provide the housing, long-term housing that’s going to be sustainable, safe and what a lot of clients maybe haven’t had as they’re going through the service system.
We’ve got the Justice Housing Support Program. They receive their referral from court diversion programs. It’s quite a great program in the fact they have housing attached to them which not a lot of support services have. When clients get referred to the Justice Program, they get a support worker and a transitional housing property. We have had some really good results – recidivism, rates have gone really down for clients who have been referred to that program. That’s been fantastic.
We’ve got the Mental Health Support for Secure Tenancies. That’s similar to the HOS program in that they work with single people and couples with complex needs who come through our system and they’ve got that really entrenched homelessness. Really it’s aiming to break that cycle. They also have a real focus on working with the Aboriginal Community.
We also have the Housing Mental Health Pathways Program. That’s essentially one worker at our site in Collingwood who works with St Vincent’s Hospital. They work with patients who are in the in-patient unit and it’s about those people that come in and identify they have no housing exit, they have nowhere to live. Obviously you don’t want to discharge someone into homelessness from the hospital. They try and get in there and form a discharge plan. It might be doing something, crisis accommodation in the interim and then working with that person to find more stable, secure housing.
We’ve also got Transitional Housing Stock at Launch Housing. That’s transitional housing stock. Transitional housing is supposed to bridge the gap between short-term accommodation and the long-term end goal of either private rental or private housing. Someone needs to have a case manager to be referred to Transitional Housing. When they move in its run by organisations like Launch Housing. Everything is provided like the furniture and the bedding. It’s 25% of someone’s income and someone is linked in with a case manager for that time to I guess have that stability of finally having that housing, to work on any support needs that have been identified and also to work on the longer term housing. It’s really hard for clients in crisis to focus on a lot of support needs they have going on on focusing on filling out forms and I guess the bureaucracy that comes with Office of Housing. So having that stable housing really helps as a base.
IAP that’s the team that I’m coordinator of. We’re the access point for clients experiencing homelessness or risk of homelessness. We prevent homelessness firstly by providing short-term emergency accommodation. We also provide advocacy assistance, we do referrals for medium term support options, we do public housing applications, community-housing applications. We really aim that when we see someone that of course it’s always the crisis response – where are you going to sleep tonight, where are you going to stay for the foreseeable future. Obviously if you put someone in emergency accommodation it just becomes a band-aid option.
What we do is always try and have a plan in place – this is where you’re going tonight, we’ve done the referral so you can get a bit more support and then we’re going to do the application so in the long term you will have that accommodation of your own. That’s what people want. Unfortunately there is long waiting times for this housing but we always try and put the plan in place to get someone to that end point.
Really the eligibility is anyone who can walk through our door and we will do our best to assist anyone who comes and sees us. Sometimes eligibility can vary. For example, we might see people on no income so it might be limited, we might only be able to do a couple of week’s financial assistance., But like we said we try and do whatever we can for whoever walks through our doors.
The IAP Service it’s a drop in service for clients who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. We do assessments when people come in and in those assessments we talk about peoples housing needs, their housing history, any support needs that may come up and also any vulnerabilities or risks we’ve identified.
We see between 500 and 600 clients per month at Collingwood. We can have days that are pretty hectic and other days that are calmer. It can be pretty chaotic down in Collingwood but I think it’s really good. We’ve had some great outcomes.
HEF is the money we use to assist clients in housing crisis. HEF stands for the Housing Establishment Fund. The main use of HEF is for emergency accommodation. That’s when someone comes through your door if we need to provide money for SOS type accommodation, for rooming houses, for purchased accommodation like hotel, serviced apartments that sort of thing. We also can help out if someone secures private rental provided it’s affordable. We go by the same affordability guidelines as The Office of Housing, that’s within 55% of the person’s income per week or less. Sometimes we can use discretion particularly for rental, if someone has maintained that property for a long time and this may have been an event out of their control that led to them falling behind in rent.
We also can help out usually with about one weeks rent in advance for public housing and community housing but unfortunately we can’t help with arrears. If someone comes in with rental arrears in public housing or community housing, what we will do is we will try and advocate on their behalf with either the Office of Housing or the relevant community-housing organisation to enter a payment plan.
We also sometimes can help with travel. Sometimes we will see clients come in, they might be a New Zealand citizen, they’re not eligible for much here in Australia. We can offer to fly them back to New Zealand if that can help. Or if someone has accommodation or family members they can stay with in another
State we are happy to help out with that. If someone has somewhere to go that’s more stable I think that’s a better use of the money we have.
Emergency accommodation that’s always the first port of call when people come in. It’s a mix of rooming house style accommodation, motels and SOS style accommodation. Rooming houses are what we probably use mainly. Unfortunately they are a bit of a necessary evil in this world. When clients come in we will do the assessment first. We will try and work out which is the most appropriate place to refer them to. If they were waiting for a vacancy because there isn’t anything appropriate that day we might look at a motel in the interim. But it’s always trying to get them into the rooming house style accommodation. Like I said we try and have a plan so not just going to this rooming house and that’s the end of it. It’s we’ve put referrals into these supported accommodation places like Hanover Southbank, Flagstaff, Ozanam House so they can go somewhere where there will be case management and a lot more security of tenure and safety as opposed to a rooming house.
We only use rooming houses that are registered with the Council. It doesn’t take much unfortunately to be registered with the Council. We also if we get negative feedback from clients organise to go out and check out the room houses. It’s made with landlords and if it’s not up to scratch we will stop using them.Private rental as well is something we really encourage our client group to look at. It’s really tough though. Obviously it’s hard in the private rental market. Minimum rent in Metro Melbourne ranges from $300.00 per week to approximately $425.00 per week. Because we are based in Collingwood a lot of clients we see want to live in that area and unfortunately it’s not realistic given how much rent is. We try and look at someone’s affordability and try and print out private rentals in areas that might be more affordable. A lot of clients we see it’s very tough for them to move to an area they don’t know. Also they get a lot of rejection because they’re on Centrelink. It can be quite tough.
Vacancy rates for private rental are around 1.4%. If someone gets into private rental and it’s affordable we will aim to assist them with rent in advance. Then the Office of Housing can also assist with a bond loan provided it’s affordable so that’s the same 55% criteria.We will help people as well do public housing applications where possible but we do try and be very realistic with people about what the waiting times are like. That’s why I encourage people to also look for private rental. This is just some stats about public housing. This is from last year so it may have changed a little bit. 83,000 social housing dwellings in Victoria, 65,000 of those are public housing, 127,000 tenants. I imagine this has gone up seeing there is just over 30,000 people on the wait list, a lot of people waiting. The way that public housing waiting list is, it’s categorised. The top category is homeless with support. That’s clients who have a support worker identified, is having that history of homelessness and high support needs. That’s a lot of people, over 10,000 people are on that priority list which is hard. It feels like sometimes it’s very hard to actually get people prioritised.
Most people who are tenants are on Centrelink. This SHASP is Social Housing Advocacy Support Program they can advocate for people who are in public housing and who are having issues with the Office of Housing or at risk of losing their tenancy. The problem is that the Government made massive cuts to SHASP in recent years. They have become more and more limited in what they can do. Now really most of the work is focused on clients who are at immediate risk of losing their tenancy, which in the past maybe there was a bit more early intervention stuff they could’ve looked at.
Community Housing, I think most people here probably know a bit about Community Housing. It’s another form of social housing. It tends to be around 30% of a person’s income. It is run by social housing organisations but as Pauline mentioned earlier, the big issue is they’re not really building more community housing. We used to do a lot of community housing applications for people and put clients on the waiting list. Now we are being told no we’ve closed the waiting list and there is no sign of them reopening. Community Housing they do run rooming houses. In the community rooming houses they tend to have a lot of vacancies but there are of course with community rooming houses, it’s a lot of the same issues that you would have with private rooming houses. We have a lot of clients who might go into those accommodation types but they end up leaving pretty soon. I guess it’s still an option but it doesn’t have the best outcome unfortunately.
I mentioned transitional housing before. Launch Housing will probably now manage a lot more but approximately 320 transitional properties. I talked to the manager of the transitional housing team and she let me know I think there is only three properties that are fully disability modified. That’s a really low number, that’s something we need to work on as well as an organisation.
The properties what happens is when clients come through our service, the access point, the crisis response we try and link them in with support. We know when there is a transitional housing vacancy and we will refer clients to those vacancies. They are support to be real short term. You go from crisis accommodation to transitional and then long term housing. But because Office of Housing waiting times have blown out it means people are in transitional housing now for a couple of years. It doesn’t move very quickly with transitional housing unfortunately.
These are just some stats from the 2011 Census on how many people are homeless. It was found in 2011 that there was over 105,000 people who were homeless, that’s .5% of the Australian population. They also found over 17,000 of those people experiencing homelessness were under the age of 12 and that was a significant rise from 2006. On the Census night it was approximately 22,000 people were homeless in Victoria. It is important to know this. Home Ground now Launch Housing, a lot of homelessness services become involved during Census time to try and make sure we’re getting as accurate possible account of how many people are homeless. It’s very hard to count that number. I think everyone agrees that’s definitely under counted the numbers that are here.
The number of people experiencing homelessness on Census night in 2011 that was an increase by 17% from 2006. The rate has also increased. That means that one in every two hundred Australians was experiencing homelessness on the Census night in 2011. There was an increase in homelessness in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT. With overall levels of homelessness increasing by more than 20% over the past 5 years, since 2011.The impacts of homelessness, a lot of people who come through our doors, poor physical health is pretty massive particularly if someone is sleeping rough. It can make it very difficult if you don’t have accommodation. That accommodation becomes your main focus and it becomes very difficult to access health care and seek treatment. Then obviously if you’re homeless if you’re sleeping rough particularly in this weather it leaves a lot of our clients becoming ill on the streets.
A lot of people we see identify with some form of mental health issue. Depression and anxiety is very common but also some very serious mental health issues and they’re often treated by and definitely exacerbated by being homeless. We see a lot of social exclusion, social isolation. There is a lot of stigma with people that come through our service and we see premature ageing a lot. We try and get that recognised with the Office of Housing where possible to try and get someone prioritised for housing.
Duration of homelessness we know from research and also from my observations that there is a real link between the amount of time someone is homeless and also the impact it’s going to have on someone. That’s why early intervention where possible is always the best step. A lot of youth services really focus on that early intervention stuff. The longer a person is homeless the more difficult it is for them to recover. We see as well a lot of children who come through our service. With families it’s very difficult on them, they’re uprooted from school, very isolated. That’s why programs like AWEP are very important. We definitely as well see a lot of people come through our system who have been in the system since they were maybe 15, 16 years old. They become really entrenched in the recurring homelessness and it’s really difficult to break that cycle.
Like I said a lot of people we see coming into our services the first thing we say is how can I help you today – I need housing is always the first issue. But also there is always a lot of underlining issues to go with that. Housing is often the need that brings someone to our service. There is a lot more going on behind the service and that’s why we try and do our assessments. Good outcomes are dependent on our knowledge and ability to navigate the housing system but also the services that encompass it so that’s the health system, legal, financial, specialist health services, family services. We try as much as possible to work around all the different systems.
The Victorian Service System in 2008 had a bit of an overhaul and developed the Opening Doors Framework. The Opening Doors Framework is about making the service better, making it more equitable, more accessible. Like I mentioned if someone comes to an IAP service we will never turn them away that day particularly if they’re homeless. There is no way, we will provide a service. But prior to that sometimes clients were being referred on to different services, which had a really bad affect. If someone makes it through the door I think we need to provide a response. Opening Doors is about being consumer focused, being strengths based. It’s about an equity of access to resources of the homelessness services system. It’s so you can go to any service. Previous to Opening Doors if a client was from Dandenong they had to access the services there. Now we’ve taken that away. Sometimes there were those boundaries for financial assistance but in terms of support services those barriers aren’t there anymore.
It’s about support for the skilled workers. Providing training, supervision and giving them the tools they need to do their job. Collaboration and partnership between different agencies and the DHHS is very important. Also we need to take reasonable care to address the risk faced by each person who is homeless and we want to maximise the resources we have and ensure we are utilising them to the best of our ability.
If you have someone who is homeless or at risk of homelessness this 1800 number is good to call. It will put you through to the nearest access point. Even if that’s not the best place for you to call usually an IAP worker will be able to refer you to the right service. I’ve talked a bit about IAP. When someone comes in we do a bit of an assessment and then start looking at what short-term emergency housing options we can look at and then try and provide support, a bit of a plan into the future.
What we’re going to do.This is a list of the access points in inner Melbourne. These are the ones we deal with most frequently. Like I said you can call that 1800 number and you will be best directed usually.Is there any questions?I think we have a roving mic, just hold that question till it reaches you.
just wanted to know the eligibility requirements for the housing establishment fund.
Like I said before it’s usually about when a client comes in to see us if we haven’t assisted them within the last 6 months usually they would be eligible for assistance. If someone has been living in an area for 6 months prior to that we would contact Health and Service first and try and get money from them. If not pretty much anyone that walks through the door is eligible provided they haven’t use the fund very recently.
You said the Office of Housing says that 55% of someone’s income is affordable, is that written….?
That would definitely be in the policy for bond loans. When you get a private rental and want to apply for a bond loan I think it’s in the bond loan form, it has to be within 55%. They don’t tend to be very flexible on that, we can be more flexible than they can.
I understand Collingwood is a fairly big catchment area. I come from up north near Albury and this is very important for us as well because we have a great deal of problems, particularly the mental health field. It’s very difficult to try and place. Have you got any help or assistance in that respect?
Sorry it was a little hard to hear.
You have an 1800 number there and that covers Collingwood.
The 1800 number is Statewide. If you call that service that will bring you to the closest access point. The only issue with that is you might call about a client say he is in the Flemington area but you’re calling from Collingwood so they might put you through to us and we might redirect to the most appropriate service. But if you’re calling from where you are it should tell you which is the correct access point.
Sorry I should’ve said if people wouldn’t mind saying their names and where you’re from just because we’re recording today. That would be great. Any further questions?
What is the Government going to do or doing about this whole problem?
I would like to know that. Our CEO, well our two CEO’s now have merged for Launch Housing. They’re both big advocates. They’re very up for speaking in the media, for meeting with Office of Housing. Whenever there is an issue they will try and speak out for reform and the need for more services, more funding. It can be very difficult with the Government, with the Office of Housing. It’s very tough but we are trying our best to advocate where possible. That’s why we do a lot of research as well at Launch Housing. That’s a very important part because we want to have the research, the evidence that shows that more services are needed, there is gaps that need to be addressed. But yes I would love to know what the Government is doing. I know they’ve met with Martin Foley as well like you’ve talked about. Really I think just told him their wish list of what we would want and what would be great. Hopefully in the near future….
The change of Governments from Liberal to Labour, made the current Government and residents at the moment more responsive to the needs of homelessness? Have you found that has been their policy?
Definitely. I know there has been a big difference noted. Prior to that I feel the Liberal Government there was a lot of cuts coming through constantly. We were showing some really good…like I mentioned before the SHASP Program. They had some really good stats around early intervention stuff, preventive homelessness. There were a few programs similar where we had done research and showed the programs were working and they were still getting funding cuts. It wasn’t making sense to us. Now definitely the Execs when I speak to them at Launch Housing have said they’re noticing people are a lot more willing to provide funding, to discuss these issues. I think it’s really positive and I think we’ve really noticed the difference.
I’m not sure what my question is but I would like to get your feedback on what HomeGround or Launch is doing about this. In my experience with housing, there is a huge issue in that if someone is in private rental and cannot afford it, cannot sustain it they just need public housing or community housing, they’re forced to get a possession order before…the landlord is forced to get a possession order before they leave the house. They can’t get housing services before that point. Then once they get housing services they’re forced back into private rental but they’ve been blacklisted for it because they’ve had a possession order against them. I know the criteria for housing support and segment one is risk of homelessness or homelessness. What is classified as risk of homelessness if an eviction notice isn’t enough? Does that make sense?
As an advocate I don’t know how people do it alone. I struggled with the Housing Service because the Housing Service wasn’t realising what they were doing like causing this situation.
We get a lot of calls from people saying I’m in a private rental or I’m in this accommodation, what can you do for me today. Often it’s we can’t do anything emergency accommodation wise and it is hard because you do have to wait till you leave that property and that can be hard for someone to hear. But we try and do the interim response stuff so trying to work on doing community housing applications, doing public housing applications. We will try and do that prior to the person being evicted. I think if a property is really unaffordable and they are getting an order of possession that is a massive risk to homelessness. The problem is if they’ve gotten a bond loan from the Office of Housing, the Office of Housing won’t approve their application for homeless support because they will say they are housed in private rental. That can be a difficulty.
People are forced to stay in the property until there is a possession order so then they’re blacklisted to rent again.
The person could leave but I guess the issue is what you’re saying the person has nowhere to go.
Yeah they can’t get the housing support until they’ve got a possession order, which I suppose is against what I would’ve thought housing services….I’m not saying your housing service but other housing services have experienced that.
It is hard if someone calls and they’re in a private rental. Our emergency accommodation options do tend to be things like rooming houses. If someone wants to give their 28 days’ notice to leave the private rental and come in and see us and looking into moving into emergency accommodation like things like rooming houses, we’re happy to facilitate that. I guess it’s hard because what we have isn’t really going to be better than where the person is going to be staying right now, if someone is in a private rental even if it is unaffordable. People can always relinquish their tenancy early and come and see us. They don’t have to get to order of possession stage.
I would be interested to know if anyone else has experienced that with other services. It sounds like yours is quite good in that regard. But people have been forced to stay and I have experienced that.
It is hard. I guess if someone has a tenancy we never want to say make yourself homeless come into our service for crisis accom. But people have their own right, they’re autonomous. If they want to do that and give up the tenancy and like you say they don’t want to be blacklisted yeah more than welcome to do that.
Can I just maybe provide a way forward with that. It seems like if that’s happening from some of the housing services but not others then is there some sort of through the Opening Doors Scheme, some sort of commonality of policy or does every service operate its own way?
A little bit. I know in the North West Region we meet up. We meet up bimonthly and we talk about practice issues that come up and we want to make sure we’re all on the same page. It doesn’t matter if you live in Coburg, live in Preston, you live in Collingwood, we want to make sure you’re getting the same equitable service. It is something I can bring up with the team leaders of the different access points in my region, definitely.
Any other questions? Actually I am looking is that quarter past, yes. We might have to have just one more question and move on because we have another speaker.
I was just wondering it must be quite complex to coordinate with families and individuals, other services like disability services or family violence services they might be receiving. I was wondering if you had observations around that? For example, how has it been if someone with a disability has gone into temporary housing around getting their disability supports moved to their new location?
Yeah that can be really tough. If someone has a lot of supports and they need to get them set up it’s hard because I guess we do start looking at crisis accommodation and initially someone might be moving around for a bit. That can be a real barrier because someone is like oh there is no point setting them up here if you’re going to move them to a different area. That’s probably the main issue we have is trying to find that secure option where we can link someone in with support because we know they’re going to be there for the foreseeable future. It can definitely be hard and a lot of services will say oh actually no now you should call the service in St Kilda because he put in in St Kilda for the night. That can be hard definitely.
We are going to have to move on. Can we please all thank Nicola Connolly from Launch. Our second panel member is Otar who is the Regional Officer for Consumer Affairs Victoria. She works out of the Broadmeadows Justice Service Centre, which is located in the North West Metropolitan region. Thanks Gulden and we might need some help with the overhead.
Good afternoon ladies and gentleman. My name is Gulden and I work at Consumer Affairs Victoria. Consumer Affairs Victoria is a branch under the Department of Justice and Regulation. It’s quite relevant that I’m here today because Consumer Affairs Victoria actually administers the Residential Tenancy Act, so dealing with housing issues and things like that. We thought it would be a good idea to so you know where to go and what to do whenever you’re stuck with any housing related issues, especially tenancy.
Basically who we are and what we do – we work for the State Government of Victoria and the Residential Tenancy Act is the Act that we administer in Victoria only. It is quite different in different states. All of our services are for free. You can contact us for information and advice. What we try and do is create a fair market place for all businesses and consumers, and tenants and landlords. We are not bias, we do not favour one group over the other. It depends on who is making the inquiry, we will give out general information and advice based on what information we’re giving. We never give out legal advice or information so it’s only of a general nature.
As you can see from the list they’re the type of things we can help with. So renting, buying and selling property, shopping refunds, guarantee, scams, door-to-door, phone sales, owners corporations, and retirement village. The Residential Tenancies Act, we deal with public housing, private housing, rooming house and caravan parks are covered in the Residential Tenancy Act. However there are two other Acts in regards to housing which is the Retirement Villages Act and the Owners Corporation Act. This is general information for you to know. If ever you have an enquiry of that nature we want you to know we are the organisation that administers those acts.
We do have an office in the CBD and we also have regional offices. I work at the Broadmeadows regional office. We do have a regional office out in Dandenong and in Box Hill and also in regional areas like Ballarat, Bendigo, Mildura, Geelong and so on. If ever you need any information or resources we’ve got our website which is www.consumer.vic.gov.au otherwise we do have our enquiries line which is 1300 558 181. The details will come up soon. We also give out forms. Any rental forms that you need, you can pop into one of our branches, which could be in the regional offices, or head office or you could contact us and we can mail them out to you. Things like forms, what forms do I need for this reason, what do I need to do, you can contact us and we can help you with that.
With our regional offices, I did say I work at the Broadmeadows regional office, we do have some people come in and say I need help filling out a form, one of your forms so you can make a non-appointment to see us and we can help you fill out our forms. However we can only help fill out forms that are related to consumer affairs issues. We’re not advocates for other Departments such as VCAT or anything like that. If you need someone to come in because they have an issue and they need to fill out a form we can do that as well.
However we are out of the office a lot because we do deliver, as what I’m doing today, we deliver information sessions. We go out to all sorts of community groups and talk about the topics that we administer at Consumer Affairs Victoria. We give out information sessions and they’re all for free as well. Renting is a very popular one we give out, that we deliver. We are out of the office a lot. It’s always wise to make an appointment with us if you need to come in because chances are there may be nobody in the office.
I’ll talk about rooming houses now. Rooming houses Nicola did talk a lot about rooming houses so I won’t dwell too much on it. A rooming house is when there is a house with four or more tenants that don’t know each other. They’re set up, any type of accommodation can be set up as a rooming house however they do need to be registered with the local council. A lot of people do set them up and make a lot of money out of them and they’re not registered. That is illegal. A lot of people try and do that. You may have heard it on Current Affairs and stuff. It is illegal. There are minimum standards that rooming houses must meet and Consumer Affairs inspectors do have the power to enter rooming houses unannounced to check they do have the minimum standards.
As you can see rooming houses must be registered, they must be safe, clean and the minimum standards. We do have a hotline for rooming houses. That’s if you want to talk about the standards of a rooming house or you know that they’re not registered or they’ve illegally set up a rooming house or any type of issue in regards to rooming houses we have a separate hotline number, which is just there, it’s 1300 365 814.
The Residential Tenancies Act is a guide. It tells us what to do in regards to renting. It tells us what to do with the bond, how much a bond can be, where it needs to be lodged and so on. I don’t want to talk too much about the bond and all of the details. Pretty much I just wanted you to know any issues you have with renting, we’ve got the Residential Tenancies Act to guide us. We can always look to the Act and find out what to do. If ever you are stuck and need assistance, you want to know what you can do in a scenario contact us and we are there to provide you with information and advice.
We only have a few minutes to go, I might see if anybody has any questions. I don’t want to stand here and just talk, I would rather have your questions answered.Our roving mic is coming around.
What’s the contact number?
That’s on the last page, I will move it across. I thought it was relevant to have our city address because we are in the city today. Our website is www.consumer.vic.gov.au our phone number is 1300 558 181. Just letting you know with our phone number if you need interpreters services you can request that as well. That’s a free service we offer as well. We’ve got our City address, which is 113 Exhibition St Melbourne. Also another thing I forgot to mention is we also fund the Tenants Union of Victoria. Any time you have a tenant that needs assistance in going to VCAT or is not confident in the system, doesn’t understand English or is vulnerable and disadvantaged, we will refer you to the Tenants Union. That’s also a free service . What they will do is act on behalf of the tenant when going to VCAT. They will fill out all the VCAT forms and represent the tenant at a hearing. They can also assist.
How many rooming houses are there in Victoria? How many of those are for people with disabilities and have you had any experience of good stories or bad stories about rooming houses for people with disabilities?
I don’t know how many rooming houses are registered in Victoria, sorry. But maybe if you contact our hotline maybe they might be able to tell you. Good or bad stories, look you may have heard a lot of horror stories where people for example, international students that don’t understand the system, people do take a lot of money off students and aren’t registered to become a rooming house and have so many people living in a house and making so much money out of them. You may have heard those type of stories. They’re our horror stories. There are some people we’ve heard that have about fifty rooming houses that aren’t registered within Victoria and it’s quite sad because they probably made so much money out of it but until they were busted, until they were caught out. They were issues with obviously penalties and things like that. They’re probably our horror stories. The people that are taking advantage of the system and not registering themselves and making money off people, not informing people of their rights and things like that and praying on people that don’t understand the laws in Australia. They’re probably our horror stories in regards to rooming houses.
In terms of disability is there anything unique about a rooming house situation for a group of people with say intellectual disabilities?
I’m really not sure sorry.
I think there was one more question at the front table and that would have to be our last. I just want to make the announcement that there is a review of the Residential Tenancies Act at the moment in case people want to put in suggestions for change.
There is no regular oversight of the registered rooming houses, somebody doesn’t go in on a regular basis to check how the house is set up and what’s going on?
Recently Consumer Affairs Victoria inspectors were given powers to enter rooming houses to check the standards and things like that. Not somebody of my role but somebody with a badge, with investigative powers could enter rooming houses and check that everything was okay.
But that wouldn’t be done on a regular basis.
Yes absolutely we do it on a regular basis.
In terms of a regular basis do you know how often that would happen?
It’s done through our investigative team in hour Head Office. I work at the Broadmeadows office so I do hear that’s what they do, that’s their job. I can’t say how often because I would be lying. That’s what they do.
Okay it’s nearing lunchtime. I’d like to say thank you to both our panel members who have done their best to help us unravel the parts of the system they know about. Let’s face it it’s a huge system. We hope you both stay with us for lunch and if you can for the next session after lunch in case questions come up that maybe are relevant for your area as well. Let’s show our appreciation for your time and expert knowledge. I think Robyn might have some housekeeping before lunch.
Thank you Pauline and thank you Pauline and panel for setting the scene about housing services in Victoria. I think you’ve started the forum off very nicely and opened up to quote my favourite morning show, radio breakfast host Red Simons – you’ve opened up a nice Pandora’s box of worms for us. It is now lunchtime. I just wanted to say too in your packs we do have a small little resource with some information about some of the housing services and providers within Victoria, just relevant reports or information sources for you. Also after today everyone who has registered or provided an email address we will be providing copies of the Power Point presentation. Any information, phone numbers etc. that have been given you will be able to access it either in your packs or information after today which will give you notice of when it’s all available and up on our website for you to take a look at.
Please make yourself welcome to lunch. We will reconvene at 1.30 for the next housing services panel’s discussions.
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- Date published:
- Mon 14th Sep, 2015