Advocacy and housing

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:

  1. Setting the scene for housing services in Victoria
  2. New Powers of Attorney Act
  3. Q&A with the Office for Disability


More than 5,000 Victorians with disability live in state funded disability supported accommodation. In this year’s State Budget, the Victorian Government announced the provision of 830 more individual support plans. Whilst this will go some way towards addressing the unmet housing and accommodation needs of people whith disability, there are many more Victorians with disability requiring housing.

Pauline Williams, Housing Rights Coordinator at Action for More Independence in Accommodation (AMIDA), focussed the  discussion on supported accommodation with panel members:

  • Angela Kopke, Senior Vacancy coordinator, DHHS Disability Support
  • Andrew McHardy, Vacancy Coordinator, DHHS Disability Support Register
  • Margaret Summers, Manager SRS & Accommodation Support from DHHS
  • Rosemary Barker, Manager Volunteer Programs (Community visitors) at Office of the Public Advocate (OPA)

Advocates were interested to learn what the process is to get into a government funded group home and what role can advocates and community visitors do to make sure that people are happy with their accommodation and support.


Contact information

Disability Support Register
T: 1800 783 783 (Intake and Response)
W: DSR information

Community Visitors Program
T: 1300 309 337
TTY: 1300 305 612
E: [email protected]

SRS Information and resources
E: [email protected]





Welcome back to our second housing session for the day. Those who weren’t here this morning, I’m Pauline Williams. I am an advocate and I work at AMIDA, which is Action for More Independence and Dignity in Accommodation.This panel will focus more on the supported accommodation sector. For disability advocates I know this makes up a large part of the work we do, as mainstream housing advocacy information services don’t generally provide advocacy to people living in supported accommodation. If you do go on to the DHH Housing website, which is quite useful you will find they actually do list all the different tenure types on that website including supported accommodation. I’d encourage you to check it out and it is quite a useful resource. It’s . They have a housing finder there and if you plug in some details and make them up you will see it throws up a whole lot of different services and suggestions. It’s quite a useful resource.

Just by way of introduction, we know that there are thousands of people with disabilities currently on the waiting list for supported accommodation or a support package or both. The disability support register is a list, I guess for people who have been found eligible for those supports. We will hear a bit more about that from our panel today. I’m not sure what the latest figure is for those waiting for supported accommodation, it might be a question on notice for you guys. You might not know either but I know it’s thousands. Whatever that figure is it’s only those who’ve applied and been found eligible to be on the list and in immediate need therefore.

National Disability Services is the peak provider for not for profit disability services in Australia. They actually did some estimates before the last State election of how many people with a disability are in need of housing. It was 20 to 30,000. That’s in Victoria alone. They’re saying that because they know there is a huge untapped need where people who haven’t had support packages and will get them with the NDIS will need somewhere to live.

At the April COAG Coalition of Australian Governments Disability Reform Council, housing was on the agenda and was reported on. I don’t know if people have read it or seen it and know what the latest is. The Ministers noted that the total budget for the full scheme NDIS does include capital costs for some specialist accommodation. Some of these funds however will need to be used to support existing specialist accommodation, the group homes that we already have, and in Victoria, there are about a thousand. They didn’t give the proportions, so how much of that funding will be for existing and how much will be for new? The balance though will be used to support people with disability requiring integrated housing and support. Also to be used to help people access housing in the private market and to enable the market to generate innovative specialist disability housing, whatever that means. The Council has asked officials to work with the NDIA to support the development and testing of innovative accommodation pilots in the trial sites at the NDIS. That will help expand the supply of appropriate and sustainable integrated housing and support models, which may include existing models, contemporary and or innovative supports. Those are the words of the actual communique.

Also, it went on to say initially this will focus in the trial sites where there is adequate funds. Again, it wasn’t clear which trial sites that might be. Those trials will start to provide us with evidence about how different models contribute to outcomes for participants but this will take time. I think it should be noted that advocates have lots of experience of what goes on in different models of supported accommodation. I’m hoping that that will be taken into account too.

It’s very important the communique says we take a measured approach to investment to ensure that the scheme is sustainable and can meet the needs of participants into the future. Increasing the supply of specialist housing will be incremental it said, with a small number of initial pilots helping to define a path forward. The NDIS efforts in relation to specialist disability housing they noted, will be in addition to ongoing mainstream support from the States and Territories. There is still a bit of jockeying going on, even some of those words I think are designed to get responses from different State Governments, and that we don’t get a lot of detail. However, we do note that in Victoria this year there was a budget provision made for an additional 830 individual support packages over the next 4 years. Not for bricks and mortar housing, it’s for support provision. There was no allocation for additional mainstream housing through public housing or community housing. There was only allocation for maintenance of the existing stock.

The only group housing that I’m aware of that’s being built in Victoria at the moment, there is twenty residents who will be moving out of Cooinda which is in institution in Colac and money was made available before the election for those people to move into housing. The Oakleigh Centre has also been provided funding to close. The funding for the closure of that will supply group housing not on site. They’re selling the site. That’s the only group housing I know of or specialist supported accommodation that’s being built and it’s already spoken for for those people.

Demand for support accommodation is high. However, alarmingly supported accommodation is consistently the area that attracts the most complaints to the Disability Services Commissioner. On the one hand, it’s needed greatly, it’s also not necessarily without problems and none of us are unaware of the issues of violence and abuse that have been reported in these services of which there have been a number of enquiries this year. But often it’s the less dramatic daily restrictions of people’s lives and lack of choice that undermine the quality of life of residents. Community visitors report year after year that services are not as good as they need to be. Even the Ombudsman report recently on investigating and reporting abuse found it’s a very complicated complaints system and there is a litany of non-compliance they found.

As advocates we need to understand how to support people firstly to get into supported accommodation but also how to resolve issues once they do get in that may arise. I often think the real problems start with people when they get the service they were waiting for.Our panel members today work in particular areas of that system, not the whole area. We can’t expect them to tell us everything about the picture but hopefully we will hear a bit more about that picture. For myself as an advocate I have lots of questions and I hope you will think of some questions, we will allow time for that.

To start lets welcome our first panel members. Angela Kopke is the Senior Vacancy Coordinator with DHHS, Disability Support Register and Vacancy Management Client Support Service. She is joined by her colleague, Andrew McHardy who is the Vacancy Coordinator in the DHH Disability Support Register and Vacancy Management Clients Support Services Team. They are in the Western Division. Welcome Angela and Andrew.

Thank you for the introduction and the explanation for who we are and what we do. I’m going to speak a little bit about the disability support register outlining how you get on that list and then once I’ve explained that Angela will explain a little more about the vacancy management side of things.

In order to get on going funding whether that’s for community access or housing you need to submit a disability support register which outlines various things including other options that have been canvased. Once that does get registered, it goes on to the list. With that when new packages become available that list is explored to see who would fit that then an offer of a package would be made available. We do have some information here outlining what happens after the application is registered. It does get reviewed so circumstances can change and it’s reviewed regularly. Sometimes people get contacted to update it because  circumstances will be changed and then they may…
Things you would look at in a review would be maybe change of location. It might be somebody previously when the DSR was submitted was living at home with their family and situation has changed and they’ve moved into another location or they’re living in transitional accommodation or temporary accommodation. They are things that we like to update especially in relation to application for the shared supported accommodation because that could mean a change in priority for that person. It also would look at changes in their abilities. It might be that somebody has a degenerative disorder and we need to be aware of how that’s affecting them now so we can look at accommodation that meets their specific needs at this time.

People put in DSR’s years and years ago and if you look at ones that were put in maybe 5 years ago, somebodies abilities or support needs have dramatically changed from 5 years ago and if we’re basing our decision from 5 years ago, we might not be looking at what’s going to meet their needs now. We want to make sure it’s the now we’re looking for for them.

When they are registered, there is a couple of ways that a vacancy can become available. Someone can move out so someone may move back home with their parents, someone may pass on, someone may move into residential aged care. Then once the process, the vacancy is declared to the panel the panel then refer back to the DSR which has a list of everyone in the particular division and that outlines what they’re specific requirements may be. Then we’ve got some fairly tight time frames that Angela will again help me out and talk a little bit about.

Once a vacancy is declared, it’s usually declared within a 5-day period and then we bring together and review the people on the DSR. Shared supported accommodation houses have different models they’re focused towards different support needs, different people. There are models for people at My Future My Choice, so people that have Huntington ’s disease or MS or there is the more supported models of people with intellectual disabilities, they may be non-verbal, non-ambulant that require more intensive support needs. Different houses provide different levels of support. We would review the DSR, scope the DSR to see who would match that house that’s become available and then bring together a short list.We also focus it around the location of the house so being in West Division we do cover from Footscray all the way to the South Australia/Victoria border. It is quite a large division so we wouldn’t want to put somebody up that’s applying only for Footscray and go would you like a house in Portland, not necessarily going to want to move to Portland but that’s how we base our criteria. We look at what that person is requesting and where that is. We then bring together a short list and a panel.

That panel depending on whether it’s a CSO house or a DAS House Disability Accommodation Service house is made up. We try and get together a panel of five that’s a DHS representative, two CSO representatives, a carer of the person with the disability and a person with the disability to represent the wider community and to make a transparent and unbiased decision. We as the facilitators do not vote on who gets allocated we just facilitate the process.

Once a panel is brought together and the short list is presented, each resident or each person that’s been put up they have a representative. That might be a case manager, day program, respite or it might be more than one person that presents them. That is how the decision is made it’s not based solely on the DSR information that was submitted. It’s based on information that’s brought together via somebody that knows them.

From that, we can kind of come up with three outcomes. It could be that a person is offered the placement they believe they are a match to the house and that placement is offered. We can then offer the placement and come up with a second. Sometimes panels look at the people that are presented and it might be that more than one-person matches but one person might come over the line first because of priority of need. Then you can offer for a secondary offer to be made if the first person declines or you may come out of the panel and no one is offered placement, then we go back and review the DSR from there.

Once the match has been determined, there’s a process of transitioning from their current housing arrangements to the shared supported accommodation. That is a case-by-case basis. Sometimes it can take a number of months sometimes it can take a couple of weeks. With that, normally the applicant meets the other residents, they might go over there for a couple of hours, get a bit of orientation then go back home or they might have dinner there, get to know them. Sometimes they might just slot in straight away. Once they are happy and comfortable to move in then they can do so. They can also decline at any stage of this process.

Once the residents are in there if they have any concerns about what’s going on the houses are generally staffed during the evenings. Most houses are not staffed between about 9 and 3 o’clock because that’s generally when people are out in the community. There are some variations with that according to the individuals. If there are any concerns or issues that the resident feel they need to address they can speak to the staff. If they’re not happy with that, they can escalate it through the specific processes of the organisation that runs that place or by calling the Disability Commissioner or any of these that are listed here.

I know one question raised prior to this was if a person has moved into accommodation or they’re in accommodation and they feel as though it isn’t meeting their needs or they would like to move to something different, then the process starts again. You can either apply for a reconfiguration within the current organisation that you’re in then you submit a new DSR and go through the process again. It doesn’t mean that you lose your placement in the current house you’re in. It’s just they will scope and look at other placements and consider you with everybody else.I know a big question that comes up especially when older people are moving in from home to shared supported accommodation that we get from families is – what does that mean, do I get to see them, and do I get to spend time with them. Just because someone is in shared supported accommodation it doesn’t mean they don’t get to spend time with their family or get to go and stay with their family. I know a lot of older carers get a bit worried about that, that they’re placing their child and they’re never going to have them home. That’s not the case at all. They can have as much involvement as they like in their life as possible. Just because somebody is in shared supported accommodation doesn’t mean that ultimately their goal is to live independently that they don’t work towards that in the house as well.

The main goal of the staff and what they work towards is goal focused and person centred planning for the guys and residents in the houses. If somebodies ultimate goal is to move independently then that’s something that will be supported within that house.

If it’s okay we might take some questions now, we have about 10 minutes before we need to move on. It’s an opportunity if you’ve got questions about the vacancy management process, now is your chance. We do have a roving mic somewhere in the room. I have one over here Penny.

What you just mentioned at the end there, about supporting people who want to live independently one day, we’ve talked about how long the lists are of the people wanting to move into supported accommodation, but there is also a long list of people wanting to move out and they can’t because they’re stuck. They can’t get the ISP they need to live independently. My question is two parts, what from your perspective is the best process for people to take to be able to make that happen and also what’s the Department doing to support that to happen, like exit ISPs ever going to be re-introduced, what’s going on to turn that into reality?

That’s a hard one, it’s a tricky one about needing an ISP to move into independent accommodation. The main process that we would say would be to go through the DSR and apply through that and highlighting what that person is wanting to use that for and highlighting that it is for independent accommodation. It will be again based on when targets become available, when resources become available to be allocated to that specific person. I think it’s important, there is an Intake number to call. If somebody is getting more and more desperate or they’re wanting to fast the process calling Intake and reiterating their stance, this is what they’re wanting to do and making sure it’s updated on a regular basis that this is still something they’re exploring, that’s a way to go about it.

Unfortunately we all know that ISP’s there is a long time frame for that and I don’t know Central I’m sure would be the better place to go to to answer the bigger picture one about what DHHS in general are looking at for people to move into accommodation. I’m not sure where that’s sitting within NDIA either at this stage. The process would be DSR at this stage, then constantly updating on information of how that person is going and what they want to do.

We also had a question from Penny and Heather.

This is a bit of two parts. I think you’ve registered the number of people looking for shared support accommodation because that’s all you can register that you want even if you don’t want that. If you want accommodation you have to register that you want shared support accommodation not that you’re looking for housing with a DSR?

Sorry I don’t understand the question.

When you fill out the DSR, tick the box for accommodation you’re looking for shared supported accommodation so therefore that’s what you’re measuring even though that’s presumably not, what the demand is for. Tour statistics don’t reflect the demand.

I think that could probably be a fair summation of it yes.

It would be great to change that form around so you could notice the house that people with disability would actually prefer and that gets fed up. That wasn’t my question, my question is about people having increasing support needs who are living in shared supported accommodation and then being transferred into residential aged care. I’m curious about the policy around that.

My understanding is we review the DSR it’s supposed to outline what the scenarios are, what this specific individual is needing as well as what they’re already receiving. I think with that, divisionally there have been differences with young people living in residential aged care for instance. That can result in there is the enhancement package, so….

You missed my question.

So somebody already living in accommodation and they’re moving them into aged care?


My understanding and don’t quote me on policy because policy is not my greatest area, the ultimate goal would be for somebody to remain in shared supported accommodation if it’s a viable option. If additional supports can be added into the house then that’s what they would look at first. There are some instances though where it might be seen as a more viable option or a better-supported option that people be in aged care.  I don’t know the policy on that but that is my understanding.

The question then, is it regarded by the Department that you fund the house more or the individual with increasing support needs needs to access an ISP through that very long waiting list to get the extra support in the house that way. That’s a very big difference.

Yes it is. It varies. In some instances it is the house, it looks at the house and especially if it’s rostered staffing. They would be funding the staffing within the house not specifically…even though it would be specifically for that person it would be a roster of reviewing why do we need extra staffing and why isn’t the current number of rosters working for the residents that they currently have in the house.

Does the Department have a contingency for the fact that the group of residents in aged supported accommodation are currently ageing and are they committed to ageing in place for this group of residents if that’s what they choose, the way that ageing in place applies for our community more generally for elder people? I’m seeing a bit of a tendency to try and put young people in aged care at a shared supported accommodation.

My understanding is once you turn 65 you don’t get moved from the shared support accommodation. You don’t lose your ISP. If you are on the register, you don’t cease to be on the register once you do turn 65. I don’t think there is any specific ageism related.

It’s not ageism. It would be more a problem about how people with disability are viewed because I am seeing people well under 65 being moved from shared supported accommodation into aged care.

This is a very good discussion but I have to move it on sorry. Heather had a question.

Is there any more houses being built to accommodate those on the waiting lists who are still living with their parents say from 50 years old to up until their 90, the parents and especially those with high support needs and the parents if they can’t get accommodation what do they do? Put them in respite, refuse to pick them up so they become homeless and the Department has to find somewhere for them. Have you any transitional houses like you used to have?  I know because I have worked in the field, and I’ve been a community visitor as well.

In the West like Pauline was saying I know that Cooinda is the one that they’re looking at. I know there is not very many new builds going on and that’s a fact and I think everybody is aware of that.

We’re still waiting for the end but that doesn’t cater for housing for those with high support needs.

On the DSR, one of the priority criteria which if you have a look on the website it gives you an idea of the priority criteria when you are registered, one of those is looking at people that are living with ageing carers. People that are it might be for the first time applying for support. One of the priority criteria we have now is if somebody is living with their parents and they are ageing. It is something that is highlighted as being definitely a need and so being on priority means you might get looked at first. Doesn’t necessarily mean you will get there first because the register isn’t a waiting list but it means we will highlight and we can monitor how that’s tracking as well how many people are applying for support especially shared supported accommodation who are living with ageing carers still.

I think we have time for one more question, is there any other questions?

I’m a mother of a young girl with Down Syndrome, she is 20. She hopes to move out of home and so do I one day. You mentioned there are different types of support accommodation types of houses. How many different types are there so that she could fit in, so I could be comfortable that she will fit in and make a successful transition? You would know how many clients you have so I am just wondering how many different categories of different types of housing would be needed and how many do you actually have?

I couldn’t give you a number on exactly how many different models we have but an example would be there are some where it’s staffed 24/7 nearly one on one support due to high personal care needs or even behaviours of concerns. It then can drop down a little bit and there is staffing around, there might be one client that requires some additional support but not everybody. Drop down again and the clients might need a little bit of prompting now and again, they might need staff to be in the house all the time if they need to seek them out but not one on one assistance. Drop down again and then you have houses that aren’t staffed at all times. It might be staffing a couple of hours in the morning and then the afternoon but there are times for people to be independent in that unit and be on their own.

Houses there is usually five is the average of people residing in SSA’s, five or six. There are some houses that are two residents some are three. That’s not as common but there are houses out there that cater to the more independent clients or even residents that are wanting to transition. They might be going from home to shared supported accommodation for the first time and needing some of that prompting and reassurance that staffing is there.Jelly Brand actually have a very good program where they have four houses that are next to each other, four units that are next to each other. Starts from a house where it’s a sleep over, the staff sleep there but they’re not there all the time so the residents have the ability to leave and come and go as they please. Then step down to the next two units, which are a little bit, more independent. Staff are in the first unit so they have to actively seek them out but the staff then throughout the day come in. Then you have the front unit, which is a completely independent model which staff are there if they need them, if they need to call them but basically they live independently. That’s a great model I think. They’re some of the types of models out there at the moment.

Is there any opportunity for parents like myself to co-invest or something similar to a private/public partnership, you know that build roads, can we build houses? Who do I contact?

The only one I am aware of where you can stay there and you’re child is in their own area so it’s like a group home but there is accommodation for the elderly parents is the Wintering one in Dandenong. That’s a terrific model, we think it’s fantastic, works very well. That’s the only one I am aware of in Victoria that operates like that, colocation.

There is a component of the DSR that you can actually say whether you would be willing to co-contribute to some housing. There is only a few of them around but that is something that can be explored.

Terrific, thank you.

We have to move on, sorry if you didn’t get to ask your question. Let’s thank Andrew and Angela very much for coming along


Our next panel members is Margaret Summers and Margaret is the Manager of SRS and Accommodation Support which is locating within ageing aged care, mental health, wellbeing, social capital and ageing team at DHHS. How do you fit that on your card? Would you please welcome Margaret Summers.

Good afternoon everyone and thank you very much for inviting me along today to talk to you about another aspect of this continuum of supported accommodation. Can I just ask how many people here have actually been inside a supported residential service or know of people who are living there? Okay so there would be a fair bit of expertise already in the room. Just one moment, I’ll get my props.

You would know that Supported Residential Services are actually operated by private proprietary businesses and regulated by the Government. Three years ago we actually pulled out the legislation and regulation from the old Health Services Act and got our stand-alone legislation and regulations. That has been quite a ride in terms of trying to look at what we can do in this space of regulation.

Supported Residential Services provide accommodation and support for people who need support in everyday life. People make choices about going to live in a supported residential service, sometimes that choice might seem as though it’s the last resort for people. Or they’re referred there through the mental health service provider or through the disability service provider, through an alcohol and other drugs rehab service provider. It’s a whole range of people who require different supports, who have different types of disabilities or frailties.

They’re privately operated. They have to be registered with the State Government, so we’re responsible, my area is responsible for registering the premises from which a proprietor wants to operate an SRS and we’re responsible for approving the proprietor as suitable to operate an SRS. That’s an important distinction about making sure the building is suitable, fit for the purpose of being able to operate an SRS so that the proprietor can comply with the regulations.

I guess the point to make about supported residential services is that it is a minimum standard system. It’s got minimum standards of personal support and accommodation standards that are set out in a group of fifteen standards within the regulations and the requirements and the outcomes that we want proprietors to try and achieve for residents.

The Department of Health and Human Services has the responsibility for administering this legislation and currently there are 141 registered supported residential services across the State. Because  they’re privately run they make the decision about the services that they will provide, the people that they accommodate and the fees they charge. The legislation doesn’t cap fees but it does set out quite prescriptively the services provided.One of the great things about having our stand alone legislation is there was a lot of consultation about this and it’s good to have Rosemary coming after because the Office of the Public Advocate and other advocacy agencies, made very strong submissions about the need to make sure that the human rights principles were bedded into this legislation. That lifted up I think the level of what this legislation was about from where it had come from under the Health Services Act.

Our challenge now is making the proprietors and the residents aware of what their rights and responsibilities are so that they can get the best of those human rights principles to improve their living in SRS.

We not only register them and try to make sure the proprietors are suitable to operate but we also regulate them, we monitor them. So we have authorised officers who conduct inspections. They conduct audit inspections, they take different parts of the legislation and they go and say right show us all of your record keeping systems, show us how you can meet emergency standards and so on. And how you are running your services to make sure that residents have got a quality lifestyle in the SRS.

There are different types of inspections that the authorised officers conduct. One is just the audit inspections to see they’re compliant. The other inspections are related to where there might be complaints from residents or external sources so that they can respond to the complainant, they can identify issues and respond to them. Other inspections might be where an incident has occurred in an SRS and the response of the management of the SRS hasn’t been adequate. The authorised officers might conduct an inspection to see what could’ve been done better and to support the proprietor to do the right thing and to make sure residents safety and wellbeing is being ensured. Not only that we do have because you have congregate setting we do have residents on resident issues arising and they have to be managed.

Then the other types of inspections that occur are under the same legislation we have the community visitors who will also visit. They will make queries of residents to make sure if the proprietor has said here is this services that we can provide for the fees that you’re paying, and residents have the opportunity to talk to community visitors. If community visitors aren’t satisfied that the proprietor is actually doing the right thing they can raise those issues of concern with the Department to follow up, follow through and then respond to the community visitors.

The new legislation also required that the proprietor themselves has a complaint system to be able to improve the capability of private proprietors. I guess the thing is there is quite a range of difference across the different proprietors. Some proprietors run very good facilities and have really good services in place to make sure that their residents are getting the services that they need, they’re connected to their communities and connected to their families and they will support them to do it. Others we identify as needing extra training and supports to be able to understand what the philosophy is behind the legislation.

That’s probably just a quick summary of it. Lots of other services go into SRS, RDN, and the mental health support disabilities case managers. We also have oral hygienists go into some of them. The Victorian Eye Service also does vision assessments for residents in some of them. We would like those programs to be extended.

I’ll let you have questions now.

I’m sorry I might have to stop you there just so we can have a few questions before we move on to our final panellist. Are there any questions regarding the SRS that Margaret might be able to assist with?

Just with the SRS’s and residents, probably how do we make them aware of regulations? Often they’re transitioning in and out, they might not stay there very long or might go to another one or other forms of housing. I’m not all that sure in our area that the residents are actually aware of the regulations in the ones we’ve visited so far.

There is information available and probably we’ve identified that it’s accessibility could be improved. One of them is living in a supported residential service, which is about the rights, and responsibilities that tries to set out quite clearly issues around your rights as a resident. We realise because the profile of residents is changing and SRS are being used a bit more for flow through that we need to improve how we actually get that information to residents. Not only just residents but the services that are referring to them.

We’re always handing out information sheets to improve the information sharing so that when services refer residents they are able to tell the resident what they’re rights and responsibilities are and what their entitled to. When they actually move in to a supported residential service the proprietor or the manager is supposed to actually sit down with them with an agreement and a support planning process to identify their needs and work with them. We know that it is variable across the State. We have free training that if we discover proprietors or their staff are more slack about that sort of thing we would direct them to undertake training and try and improve their capability there.

You have identified an issue because the population is changing in some parts of the metropolitan area.

Those booklets sound like a good start. Is there a place where they can get a hold of them?

They are on our website and they can be downloaded, there are two videos on our website that also are quite informative. One of the videos involves residents themselves, trying to explain around living in an SRS and what is provided for them. Or you can contact us in the Department about it and we can send them out to people.

We are running out of time, I’m really sorry we haven’t left enough for all this information and digestion of it. It’s great we can contact you Margaret at another time and maybe advocates should take that up.

We have an SRS email address that people can send their queries to.

That’s great, thank you Margaret. Now I would like to invite our final panellist Rosemary Barker who is the Manager of Volunteer Programs at the Office for the  Public Advocate and she manages the Team of Community Visitors. Welcome Rosemary.

Thanks nice to be here. OPA has five volunteer programs and we have over 500 volunteers. Community Visitors is the largest program and it’s great to see some community visitors here and some past visitors. That’s good to see.  I don’t know if you all know what a community visitor does, I will give a quick rundown. They’re independent Governor and Council appointments for 3 years and their real aim is to protect the human  rights of people with a disability and or a mental illness. We visit three streams – SRS’s, database shared supported accommodation and we visit in mental health units. We go across the State and anybody here interested in being a community visitor see me afterwards. We always love to recruit new people.

The program has been going for over 25 years. It was established in 87. Really what we see community visitors are about is being the eyes and ears of the community and going into institutions and community based residential facilities to have that oversight to see what’s actually happening to people. A lot of these people don’t have very many other people in their lives other than paid employees from either where they live or the services that they engage with. Community visitors are totally independent and they come in and try and see what’s happening for these people’s lives.

We’ve got an ability in terms of powers of entry, ability to see documentation. We generally visit in pairs and we do it unannounced so people don’t know when we are going to come. That means we get an opportunity to observe and report on what’s actually happening. Community visitors do a report at every visit they make about what they’ve seen. What they often will be doing is talking to residents, looking at documentation, they will be watching the engagement between residents and staff and trying to see what’s happening. The one thing we do each year, which is our major piece of advocacy, is our annual report. That’s our last year’s annual report. It’s tabled in Parliament. The previous Government determined they would respond to the annual report in Parliament and the new Government has agreed to continue to do that. That’s fantastic because it highlights the recommendations we’re making to Government and the response to them.

You will see if you look back at annual reports for the last couple of years, accommodation is one of the key issues that every community visitor raises constantly. The realities are there isn’t enough accommodation for people with a disability, it isn’t always the right kind of accommodation and it isn’t always appropriate to their needs.

There is a range of issues we have highlighted and some, which have been touched on here today. I wanted to highlighted some key issues we’ve been talking about. The issue about insufficient housing. The realities are there isn’t enough accommodation for everybody who needs it. It’s interesting in the Barwon Trial Site in the NDIS, they’ve seen about 5,000 people come in the door that they didn’t know existed prior to the NDIS starting. These are people who are getting no services previously. They say in Barwon region there is no one on the DSR now because everybody actually has a package. Whether or not their accommodation needs have been fully met is an entirely different question.

The issue was raised about the fact the NDIS will not be providing accommodation for people, although they’re interested at people looking at innovative models. I have to say that raises some concerns for us as well. We heard before about the fact that the Oakleigh Centre has money in order to shut down its congregate care facility where they have 29 people living. I can tell you if you’d been to the Oakleigh Care Centre you would’ve desperately wanted it closed. There was nothing that could be done. They had done everything they could do to make that service better but there was nothing more that could be done. They had funding to build a couple of houses and the condition the people were living in when they moved out into those houses versus what they were living in in the congregate care facility you would know desperately we had to close the Oakleigh Centre. It’s fantastic money has been found and that’s happening, it’s terrific.

What I am concerned about is under the NDIS there is a whole range of people thinking those kind of congregate care models is a great idea to be trying to reengage with that. Not that long ago, I saw an article in relation to Canberra where a number of families with people with disability had come together and they were building an accommodation facility for about 30 people with a disability. Whilst it sounds fantastic and we’ve had a similar model here in Victoria with Singletons Equity Housing, where people with a disability, families and people with a disability bought into a facility, the problem you have unless it’s done well you end up with a very large facility with all those issues about congregate care. You end up seeing a whole range of issues like we have seen with Singleton Equity Housing like  the house might have been fine when the person moved in 20 years ago, 20 years later they’ve aged substantially, they’re in a walker, wheel chair. They have a whole range of needs, the house cannot meet those needs and there is no money to be able to do anything about it. The Department obviously is taking these issues up and trying to do what they can about it. But that’s some of the challenges you have about those congregate care issues.

The other issue is about refurbishment. In 2010/11 the Strategic Refurbishment Program ended and consequently there has been no large injection of funds to upgrade houses since them. It’s been very piece mill. What that means is a lot of houses fabric is going through deterioration, there is no money to spend in bringing that place. It’s also about the issue of ageing in place. If people want to age in place you have to change the nature of the facility to make sure it meets their needs.

The biggest issue from our point of view and community visitors have documented this in recent annual reports and in the recent submissions we’ve made to the Ombudsman investigation to abuse reporting, to the Parliamentary Enquiry, to the Senate Enquiry, The Royal Commission you name it. We’ve talked about the issue of inappropriate placement of people. There was quite a bit of discussion about who is put where. I suppose one of the things the community visitors are constantly documenting is this issue of a house where there is say four older people, a vacancy comes up because someone for example dies and they put a younger person in there. Unfortunately often a young male with autism who has a range of challenging behaviours, a range of issues, doesn’t fit well into that environment and then we have the issue about abuse, neglect, and the whole range of violence issues that can occur.

One of the case studies we put into the Ombudsman Submission really highlighted this issue. I just wanted to give you just a snapshot of this. It was about our serious concerns about the impact of the behaviour of a 21-year-old resident with ID and a mental illness on the five older profoundly disabled residents and staff in that house. They report escalating and increasing physical assault and the impact of violence on the dignity and rights of lifestyle of the residents. That’s directly from community visitors documenting a range of case studies in the annual report. That is one of the key issues we see emerging in terms of that placement of people. It is also challenging. We know that it’s difficult because of the lack of stock to be able to put younger people together who will want to be more active, who will want to do a range of different things that the older people probably don’t want to participate in. That’s one of the challenges in terms of having a limited amount of accommodation stock.

The other issue that’s been raised here is about respite. Community visitors over the last couple of years have been documenting this. In the last annual report we talked about 34 people we had documented who are living long term in respite including 12 children in one area. It’s people whose parents have got to the end of their tether, who have got insufficient supports, insufficient ability to manage the situation and have been forced into the situation where they’ve had to leave their child in respite and we’ve had people living, we’ve got people living up to 7 years in respite. We think there is a range of challenges about that, the constant changing of people coming through there in their lives, whether or not the planning processes meet their needs. There is a whole range of issues that come into that.

Obviously in the SRS sector we see that there is a range of challenges. Community visitors report on some fantastic SRS’s, some reasonably good ones and some pretty poor ones. The thing that I have to say that we do feel quite concerned about is that over the last couple of years we’ve seen the loss of 640 beds out of the SRS sector and nowhere have they been compensated for.

When somebody says to me the choice I have is to put a person into a SRS or to send them out the door into homelessness, I would much prefer they’re in an SRS. But when you see that massive loss of beds you know that those options are reducing and so it’s very challenging in terms of managing that situation for people.

One of the other issues that community visitors certainly have highlighted in their annual reports over recent years has been that transition. I know the Department tries to do the best they can as do NGO’s but there are a lot of issues about transitioning and quite often people get moved from one house to another and there is very little transition that happens. We’ve seen recent examples of that where we’ve had notifications to the Public Advocate of assaults that have occurred because the transition wasn’t managed effectively and therefore a resident paid the price of that. That’s one of the challenging issues I think needs to be taken up.

I just want to put a couple of other issues on the agenda for you to think about in relation to the NDIS. The issue I raised about the new accommodation models and I can tell you there is developers out there circling in the NDIS space thinking there is great opportunity. One of the issues that goes with that is a bit of a push that we’ve heard about people wanting to reduce the fire standards in support accommodation in order to make the cost cheaper. I just put that on the agenda for people to think about. The other issue is obviously about the congregate care model and how that might play. If there is new and innovative ways of doing it – great we want to hear about it. That’s why I highlighted the Winteringham one, which is fantastic and has given older carers a lot of satisfaction that they can continue to have that daily engagement with their child but they don’t have to be solely responsible for them. Fantastic but I want to see it done in a responsible way.

Any questions for Rosemary?

I have left copies of the last annual report on the table in case anyone wants to take them.

Can you just explain to me where these beds have gone, have I missed something in this story?

I was talking about SRS beds. The SRS’s some of them transition into aged care, some of them have closed, some of them have changed what they’re doing. We’ve been notified recently about one that’s closed and the site is being redeveloped. That SRS will be closing. There is a whole range of outcomes. In some cases, the beds I suppose haven’t been lost. If you think, they’ve gone to the aged care sector but there have been SRS’s that have closed because people are determined they want to either sell the business, do something different with their money or in the case of the recent ones the site was so valuable the person didn’t actually own the site and the sites being developed.

Can I get you to answer one of  my questions? As an advocate I am wondering what the relationship is. Can community visitors give out information about independent advocacy, how do you deal with an issue that you discover when you’re just collecting information and observing?

I suppose there is two things I would say. One is we advocate on an ongoing basis about this large range of issues. We meet on a quarterly basis with the Department in each of the three streams. We’re constantly advocating. As you know we advocate in our annual report. We talk to Government about it whenever we can. Obviously we’re quite happy about engagement. People can contact our office and certainly we can refer people to other agencies. We try and provide individual advocacy for people in the most extreme cases but of course we have limits in terms of our resources. But we’re always happy to work with other organisations in a collaborative way.

The other thing I would say is we’ve just launched a new website. On it, it says if you want to request a community visitor, it tells you how to go about it, if you feel like you need a community visitor to go out and have a look at an issue in a facility you know about. The other thing is we have an advice service and we take about 14,000 calls a year and you can ring the advice service and there is a 1300 number on our website. You can ring and ask for a community visitor to come out particularly if you’re aware of any issues of abuse or violence. We really would like you to contact us.

Thank you Rosemary. You had to give that at record speed. Thanks to all our presenters today. Gulden Otar, Nicola Connelly, Angela Kopkey, Andrew McHardy, Rosemary Barker and Margaret Summers. Thank you.


Thank you Pauline Williams for doing such a great job. The last two panels you’ve put together really good set of questions and you’ve put our panellists through their paces. Thank you so much.We’re going to have a quick tea break purely so we can have a panellist change over period. Get up, stretch your legs, make yourself a quick cuppa and at 2.45 we will reconvene for our next session. Thank you.

Housing Options Finder (off-site)Shared Supported Accommodation Standards and Design Guidelines (off-site)Living in a SRS - Guide for residents and prospective residents (off-site)OPA Annual Reports (off-site)

Date published:
Tue 30th Jun, 2015