Review of the Victorian Housing Register

This was the first session at the Advocacy Sector Conversations forum held on 24 November 2016 at the Investment Centre of Victoria. Other sessions at this forum included:


Tony Newman, the Assistant Director of the Implementation support department at the Victorian Housing Register outlined the changes to the Housing Register. This was followed by Steve Staikos from Community Housing Federation Victoria who spoke about the impacts of the changes.

At this forum, live streaming provided by VicDeaf was trialed for the first time and we are pleased to share the video from the proceedings. (Note: sound quality isn’t optimum to begin with).




Resources and related links:



Good morning, everyone.  Welcome to the last advocacy sector conversation for 2016.  My name is Melissa Coe, the coordinator of the Disability Advocacy Resource Unit. It’s my pleasure to be your MC today.

Our meeting today is held on the traditional land of the Kulin nation.  I pay my respects to their elders past and present.  I welcome also those of us joining us online.  Today we are live streaming our forum to provide equal access for those who are unable to leave their desk or in rural and regional areas. Just a reminder you are free to text in messages to our panel list today and I will ask questions on your behalf.  I hope you enjoyed our new video showcasing the rights of people with a disability.  I remind you to make sure you use the International Day of People with Disability to showcase your work.

Some general housekeeping before we start.  If you need the toilets, you need to go to the back of the room, turn right and there’s a hidden hall way there and the toilets are located there.  In the event of an emergency, a fire warden will attend and assist us all out of the building.  For those of you that use Twitter on Facebook, we encourage you to make your comments using the hash tag ASC.

Today’s agenda will see us talk about the changes to housing application and eligibility using the new Victorian housing register.  After lunch we will discuss what to do when your clients are not eligible for the NDIS.  After afternoon tea the changes to DSP eligibility and ramifications of this.  After this, we will hear from two speakers from the office of disability for a question and answer session.  After yesterday’s media release I’m sure you have lots of questions.  So on to session 1.

We are pleased to have Tony Newman, assistant director implementation support from the Victorian housing register here with us today.  So what is the Victorian housing register?  The Victorian housing register will join public housing and community housing waiting lists together to create a single register.  A client will only have to apply for the housing once using an existing housing application form and eligibility policy currently being developed.  The idea is to make it easier for people to access housing options.  You also have a speaker from the community housing Federation of Victoria to discuss the I’m police — implication this is might have on people accessing appropriate housing.  Please welcome Tony and Steve.


Hi everyone thank you for inviting me today.  I’m Tony Newman.  I work in the operations division within the Department of Health and Human Services.  If you struggle to understand our structure I think we just announced our 6th restructure in the last three years.  But the good news for me is I have a really strong background in housing.  I have worked in the community sector and in the department.  And our work continues regardless of the structure changes.  It’s also great to be co-presenting with Steve today.  We do a lot of work together.  I think what we should present should be very complementary.  I will talk about the register itself and Steve will get more to the practicalities.

Okay.  So, the Victorian housing register was announced by minister Foley at the end of September last year.  He actually launched it in the first week of September this year.  So in terms of government, that’s actually an amazing achievement.  And it’s very much a partnership between the community housing sector the homelessness sector and the department.  And we are very focused on the partnership being important.

One of the key drivers from the minister’s point of view is there are 42 housing providers in Victoria.  Each has their own application and access process.  If you or anyone you have worked with is trying to navigate that system, that’s incredibly complicated.  Even with public housing which I have run myself, it’s very hard to understand how you get access and how priorities get set.  The purpose as the minister said — was let’s have a single way that people apply, a common way in which people’s needs are determine.  And all of the community housing organisations and public housing working in the same set of arrangements.

Just to give you a sense of scale, there are 62,000 public housing properties and about 10,500 community housing properties.  Although Steve and I could probably debate those numbers over about five hours.  It depends how you count it.  I think that gives you a sense of what we’re talking about.  In terms of access for a client, you can see that about 80 per cent roughly public housing currently and about 20 per cent is community housing.  So having a single way to get that is really important.

One of the things this government is doing that is very important is they’re not just thinking about long term housing, they are thinking about how does a person who has a housing need get assisted.  If they are homeless, if they are at risk in the private rental market this is a schematic looking at fact that when someone is seeking assistance they should have a common assessment process.  That should not just look at their housing needs but look at what other holistic needs they might have to get an outcome.

With that previous schematic what we are now looking at  is the big vision about how the system should work.  So now we are doing the initial work to test that?  They are called launch sites.  The three launch sites are in Melton, Moreland and inner Gippsland.

So when a person approaches a very diverse system we are thinking how do they get a common approach to their needs being assessed and pathway?  In terms of implementing the register, there is four main steps in the process.  So the first thing that happened was that the public housing waiting list is converted into the structure of the register.  And people were told their application was converting but they didn’t need to take any action themselves.  So that’s now occurred.  So when people apply now it’s not called public housing, it’s called the Victorian housing register.

I will talk about how it’s structured which is a bit different to how it’s been in the past.  There is some legislation to enable information sharing — and hopefully it will be passed before Christmas.  At that point community housing organisations will start to apply to use the IT system to directly start selecting off the register.  At that point their applications will get merged with the public housing applications.  So, if you individually or in supporting someone you work with have lodged housing applications in the past and have lodged them with three different organisations, we will bring them together into one application and it will be on the basis that it’s the best fit.

So, let’s say somebody applied and they were living in the private rental market and they applied with us, and they applied with Housing Choices, and it was quite disability focused what, in fact, they were seeking.  We would look at those two applications together and say what is the correct application?  Which one best expresses the person’s needs?  And then we will tell them.

So we think that this is actually going to take us until about the end of August next year.  There are 40,000 public housing applications in there.  And there are 15,500 community organisation applications and we have to look at every one individually to make sure we get it right.

In terms of the structure, the register in many ways does look like the public housing structure.  But there are a couple of subtle changes.  So emergency management only ever happens if we have a bushfire or that type of disaster.

The first big change is up until now — unless public housing was knocking your building over to redevelop it, you didn’t have a high priority to get relocated.  So if the person had an event in their life that led them to actually needing modifications, significant modifications, that was not prioritised ahead of people who are homeless.  If someone was experiencing family violence and was a current tenant that wasn’t prioritised over homelessness.

In the new register the first priority is to look at the need was people who are currently living in public housing at the moment.  Social housing more broadly.  And so the biggest group there that jumps outright now is family violence.  The segment that is more related to disability is supported housing and I will talk more about that in a moment.

If you’ve follow how public housing used to work, register of interests has higher income and asset limits.  That’s sitting underneath more high priority sections. So that supported housing priority category, the one that sits below homelessness, if you have ever lodged before, you had to tell us which program the person was being assisted by.  So now if you lodge an application under the supported housing part of the register, are they getting assistance around acquired brain injury?  So it’s gone from the program to the client.  What does the client need, the primary need that’s being addressed?

When we implemented the register, NDIS was sort of still starting to shape up about how it would deal with people who needed capital ongoing.  So at the moment you will see you can apply saying they are an NDIS client, but shortly you will be able to say they are an NDIS client who needs major modifications to make it really clear which group they fall into.

In terms of what is happening with the application process, it’s not really changing, if the person is homeless or if it’s a support provider who is lodging the application.  That continues.  In terms of community housing organisations they will also be able to approve people to the register.  So it won’t just be the department saying they are eligible or not eligible.  Community housing organisations can also do that.

The housing call centre, if you ever want to lodge an application and you want to take one important tip away from today, send it to the housing call centre.  That’s where the data captured lands.  If you lodge it at a local office they will send it to the housing call centre.  So that’s important.

Our local officers prioritise the assessment of people with higher level needs.  So people applying on the basis of a disability should be managed through a local housing office in the area that person is currently living.  That’s important if they need to make contact with them.

Our team centrally has a small team. Natasha who is with me today is like the governance process for the register.  If there are questions about policy or eligibility it’s her team that arbitrates those.  There are two ways that applications can be lodged.

The first is there is now an online application so it’s electronic.  Clients can go into that online in their ‘mygov’ and lodge their own applications.  Community organisations can also register to do them online.  If you do one a year, don’t do it online.  If you do five or 10 a month absolutely do it online.  It will support you much better in what you are doing.

There is still a paper application that is also up on the website.  We have left the package here.  So there is just some ways to actually access the information on the paper forms.

So, the other point this is making is if you are an agency making an application and you are having some difficulties, and you are doing it online, iff you say “I can’t work out how to submit this, I have pushed the button and it didn’t work,” you can ring the help line and they will say what you need to do is “X, Y, Z”.

That covers like a walk-through over the top.  I think Steve, if you come and chat and we can take some questions jointly.  And pretty typically we will agree on the answer, won’t we?

Thanks.  I have probably seen Tony’s  PowerPoint presentation, I have lost how many times now, I could have probably given that PowerPoint by this stage.  My name is Steve.  I work for the peak body for the not-for-profit community housing sector.  Tony mentioned the name of Housing Choices Australia.  You might be familiar with a number of our agencies, in particular the housing associations.  If you have had anything to do with community housing limited or Aboriginal housing Victoria or possibly one of the other agencies like Yarra Community Housing or port Phillip housing association you will know that every agency has a very different process.

So, with that in mind the community housing sector has joined with the department as a partner in the implementation of the Victorian housing register, because we see as well from a client perspective this isn’t the best way to run an access system.  I’m not going to repeat everything that Tony said.  But what I will say is how this is going to work from a client’s perspective.  Also if you are working at an agency and supporting a client how it will change for you.

The most important thing that is going to happen is that it’s going to be one application.  That one application is going to provide a whole gamut of opportunities for clients to access housing both in the community and in the public system.  That application system is already alive and operational and people are, hopefully, getting access to the community housing sector already, through the register through, what we call. a referral system that is managed by the department.

Until the legislation is passed, the Victorian community housing sector won’t be able to go straight into the register and allocate directly.  We have to go through this other system.  What is really going to be a slight change for our members to get used to is that keeping track of every client is going to be part of the business, the day-to-day business, of filling vacancies.  So if your disability support agency has nomination rights into a community housing property, prior to making a recommendation to a community housing organisation to have somebody housed in that nomination property when a vacancy arises, that person should be registered on a Victorian housing register.

So that when it comes time for that person to be housed it’s a simple process for the community housing provider to make the allocation straight from the register.  They can find the applicant’s name upon your recommendation and then house them straightaway in that property.  I think that’s correct, Tony?  So, the Victorian housing register should not upset or should not change those nomination relationships between community housing organisations and disability support agencies because, ultimately, one of the main aims of the Victorian housing register is to have successful tenancies.

One of the best ways it ensures a successful tenancy is established and maintained, is for the support to be provided as part of that tenancy.  That’s why it’s so important in those nominated properties to make sure that we continue to have those pathways through into the system.

The legislation once it is passed will provide an opportunity for community housing agencies to have access to one consolidated list.  That will also mean that for access points, and even for disability support agents who opt in to use the system, they will be able to effectively manage an application.  And when a client touches base again and comes back to see where their application is at, they will be able to look it up with their consent, see if it’s current and then lodge any particular changes that need to be made which may change their priority or may change their need in terms of what kind of property they need .

For instance if they registered for a particular property, at a point in time with a specific set of needs for a property, and that changes over time you will be able to lodge that update with the register.  And that will be able to be facilitated through the good management of those applications.

What it will also provide for the client and for the support sector is a better understanding of the policies and procedures.  At the moment as Tony said before, when you’ve got 42 agencies in a system all operating off different policies and procedures, that creates a lot of difficulty in navigating the system and a difficulty in understanding what is happening.

Now, whilst every agency is going to maintain their own policies, the good thing is that the Victorian housing register will have a single set of policies.  They will be transparent and they are already all online and accessible through the funded agencies channel and you can review those policies at your leisure.  I’m sure you have plenty of time up your sleeves to be able to go and read those many pages of operational guidelines!  But they will provide a clear set of directions for you to be able to know how your client will fit into these particular categories and how they will be able to access housing through the register.

The important part of the Victorian housing register I think is going to be the priority access.  At the moment there are about 10,000 applicants sitting on that segment of the Victorian housing register.  That is the most important category, as far as has been identified by the Minister, as people in the greatest need should have priority access to vacancies when they arise.  Which means homeless with support, supported housing, special housing needs, priority transfers and emergency management will be effectively the first cabs off the rank.

What we probably need to wait for is to see how the interaction between the NDIS and the housing sector is going to happen effectively and I’m sure there is still a lot of work to do on that.  But from the understanding that we have there is not going to be a lot of housing dedicated money that will flow through the NDIS.  So there will be a great amount of need but there won’t be a great amount of packages for people unless it’s at one particular end of the spectrum, which will mean there will be quite a demand put on the social housing system to be able to meet the housing needs of NDIS recipients who are not getting that housing supplement.

So Tony mentioned before a number of things, one of which was that we could take a lot of questions.  I don’t think Tony left out a lot but if there are questions about the day-to-day running of the Victorian housing register, I think we will be able to take those.  And certainly I can answer it from a community housing perspective and Tony from the department’s perspective.

Thank you.

Just quickly, if you want to ask a question we would ask you to raise your hand.  And then someone will come around with a microphone.  So we will start taking questions now.

I’m I was just asking would there be a waiting list.  People have been waiting 10 years.  So will it be the same same?

Perhaps I should answer that question.

This is fantastic.  He answers the politically controversial things.  I’m the public servant.

So, from the community housing sector’s perspective, the Victorian housing register is not going to change the length of time people will be waiting for housing.  It will only change the access to the housing that is currently available.  What that will mean from the minister’s perspective I think is more transparency about who the community housing sector is housing.

As you may know, our program is made up of allocations to people from priority but also to people who have less priority.  And the department I think, between 85 and 90 per cent of their allocations, go to people from priority Whereas ours is certainly not that high.  Supply of additional public housing and community housing properties is really important and it’s something that will have to be managed through a different process, not the Victorian housing register.

But we understand there will be an announcement from the government before Christmas.  It might be a Christmas present for all of us, with some housing related announcements.  Yesterday the minister for housing announced a 200 million program to upgrade 2,500 public housing properties and hopefully increase 10 per cent stock numbers through that upgrade process.  The community housing sector will be part of that.  We don’t know in what way, shape or form, but where the community housing sector has been able to work with government to deliver those properties we have made sure there has been a proportion, I’m sure it’s the same for department delivered properties, there is always a proportion of universal access properties that will be suitable for your clients to access.

Whether or not it will mean there is a quicker allocation — I don’t think so.  The community housing Federation estimates we probably need to build 30,000 properties yesterday to be able to do that.  And that’s something that is not within the financial capability at the moment of the government or our sector.

Can I just say something?  I agree with everything Steve said.  There hasn’t been substantial investment in this state for a fair period of time.  A couple of things probably are important.

At a practical level, firstly, people think that access for people who need a full or major modified property, is governed by the structure of the register.  It’s actually governed by the number of those properties that exist. So, one of the things that public housing has done and that the register will continue, is that where we have a fully modified property or a major modified property, that doesn’t go to the next person on the waiting list; it goes to the next person who needs that type of property.

So, in your lobbying space sometimes people want to change the structure of a waiting list or register.  It’s actually the supply if it’s full or major modifications, that determines who gets allocated that property.

As Steve said, I think we probably have had a pretty tough five years.  We are even on our side of the fence hopeful because people who work in housing are pretty typically passionate.  You probably get a sense of my feeling about that, that we will get something substantial.  The Premier has said it will be before Christmas.  And I think as Steve indicated from yesterday’s announcement, the announcements will be quite broad.

If you are sitting in an advocacy role, I would be suggesting that the time to be taking up that role is very quickly once the announcement is made because there is not a blueprint sitting here of what exactly is going to happen.  So there is opportunity in a strategic way to maybe help shape that.

I think we also have a new state disability plan in the offering.  I’m assuming that also will be looking at housing.

one-off the record comment is that New South Wales estimations of how many NDIS clients will apply for social housing, because they also have a combined list, if we went pro rata, our priority list would double.  So, it’s a fantastic thing for people to get the opportunities but, as Steve indicated, how then the housing supply gets delivered is a massive challenge.

And I think the Productivity Commission made its point about NDIS, that there needed to be a very substantial investment at a Commonwealth level if there was any hope of getting, sorry to be political, but it doesn’t look like it’s on the horizon, but that’s a really critical component of it.  Because housing is a Commonwealth-state responsibility, not just a state responsibility.

Any more questions?  Okay.

Thank you very much, Tony and thank you, Steve.  We will break early for lunch.  Hope you enjoy the views.  I would like to see you back here before 1 o’clock.  Steve has just said he is happy to stay back and take questions for another 15 minutes.

Thanks a lot.




Date published:
Fri 25th Nov, 2016