Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Housing assistance, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 28 May 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Housing assistance. Retrieved from https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/housing-assistance
Housing assistance. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 16 September 2021, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/housing-assistance
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Housing assistance [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021 [cited 2022 May. 28]. Available from: https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/housing-assistance
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Housing assistance, viewed 28 May 2022, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/housing-assistance
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Many people cannot afford to rent or buy a home, so government programs provide Australians with assistance for housing. The support programs are diverse ranging from financial support to government-owned public housing. See glossary for definitions of housing types.
The National Housing and Homelessness Agreement began in July 2018. It aims to improve access to affordable, safe and sustainable housing across the housing spectrum (Council of Federal Financial Relations 2018). The agreement covers social housing and support for people experiencing homelessness or those at risk of homelessness.
Housing assistance programs funded by Australian and state and territory governments are provided by government and non–government organisations (Table 1).
Government or organisation providing assistance
Type of housing assistance
Commonwealth Rent Assistance
National Rental Affordability Scheme
State and territory governments
Public rental housing
State owned and managed Indigenous housing
Home purchase assistance
Private rent assistance
First Home Owner Grant
Specialist Homelessness Services
Indigenous community housing
This page focuses on private rental market housing assistance and social housing.
For information about:
Australians on low or moderate incomes renting through the private rental market may be able to access government assistance with the cost of housing.
Commonwealth Rent Assistance is a non–taxable income supplement, paid fortnightly to eligible recipients. It is paid at 75 cents for every dollar above a minimum rental threshold until a maximum rate is reached. Minimum thresholds and maximum rates vary depending on the household or family situation. This includes the number of children (DSS 2019b).
Australian Government real expenditure (adjusted for inflation) on Commonwealth Rent Assistance increased from $4.7 billion in 2015 to $4.9 billion in 2019–20 (SCRGSP 2021).
Private rent assistance is provided by state and territory governments to low–income households experiencing difficulty in securing or maintaining private rental accommodation. In 2019–20, it assisted about 92,600 unique households, a decrease from 94,100 in 2013–14 (AIHW 2021).
National Rental Affordability Scheme is delivered by the Australian Government in partnership with state and territory governments. It offers annual financial incentives for up to 10 years to rent dwellings for eligible occupants at 80% or less of market value rent (DSS 2020b).
As at 31 December 2020, 32,800 financial incentives were issued (dwellings tenanted or available for rent) through the scheme (DSS 2020c).
Social housing is rental housing made available to Australians on low incomes who cannot afford to rent through the private rental market. Historically, social housing was made available to working families on low to moderately low incomes (Groenhart & Bourke 2014). In more recent years, social housing has increasingly focused on assisting families in greatest need, especially those experiencing homelessness.
These rental properties are owned and managed by government and/or non–government organisations (including not–for–profit organisations).
Social housing programs include:
As at the end of June 2020, 1.7 million income units (a person or group of related persons in a household whose income is shared), (see glossary) were receiving Commonwealth Rent Assistance, an increase from 1.3 million income units in 2019 (AIHW 2021).
Of the 1.7 million Australian individuals or couples (the reference person) receiving Commonwealth Rent Assistance, as at 28 June 2020:
In 2019–20, there were about 92,600 unique households receiving private rent assistance; a decrease from 94,100 in 2013–14. Of these:
As at 30 April 2020, around 59,100 occupants lived in 31,600 dwellings accommodated under the National Rental Affordability Scheme. Of these:
Australia has experienced social and economic impacts from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic (DoH 2020). From the end of March 2020, Australian borders were closed to all non–residents. More localised outbreaks resulted in the closure of non–essential services periodically by state governments throughout 2020 and 2021 (Premier of Victoria 2021; PM 2020; The Guardian 2020).
The Australian government made temporary changes to social security payments in response to both the pandemic and the increases in the unemployment rate. These modifications increased both the number of people eligible for and receiving income support payments (Parliamentary Library 2020). The main income support payments available for individuals aged 16–65 who are able to work yet unable to support themselves are JobSeeker and Youth Allowance (Other) (see glossary). Working age people, in specific situations, may also be eligible to access Disability Support Pension, Parenting Payment and Carer Payment.
To receive Commonwealth Rent Assistance, a person or family must be eligible for social security payments that exceed the base rate of an eligible Department of Veterans’ Affairs service pension, income support supplement or the Family Tax Benefit Part A. The recipient must also pay or is liable to pay more than a minimum amount of rent for their principal home to qualify (DSS 2019b).
From 2019 to 2020, there was a rise in the number of recipients receiving social security payments and the number of households that were receiving Commonwealth Rent Assistance due to increases in the number of people receiving the related social security payments (DSS 2020e). From June 2019 to June 2020:
Across Australia in 2019–20, around 802,000 occupants were in Australia’s 3 main social housing programs:
Most social housing occupants were female (56%) in 2019–20 (AIHW 2021). Factors such as domestic violence, relationship breakdown, financial difficulty and limited superannuation can put women at risk of homelessness and in need of social housing (ABS 2018; AIHW 2018).
Of the households in social housing:
In 2019–20, around one-third (36%) of public housing and 32% of community housing occupants were aged 55 years or over. Almost 1 in 3 (31%) of those in public housing and 34% in community housing were aged 25–54. Also, 21% of public housing occupants and 21% of community housing occupants were children aged 0–14 (AIHW 2021).
Housing assistance has shifted to target specific vulnerable groups, such as people experiencing homelessness or those at imminent risk of homelessness. For example, public housing, SOMIH and community housing prioritise households by assessing applicants in greatest need (see glossary). Among all social housing programs, newly allocated dwellings provided to households in greatest need has been increasing since 2013–14. Of the newly allocated dwellings:
Of all newly allocated greatest needs households in social housing, many were assisted because they were experiencing homelessness. Of the newly allocated dwellings:
While the number of social housing dwellings has increased overall, it has not kept pace with population growth. Indeed, the number has decreased relative to the number of Australian households (AIHW 2020).
The line graph shows that the number of public housing dwellings have declined from around 341,400 dwellings at 30 June 2006 to 300,400 in 2020. During the same time period, there was an increase in community housing dwellings, from around 32,300 to 103,900. The number of other types of social housing dwellings has declined from around 35,100 at 30 June 2006 to 32,300 in 2020. During the same time period, the total number of social housing dwellings has increased from 408,800 to 436,300.
Figure 1 data table (118KB XLSX)
People meeting eligibility requirements for social housing are frequently placed on wait lists until a suitable dwelling becomes available. Factors that may affect a person’s position and influence the length of wait lists, include:
A reduction in the number of people on wait lists may not mean a decrease in demand for social housing dwellings, and applicants may be on more than one wait list. This means assessing the total number of people on wait lists is difficult.
Households assessed to be in greatest need are prioritised for housing:
Social housing dwelling size and configuration must be considered so dwellings meet household needs and to use social housing stock to greatest effect (AIHW 2019).
Overcrowding occurs when a dwelling is too small for the size and composition of the household. A dwelling requiring at least 1 additional bedroom is designated as ‘overcrowded’. At 30 June 2020, the proportion of social housing dwellings with occupants living in overcrowded conditions was:
A dwelling is considered underutilised when two or more bedrooms are surplus to a household’s needs. At 30 June 2020, the proportion of social housing dwellings with occupants living in underutilised conditions was:
For more information on housing assistance, see:
Visit Housing assistance for more on this topic.
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2018. Census of population and housing: Estimating homelessness, 2016. Canberra: ABS.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2016. Housing assistance in Australia 2016. Cat. no: WEB 136. Canberra: AIHW.
AIHW 2018. Family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia, 2018. Cat. no: FDV 2. Canberra: AIHW.
AIHW 2019. National Social Housing Survey 2018: Key results. Cat. no. HOU 311. Canberra: AIHW.
AIHW 2021. Housing assistance in Australia. Cat. no. HOU 325. Canberra: AIHW.
Council of Federal Financial Relations 2018. National Housing and Homelessness Agreement. Viewed 23 April 2021.
DSS (Department of Social Services) 2019a. DSS Payment Demographic data – DSS Demographics June 2019. Canberra: DSS.
DSS 2019b. Housing support—Commonwealth Rent Assistance. Viewed April 2021.
DSS 2020a. DSS Payment Demographic data – DSS Demographics December 2020. Canberra: DSS.
DSS 2020b Housing support—about the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS). Viewed 23 April 2020.
DSS 2020c. National Rental Affordability Scheme Quarterly Performance Report: As at 31 December 2020. Canberra: DSS. Viewed 23 April 2021.
DSS 2020d. NRAS Tenant Demographic Report—as at 30 April 2010. Viewed 23 April 2021.
DSS 2020e. Department of Social Services Annual Report 2019–20. Canberra: DSS.
DSS 2021. DSS Payment Demographic data – DSS Demographics March 2021. Canberra: DSS.
The Guardian 2020. Australia coronavirus updates live: NSW and Victoria to shut down non-essential services. Updated 22 March 2020. Viewed 12 May 2021.
Groenhart L & Burke T 2014. Thirty years of public housing supply and consumption: 1981–2011, AHURI final report no.231. Melbourne: Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute.
Parliamentary Library 2020. The impact of COVID-19 on JobSeeker Payment recipient numbers by electorate. Viewed 12 May 2021.
PM (Department of the Prime Minister) 2020. Media Release 19 March 2020. Viewed 12 May 2021.
Premier of Victoria 2021. Statement From The Acting Premier 27 May 2021. Viewed 25 June 2021.
SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision) 2021, Report on Government Services 2021, Productivity Commission, Canberra. Viewed 30 August 2021.
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