Priority groups and wait lists
Historically, the focus of housing assistance has been to provide support to low-income working families. However, the provision of housing assistance has shifted over time to target a highly diverse range of vulnerable groups, such as people experiencing or who are at imminent risk of homelessness; households where there is a member with disability; households with a main tenant aged under 25 or aged over 75; or Indigenous households.
Social housing is allocated on a priority needs basis. Public rental housing, state-owned and managed Indigenous housing (SOMIH) and mainstream community housing prioritise households by assessing their greatest need status. Greatest need applies to low-income households if, at the time of allocation, household members were subject to one or more of the following circumstances:
- experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness
- their life or safety was threatened within existing accommodation
- a health condition was exacerbated by existing accommodation
- their existing accommodation was inappropriate to their needs
- they were experiencing very high rental costs .
Housing prioritisation is particularly evident for public rental housing with around three in four newly allocated dwellings provided to households in greatest need (74% in 2015–16) (Figure PG.1). For SOMIH, over half (56%) of newly allocated dwellings were provided to households in greatest need in 2015–16, an increase from 52% in 2014–15 but down from a peak of 64% in 2012–13.
New community housing allocations to households in greatest need have increased over the past 6 years, from 72% in 2010–11, to 84% in 2015–16. The eight percentage point increase in the proportion of new allocations to greatest need households from 76% in 2014–15 can be partially attributed to state and territory dwelling transfers from public housing to community housing in some jurisdictions.
Figure PG.1: Proportion of newly assisted households in greatest need by housing program type, 2010–11 to 2015–16
SOMIH = state-owned and managed Indigenous housing
Source: AIHW National Housing Assistance Data Repository 2015–16, Priority groups Table PRIORITY.1.
Specialist Homelessness Services and social housing
Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) play a key role in helping vulnerable people to obtain or maintain social housing . Social housing provides the best solution to homelessness for many who approach SHS agencies. SHS agencies provide support through the delivery of services to prepare clients prior to commencing social housing tenancies, and often through ongoing support to ensure these tenancies are able to be maintained.
Of the clients who presented to SHS agencies seeking assistance in 2015–16, whose housing situation was known, 15% (27,200 clients) were living in public or community housing . At the conclusion of SHS support, the proportion of clients living in public or community housing increased to 22% (38,900 clients).
Figure PG.2 shows the first housing situation of SHS clients who ended support housed in public or community housing in 2015–16. Around four in ten (39%) SHS clients who ended SHS support in public or community housing were previously homeless with no shelter or living in improvised or inadequate dwellings (9%), living in unstable housing situations such as short term/temporary accommodation (18%) and couch surfing/living in a house with no tenure (12%) (For further information about housing situations please see the Glossary).
The vast majority (82%) of the SHS clients who ended their support in public or community housing were assisted by a SHS agency to maintain their existing tenancy (Figure PG.2). This shows that the SHS support provided to clients currently in a public or community housing tenancy allowed them to maintain that tenancy and prevent a potential episode of homelessness. The main reason for public housing tenants to seek SHS assistance is generally due to financial difficulties (38%) (e.g. the tenant doesn't have the financial means to pay their rent, bills, food and/or other household essentials) .
Figure PG.2: Proportion of Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) clients housed in public or community housing at the end of support, by housing situation at first presentation, 2015–16
- Graph excludes cases where housing situation at start of support ‘not stated/other’, 5% to 13%.
- Proportions include only clients with closed support at the end of the reporting period.
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services 2015–16, National supplementary Table CLIENTS.22.
Three in five households (60%)
reported they were homeless at the time of allocation to public rental housing and more than half (53%) at the time of allocation to SOMIH.
36% of households were at risk of homelessness
at the time of allocation to public rental housing and 39% at the time of allocation to SOMIH.
Households that are in greatest need often have members with special needs. These include households with a member with disability, a main tenant younger than 25 or older than 75, or households defined as Indigenous households .
Because SOMIH is an Indigenous-targeted program, Indigenous households in SOMIH are not considered special needs households. For SOMIH households, only those that have a member with disability or a main tenant under 25 or over 50 are considered special needs.
As at 30 June 2016, the proportion of new allocations with special needs differed across social housing programs:
- Of newly allocated public housing households with special needs, almost half (57%) contained at least one member with disability.
- Newly allocated SOMIH households with special needs were most likely to contain at least one member with disability (46%) or have a main tenant aged under 25 years (47%).
Special needs and greatest needs categories are not mutually exclusive and tenants may fit into a number of categories within each group or across groups (Figure PG.3) .
Figure PG.3: Newly allocated public housing and SOMIH households as proportion in greatest need, special need and other households, where household needs status known, at 30 June 2016
SOMIH = state-owned and managed Indigenous housing
- Proportions exclude cases where household ‘greatest need’ or ‘special need’ status was unknown.
- Totals will not always add up to 100% due to rounding.
Source: AIHW National Housing Assistance Data Repository 2015–16, Priority groups Table PRIORITY S.4.
Demographics of newly allocated households
Compared to ongoing households, newly allocated households in both public housing and SOMIH were more likely to include dependent children and less likely to be comprised of single adults living alone.
As at 30 June 2016, of around 20,500 households in new public rental housing allocations, just over half (51%) were made up of single people living alone, followed by sole parents with dependent children (29%). Newly allocated public rental housing households were least likely to be couple only households (4%) or couple with dependent children households (5%).
The 797 newly allocated SOMIH households were more likely to be made up of sole parents with dependent children (56%), followed by single adults (18%). SOMIH households were also least likely to be couple only households (2%).
Indigenous and disability status
Newly allocated households in both public housing and SOMIH were more likely than ongoing households to be Indigenous as well as being more likely to include at least one member with disability.
For the year ending 30 June 2016, of newly allocated households to public rental housing:
- around 4,300 were Indigenous households (25% of all new allocations).
- just over half (51%) or 7,200 households had at least one member living with disability.
Of new allocations to SOMIH at 30 June 2016, just over one third (35%) went to households with at least one member living with disability, a decrease from 42% in 2014–15. The proportion of new SOMIH allocations was even lower for households where the main tenant was aged less than 25 years (23%).
Wait lists and wait times
Nationally, as at 30 June 2016, there were:
- 147,900 applicants awaiting public rental housing allocation (down from 164,300 in 2012)
- 8,200 applicants waiting for allocation to SOMIH dwellings (down from 9,200 in 2012)
- 38,500 applicants awaiting allocation to mainstream community housing (down from 51,300 in 2012).
It is important to note that applicants may be on more than one waitlist, and as such these numbers may be an overestimate of the total. Across these three social housing programs, around 58,800 of these applicants were categorised as being in greatest need.
Fluctuations in the numbers of those on wait lists are not necessarily measures of changes in underlying demand for social housing. A number of factors may influence the length of wait lists including changes to allocation policies, priorities and eligibility criteria put in place by state/territory housing authorities. Further, some people who wish to access social housing may also not apply due to the long waiting times or lack of available options in their preferred location.
Wait list priority is generally given to those with the greatest need. In 2015–16, 3 in 4 (75%) new allocations for public housing and nearly three-fifths (58%) of new allocations for SOMIH went to those in greatest need categories.
When it comes to social housing allocations, there are often limited choices for new entrants into the social housing system in regards to selection of dwelling type and location. Tenant choices are often limited to broad geographic areas and/or types of dwellings. For example, public rental housing tenants often are given a limited number of offers at the time of allocation and if refused, they may risk their place on the waiting list.
Newly allocated households in greatest need are less likely than other households to spend an extended period of time on social housing waiting lists. In 2015–16, more than two-fifths (44%) of newly allocated public housing households and more than half (57%) of SOMIH households in greatest need spent less than 3 months on waiting lists. This compares to just over one-fifth (21%) of public housing households and 26% of SOMIH households not in greatest need spending less than 3 months on social housing waiting lists (Figure PG.4).
For mainstream community housing, data on allocations by the amount of time spent on the waiting list are not currently available.
Figure PG.4: Proportion of new allocations for greatest needs and other households, by time spent on the waiting list, by social housing program type, 2015–16
PH = public rental housing; SOMIH = state-owned and managed Indigenous housing
Source: AIHW National Housing Assistance Data Repository 2015–16, Priority groups PRIORITY.7.
- AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2015. Exploring transitions between homelessness and public housing: 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2013. Cat. No. HOU 277. Canberra: AIHW.
- AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2016. Specialist Homelessness Services 2015–16.
- SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision) 2017. Report on Governemnt Services 2017. Productivity Commision. Canberra: PC.