Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2020. Housing assistance. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 26 January 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/housing-assistance
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). Housing assistance. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/housing-assistance
Housing assistance. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 05 August 2020, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/housing-assistance
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Housing assistance [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2020 [cited 2021 Jan. 26]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/housing-assistance
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2020, Housing assistance, viewed 26 January 2021, https://www.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 housing assistance. This ranges 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 receive 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 by around 12% between 2013–14 and 2018–19, from $4.0 billion to $4.4 billion (DSS 2014, 2019a).
Private rent assistance is provided by state and territory governments to low–income households experiencing difficulty in securing or maintaining private rental accommodation. In 2018–19, it assisted about 91,800 unique households a decrease from 94,100 in 2013–14 (AIHW 2020).
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 2018).
As at 31 March 2020, there were 33,700 financial incentives issued (dwellings tenanted or available for rent) through the scheme (DSS 2020a).
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:
In the year to 28 June 2019, 1.29 million income units (a person or group of related persons in a household whose income is shared, see glossary) received Commonwealth Rent Assistance; about 25,200 income units fewer (or 2% less) than in 2018 (AIHW 2019a, 2020). Of the 12.9 million Australian individuals or couples (the reference person) receiving such assistance in 2019:
In 2018–19, there were about 91,800 unique households receiving private rent assistance; a decrease from 94,100 in 2013–14. Of these:
As at 30 April 2019, around 63,000 occupants lived in 33,300 dwellings accommodated under the National Rental Affordability Scheme. Of these:
Across Australia in 2018–19, around 797,100 occupants were in Australia’s 3 main social housing programs (AIHW 2020):
Most social housing occupants were female (56%) in 2018–19 (AIHW 2020). Factors such as domestic violence, relationship breakdown, financial difficulty and limited superannuation can put women at risk of homelessness (ABS 2018) and in need of social housing (AIHW 2018).
Of the households in social housing:
At 30 June 2019, around one-third (35%) of public housing and 31% of community housing occupants were aged 55 years or over. Almost 1 in 3 (31%) of those in public housing and 35% in community housing were aged 25–54. Also, 22% of public housing occupants and 20% of community housing occupants were children aged 0–14 (AIHW 2020).
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. For:
Of all newly allocated greatest needs households in social housing, many were assisted because they were experiencing homelessness. For:
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 in 2006 to 305,200 in 2019. During the same time period, there was an increase in community housing dwellings, from around 32,300 to 100,200. The number of other types of social housing dwellings has declined from around 35,100 in 2006 to 32,300 in 2019. During the same time period, the total number of social housing dwellings has increased from 408,800 to 437,700.
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 2019a).
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 2019, the proportion of social housing dwellings with occupants living in overcrowded conditions were:
A dwelling is considered underutilised when two or more bedrooms are surplus to a household’s needs. At 30 June 2019, 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. ABS cat. no. 2049.0. 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 2019a. Housing assistance in Australia 2019. Cat. no. HOU 315. Canberra: AIHW.
AIHW 2019b. National Social Housing Survey 2018: Key results. Cat. no. HOU 311. Canberra: AIHW.
AIHW 2020. Housing assistance in Australia 2020. Cat. no. HOU 320. Canberra: AIHW.
Council of Federal Financial Relations 2018. National Housing and Homelessness Agreement. Viewed 28 February 2019.
DSS (Department of Social Services) 2014. Department of Social Services Annual Report 2013–14. Canberra: DSS.
DSS 2018. Housing support—about the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS). Viewed 28 February 2019.
DSS 2019a. Department of Social Services Annual Report 2018–19. Canberra: DSS. 2018–19.
DSS 2019b. Housing support—Commonwealth Rent Assistance. Viewed July 2019.
DSS 2019c. NRAS Tenant Demographic Report—as at 30 April 2019. Viewed 3 June 2020.
DSS 2020. National Rental Affordability Scheme Quarterly Performance Report. As at 31 March 2020. Canberra: DSS. Viewed 8 July 2020.
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.
Productivity Commission 2019. Report on Government Services 2019, Housing Chapter 18. Canberra/Melbourne: Productivity Commission.
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