Housing assistance

Housing assistance can provide critical support for Australians struggling to access safe and affordable housing. There are a range of government programs providing social housing and targeted financial assistance that are intended to address and prevent homelessness. These programs are underpinned by the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (NHHA). 

The National Housing and Homelessness Agreement

The objective of the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (NHHA), between the Australian Government and states and territory governments, is to contribute to improving housing outcomes across the housing spectrum, including outcomes for Australians who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. This agreement started 1 July 2018. Older Australians are a national priority homelessness cohort in the NHHA, recognising the severe impact homelessness may have on older Australians (Council on Federal Financial Relations 2018).

Government financial assistance

Australia has a long history of providing financial support to older Australians, with the first Old-aged Pension introduced in the early 1900’s (ABS 1988). The Australian government currently provides a range of financial benefits and payments to eligible older Australians including:

  • the Age Pension,
  • Commonwealth Rent Assistance,
  • Disability Support Pension,
  • Carer Payment and Allowance,
  • Newstart Allowance, and  
  • Family Tax Benefit A.

The first payment listed above is specifically for those who have reached their Age Pension age, whereas the other payments are not specifically targeted at older Australians.

The Age Pension was one of the largest support payments made by the Australian Government in 2017–18, provided to around 2.5 million Australians aged 65 years and over at a total cost of $44.6 billion (DHS 2018). 

Older Australians on low or moderate incomes renting through the private rental market may receive assistance with the cost of housing through Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA), provided by the Australian government (DSS 2019b). In December 2018, 36% of the 1.3 million income units (individuals or couples) receiving CRA were aged 55 and over. (For more information, see DSS 2019a; AIHW 2019).

A considerable proportion of Australians receiving the other types of government assistance were aged 55 and over. In December 2018:

  • Under half (46% or 344,400 people) receiving Disability Support Pension were aged 55 and over; of these 79% were aged 55–64 and 21% were aged 65 and over.
  • Almost half (49% or 303,500 income units) receiving Carer Allowance were aged 55 and over; of these 41% were aged 55–64 and 59% aged 65 and over.
  • One in four (25% or 183,900) people receiving the Newstart Allowance were aged 55 and over; of these, 94% were aged 55–64 and 6% were aged 65 and over.

Examples of other forms of financial assistance older people may receive include the:

  • Pensioner Concession Card 
  • Commonwealth Seniors Health Card
  • Sickness Allowance 
  • Partner Allowance (closed to new claims) and 
  • Widow Allowance (closed to new claims) (DHS 2019b).

Social housing assistance

Social housing may be owned and managed by government and non-government organisations. Social housing rents are generally set below market levels and are influenced by the income of the household. It includes public housing, state owned and managed Indigenous housing (SOMIH), community housing and Indigenous community housing. The majority of social housing dwellings were public housing stock, yet the number of community housing dwellings has more than doubled over the decade from  39,800 in 2008–09 to 87,800 in 2017–18 (AIHW 2019).

The increase in the number of older people renting on low incomes, coupled with the growth in the population of older Australians, may increase demand for social housing managed or provided by state and territory governments and community organisations.

In 2017–18, over a third (35%) of all tenants in public housing were aged 55 and over, 30% of those in community housing were aged 55 and over, while older people made up a smaller share of tenants in SOMIH, at 13% (AIHW 2019).


ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 1988. Year Book Australia, 1988. ABS cat. no. 1301.0. Canberra: ABS.

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2019. Housing Assistance in Australia 2018. Cat. no. HOU 296. Canberra: AIHW.

Council on Federal Financial Relations 2018. National Housing and Homelessness Agreement.

DHS (Department of Human Services) 2018. Department of Human Services Annual Report 2017–18.

DHS 2019. Payments for older Australians. Viewed 13 August 2019.

DSS (Department of Social Services) 2019a. DSS Payment Demographic Data. Viewed 12 June 2019.

DSS 2019b. Housing support—Commonwealth Rent Assistance. Viewed 23 March 2019.