Unmet demand for specialist homelessness services

Specialist homelessness agencies in Australia provide assistance to many people each day. In 2015–16, on average, each day an estimated 57,000 people were supported. However, there were also people who approached agencies who were unable to be offered any assistance. These people may have approached more than one agency or returned to the same agency another day. An instance where no assistance is received by a person who approaches a service is referred to as 'unassisted request for service'.

There may be a range of reasons an agency cannot assist a person. For example, the person may be seeking a specialised service not offered by that particular agency or the agency may not have the capacity to provide assistance at that time. The person may not be in the target group for the agency. These people may be referred to another agency for assistance, but the SHSC does not currently capture this activity. See Technical information and glossary for information on the way in which unassisted requests for services are measured in the SHSC.

There was an average of 275 instances of unassisted requests for services each day in 2015–16.

This section presents information on unmet demand from 2 perspectives:

  • Unassisted requests for services—which relate to people who are not able to be offered any assistance by the SHS agency
  • Unmet need—which captures those clients who had some, but not all, of their identified needs met.

The SHSC captures only limited information about unassisted requests for services, because it is not always appropriate for specialist homelessness agencies to collect the same level of detailed information as they would if the person became a client.

Unassisted requests for services: 2011–12 to 2015–16

Key finding in 2015–16

  • There were about 20,000 (16%) fewer instances where requests for homelessness services were unable to be met compared with the previous year; an estimated 100,302 unassisted requests for services.

2011–12 to 2015–16

In 2015–16, there were an estimated 100,302 requests for assistance that were unable to be met. This represents a decrease of 16% from last year. Some key trends in unmet demand over the 5 years since the collection began have been:

  • The number of unassisted requests has varied, increasing between 2011–12 and 2013–14 but decreasing over the past 2 years (Table UNASSISTED TRENDS.1). These decreases were primarily due to reductions in New South Wales and Queensland and are a reflection of the impact of new service delivery models in these states. For further details see the data quality information in the Technical information section.
  • The rate of unassisted requests for males has fallen from 39% in 2011–12 to 36% in 2015–16.
  • In contrast to the changes occurring in the number of unassisted requests for services, the number of clients and the number of support periods have been increasing over the same period. Unassisted requests have decreased on average, 7% each year while client numbers have increased 4% and support periods 5% over this time.

Table UNASSISTED TRENDS.1: Unassisted requests for service: at a glance—trends over time 2013–14 to 2015–16

Unassisted requests
All assisted clients
Unassisted requests
All assisted clients
Unassisted requests
All assisted clients
Number 154,446 254,001 119,910 255,657 100,302 279,196
Sex (per cent)
Female 61 59 65 59 64 59
Male 39 41 35 41 36 41
Living arrangement (per cent)
Lone person 68 30 63 29 63 29
Sole parent 29 33 33 34 33 34
Couple with child/ren 13 13 13
Couple without children 2 5 2 6 2 5
Other family group 2 18 2 19 2 18

— Rounded to zero

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2013–14 to 2015–16.

Unassisted requests for service in 2015–16

Analysis of how often a person requested assistance and how many later became clients of specialist homelessness agencies can only be undertaken where the SLK was completed and valid (about half (49%) of all unassisted requests). In 2015–16, on average, each person who was not assisted approached an agency 1.5 times, slightly higher than 2014–15 (1.4 times). In 2015–16, 47% of persons with a valid SLK later went on to become a client and receive services during the year, the same proportion as 2014–15. The outcomes for the remaining 53% are not known—they may have received assistance from a non-SHS service, used their own support networks or continued to experience unstable housing.

Number of unassisted requests for services

275 requests per day

on average could not be met; about 177 daily unassisted requests (or 64% of all requests) were made by females, and 98 (36%) by males. This reflects the overall service user population, which is predominantly female.

1 in 4

unassisted requests were from females aged between 18 and 34 years. Overall, nearly 2 in 3 unassisted requests of all ages were women, and 1 in 3 were men.

4 in 5

unassisted requests from single persons (aged 15 or over) with children were from females (80%) and most of these females were aged between 25 and 44 (59% of single females).


Compared with 2014–15, in 2015–16:

  • The number of unassisted requests was lower for both sexes, but noticeably more so for females (about 9,000 fewer unassisted requests compared with about 4,500 fewer for males).
  • The largest decrease for females was in the age group 18–24 presenting to an agency alone, not part of a family. For males it was 0–9 years presenting with a single parent.

Figure UNASSISTED.1: Proportion of unassisted requests, by sex and age group, 2015–16

Proportion of unassisted requests, by sex and age group, 2015–16. The horizontal population pyramid shows that in age groups above 18 years’ the proportions of unassisted requests by females were more than double those by males. The largest proportion of unassisted requests were by females aged 25–34,  making up 15%25 of all unassisted requests. For those 14 and under, there were similar proportions of males and females.

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services 2015–16, National Supplementary Table UNMET.1.

What services were requested?


of average daily unassisted requests included a need for some type of accommodation support.

  • The majority of unassisted daily accommodation requests related to short-term or emergency accommodation (59%) (Figure UNASSISTED.2). Females were more likely than males to have requests for short-term or emergency accommodation unmet (62% and 38%, respectively), most likely a reflection of the higher proportion of females in this group.
  • Unassisted requests for short-term or emergency accommodation were much lower than in 2014–15. There was on average, 33 fewer unmet requests daily for this type of assistance.

Figure UNASSISTED.2: Services requested as proportion of daily unassisted requests, by sex, 2015–16

Services requested as proportion of daily unassisted requests, by sex, 2015–16. The stacked vertical bar graph shows that by far the most common unassisted service request was for short-term or emergency accommodation, making up 59%25 of all unassisted requests. Over three-fifths (62%25) were from females. Other main unassisted requests included specialist service (without accommodation), other housing assistance, and general assistance only.

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services 2015–16, National Supplementary Table UNMET.5.

  • Ninety-three per cent of daily unassisted requests for services from single persons with their children were for accommodation needs, compared with 62% for single persons without children (Figure UNASSISTED.3).

Figure UNASSISTED.3: Proportion of unassisted requests for services by single person with or without children, by service type, 2015–16

Proportion of unassisted requests for services by single person and single people with children, by service type, 2015–16. The vertical bar graph shows that for both single persons alone and single persons with children, short-term or emergency accommodation was by far the most common request that was not able to be met. Other requests which were not able to be met included other housing assistance, specialist service (without accommodation) and general assistance only.

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services 2015–16, National Supplementary Table UNMET.6.

  • Most commonly, agencies reported that they could not meet requests for accommodation because there was no accommodation available at the time of the request (50% of unmet requests for accommodation) (Table UNMET.7). This figure is similar to 2014–15 (51%).
  • On fewer than 1 in 10 occasions, a person did not accept the service offered (8%).

Clients' unmet need for services

Clients receiving support from specialist homelessness services are often identified as needing a wide range of services. Some needs arise more than once in a support period and this makes it difficult to assess (from the available data) the extent to which they have been met. In this section, each client need and the services to meet that need are only identified once in each support period.

Key findings in 2015–16

  • Long-term housing options were provided to just 5% (or 5,000) of the 96,000 (34%) clients needing this service.
  • While there was a 9% increase in client numbers compared with the previous year, some services were needed by a greater proportion of the SHS population. Of the 10 most needed services, long-term housing and assistance for domestic and family violence grew by 14%.
  • The ability of agencies to keep up with the demand for certain specialist services is decreasing. For example, 30% of mental health services were neither provided or referred in 2015–16, up from 25% in 2014–15. Clients needing mental health services grew by 12% (or over 2,700).

Unmet need for accommodation and housing assistance services

  • Accommodation was the most common need identified. In 2015–16, 56% of all clients needed at least 1 type of accommodation service.
  • 96,000 clients (or 34% of SHS clients) identified a need for long-term accommodation; only about 5,000 (or 5%) of those were provided with the service (Figure UNMET NEED.1).
  • 105,000 clients (or 38% of SHS clients) needed short-term or emergency accommodation; about 2 in 3 (62%) of those requesting this service were provided with assistance.
  • The numbers of clients requesting these 2 forms of accommodation were similarly large, however the considerable difference in the proportions of clients receiving these types of accommodation highlights the substantial unmet need for long-term housing for SHS clients.

Figure UNMET NEED.1: The number of clients with unmet needs for accommodation and housing assistance services, 2015–16

The number of clients with unmet needs for accommodation and housing assistance services, 2015–16. The stacked horizontal bar graph shows that for accommodation services, short-term or emergency accommodation had the least unmet need, and most provided service. By contrast, long-term housing, which had a similar number of clients needing the service, had the largest number of clients with unmet service needs, and the least number of clients provided with assistance.

Note: Unmet includes 'Not provided nor referred'.

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services 2015–16, National Supplementary Table CLIENTS.15.

Client unmet need for general and specialised services

  • The level of need for broad groups of specialised services is shown in Figure UNMET NEED.2.
  • Mental health services, including psychological, psychiatric and mental health services, were one of the most common specialised services identified as needed but these needs were most commonly unmet with around 3 in 10 (30%) clients neither provided nor referred these services.
  • A third of the clients identifying with a need for either disability services (35%) or drug and alcohol services (31%) did not have their needs met.
  • In contrast, immigration and cultural services, needed by 6% of the SHS population (about 18,000), were most often provided (86%).
  • Some types of client needs were met for a significant proportion of clients. For example, of the almost 150,000 clients who needed assistance for advocacy/liaison, 96% were provided assistance, and of the clients requesting material brokerage (about 97,500), 87% were provided with assistance (Table CLIENTS.15).
  • Other types of client needs were less commonly met. For example, among those clients who required gambling counselling (less than 1%, or about 1,000 clients), the level of unmet need was substantial—around 31% at the end of support. This may be related to the specialist skills required to provide gambling counselling and the limited availability of these skills within the SHS agencies and other services that clients may be referred to.

Figure UNMET NEED.2: The number of clients with unmet needs for specialised services (grouped), 2015–16

The number of clients with unmet needs for specialised services (grouped), 2015-16. The stacked horizontal bar graph shows that mental health services had the most unmet demand, with almost 8,000 clients (30%25) with unmet need, and about 12,000 provided. This amount of unmet service need was followed by legal/financial services (21%25), and family services (16%25).

Note: Unmet includes 'Not provided nor referred'.

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services 2015–16, National Supplementary Table CLIENTS.15.