The policy framework and services response for reducing homelessness

Homelessness and being at risk of homelessness is associated with social and economic disadvantage. Governments across Australia fund a range of services to provide support to those experiencing homelessness or facing housing insecurity. These services are delivered by various government and non-government organisations including agencies specialised in providing support to specific target groups (such as young people or people experiencing family and domestic violence), as well as agencies with general service offerings to those experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

Access to affordable housing is fundamental to wellbeing, and is a key issue for all Australians, particularly for those on low incomes. A lack of affordable housing puts households at an increased risk of experiencing housing stress or homelessness and can impact their health, education, and employment outcomes (Chung et al. 2020, Desmond and Gerhenson 2016, Gurran et al. 2021, Rowley and Ong 2012). 

In 2022–23, housing and homelessness-related COVID-19 pandemic response measures were discontinued. However, constraints on the housing market that emerged during the pandemic have lingered and continue to exacerbate housing affordability in Australia, especially for those accessing housing in the private rental market (Baker et al. 2022). 

Key issues driving housing affordability include a shortage of rental housing, with record low vacancy rates and increased rental costs featuring in recent market trends. At June 2023, listings for new rental properties were 11% below the previous five-year average (CoreLogic 2023). Similarly, rental vacancy rates remained low at 1.2% to May 2023. It is estimated that around 619,000 low-income rental households (or 42% of all low-income rental households) spend more than 30% of their gross income on housing costs (rental stress) (ABS 2022). 

On Census night in 2021, an estimated 122,494 Australians were experiencing homelessness, an additional 6,000 people since 2016. However, the rate of homelessness decreased to 48 people per 10,000, from 50 in 2016 (ABS 2021). 

The 2021 Census was held on 10 August 2021, when states and territories in Australia were under varied COVID-19 pandemic related restrictions. Census homelessness estimates, especially the decrease in people living in improvised dwellings, tents, or sleeping out, and the increase in people living in boarding houses and people living in other lodging, were likely influenced by rapid emergency accommodation (EA) program response measures. The provision of accommodation was used at the time by local and state governments to protect people from the spread of COVID-19 (ABS 2021, Leishman et al. 2022).

The National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (NHHA)

The National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (NHHA) came into effect on 1 July 2018. This agreement replaced previous funding agreements with states and territories (the National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA) supported by the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH)) (FFR 2018).

The Australian Government has committed to a one‑year extension of the NHHA which will provide approximately $1.7 billion in 2023–24 to state and territory governments for housing and homelessness services.  This includes an additional $67.5 million of funding to assist the sector to help tackle homelessness challenges as part of the one‑year extension. This funding is matched by the states and territories (COA 2023a). 

In addition to the NHHA, the Australian Government will provide $187.5 million to state and territory governments through National Partnership payments for housing and essential services, and remote housing programs (COA 2023b).

The objective of the NHHA

The objective of the NHHA is to contribute to improving access to affordable, safe, and sustainable housing across the housing spectrum from crisis housing to home ownership (including to prevent and address homelessness), and to support social and economic participation.

The key outcomes this agreement will contribute to include:

  • a well-functioning social housing system that operates efficiently, sustainably and is effective in assisting low-income households and priority homeless cohorts to manage their needs
  • affordable housing options for people on low-to-moderate incomes
  • an effective homelessness system, which responds to and supports people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness to achieve and maintain housing, and addresses the incidence and prevalence of homelessness
  • improved housing outcomes for Indigenous people
  • a well-functioning housing market that responds to local conditions
  • improved transparency and accountability in respect of housing and homelessness strategies, spending, and outcomes.

Several homelessness priority cohorts have been specifically identified in the agreement and must be addressed in each state and territory’s homelessness strategy:

  • women and children affected by family and domestic violence
  • children and young people
  • Indigenous people
  • people experiencing repeat homelessness
  • people exiting institutions and care into homelessness
  • older people.

In addition, several homelessness priority policy reform areas have been identified:

  • achieving better outcomes for people
  • early intervention and prevention
  • commitment to service program and design.

Emerging housing policies

As part of Australian Government housing policy measures, the May 2023–24 Budget provided further detail on a range of announced housing measures in support of the delivery of social and affordable housing and improvement of market access for home buyers, including: 

  • The National Housing Accord was struck in October 2022, bringing together all levels of government, investors, and the residential development, building and construction sector to unlock quality, affordable housing supply over the medium term. The Accord includes an initial aspirational national target of delivering a total of one million new, well-located homes over 5 years from 2024.
  • As part of the National Housing Accord, the Australian Government committed $350 million over 5 years to help fund 10,000 new affordable rental homes, with states and territories agreeing to help fund an additional 10,000 affordable dwellings.
  • The $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund (HAFF), which passed through parliament in September 2023, will support the delivery of 30,000 social and affordable housing properties over 5 years. Investment returns will be used to fund social and affordable housing projects and fund a range of acute housing needs, with a guarantee of $500 million to be spent yearly, and a minimum of 1,200 homes to be built in each state and territory over 5 years, and delivery of:
    • $200 million for the repair, maintenance, and improvement of housing in remote Indigenous communities.
    • $100 million for crisis and transitional housing for women and children impacted by family and domestic violence and older women at risk of homelessness.
    • $30 million to build housing for veterans who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness (Albanese and Collins 2023).
  • A $500 million Housing Support Program for initiatives to help kick start housing supply including connecting essential services, amenities to support new housing development or building planning capability.
  • A National Planning Reform Blueprint with planning, zoning, land release and other measures to improve housing supply and affordability. 
  • A Better Deal for Renters to harmonise and strengthen renters’ rights across Australia.

These measures are in addition to the work that is currently being delivered:

  • The development of a 10-year National Housing and Homelessness Plan to identify the short, medium and long-term steps that can be taken to address housing issues in Australia.
  • Broaden the remit of the National Housing Infrastructure Facility administered by Housing Australia, formerly the National Housing Finance Investment Corporation (NHFIC), to directly support new social and affordable housing in addition to financing critical housing infrastructure.
  • Introducing the Regional First Home Buyer Guarantee on 1 October 2022, making available 10,000 places to support eligible borrowers to buy their first home sooner, in a regional area, with a deposit as little as five per cent.
  • Establishing the National Housing Supply and Affordability Council set up to provide independent, evidence-based expert advice on matters that materially affect the supply and affordability of Australian housing. An interim Council was appointed from 1 January 2022 to operate until the statutory Council commences.
  • The Help to Buy program will give eligible home buyers access to an equity contribution from the Australian Government.
  • The Housing Policy Partnership, under Priority Reform One of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, will provide a forum for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have a genuine say in the design and delivery of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander housing services.

As part of the 2023–24 Budget, the Australian Government announced:

  • Expanded eligibility of the Home Guarantee Scheme from 1 July 2023, including:
    • The First Home Guarantee, and the Regional First Home Buyer Guarantee will support any two eligible first home buyers to jointly apply to purchase a home. Non-first home buyers who have not held a property interest in Australia within the previous 10 years are eligible for both guarantees.
    • Eligibility for the Family Home Guarantee (FHG) was expanded to include single legal guardians of children. 
    • All guarantees are available to Australian permanent residents.
  • Increasing the Australian Government-guaranteed liability cap of Housing Australia by $2 billion to $7.5 billion, to provide lower cost and longer-term finance to community housing providers.
  • Two tax incentives apply from 1 July 2024:
    • Reducing the withholding tax rate for eligible fund payments from managed investment trusts attributed to newly constructed build-to-rent developments, from 30 per cent to 15 per cent; and
    • Increasing the capital works tax deduction (depreciation) rate, from 2.5 to 4 per cent per year, for newly constructed build-to-rent developments.

Housing Australia

Housing Australia has the primary responsibility for delivering Australian Government commitments to fund 30,000 new social and affordable dwellings through the Housing Australia Future Fund, and an additional 10,000 affordable homes through the National Housing Accord (NHFIC 2023).

Social Housing Accelerator

In June 2023, the Australian Government delivered the $2 billon Social Housing Accelerator, a one-off payment to the states and territories to permanently increase social housing stock across the country. Jurisdictions can use these funds for new builds, spot purchases, expanding existing programs, and renovating or refurbishing existing uninhabitable stock. Funds are required to be committed within two years.

Housing measures progressed through National Cabinet 2023–24

In addition to the Social Housing Accelerator and National Housing Accord, a number of measures are being delivered through National Cabinet to provide more secure and affordable housing supply. Significant measures include (Albanese 2023):

  • Federal funding of $3 billion through the New Homes Bonus to help incentivise states and territories to build more homes where people need them, to meet a new national target of 1.2 million new homes over five years.
  • A $500 million Housing Support Program for initiatives to help kick start housing supply, including connecting essential services and amenities to support new housing development or building planning capability. 
  • A National Planning Reform Blueprint with planning, zoning, land release and other measures to improve housing supply and affordability. 
  • A Better Deal for Renters to harmonise and strengthen renters’ rights across Australia.

Specialist homelessness services

A specialist homelessness service is an organisation that receive government funding under the NHHA. Specialist homelessness service offerings include provision of accommodation or accommodation related services and/or assistance and support services to people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. Under the NHHA, these agencies are required to participate in the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection (SHSC). 

Organisations not directly funded by governments also provide a wide range of support services to people in need; they are not required to provide data to the SHSC. NHHA funded agencies may also provide support beyond the stipulations in the NHHA; this support is also excluded from the SHSC.

SHS agencies vary in size and in the types of assistance provided. Across Australia, agencies provide prevention and early intervention services, and crisis and post crisis assistance to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Some agencies, for example, focus on specifically assisting anyone experiencing homelessness, while others deliver a broader range of homelessness and housing support and services. 

Other agencies deliver support to people within a specific situation, for example those experiencing family and domestic violence, or youth experiencing housing insecurity. The type of service an agency provides can range from basic, short-term interventions such as advice and information, meals and shower or laundry facilities through to more specialised and time intensive services such as financial advice, counselling and professional legal services (see Glossary for a complete list of service types).

The Specialist Homelessness Services Collection

Around 1.6 million clients have been supported by Specialist Homelessness Services since the collection began on 1 July 2011.

The SHSC comprises data from homelessness agencies across Australia which are funded under the NHHA. State and territory departments nominate the funded agencies under the NHHA required to participate in the SHSC. These agencies vary in type of services provided and service delivery frameworks used. The operational frameworks may be determined by the state or territory funding department or developed as a response to local homelessness issues.

All SHSC agencies report standardised data about the clients they support each month to the AIHW, as specified by the SHS National Minimum Dataset (NMDS). Data are collected about the characteristics and circumstances of clients when they first present to an agency. Additional data on the assistance received by clients and their circumstances are collected at the end of the month in which the client receives services, and again when contact with the client has ceased.

The SHSC is a comprehensive picture of the specialist homelessness services received, and outcomes achieved for those clients (Figure FRAMEWORK.1). The SHSC data provide a measure of the service response directed to those experiencing housing insecurity. The data do not provide a measure of the extent of homelessness in the community, although SHSC data on emergency and supported accommodation contributes to the profile on homelessness in Australia.

Figure FRAMEWORK.1: Conceptual framework of the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection

This flow diagram illustrates the relationships between the clients of specialist homelessness services, the assistance provided, and the outcomes for the client. The data collected on each of these 3 items were collected from more than 1,700 specialist homelessness agencies in 2022–23.

This publication draws on SHSC data to describe services and support provided to people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. Data from more than 1,700 SHS agencies across Australia are provided directly to the AIHW every month.

The data collected by agencies are based on periods of support provided to clients. Data related to support periods vary in terms of their duration, the number of times a client and an SHS agency or worker have contact within a period, and the reasons that support ends. Some support periods are relatively short – and are likely to have begun and ended in 2022–23. Others are much longer and may have been ongoing from the previous year and/or were still ongoing at the end of 2022–23.

On 1 July 2019 new data items were added to the SHSC and some other items were updated or modified. New data items include a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) indicator, main language other than English spoken at home and proficiency in spoken English. The updated or modified data items include the addition of sex Other for clients and changes to items related to assistance for family and domestic violence. The ability to use and report on the new and updated data items in the Specialist Homelessness Services Annual Report for 2022–23 is dependent on data quality and the number of valid responses received.

Further information about the collection and information about the quality of the data obtained through the SHSC for 2022–23 is available in Technical notes.

Nationally, 1,723 agencies delivered specialist homelessness services to more than 273,600 clients during 2022–23 (Supplementary tables FRAME.1 and CLIENTS.1, Figure FRAMEWORK.2).

Figure FRAMEWORK.2: Specialist homelessness agencies and clients by jurisdiction, 2022–23

This map of Australia shows the number of clients and homelessness agencies in each jurisdiction. In addition, each state and territory is differentially coloured according to a rating scale for the number of clients per 10,000 population.


Clients may access services in more than one state or territory, therefore the Australia total will be less than the sum of jurisdictions.

The agency count includes only those agencies that provided support periods with a valid Statistical Linkage Key (SLK).

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2022–23.

SHS agencies vary in terms of the number of clients assisted, with some agencies assisting less than 100 clients per year and others assisting more than 1,500 people. Some agencies are represented by a larger ‘parent’ organisation while others are individual stand-alone agencies. The number of clients agencies assist (agency size) reflects the type and complexity of services provided, and differing state and territory service delivery models. Agency size is also influenced by specific jurisdictional factors such as the size and geographical distribution of their population. Figure FRAMEWORK.3 illustrates the variability in agency sizes in each state and territory. In 2022–23, about half of all agencies assisted fewer than 100 clients (860 agencies or 50%). Agencies assisting a large number of clients (more than 1,500 in 2022–23) exist in all jurisdictions. 

Figure FRAMEWORK.3: Specialist homelessness agencies, by number of clients assisted and state and territory, 2022–23

This stacked vertical bar graph shows the large variation in the make-up of agency sizes across the states and territories.

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection. Supplementary table FRAME.2.

Specialist Homelessness Services and service delivery

Each state and territory manage their own system for the assessment, intake, referral and ongoing service management of SHS clients. The key delivery systems operating in Australia are summarised in Box FRAMEWORK.1. Although presented as 3 distinct models, these systems represent a range of approaches that jurisdictions may take to coordinate entry to becoming an SHS client. 

Changes in the delivery of services and their associated responses implemented by states and territories have the potential to impact SHSC annual data.


Community sector funding and support

  • Assessment and intake: managed by individual SHS providers, consistent with state or territory policies.
  • Referral: referral to other SHS providers if clients’ needs cannot be met by initial SHS provider.
  • Can be supported by a coordinating service.

Central information management

  • Assessment, intake and referral: managed at any SHS provider, via state or territory central information management tool.
  • Central information management system assists in the identification of appropriate services and indicates the availability/vacancy of services at all SHS providers.

Central intake

  • Assessment, intake and referral: managed by one or more ‘central intake’ agency.
  • Central intake agencies prioritise access to services and only refer clients as services and/or vacancies are available.
  • Central information management tool may exist to share information between SHS providers. 

Once a person has contacted an agency, or a central intake service, specialist homelessness services can be provided, alternatively a client may be referred to another agency for a specific service (Figure FRAMEWORK.4). In some instances, a client may not receive nor be referred for a service and their need remains unmet. These unmet needs are captured to assist in determining the ability of the sector to respond to client needs.

An ‘unassisted request for service’ is an instance where a person(s) approaches an agency and is unable to be provided with any assistance (see Data presentation and derivations). Limited data are collected about these occasions.

Figure FRAMEWORK.4: Access to and delivery of Specialist Homelessness Services

This flow diagram shows the potential pathways people seeking homelessness services may follow. A client had their service needs assessed; services may either be provided by that agency or the client may be referred to another agency for support. Not all the needs of a client may be met and this unmet need is reported. Some people seeking assistance do not become clients, known as unassisted request for services.

Services provided by specialist homelessness agencies in all states and territories can be categorised as ‘accommodation services’ (either direct provision or referral of accommodation or assistance for the client to maintain housing) or ‘services other than accommodation’ (Figure FRAMEWORK.5). The proportion of SHS clients receiving accommodation services varied across states and territories in 2022–23, with more than 8 in 10 clients in Tasmania (84%), and around two-thirds of clients in the Australian Capital Territory (66%), Western Australia (65%) and Queensland (65%) receiving these services. In contrast, the highest proportions of clients receiving services other than accommodation were in South Australia (54%), New South Wales (48%) and Victoria (46%). This variation likely reflects a combination of differences including the demand for accommodation services among SHS clients, differing service delivery models (that is, services delivered in a state/territory other than those provided through SHS agencies) and variable available housing options across jurisdictions (pathways out of homelessness) (Supplementary table FRAME.3).

Figure FRAMEWORK.5: Clients of Specialist Homelessness Services by service type, and state territory, 2022–23

Clients were classified on the basis of whether or not they were provided or referred accommodation services as part of the assistance they received. This stacked vertical bar graph shows the variation across jurisdictions in the proportion of clients in each classification group, and reflects in part, jurisdictional service delivery models. In all jurisdictions, the majority of clients received accommodation services as a component of their homelessness needs.

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection. Supplementary table FRAME.3.

Residual COVID-19 impact on housing, homelessness and SHS support in 2022–23

The COVID-19 pandemic has had substantial impact on the Australian housing system and people’s experiences of homelessness. Australian governments enacted a range of policy initiatives throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to protect vulnerable people from homelessness and to reduce the risk of adverse health effects of the COVID-19 disease. These initiatives included funding directed towards moving people sleeping rough and others experiencing homelessness into emergency and temporary accommodation.

During 2022–23, the pandemic response shifted to a new phase of living with the virus, as people were able to access a national vaccination program, and movement between states and territories was again unrestricted.

See the COVID responses section in the Specialist Homelessness Services: monthly data report for details on the impact of these policies on SHS support.