Priority groups

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 highly vulnerable groups, such as people experiencing or imminently at risk of homelessness, households where there is a member with disability, main tenants aged under 25 or aged 75 or over, or Indigenous households.

Greatest need

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 their 'greatest need'. 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:

  • Homelessness
  • Life or safety was threatened within existing accommodation
  • Health condition was worsened by existing accommodation
  • Existing accommodation was inappropriate to their needs
  • Very high rental costs.

A low-income household is a household that satisfies an eligibility test to receive housing assistance.

Households that are defined as in greatest need often also have special needs, such as a household member with a disability.

Priority access to those in greatest need is defined as the proportion of new allocations of housing to households in greatest need. This proportion remained fairly steady between 2009–10 and 2013–14.

This is particularly evident for public rental housing with around three in four newly allocated households provided to those in greatest need (74% in 2013–14). For SOMIH, around 56% of newly allocated households were provided to those in greatest need in 2013–14, down from a peak of 64% in 2012–13. Community housing however has had an increasing proportion of new households with a 'greatest need' over the last five years from 63% in 2009–10 to 75% in 2013–14.

Figure 1: Proportion of newly assisted households in greatest need by housing program type, 2009–10 to 2013–14

priority-groups_fig1 PNG

Source: AIHW National Housing Assistance Data Repository, 2013–14. Source data

Almost two-thirds

(61%) were homeless at the time of allocation to public rental housing and almost half (49%) at the time of allocation to SOMIH.

35%

were at risk of homelessness at the time of allocation to public rental housing and 47% at the time of allocation to SOMIH.

Special needs

Households that are in greatest need often have members with special needs. These include people with disability, a main tenant younger than 25 or 75 and older, or one or more Indigenous members.

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 principal tenant 24 or younger, or 50 or older are considered special needs.

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.

As at 30 June 2014, the proportion of new allocations among special needs groups differed across social housing programs:

  • Of newly allocated public rental housing households with special needs, 48% of these were represented by households with at least one member with disability.
  • Of newly allocated SOMIH households with special needs, 41% represented those households with at least one member with disability, and 41% were households where the main tenant was aged under 25.

Demographics of newly allocated households

Household composition

As at 30 June 2014, nearly half of public rental housing households (48%) were made up of single people living alone, followed by sole parents with dependent children (32%). Public rental housing households were least likely to be couple only households (4%). SOMIH households were also more likely to be made up of sole parents with dependent children (58%), followed by single adults (17%). SOMIH households were also least likely to be couple only households (2%).

Indigenous and disability status

Around 4,200 Indigenous households (26% of all allocations) were newly allocated to public rental housing. There were almost 8,000 new allocations (48% of all allocations) to public rental housing for households with at least one member with a disability. Of new allocations to SOMIH, the proportion of all new allocations to households with at least one member with a disability was 41%. This proportion (41%) was the same for households where the main tenant was aged under 25 years.

Wait lists and wait times

As at 30 June 2014, there were 154,600 total applicants registered for access to public rental housing (down from 171,300 in 2010), and 8,000 applicants waiting for allocation to SOMIH programs (down from 10,000 in 2010). Around 43,400 applicants in the community housing sector were waiting allocation to mainstream community housing as at 30 June 2014 (up from almost 36,700 in 2010). Across the three types of social housing, around 75,900 of these applicants were categorised as 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 and eligibility criteria put in place by state 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 housing in their area.

Wait list priority is generally accorded to those with the greatest needs. About 74% of new allocations for public housing and 56% of new allocations for SOMIH went to those in greatest need categories.

As ‘greatest need’ eligibility criteria does not cover all needs for those in social housing, there are often limited choices for new entrants into the social housing system in regards to selection of dwelling type and locations. Tenant choices are often limited to broad geographic areas 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, applicants may risk their place on the waiting list.

While a high proportion of new allocations went to those in greatest need, there were still households in greatest need that had been on the waiting list for considerable time. Forty-six per cent of public rental housing and 26% of SOMIH new allocations that were classified as in greatest need spent more than 2 years on a waiting list. Those with special needs also reported a high proportion of new allocations spending more than 2 years on a waiting list, with 64% for public rental housing and 58% for SOMIH.

For community housing, data on allocations by the amount of time spent on the waiting list are not available.

Table 1: Proportion of new allocations(a), by time spent on the waiting list(b), by greatest and special needs households, by housing program type, 2013–14 (per cent)
Time spent on waiting list Greatest need(c) Special needs(d)
Public housing SOMIH Public housing SOMIH
Less than 3 months 86.6 76.9 64.8 51.1
3 months to less than 6 months 86.4 71.7 65.8 55.0
6 months to less than 1 year 82.0 52.0 66.7 56.9
1 year to less than 2 years 72.6 29.8 68.0 63.7
More than 2 years 46.1 25.6 63.9 57.9
All 74.1 56.3 65.4 55.6
  1. Whether the household was a new allocation for housing assistance in the financial year.
  2. Data includes only households with known waiting time.
  3. A descriptor applying to a low-income household if, at the time of allocation, household members were subject to one or more of the following circumstances:
    • they were homeless
    • their life or safety was at risk in their accommodation
    • their health condition was aggravated by their housing
    • their housing was inappropriate to their needs
    • they had very high rental housing costs.
  4. A descriptor for those households that have a member with disability, a main tenant aged under 25 or 75 and over, or households defined as Indigenous households. Indigenous households in SOMIH are not considered special needs households, as SOMIH is an Indigenous-targeted program.

Source: AIHW National Housing Assistance Data Repository 2013–14.