Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022) Housing assistance in Australia, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 04 December 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2022). Housing assistance in Australia. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/housing-assistance/housing-assistance-in-australia
Housing assistance in Australia. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 29 June 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/housing-assistance/housing-assistance-in-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Housing assistance in Australia [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2022 [cited 2022 Dec. 4]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/housing-assistance/housing-assistance-in-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2022, Housing assistance in Australia, viewed 4 December 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/housing-assistance/housing-assistance-in-australia
Get citations as an Endnote file:
PDF | 3.1Mb
On this page:
During a period of time, people may be allocated social housing, exit a social housing program, or move from one social housing dwelling to another within the same program (Figure ENTRIES.1). This section presents key data on these entries, exits and transfers.
Data on entries, exits and transfers for Indigenous community housing were not available.
Allocating social housing to eligible applicants depends on their level of priority (based on need) and dwelling availability. Applicants access to social housing are managed through waiting lists. Generally, when an appropriate dwelling is available, it is offered to high priority applicants first (such as those deemed greatest need or special needs households; see definitions below). The criteria determining applicant eligibility and priority, however, varies by the policies and procedures set by providers in each jurisdiction at a given time. Accordingly, caution must be exercised when making comparisons between states and territories.
Similar to the previous year, the total number of newly allocated households (also referred to as new entries) decreased across public housing, community housing and SOMIH in 2020–21 to 29,900, compared with 2019–20. Of the 29,900 newly allocated households in 2020–21, more than half were allocated public housing (51% or 15,200 households); followed by community housing with 46% (or 13,700 households) and SOMIH with 3% (or 1,000 households) which is similar to the stock profiles of each housing program (Figure Entries.2, Table HOUSEHOLDS.10). For public housing, all states and territories except the Northern Territory had fewer newly allocated households in 2020–21 compared to all years since 2013–14.
Between 2011–12 and 2017–18, the number of new entries into public housing were consistently over 20,000 but in more recent years, the number of new entries into public housing has been declining. For community housing, the number of newly allocated households has varied over time, partly because of dwellings transfers from public housing to community housing in NSW in 2018–19 and South Australia in 2017–18. Like public housing, however, the number has decreased in recent years, with 15,100 and 13,700 newly allocated households in 2019–20 and 2020–21, respectively (Figure Entries.2, Table HOUSEHOLDS.10).
Figure ENTRIES.2: Ongoing, newly allocated and exited households, by public housing and SOMIH, in 2011–12 to 2020–21. This line graph shows the changes in newly allocated entries, ongoing and exits households from 2011–12 to 2020–21 for public housing and SOMIH. Ongoing households in public housing decreased from 323,400 in 2011–12 to 288,300 in 2020–21 while SOMIH increased from 9,700 in 2011–12 to 14,000 in 2020–21. For public housing, newly allocated households declined from 21,400 in 2011–12 to 15,200 in 2020–21.
For SOMIH, the number of newly allocated households were lower than previous years, with 1,000 in 2020–21 compared to 1,100 in 2019–20, respectively (Figure ENTRIES.2; Table HOUSEHOLDS.10).
For public housing, newly allocated households during 2020–21 were mostly low income (95%) and single adults (58%) households. Other key features of newly allocated households in public housing for 2020–21 include (Table HOUSEHOLDS.12):
For SOMIH, newly allocated households were most commonly low income (97%) and group and mixed composition households (41%). In contrast to public housing, only 13% of newly allocated households in SOMIH were single adults and 70% of main tenants were female (Table HOUSEHOLDS.10).
Data on the characteristics of newly allocated households for community housing and Indigenous community housing were not available.
Housing features of new allocations differed between public housing and SOMIH. The different profiles of new allocations by housing features partly reflect the differences in the number of dwelling type stock between the programs. In 2020–21, newly allocated households in the public housing program were more likely to be dwellings with fewer bedrooms (40% were 1 bedroom, 30% were 2 bedrooms, 25% were 3 bedrooms and 4% were 4 or more bedrooms) compared to SOMIH (3% were 1 bedroom, 18% were 2 bedrooms, 57% were 3 bedrooms and 18% were 4 or more bedrooms) (Table HOUSEHOLDS.14).
Allocation to social housing is determined by policies regarding eligibility, priority groups and entitlement (such as type and location of the property) (Powell et al. 2019). Although income remains the primary eligibility factor for social housing allocation, allocations are also based on an applicant’s circumstances, that is, their need for social housing relative to others on the waiting list (Pawson et al. 2020).
While social housing allocations were historically targeted towards households with a lower income, over time, the social housing policies have increasingly focused on supporting vulnerable and complex need applicants, such as applicants experiencing trauma, disadvantage and/or financial instability (Groenhart et al. 2014; Pawson et al, 2020).
As a result, social housing is generally allocated according to priority needs, with allocations made on the basis of identifying those people with the greatest need (such as applicants experiencing homelessness) and those with special needs for housing assistance (such as applicants with disability).
Data on household need status for Indigenous community housing were not available.
Public housing, SOMIH and community housing programs prioritise household allocations through priority waiting lists, such as the greatest need waiting list. The criteria for priority needs varies between jurisdictions, so any comparisons between states and territories must be exercised with caution.
Greatest need applies to households if, at the time of allocation, household members were subject to one or more of the following circumstances:
For more information, see METEOR.
States and territories may use different criteria for classification of greatest need.
Households seeking social housing often have members with special needs. Some households may have one or more members with multiple special needs. The definition of special needs differs across the different social housing programs and between jurisdictions.
For public housing, special needs households include those with:
As SOMIH is an Indigenous targeted program, Indigenous households in SOMIH are not considered special needs households. For SOMIH, special needs households are only those that have:
Greatest need households accounted for 81% (or 12,300 households) of all newly allocated public housing households in 2020–21 (Figure ENTRIES.3; Table HOUSEHOLDS.15).
Newly allocated households, by greatest need status and social housing program, 2009–10 to 2020–21. This vertical stacked bar graph shows, for public housing, community housing and SOMIH, there were more newly allocated greatest needs households than other households, from 2009–10 to 2020–21. In 2020–21, the majority of new public housing allocations were provided to households in greatest need (81%). In 2009–10, 56% of newly allocated SOMIH dwellings were provided to households in greatest need; this increased to 65% in 2020–21. Housing allocations to greatest needs households in community housing was 86%.
Almost two thirds (65% or 300) of newly allocated SOMIH households were households with greatest need status in 2020–21 (excludes Tasmania and the Northern Territory, as greatest need data were not available) (Figure ENTRIES.3; Table HOUSEHOLDS.15). The proportion of newly allocated SOMIH households with greatest need status was around 60% from 2016–17 to 2018–19 but increased by about 5 percentage points to 65% in 2019–20; where it remained in 2020–21.
In 2020–21, of the 12,300 newly allocated public housing households in greatest need (Figure ENTRIES.4; Table HOUSEHOLDS.16):
Figure ENTRIES.4: Newly allocated households in greatest need, by main reason for greatest need and social housing program, 2011–12 to 2020–21. This line graph shows the main reason for greatest need of newly allocated households. In 2011–12, the main reason for greatest need in public housing was homelessness (55%); this increased to 57% in 2020–21. Of those at risk of homelessness in public housing, in 2011–12, the most common main reason for greatest need was because their health condition was aggravated by housing (15%); in 2020–21, the common main reason was because their life or safety was at risk in accommodation (20%).
Data on the main reason a household was in greatest need for community housing were not complete due to data quality issues. Based on the available data, in 2020–21, of the newly allocated greatest need households in community housing where the main reason was known, more households were at risk of homelessness (51%) than experiencing homelessness (48%) (Figure ENTRIES.4; Table HOUSEHOLDS.16).
A household may have more than one special needs reason. In 2020–21, there were 9,500 newly allocated public housing households with special needs, representing 62% of all newly allocated households. Of these (Table HOUSEHOLDS.18):
In 2020–21, of the almost 400 newly allocated SOMIH households with special needs:
Greatest and special needs categories are not mutually exclusive, as one or more household members may be eligible within each priority group and/or between priority groups. Households with members in both greatest and special needs groups may be some of the most vulnerable households and may require high levels of care and support.
In 2020–21, of the newly allocated households in public housing (Figure HOUSEHOLDS.4; Table HOUSEHOLDS.17):
In 2020–21, of the newly allocated households in SOMIH:
The time waited by applicants is influenced by dwelling availability (including the size of dwelling needed) and priority group status (greatest need or special needs) (Powell et al. 2019). Since households with priority group status (such as people experiencing homelessness or a disability) are placed ahead of households without priority group status, the number of households with priority group status may influence the amount of timed waited for social housing allocation. Additionally, the time waited for social housing programs can vary both between and within jurisdictions, as the time waited for social housing in high demand city areas are often far greater than other areas (NSW Government 2018; Powell et al. 2019).
The formula for the amount of time waited for allocated housing varies depending on household priority status. For households in greatest need, the time waited is calculated from the date applicants were determined to be of greatest need (priority group status) and the amount of time that passed before they were allocated housing. In other words, time waited is the amount of time between the greatest need determination and housing allocation.
For households not in greatest need, however, the time waited is calculated from the housing application date to housing allocation – this includes special needs households. Hence, the time waited is measured here as the amount of time between the housing application and housing allocation.
Data on time waited for housing allocation were unavailable for both community housing and Indigenous community housing.
In 2020–21 (Table HOUSEHOLDS.21)
Greatest need status prioritises housing allocation to households with a relatively higher need for housing than other households. It is afforded to households that satisfy the eligibility criteria set by the housing provider’s policies and procedures and varies by jurisdiction (Flannagan et al. 2019). Greatest need status is generally conferred to households with experiences of homelessness and/or risks to life and safety. For greatest need households, time waited is the amount of time between the greatest need determination and housing allocation. For more detailed information, see the Priority groups section.
In 2020–21, among newly allocated households (Figure ENTRIES.2, Table HOUSEHOLDS.19):
For SOMIH, newly allocated households with greatest need status were generally allocated housing faster than households without. In 2020–21 (Figure ENTRIES.5; Table HOUSEHOLDS.19):
Figure ENTRIES.5: Time waited of newly allocated households, by greatest need status for public housing and SOMIH, 2020–21. The stacked bar graph shows the highest number of newly allocated greatest need household in both public housing (5,400) and SOMIH (100) waited less than 3 months before being allocated housing. For public housing (1,200) the highest number of newly allocated other households waited 2 years to less than 5 years on before being allocated housing. For SOMIH other households waited 1 year to 2 years before being allocated housing.
Households seeking assistance from social housing providers often have members with special needs. Some households may have multiple special needs. The definition of special needs is different for different social housing programs. For more detailed information, see Priority groups section.
In 2020–21, the time special needs households waited for an allocation of public housing varied, with around (Table HOUSEHOLDS.20):
The time waited for social housing allocation varied depending upon the number of bedrooms required by a household and by program. For public housing allocations in 2020–21, the proportion of newly allocated households decreased with increasing bedroom numbers (around 40% for 1 bedroom, 30% for 2 bedrooms, 25% for 3 bedrooms and 4% for 4 or more bedrooms). Despite this, the amount of time waited was similar regardless of the number of bedrooms (Table HOUSEHOLDS.22).
In contrast to public housing, a greater proportion of SOMIH households received housing with 3 bedrooms (21%) or 4 or more bedrooms (57%) in 2020–21 (Table HOUSEHOLDS.22). This difference in housing allocation partly reflects the different housing needs of SOMIH households and differences in the housing stock (Memmott et al. 2012).
Social housing 'Exits' refers to households that have exited a specific housing program during the reference year. Households that relocate within the same housing program are not considered ‘exits’, but instead, ‘transfers’.
Households may exit social housing for a variety of reasons. Some households exit because of changes to their housing or neighbourhood needs, such as those related to location, size, or neighbourhood safety (Johnson et al. 2019). Whereas others exit social housing for financial or forced reasons, including employment opportunities, entry into home ownership, eviction, or ineligibility due to an increase in income (Baker et al. 2020, 2021). In this way, reasons influencing households exits from social housing can be both positive and negative (Wiesel et al. 2014). While exiting households most commonly enter the private rental market, some also enter home ownership or other tenure types, such as employer provided housing (Baker et al. 2020; Bentley et al. 2018), however, this information is not captured in the datasets informing this report.
In 2020–21, exits from public housing and SOMIH decreased compared to previous years, with around 16,400 public housing households and 900 SOMIH households having exited. Across the states and territories, New South Wales (5,224 entries and 5218 exits), Queensland (3,614 entries and 3,236 exits) and the Northern Territory (331 entries and 292 exits) had more new allocations to public housing than exits from public housing (Tables HOUSEHOLDS.10 and 25).
In 2020–21, fewer households exited SOMIH (900) than the previous three years (ranging from 1,000 to 1,300 between 2017–18 and 2019–20). The number of households exiting SOMIH in 2020–21 was similar to the number of newly allocated households (1,000) (Table HOUSEHOLDS.23).
Transfers occur when occupants move to a vacant dwelling in the same social housing program. Transfers may be initiated by either the tenant (including a mutual swapping of properties between eligible tenants) or housing provider in response to a change in circumstance or housing need. This may include household composition changes (such as overcrowding or underutilisation), a medical condition or because of stock renewal and re-development. Transfer eligibility and implementation varies by jurisdiction.
During 2020–21, 3% of public housing households and 2% of SOMIH households transferred—or were relocated—to a different dwelling within the same housing program (Table HOUSEHOLDS.25).
In 2020–21, the proportion of household transfers were similar across the states and territories (2–4%). New South Wales (2,200 households), Victoria (1,800 households) and Queensland (1,300 households) had the highest number of transfers, and the Northern Territory had the highest proportion of transfers (4.2% or 210 households) (Figure TRANSFERS AND EXITS.1; Table HOUSEHOLDS.25).
Figure TRANSFERS AND EXITS.2: Households by transfer and exit status, by public housing and SOMIH, 2011–12 to 2020–21. This vertical bar graph shows that nationally the number of public housing and SOMIH households that exited were higher than those that transferred, from 2011–12 to 2020–21. In 2011–12, 22,900 public housing households exited, and 8,200 households transferred; in 2020–21, households that exited decreased to 16,400 and households that transferred decreased to 7,700. In 2011–12, around 600 SOMIH households exited and 300 transferred; in 2020–21, households that exited increased to 900, while those that transferred remained at 300
Baker E, Leishman C, Bentley R, Pham A and Daniel L (2020) ‘Social housing exit points, outcomes and future pathways: an administrative data analysis’, AHURI Final Report No. 326, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI), Melbourne.
Baker E, Pham A, Leishman C, Daniel L and Bentley R (2021) ‘Urban Social Housing Pathways: A Linked Administrative Data Analysis’, Urban Policy and Research, 39(1):1-15.
Bentley R, Baker E, Simons K, Simpson JA and Blakely T. (2018) ‘The impact of social housing on mental health: longitudinal analyses using marginal structural models and machine learning-generated weights’, International journal of epidemiology, vol. 47, no. 5, 1414–1422.
Flanagan K, Levin I, Tually S, Varadharajan M, Verdouw J, Faulkner D, Meltzer A and Vreugdenhil A (2019) ‘Understanding the experience of social housing pathways’, AHURI Final Report No. 324, AHURI, Melbourne.
NSW Government, Department of Communities and Justice 2018. Waiting times for social housing. Last published 24 January 2018. Viewed 22 March 2022.
Groenhart L, Burke T and Ralston L (2014) ‘Thirty years of public housing supply and consumption 1981–2011‘, AHURI Final Report No. 231, AHURI, Melbourne.
Johnson G, McCallum S and Watson (2019) 'Who stays, who leaves and why? Occupancy patterns at Unison Housing between 2014 and 2016', Unison Housing Research Lab, Melbourne.
Memmott P, Birdsall-Jones C, and Greenop K. (2012) ‘Australian Indigenous house crowding’, AHURI Final Report No. 194, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute Limited, Melbourne
Pawson H, Milligan V and Yates J (2020) ‘Housing Policy in Australia: A Case for System Reform’, Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore.
Powell A, Meltzer A, Martin C, Stone W, Liu E, Flanagan K, Muir K and Tually S (2019). ’The construction of social housing pathways across Australia‘, AHURI Final Report No. 316, AHURI, Melbourne.
Wiesel I, Pawson H, Stone W, Herath S and McNelis S (2014) ‘Social housing exits: incidence, motivations and consequences’, AHURI Final Report No. 229, AHURI, Melbourne.
We'd love to know any feedback that you have about the AIHW website, its contents or reports.
The browser you are using to browse this website is outdated and some features may not display properly or be accessible to you. Please use a more recent browser for the best user experience.