Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022) Housing assistance in Australia, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 02 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. 2]. 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 2 December 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/housing-assistance/housing-assistance-in-australia
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Financial assistance is a sizeable part of the broader provision of housing assistance in Australia. Governments provide various forms of financial support to assist people on lower incomes to meet housing costs, whether it is rental costs, mortgage repayments, saving a deposit for a home purchase or accessing finance. Housing costs are often a major expense for lower income earners and, therefore, financial assistance can be seen as an important safety net.
This section primarily focuses on the following three types of financial assistance:
CRA is the most common form of housing assistance received by Australian households. CRA is paid to families and individuals who are over the specified thresholds and are liable to pay rent for community housing or housing in the private rental market. These families or individuals must also be in receipt of:
Data presented reflect the CRA data on the last Friday of the specified financial year.
Commonwealth Rent Assistance
CRA is a non-taxable payment, generally paid fortnightly to eligible recipients as part of a recipient’s primary payment rate. It is available to eligible recipients who rent in the private rental market or community housing. To be eligible, families or individuals must: be in receipt of a social security payment more than the base rate of Family Tax Benefit Part A; or an eligible veterans’ income support payment; and pay or be liable to pay more than a specified rent threshold.
Qualification for CRA is assessed as part of the process for claiming a social security payment and it forms part of the rate of that payment. For information about CRA eligibility, see Department of Social Services.
CRA is paid at 75 cents for every dollar above a minimum rental threshold until a maximum rate (or ceiling) is reached. The minimum threshold and maximum rates vary according to the household or family situation, including the number of children.
Certain social housing tenants are eligible for CRA, such as those living in community housing or Indigenous community housing and, in some states and territories, state owned and managed Indigenous housing (SOMIH). CRA is not generally payable to public housing tenants as state and territory housing authorities already subsidise rent for these tenants.
Source: DSS 2019.
At June 2021, around 1.5 million income units received CRA: around 209,000 fewer income units than at the same time in 2020 (Table CRA.1). The median CRA payment was $138 per fortnight, which was equivalent to 29% of median fortnightly rent ($475 per fortnight) (Table CRA.6). For more information, see Impact of Covid-19 on the receipt of government benefits.
In 2020–21, the Australian Government’s real expenditure on CRA was $5.3 billion, increasing from $4.7 billion in 2016–17 (SCRGSP 2022). At June 2021, most CRA payments were provided to income units in New South Wales (477,200 income units) followed by Queensland (382,500) (Table CRA.1).
At June 2021, the key characteristics of the income units receiving CRA were (Table CRA.1):
The number of income units receiving CRA peaked in 2020 as a result of social security changes implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information, see Impact of COVID-19 on the receipt of government benefits.
The profile of income units receiving CRA varied by state and territory. At the end of June 2021 (Figure FINANCIAL.1; Table CRA.1):
Figure FINANCIAL.1: Income units receiving Commonwealth Rent Assistance by selected characteristics and states and territories, 2013 to 2021.This horizontal bar chart shows the changes in the number of income units by age group, Indigenous status, primary payment type and type of income unit over time. The total number of income units has increased from 1,267,979 in 2013 to 1,491,092 in 2021.
Statistical Area 2 (SA2) are designed to represent a community that interacts together socially and economically and generally have a population between 3,000 and 25,000 people. Within cities, SA2s represent gazetted suburbs whereas SA2s are designed to represent meaningful regions in remote areas (ABS 2021). At June 2021 (Tables CRA.2,3,4):
The median fortnightly rent varies across Australia and as a result, the median CRA payment received as a proportion of median fortnightly rent also varies by location. At June 2021, the CRA entitlement as a proportion of rent was lower in capital cities compared to the rest of the state or territory, with the magnitude of difference varying across states and territories.
In New South Wales, the CRA entitlement was about a quarter of the median fortnightly rent in Sydney (25% of $560), but more than a third (34% of $420) in the rest of the state. In contrast, the difference in Tasmania was smaller, with the CRA entitlement around a third of the median fortnightly rent in both Hobart (32% of $440) and the rest of state (34% of $420) (Table CRA.6).
The jobless rate in Australia increased as the COVID-19 pandemic severely affected the Australian economy (Parliamentary Library 2020). Prior to the pandemic taking hold in Australia, in December 2019, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5.0%. This grew to 7.4% by July 2020. By June 2021, the unemployment rate had fallen to 4.9% (ABS 2022).
In response to COVID-19 and the resulting increase in the unemployment rate, the Australian Government made temporary changes to social security payments. These adjustments increased the number of people eligible for and receiving income support payments (Parliamentary Library 2020) throughout 2020 and 2021.
Following the first documented COVID-19 cases in Australia at the beginning of 2020, the government introduced the Coronavirus Supplement which was payable to recipients of the following income support payments: JobSeeker Payment (formerly Newstart Allowance), Youth Allowance (JobSeeker, Student and Apprentice), Parenting Payment (Partnered and Single), Sickness Allowance, Austudy payment, ABSTUDY living allowance, Widow Allowance, Partner Allowance, Farm Household Allowance, Special Benefit, and certain Department of Veterans Affairs student payments.
The main income support payments available for those aged 16–65 who are able to work but unable to support themselves are JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance (Other). Sickness Allowance and Bereavement Allowance were incorporated into JobSeeker Payment when it was introduced on 20 March 2020 (Services Australia 2020). The timing of this change coincided with the outbreak of the pandemic in Australia and the rising unemployment. For single person with no children household, the maximum payment rate for JobSeeker Payment is $642.70 per fortnight. For a partnered person household, this is $585.30 per fortnight (Services Australia 2022).
In response to the pandemic, the Australian Government introduced additional payments to support lower income Australians, including the Coronavirus Supplement and Economic Support Payments, available to eligible income support recipients. Over time, the amount paid to recipients changed:
From 1 April 2021 onwards, JobSeeker Payment, Austudy and Youth Allowance increased by $50 per fortnight.
CRA has a considerable impact on reducing rental stress. For this section, rental stress is defined as a CRA income unit that spends more than 30% of gross income on rent.
At June 2021, nearly three-quarters (73%) of CRA recipients would have been in rental stress without CRA. About half (46%) of CRA recipients were in rental stress after receiving CRA (Table CRA.8).
The time-limited Coronavirus Supplement was included as income for certain types of income support payments and has been included in the calculation of rental stress for 2020.
Prior to 2020, the proportion of CRA recipients experiencing rental stress was consistently around 40%. However, the Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic (detailed above) included additional financial support for some income support recipients. As a result, fewer CRA recipients were in rental stress (29%) in June 2020. At June 2021, the proportion had returned to pre-pandemic levels with 46% of CRA recipients in rental stress (Table CRA.8).
Although CRA had a considerable impact on reducing rental stress, the reductions to rental stress differed between special needs groups. At June 2021, income units with a household member aged 24 or under (60% in rental stress) most frequently remained in rental stress after receiving CRA. By contrast, the least common income units in rental stress after receiving CRA were those with at least one household member aged 75 years (32%) or with Disability Support Pension payments (34%). For Indigenous income units, around 2 in 5 (37%) were in rental stress with CRA (Figure FINANCIAL.2; Table CRA.8).
For special needs groups, the proportion of income units in rental stress after receiving CRA differed across the states and territories. At June 2021 (Figure FINANCIAL.2; Table CRA.8):
Figure FINANCIAL.2: Income units receiving Commonwealth Rent Assistance in rental stress, by special needs group and by states and territories, at 26 June 2021. This vertical bar graphs compares special needs groups income units in rental stress (i.e., paying more than 30% of their income on rent) with CRA and without CRA. Nationally, 74% of income units receiving Disability Support Pension without CRA were in rental stress compared with 81% of income units aged 24 years and under.
Of the special needs groups, income units aged 25 and under (60%), followed by Indigenous income units (34%) were most commonly in rental stress after receiving CRA. Similarly, income units aged 25 and under and Indigenous income units were most commonly in rental stress after receiving CRA in all states and territory, with ACT reporting the highest proportion for both of these groups at 79% and 45%, respectively.
The changes to the proportion of CRA income units who were in rental stress varied over time and differed by special needs groups and states and territories. From June 2013 to June 2021 (Figure FINANCIAL.3; Table CRA.8):
Figure FINANCIAL.3: Income units receiving Commonwealth Rent Assistance in rental stress, by primary payment type and states and territories, 2013 to 2021. The horizontal bar graph compares income units receiving CRA in rental stress by primary payment types and states and territory. The graph shows that of the primary payment types in 2021, 74% of income units receiving Youth Allowance, 71% of income units receiving Austudy and 68% of income units receiving Parenting Payment (Partnered) remained in rental stress after receiving CRA.
Rental stress among income units receiving CRA also varied depending upon the primary payment type. At June 2021 (Figure FINANCIAL.4) (Table CRA.9):
The proportion of income units receiving CRA who were in rental stress varied depending upon the state or territory and primary payment type. At the end of June 2021 (Figure FINANCIAL.4; Table CRA.8):
The highest proportion was accounted for income units who received Youth Allowance (Student), with 74%, followed by Age Pension, with 34% and Disability Support Pension, with 32%.
Private rent assistance (PRA) is financial assistance provided directly by state and territory governments to low-income households experiencing difficulty with securing or maintaining private rental accommodation. PRA is usually provided as a one-off form of support such as bond loans and rental grants but can also include ongoing rental subsidies and payment of relocation expenses. PRA is provided to a household— a group of two or more related or unrelated people who usually reside in the same dwelling. A household can also be a single person living in a dwelling with others but who makes provision for their own food and other essentials for living, without combining with any other person.
PRA varies between states and territories, as some products are not offered by all states and territories (e.g., rental grants are offered by New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, and Tasmania; relocation expenses are offered by Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory). For more information, see the Data quality statement for PRA.
In 2020–21, PRA was provided to 62,900 unique households; the lowest number of households since 2013–14 (94,000 households) (Table PRA.1). Households may receive more than one type of PRA and they may also receive multiple assistance payments for each type of PRA. There were around 79,000 total instances of PRA payments (Table PRA.5) in 2020–21.
Between 2013–14 and 2019–20, the number of instances of assistance for PRA fluctuated to a high of almost 129,000 and to a low of 115,000 (Figure FINANCIAL.5; Table PRA.5). The decline to 79,000 in 2020–21 was likely influenced by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many jurisdictions introduced initiatives including moratoriums on rental evictions and prevention of rent increases. Since PRA is demand driven, decreases do not necessarily reflect a lack of resources or changes to eligibility criteria, rather there are several other possible reasons for the decline in PRA recipients in 2020–21. Pandemic-related assistance may have been provided to households but is out of scope for the PRA collection. The overall rental market may have also had an impact. For example, reduced vacancy rates may result in reduced movement of tenants, thus potentially reducing the number of PRA applicants. Further, an increase in the total number of applicants for rental vacancies more broadly may reduce the likelihood of a PRA recipient to secure tenancy.
Of the 62,900 unique households provided with PRA in 2020–21 (Table PRA.):
The different states and territories provide different types of PRA. Bond loans were the only type of PRA offered by all states and territories. In 2020–21 (Table PRA.2):
Figure FINANCIAL.5: Households receiving Private Rent Assistance and Home Purchase Assistance, by states and territories, 2013–14 to 2020–21. This line graph compares the number of households receiving Private Rent Assistance with households receiving Home Purchase Assistance from 2013–14 to 2020–21 by states and territories. Nationally, in 2020–21, the number of households receiving PRA has declined substantially, with 62,900 households compared with 94,100 households in 2013–14. This decline is reflected in all states and territories, and represents records lows for all states and territories, bar the ACT. Conversely, the number of households receiving HPA has increased nationally, with 44,200 households receiving HPA in 2020–21 compared with 42,800 in 2013–14. Both WA and SA had more households receiving HPA than PRA.
In 2020–21, almost 2 in 3 (65%) PRA payments were to households located in Major cities, with a further 21% in Inner regional areas and 12% in Outer regional areas. Very few PRA payments were made to households located in Remote or Very remote areas (around 2% altogether) (Table PRA.3).
Home Purchase Assistance (HPA) is a form of government financial assistance administered by each state and territory. HPA includes a range of financial assistance for eligible households to improve their access to, and ability to maintain home ownership. HPA may vary from state to state, and some products are not offered by all states and territories.
HPA can include:
In 2020–21, the states and territories provided HPA to almost 44,200 unique households across Australia (Table HPA.1). Some households received more than one type of HPA resulting in around 44,600 HPA payments to households in 2020–21 (Figure FINANCIAL.5; Table HPA.2).
The most common form of HPA was direct lending and this was provided by most states and territories. The number of recipients continued to trend upwards to 39,600 in 2020–21 from the low of 36,500 in 2016–17 (Table HPA.2).
Of the 44,200 unique households receiving HPA in 2020–21 (Table HPA.4):
In 2020–21, the states that provided the highest number of HPA payments were Western Australia (23,200 unique households or 52% of the total) and South Australia (18,600 or 42% of the total) (Table HPA.1). Direct lending was the main type of HPA assistance in these areas. South Australia was the only state or territory that offered interest rate assistance (paid to 3,900 households) (Table HPA.2).
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2022. Labour Force, Australia, March 2022. Viewed 22 March 2022.
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) (2021) ‘Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS) Edition 3’, ABS Website, accessed on 9 May 2022.
DSS (Department of Social Services) 2019. Housing Support–Commonwealth Rent Assistance. Canberra: DSS. Viewed 1 February 2021.
Parliamentary Library 2020. The impact of COVID-19 on JobSeeker Payment recipient numbers by electorate. Viewed 1 February 2021.
SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision) 2022. Report on Government Services 2022–Housing and Homelessness sector overview data tables (Table GA.6). Canberra: Productivity Commission. Viewed 22 March 2022.
Services Australia 2020. Introduction of Jobseeker Payment: what you need to know. Viewed 1 February 2021. Services Australia 2022. How much you can get. Viewed 9 May 2022.
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