Friday, September 6, 2013

The same for less, or more to stay the same?

Not to take your mind off the Federal Election that's to be held tomorrow, but if you are a tenant in NSW Public Housing there is another important date that is fast approaching - on Monday, September 9th, HNSW will flick the switch on the new 'better approach to filling vacant bedrooms' policy. We expect to see the full details of this policy on Monday.

UPDATE (9/9/13): HNSW has now produced a 'vacant bedroom charge' factsheet - find it at this link.

This policy has been referred to as a new 'vacant bedroom charge', but you might have also heard it mentioned as the spare bedroom tax. Essentially, it will require tenants with more bedrooms than allowed by their entitlement to make a choice: pay the same for less, or pay more to stay the same.

We've already spoken about this a couple of times on the Brown Couch, and it is worth revisiting those discussions for a refresher about what we already know. You can find these posts here, here and here.

But to summarise, briefly: tenants who have more bedrooms than they're entitled to (based on the policy at this link) may be asked to relocate to smaller premises. If they are asked, and they decline, their rent subsidy will be adjusted so that they pay more. For singles, this will mean a rent increase of about $20 per week; for couples, it will mean a rise of about $30 per week.

If, on the other hand, the tenant chooses to relocate to a smaller premises, they will be placed on the waiting list for a transfer, and will be considered a priority applicant.

Since writing those earlier posts, we have had some further discussions with Housing NSW about how this policy will be implemented. Here's what we have been lead to understand:

1. HNSW has said that it will not be approaching every tenant with spare bedrooms to discuss relocation. There are some tenants who, for one reason or another, will be left alone. HNSW has not given us anything concrete to go on as to who will be exempt and why - other than to say the decision to approach or not approach a tenant will be made on its merits, in each particular case.

2. HNSW has said that it will take a 'measured approach' to contacting tenants whom they would like to consider relocation. As far as we can tell, this means that they will not be sending letters out en masse, but will make an approach to affected tenants in person. They have said that this will be done by workers who have had some previous experience in assisting tenants through the process of relocation...

3. Tenants who agree to relocate, and are placed on the waiting list for a 'priority' transfer, may still have a lengthy wait for their new home. This will vary depending on the nature of the property required, and on other demand for properties in their area. In particular, a tenant who has agreed to relocate in order to free up a property they have been 'under-occupying' will not be housed before an applicant for housing who has been assessed as 'at risk' (according to the eligibility criteria - and unless the under-occupying tenant is also assessed as being 'at risk' in addition to being an under-occupant).

4. A tenant who does not agree to relocate will have their rent subsidy adjusted immediately. A tenant who does agree to relocate will continue to pay according to their current rent. At some time, these agreeable under-occupants will be offered new properties and asked to move. If they do not then accept one of two offers (assuming the offers are 'reasonable', which means they will be subject to the usual processes of review and appeal), their rent subsidy will be adjusted to include the 'vacant bedroom charge'. They will also be removed from the transfer list.

We look forward to seeing this policy in full.

Please contact your local Tenants Advice & Advocacy Service if you are approached about the vacant bedroom charge, and would like to discuss the matter with an advocate.


  1. NSW Housing would not need to relocate tenants who have lived a lifetime in their present premises if:-Housing would cease selling off stock to raise revenue. This practice has been in place for many years and large areas of housing are being sold to developers. In the case of Millers Point housing is sold at the highest price to those who wish to live in harbourside locations and will pay huge sums to do so. Ms. Goward is using only the financial side of her brain and if tenants decide to stay and pay higher rents they will even more disadvantaged finacially than ever. Better thought out policies please and restore maintenance for the very neglected present housing stock.

    1. why do people think they should be allowed to stay in the same size public housing after their circumstances have changed? You do realise that one old lady who has been in a publicly owned house for 40 years and whose kids moved out 20 years ago is actually condemning needy young families with children to homelessness

  2. sounds like they want to adopt the British approach that has caused a great deal of controversy. e.g. if your child goes away for Uni you are not allowed to keep their bedroom, you either have to loss money or let the room to a random homeless person

  3. Sounds like it could be administratively more expensive than the money it raises, especially if people take the obvious option:agree to relocate, and given the lack of housing, it could be a long wait anyway, then decline the offers. Unless the govt is truly dastardly and makes the tax retrospective. And who will pay the costs of removal and whatever refits may be necessary.?

    1. Good points DH. HNSW has said they would 'rather have the bedrooms than the money' but the remarkable truth is that until they've built a few (thousand) more homes for people to downsize into, they might just end up with neither...

      As for the cost of removal and refits, etc, we've been told this will be covered by HNSW. That's just the sort of thing that will give rise to disputes in many cases, though - particularly for tenants who have made alterations to the property themselves. Tenants should contact their local TAAS for advice if in doubt about any relocation, refit or restoration expenses they're asked to foot the bill for.


  4. Hey it would be really good if they re housed those who have asked to be moved from their bigger houses first and who have been waiting for years. Especially those tenants who may be in breach of their agreement because they can't maintain their premises any more.

    1. I'm in this situation. My children moved out years ago. I'm on a large corner block which is a constant stress for me to maintain (I can't mow it myself and have trouble finding a lawn-mowing service who will mow it a second time - it's so large and uneven). My children have all moved out of the area so I no longer have any ties here.

      Several years ago I approached Housing NSW about moving to a smaller property. I was told that they'd approve a transfer as I'd be surrendering bedrooms but that it would take 2-3 years in my current area (to which I have no ties and where I don't want to live) and 5 years plus in my preferred area (closer to the child on whom I rely most for support.

      I put my name down for the mutual exchange programme as those estimates turned out to be overly optimistic. After several years, I finally got a letter a few weeks go saying they'd found a mutual exchange match. Unfortunately, they got the details wrong and the other party wasn't looking for a swap to my area.

      My house is so run down after 19 years without any significant maintenance that I suspect I'll be one of those tenants who isn't approached for transfer. It would simply cost Housing NSW too much money to upgrade it to a standard where a new tenant would accept an offer of my home. Despite a recent property assessment survey, it's unlikely any improvements will be made to the property before the contracts change again next year (I'm advised by my CSO that when this happens, planned works from property assessment surveys don't get carried forward - so it will be years before the needed maintenance is even listed again).

      So I'm going to be stuck in a home on a large block I can't maintain in an area where I don't want to be while at least one family goes unhoused (my block is large enough that if my home was bulldozed, two reasonable-sized units could easily fit on the block).

  5. I've got a couple of questions about this if anyone from the TU would care to take them up with Housing NSW.

    Generally, if you want a transfer from one NSW Housing property to another, you need to fill out an Application for Housing Assistance plus the Transfer and Mutual Exchange supplement. You can elect on these forms to be considered for Community Housing.

    Right now it's totally unclear to me whether those who put up their hand and volunteer to be transferred to a smaller property will only be eligible for transfer to Housing NSW properties or whether they'll also be eligible for transfer to properties managed by community housing providers. Could someone at the TU obtain clarification on this from Housing NSW please?

    1. Hi Anon.
      We'll try and get a concrete answer, but there doesn't seem to be any difference in process between the general transfers and the under-occupying ones, except that people moving for under-occupancy reasons are listed as priority transfers.

    2. Thanks for that Leo. I'm having no luck getting answers from Housing but I suspect that's because the staff on the ground simply don't know the answers yet.

      I've decided to bite the bullet and put my hand up for a transfer anyway.

      I suspect the process will be an exercise in frustration and futility and that Housing will try to screw me over 6 ways from Sunday, but I'm also aware that Pru Goward needs to actually get some transfers happening in order to proclaim this policy a "success" and perhaps that will translate into pressure on Housing NSW to find properties for those wishing to transfer.

      It will be interesting to see whether I'm even approved for priority transfer and if I am what dealing with the mysterious "relocations team" is like. I expect I'll be contacting the Tenants' Advice and Advocacy service quite a lot for guidance.


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