The Victorian Ombudsman has tabled the report from their Investigation into complaint handling in the Victorian social housing sector today.
The Ombudsman has acknowledged what renters in social housing have known for a long time – public and community housing are not the same.
The report highlights the significant inequity facing community housing renters, who do not have the same opportunities to have complaints reviewed as people who live in public housing do.
This is in addition to the greater discretion community housing providers have with regards to allocating scarce housing stock, and the higher rents that some people who live in community housing pay, compared to people who live in public housing.
The Ombudsman has made a number of welcome recommendations to address serious concerns with how complaints are handled across both social housing tenures, including:
- more resources and training in complaint handling for frontline staff,
- more guidance for community housing providers on best practice complaint handling policies,
- a simpler process for escalating public housing complaints,
- amendments to the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities to clarify the role of community housing providers, and including a human right to housing,
- the expansion of Ombudsman jurisdiction to community housing – either through the existing body or through the creation of a new Social Housing Ombudsman, and
- greater access to advocacy and support.
These recommendations, alongside those soon to be delivered by the Social Housing Regulatory Review Panel, must form the basis of an improved social housing sector in Victoria, which puts renters at the centre of all decision making.
The VPTA often finds that renters are reluctant to make a complaint about their landlord, due to fear of reprisals, or a doubt that their complaint will be addressed.
Housing staff are over worked, and under resourced. Recently some applicants to the housing waitlist have been waiting months for their applications to be assessed. Meanwhile, services like the VPTA are being inundated with calls from residents who can’t get the help they need to live with dignity.
The workload being managed by VPTA staff has increased by around 30% between the 2020-21 and 2021-22 financial years, with the most common issues continuing to be difficulty having maintenance issues resolved, and queries about moving between public housing properties, which is often required for health or safety reasons.
Chief Executive Officer of the VPTA, Katelyn Butterss, said:
“These recommendations are very welcome. The report contains a number of distressing case studies similar to the issues our Tenant Advocates help residents with daily. In the last year, their workload has increased by around 30%.
“The Ombudsman’s recommendations should be considered in line with the Regulatory Review’s Final Report, to ensure that Victoria’s social housing system is in the best possible place to deliver good outcomes for renters into the future.
“However, key issues such as poor quality dwellings, and difficulties with neighbours will only be holistically addressed when Victoria has an adequate supply of social housing homes.
“The Big Housing Build will deliver around 12,000 community housing homes. But Victoria needs at least 60,000 new homes – including publicly owned and managed properties – just to keep up.
“When the Big Housing Build is fully delivered, around one third of Victorian social housing renters will live in community housing. Right now, that group does not have a representative body. Expanding the role of the VPTA to take on this responsibility would be an important step to ensuring equity for all social housing renters.
You can read the Victorian Ombudsman’s full report here. You can access free and confidential support from our Tenant Advocates during business hours by calling 1800 015 510, emailing the team at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by filling in our contact form.