Submission: Social Services Legislation Amendment (Housing Affordability) Bill 2017

In this submission, Redfern Legal Centre (RLC) addresses a Bill to allow Centrelink to make deductions from a tenant’s welfare payment to satisfy debts claimed by the social housing provider.

Background

On 14 September 2017, the Social Service Legislation Amendment (Housing Affordability) Bill 2017 was introduced to Federal Parliament. If passed, the Bill would give broad powers to Centrelink to deduct a portion (or the entirety) of a tenant’s welfare payment and pay it to the tenant’s social housing provider without tenants having any effective choice.

On 19 October 2017, the Senate referred the Bill to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report. RLC  has  reviewed  the  written  submission  of  the  National  Association  of  Tenant  Organisations  provided  to  the  Committee  on  10  November  2017.  

Summary

RLC has raised a number of concerns about the Social Service Legislation Amendment (Housing Affordability) Bill 2017 (Cth). If passed, the Bill would give broad powers to Centrelink to deduct a portion (or the entirety) of a tenant’s welfare payment and pay it to the tenant’s social housing provider without the tenant having any effective choice.

In RLC’S submission to the the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, we said that the Bill should not proceed because it:

  • goes too far in allowing tenants’ welfare payments to be involuntarily deducted for a wide range of payments and debts, without caps on the amount that can be deducted.
  • fails to provide procedural fairness to tenants. It provides no obligation to advise a tenant that their welfare payment will be deducted, no additional review mechanisms and no requirement that a tenant’s circumstances be considered before their welfare payment is deducted.
  • unreasonably limits tenants’ financial flexibility, discourages financial independence and may increase tenants’ financial hardship.
  • relies on a social housing provider’s assessment of how much a tenant owes when, in practice, RLC frequently encounters cases where social housing providers claim amounts that are unfair, incorrect or are not lawfully able to be claimed from tenants.

In February 2018, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights concluded that elements of the Bill may be incompatible to the right to social security, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to protection of the family and the rights of children. The Committee also raised concerns about the Bill’s impact on the right to equality and non-discrimination, given that it will disproportionately impact women, people with a disability and aboriginal people.

Download RLC's submission (No. 27) from the Parliamentary Inquiry webpage