Selasa, 02 April 2013

Public housing rent payments: one size does not fit all

Australian Housing Ministers met last week to discuss housing policy: you can read their communique here. One of the smaller items on the agenda caught our eye: the 'Housing Payment Deduction Scheme', under which rent payments will be deducted directly from public housing tenants' income, before the money even hits their bank accounts.

A scheme like this, applied on a compulsory basis to all public housing tenants, is not a good idea.

It might sound like a good idea to the Housing Ministers, because it promises to reduce arrears. And lots of public housing tenants think it's a good idea too – so good, in fact, that they already do it, voluntarily, through Housing NSW's Rent Deduction Scheme.

But there are people for whom this sort of scheme doesn't fit. For example, we've an acquaintance who lives in public housing who has a few health problems. When he gets paid, he doesn't use the money to pay his rent straight away: he uses it to pay one of his doctors. Then he goes to Medicare, gets paid by them, pays another doctor, goes back to Medicare and gets paid by them again. Then he pays his rent.

This orderly process of payment and repayment would get stuffed right up if a Housing Payment Deduction Scheme got in and took the money first.

There's bound to be other examples where individual circumstances make the compulsory deductions a bad fit. Maybe the operational policy for the scheme could be so devised to anticipate them all, and provide for housing officers to make adjustments in those circumstances... maybe.

Or it might be more efficient and effective to let each person judge for themselves whether the scheme fits their circumstances and whether it suits them to use it. Lots of public housing tenants have already judged yes, it suits them – that's great. And that's probably as far as it should go.