WHAT TYPE OF CASES COME TO THE HOUSING APPEALS COMMITTEE?
These are examples indicating the range of issues dealt with by the Committee. Personal details have been changed to protect the identity of appellants.
- Priority Housing / Transfer Issue
- Transfer to Tweed Heads
- Offers of Housing: Location
- Offers of Housing: Suitability
- Priority Housing Issue
Priority Housing/ Transfer Issue
Mr S is in his 50s and has an intellectual disability. He moved into Department of Housing accommodation five years previously after coming out of institutional care. He left this housing two years later as he was suffering violence from his flat-mate. Although he had been approved for transfer by the Department, he was not able to wait for Department accommodation to be allocated. He is sharing housing in the private market with another person with a similar disability and is supported by a support organisation with day to day needs. He has an ongoing low skill job and is managing well but is anxious about the future and had been forced to relocate twice due to the sale of his previous flats. He and his flatmate have had a good rental record and want to stay together for mutual support. He therefore sought housing from the Department who assessed him as an applicant and advised him to apply for priority housing. The Department of Housing then rejected the application on the basis that he was working and his financial position meant he could continue to rent in private rental housing.
The Committee found that this client`s situation had wrongly been assessed as a priority housing matter when in fact he should still have been listed for transfer but due to a misunderstanding he had been deleted from that list. He had left his public housing due to violence from his flatmate while approved for transfer. This meant, under current policy, that he was considered to still have tenancy rights with the Department. As such the priority housing criteria on income did not apply and he could be placed on the transfer list again with his original priority date. The Committee recommended this action to the Department. They agreed with this finding and immediately placed the client back on the transfer waiting list, to be housed with his flatmate.
Transfer to Tweed Heads
Mr and Mrs T (in their late 60`s), applied to transfer to Tweed Heads, for two reasons, after living for 15 years in Department accommodation in a southern coastal town. They wanted to be closer to two adult daughters living on the Gold Coast (Queensland), and to improve access to the medical services they needed for their heart conditions. Because they wanted to remain in the security of Department housing and because they could not transfer to Queensland (no interstate transfer arrangements exist) they sought housing to the closest town which is Tweed Heads. The Department rejected their application on the basis that they had reasonable public transport access to medical services at present and they did not have sufficient reasons to be housed in Tweed Heads only.
While sympathetic to the need to be closer to their medical services and the southern Queensland area the Committee found that transfer could not be justified to the Tweed Heads area only. The Committee did consider there was some justification in relocating them closer to medical services but found that alternatives existed in other areas than Tweed Heads (such as Newcastle or Lismore). As Tweed Heads has such a limited supply of Department housing and very long wait times the solution would not be to put them on this waiting list only. The clients said they did not want to transfer to any other town than Tweed Heads, so the Committee agreed with the decision of the Department.
Offers of Housing: Location
Ms K appealed to the Committee because she had been removed from the Department of Housing waiting list because she had refused two offers of Department housing which the Department of Housing deemed to be `reasonable offers` under its policy guidelines. Ms K felt strongly that she should only be listed for particular suburbs within one of the Department`s zone and stated that she was prepared to wait longer for housing in those suburbs rather than be offered housing in suburbs further away. She had been offered housing in a suburb approximately 4 kms from her preferred area. She stated she did not want housing in this area as it was away from the social and support network she had near the beach, and from work opportunities providing teaching of English as a second language as a private teacher. Before the second offer was made Ms K was interviewed by the Department and advised that her reasons for wishing to live only in certain areas were not considered essential factors in the Department`s locational need policy, and that the next offer would be her last and would be in any area within the zone. The second offer was in a similar location to the first but slightly closer to her preferred zone. She rejected this offer and was removed from the Department of Housing waiting list.
The Committee found, after detailed discussion with Ms K and viewing medical evidence provided, that she did not have specific medical or support needs to be in a particular area of the zone. While her preference for the area she had lived in for some time was understandable she did not have mobility restrictions in using public transport and most of her reasons for not wishing to relocate were social. On this basis the Committee agreed with the decision of the Department and rejected the appeal. It advised Ms K that she was likely to have an extremely long wait if she applied again for Department housing in the preferred zone and would not be listed for particular suburbs if she applied again. She was advised to seek alternative options through community housing or in private rental housing.
Offers of Housing: Suitability
Ms P, in her 70`s, applied for transfer on medical grounds, to be closer to support services, and because she could not manage stairs in her current Department property due to worsening osteoarthritis. She was approved for transfer and listed for ground floor housing in the zone in which her supports were provided. She was removed from the transfer waiting list on the grounds that she had been made three reasonable offers of Housing and had rejected these offers without sufficient grounds.
The Committee examined the offers made to Ms P to establish whether they were reasonable offers under the current Department housing policy. The Committee found that the first offer was a suitable offer as it was ground floor housing and in an area with reasonable proximity to the support network. The Committee found however that the second offer had in fact been cancelled as Ms P. was away at the time, and did not receive the offer from the Department. This had not been properly noted on file. The third offer made was not considered suitable by the Committee, as it was a considerable distance from her supports, and from public transport links to them. While it was a ground floor property, it did not resolve her need to be closer to her supports due to the limited transport. The Committee therefore found that Ms P had in fact only been made one "reasonable" offer of housing, and therefore should be made an additional offer. The Department agreed with this recommendation.
Priority Housing Issue
Mr and Mrs D. applied for priority housing on the basis that they could not cope in private rental market due to their medical and psychological conditions, the higher rents, and their need to be close to support networks within their own Bosnian community. Mr and Mrs D. are refugees from the war in former Yugoslavia, and had lived in Australia for four years. They have no family support in Australia. They lost their daughter during the war, and Mrs D. in particular suffered acute post traumatic stress symptoms and a range of medical problems. Her husband was her full time carer. They identified major problems with relocating within a private rental market as they did not speak English, had acute affordability problems, and Mrs D. was extremely distressed by the process of relocation and responded very badly even to the sight of a suitcase or packed box due to her refugee experience and the constant moving during and after the war. The Department had rejected their application for priority housing on the basis that the current housing was reasonably suitable and affordable or that they could afford alternative housing. By the time the Committee met with Mr and Mrs D. they had been issued a notice of termination and were constantly harassed by the owner of the property to leave the dwelling as he wanted to live in it himself.
The Committee found that Mr and Mrs D. were in a very fragile emotional and psychological condition, affecting their physical health as well, and that their conditions had worsened with the termination of their tenancy. The question for the Committee to decide was whether they could relocate to private rental housing which was affordable and suitable to their medical and psychological conditions. On the basis of evidence provided by their psychiatrist, the Bosnian support worker and the interview with the clients, the Committee concluded that this couple were in a very poor position to relocate to further private rental housing, both because they did not have the resources to locate such housing, and because Mrs D. was not able to psychologically deal with any further relocations and the ongoing lack of housing stability. While the Committee agreed that they could just meet affordability criteria it considered the issues of acute mental health (supported strongly by psychiatrist reports) made private rental housing less suitable for them. On this basis the Committee recommended a change of decision by the Department, and discussed the particular needs of the clients with senior Department staff. The Department willingly approved Mr and Mrs D. for priority housing on the basis of the changed situation and the issues raised by the Committee.