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Monday, 17 June 2013
Page: 5855


Mr BUTLER (Port AdelaideMinister for Mental Health and Ageing, Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Minister for Social Inclusion and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Mental Health Reform) (18:15): This bill will implement the Housing Payment Deduction Scheme, to help reduce homelessness for public housing tenants who are in serious rental arrears that could lead to eviction or housing abandonment.

This scheme, to be implemented next year, is designed to work alongside government-funded financial counselling and other available support services to ensure that public housing tenants continue to be housed safely and affordably while they get the help they need to sustain their tenancy. For people who have problem levels of public housing arrears, the new scheme will allow rent and utilities legally required to be paid under their public housing leases to be compulsorily deducted from their welfare payments and paid directly to their public housing landlords.

The Housing Payment Deduction Scheme made possible by this bill will help prevent high levels of arrears from being accumulated. It will reduce evictions and property abandonments from public housing. This carefully considered initiative flows from commitments made by the Australian government and state and territory governments in the National Affordable Housing Agreement and the Australian government's white paper on homelessness: The road home.

The bill has also benefited from valuable comments made on it during a recent exposure draft process, and I take this opportunity to thank the many government agencies, community organisations, welfare and tenants organisations and legal centres that contributed their expertise in this important area. Housing costs, which now can be deducted, will be limited to rent, rent arrears and household utilities where included under the lease. Maintenance debt incurred as a result of property damage will not be included in response to stakeholder concerns that these debts can be contentious and may cause hardship, particularly for victims of domestic violence.

Requests for compulsory deductions will only be able to be made after reasonable action has been taken by state and territory lessors to recover rental arrears. This will require as a minimum that the tenant has been given appropriate notice and advice on their rights of review and available support services. Deductions under the scheme will only be made from payments, as set out in the legislative instrument, that include a rate component for recipients' housing costs. Lump sum and special purpose payments, such as the clean energy and pension supplements will not be available for deductions to ensure that tenants receive the full benefit of these Australian government payments.

This bill takes a significant step towards addressing the problem of evictions and homelessness among Australia's public housing tenants by providing a means by which rent can be paid and by preventing high-level arrears that put tenancies at risk.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Administrator recommending appropriation announced.