6 May 2024

Accusations Housing ACT inappropriately using emergency line to request property repairs

| Claire Fenwicke
Join the conversation
SES vehicle sign

ACT SES volunteers can only provide ‘make safe repairs’ to properties. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

Housing ACT has been accused of using the State Emergency Services’ hotline to request volunteers carry out property repairs.

A senior member of ACTSES told Region it was common for Canberrans to call the 132 500 line for issues with their homes that weren’t an emergency, no matter what kind of accommodation they lived in.

This can include calling up for repairs outside of emergency weather periods, issues that don’t impose an immediate risk, and issues that would otherwise be carried out by professionals.

They described Housing ACT as one of the “worst” culprits.

When Region approached the ACT Emergency Services Agency (ESA), a spokesperson explained that volunteers carry out “temporary emergency repairs” to protect homes or businesses and prevent further damage.

“The ACTSES respond to jobs based on a priority basis, not who called first; therefore, crews will respond to the most urgent jobs first,” they said.

This may occur if a tree has fallen on or blocked access to a property or driveway (or is at risk of doing so), if a property is flooded or in danger of flooding, or if a roof is damaged or leaking due to a storm.

The ESA would not confirm if the allegations against Housing ACT were true.

READ ALSO $13.7 million Kingston proposal should not be built on community land, says residents group

Region sent questions to both the Community Services Directorate (which oversees Housing ACT) and Housing Minister Yvette Berry.

An ACT Government spokesperson said in the event of a weather emergency, Housing ACT’s on-call team worked with ACT Emergency Services to “mitigate risk and prioritise the immediate safety of tenants”.

“Housing ACT appreciates that during severe weather events, there is extensive communications encouraging the community to contact the SES for support,” they said.

“However, it is Housing ACT’s policy that tenants directly contact Housing ACT’s maintenance provider Programmed for assistance with maintenance work.”

More than 53,700 scheduled maintenance works were carried out on Canberra’s public housing properties in the 2023/24 financial year to March 2024, including 23,942 urgent repairs across a portfolio of approximately 11,600 social housing dwellings.

The last ACT Budget included $177 million for Housing ACT to grow, renew and maintain public housing over four years.

$60 million was spent on repairs and maintenance during 2022/23 and $80 million in 2021/22.

Housing ACT maintenance is managed under a Total Facilities Management (TFM) services agreement with Programmed Facility Management.

The company manages, allocates and performs urgent, priority and routine maintenance, and manages a subcontractor workforce of more than 80 businesses within the ACT to get the jobs done.

The government spokesperson said, “Leaking roofs and the removal of overgrown branches are types of maintenance that Housing ACT regularly conducts through our maintenance policy.

“Maintenance affecting the health, safety or essential security of a tenant is considered urgent and is always completed first.”

Urgent ‘make safe repairs’ are expected to be attended to within four hours, priority ‘next day’ jobs are to be seen by 6 pm the following day, priority works are to be completed within five days, and routine repairs are to be completed within 20 days.

READ ALSO Literacy and numeracy findings a ‘game changer’ for ACT public schools

The accusations have left the government’s opponents unimpressed.

Shadow Housing Minister Mark Parton said he had also received unconfirmed reports that emergency volunteers were carrying out property repairs on ACT public housing premises. He said if this has been happening, it “doesn’t really surprise me”.

“It is remarkable that the Community Services Directorate is so far behind on its maintenance schedule that it’s expecting volunteers to get the work done,” he said.

“If it’s true that tenants have been given the SES number to call for these jobs, then that is absolutely unforgivable.

“My only defence of the Minister [Yvette Berry] is that she’s so disconnected from what’s happening on a day-to-day basis in this portfolio that she’s probably not even aware of it.”

ACT Greens deputy leader and Housing spokesperson Rebecca Vassarotti said she hadn’t personally heard any reports of Housing ACT misuse of the SES line, but that if it were true, it would be “deeply concerning”.

“It is most definitely not appropriate for failures in housing maintenance to result in calls to volunteer-run emergency services for backup,” she said.

“The ACT Greens have raised significant concerns about the impact of contracted maintenance repairs on the quality of experience for tenants and ongoing building quality of public homes in Canberra.

“For public housing tenants, it’s been clear for a while that outsourced public housing maintenance has failed. Even if repairs happen quickly, they often don’t fix the problem outright.”

She called on all levels of government to “reverse the rot” caused by privatisation and outsourcing work, and for them to take care of issues such as keeping their own public housing stock up to scratch.

If you are a Housing ACT tenant and need maintenance on your property, Programmed can be contacted directly through 6207 1500, texting 0438 100 500 or emailing 62071500@act.gov.au.

More information on lodging maintenance requests can be found on the Community Services Directorate’s website.

Tenants who aren’t satisfied with the maintenance on their homes can send a copy of their complaint to Housing ACT’s Complaints Management Unit at Housing.Complaints@act.gov.au, along with any records they have kept of the maintenance issue and any communication with Programmed.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments
CorporateMed3:32 pm 10 May 24

ACT Gov needs to review their contract management. They are scared of including penalties or incentives for contractors to perform. That means you end up with contractors who don’t really care about delivering results until their contract is due to expire. ACT Gov needs to develop more mature contract management processes and staff who can manage contracts with attractive KPIs to help discourage this type of mediocrity.

I understand it’s the responsibility of Housing ACT and its contractors to address damage to properties as a result of storms but I understand why this may be the only option available in the event of an emergency as there’s a chronic shortage of roofers in the region currently.

Ray Polglaze5:47 pm 08 May 24

One of the sources of damage to Housing ACT properties is that the ACT government and ACT community are using public housing as a cheap alternative to providing supported accommodation to people who need long term support like people with long term severe mental health problems. Instead of having long term mental health hospitals, public housing in the ACT is being used as a convenient bin for these people.

So people with apparent severe mental health problems are moved in to public housing properties and then provided with no or negligible support. This leads to predictable damage to the properties.

There is also a lot of damage done to properties by people who are not tenants squatting in properties and trashing them or just doing vandalism as they move through housing complexes. Housing ACT takes negligible action to protect the properties or their tenants. There are no security cameras, no or negligible presence by security guards or other staff, and no action against non-tenants who do damage to Housing ACT properties even when they are identified by tenants.

Incidental Tourist8:53 am 08 May 24

Statistic tells that there were over 2 emergency repairs per public housing property per year at average. Also at average they spend $5,500 – $7,500 per property per year for maintenance including brand new properties. These figures are alarming. This is mismanagement of properties, contractors and tenancies. It looks like either appliances or hot water or windows are broken or water bursts every six months in each and every public house including those recently built. Throwing more money to it is encouraging mismanagement. How much more do Greens want to waste over and above $7,500 per property for maintenance if they don’t look at what causes such high rate of incidents within their tenancies? If an appliance breaks every season, perhaps the issue is not technical but rather with a tenancy?

If this is true it goes against labour laws. The volunteers should be paid for the work, as this should have been paid work.

Yvette Berry, should be stood down

This is absolutely true. My mother lives in a housing property, and her roof had multiple leaks. She would ring the housing hotline, and they would tell her they’d get onto it. when a storm would occur and it poured water through the roof. they would tell her to call SES. When the lovely people from the SES came out and she learned they were volunteers doing it for free, they told her it’s because the contractor programmed refuses to come out when it is wet and they went to a lot of housing homes during storms.

SES came to her house multiple times over a year, because programmed and housing were hopeless and never fixed the real issue with the bad roof. She keeps the house and garden very neat and tidy, and the SES even complimented her on the lovely garden, but she can’t climb a ladder to fix a roof.

Housing ACT are allowing at least 6 properties to be used as sub let arrangements by the tenant holder. Three of these are occupied by horrid groups who deal in intimidation and questionable practices at these properties. Both housing and the Minister being Vassarotti know of this and do nothing.

William Newby8:22 pm 06 May 24

Housing ACT need to grow a spine and start demanding tenants actually look after the houses they are extremely lucky to be gifted; cars parts, junk, unkept gardens, rotting garbage (inside and outside of the house).
Having worked on property maintenance for some of these homes in the past I can say first hand they are not looked after by the tenants and they are often disgusting inside. Not Housing ACT’s problem but it ultimate is as they do not enforce basic standards on tenants. I pity many of those who live next door to these homes.

You are so wrong to refer to all tenants not looking after their Housing property, the majority do and many spend their own money trying to improve the property. I can list work not carried out by Housing even when it is detrimental to ones health. You have no idea what some tenants have to live in through no fault of their own.

The word gifted is an appalling term and is labelling tenants. Tenants pay the full market rent with a subsidy. Subsidies are provided to many persons in Canberra for various reasons.

kant komplain7:14 am 08 May 24

Thankyou for your response to this hideous comment ,to brand everyone who use social housing is so arrogant and so out of touch .

This is not true at all. My mother takes very good care of her house and has the best looking garden out of the whole street, just because it is a housing property doesnt mean she doesnt care. It would be great if we could afford to her own house, but she can’t. It’s not her or other tenants who are causing roof leaks, its storms and poor maintenance that is causing them, not someone damaging the house by breaking the tiles on the roof, which housing expects SES comes and fixes it for free over and over. I pity whoever lives next to you and your old man judgement.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.