1 August 2023

Ombudsman slams Housing ACT for botched forced moves program

| Ian Bushnell
Join the conversation
Commonwealth Ombudsman Iain Anderson

ACT Ombudsman Iain Anderson found Housing ACT underestimated the impact on tenants and that its communication with them was impersonal and caused significant distress. Photo: IPAA.

The ACT Ombudsman has found Housing ACT caused distress to vulnerable tenants in its plan to relocate them from their long-term homes to new premises as part of the public housing renewal program.

The Ombudsman investigated the circumstances of the relocation program, designed to allow the sale or redevelopment of properties to finance and build new homes, after first looking at complaints from six tenants.

READ ALSO Push for Commonwealth to assume control of light rail from Parliamentary Triangle to Queanbeyan

The investigation found that Housing ACT underestimated the impact on tenants and that its communication with them was impersonal and caused significant distress.

“While clearly well-intentioned and based on legitimate public policy goals, Housing ACT did not plan adequately for implementation of the program,” the report said.

The Ombudsman found that the agency did not have a clear exemptions policy and failed to inform tenants of how they could apply for one, placing undue pressure on vulnerable people.

In fact, what information there was did not make it clear to tenants that an exemption was possible.

“This is concerning given the considerable impact of mandatory relocation on tenants,” the report said.

“A fully functioning and transparent exemption process should have been in place from the commencement of the mandatory relocation phase. We were not satisfied that Housing ACT gave this sufficient consideration.”

The report found that Housing ACT should use the information it already has about tenants and their circumstances to proactively consider properties for exemption before telling them that they are required to relocate.

It said Housing ACT had made changes to its exemptions policy but the Ombudsman did not believe these had gone far enough to fix the problem.

“We do not think the publicly available information on the availability of an exemption and the process to seek such an exemption is sufficiently accessible and transparent,” the report said.

The Ombudsman found that Housing ACT’s communication strategy was more concerned about bad headlines than providing all the information to tenants.

Strategies were designed to “decrease escalation to media and ministerial channels” and focused on “quality tenant-focused communications to reduce negative media coverage”, the report said.

Contact with tenants was sporadic, website material was difficult to access, contact numbers were absent and the pitch selling the benefits of moving to a new home overlooked any attachment to their existing home or location, or their individual circumstances.

Housing ACT did not initially communicate clearly with tenants about what the program was intended to achieve and did not initially acknowledge and engage with tenants’ unique circumstances and work with them to consider the impacts on vulnerable people.

It recommended better training for the Tenant Relocation Officers.

The Ombudsman made nine recommendations, which he said could be considered by any ACT Government agency considering current or future programs involving vulnerable residents.

In particular, agencies should take a people-centred approach to communication and engagement, which takes account of vulnerabilities from the outset; publish clear and up-to-date information that is easily located and accessible; and conduct appropriate program and risk planning, including building review and evaluation into program delivery.

“It is essential that Housing ACT balance the legitimate public policy goals of the program with the needs of public housing tenants, especially the most vulnerable: it is one thing to speak of a people-centred approach and another thing to deliver it,” the report said.

READ ALSO APS negotiations have hit a low point

Housing ACT accepted eight of the nine recommendations and one in principle.

The Ombudsman said it would continue to monitor the delivery of the Growing and Renewing Public Housing Program and the implementation of its recommendations.

Acting Director-General of ACT Community Services Jo Wood advised ACT Ombudsman Iain Anderson that the required relocation process was the subject of legal proceedings in the Supreme Court, which may result in further changes to the program.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments
Incidental Tourist10:18 am 04 Aug 23

Private sector would have provided rentals far more efficiently and cheaply if government policies and the tax burden had been right. If ACT government adopts the same land tax as in NSW, then all private sector tenants will save thousands on rent. It would be cheaper to provide rent assistance to hundred people in the private sector than building one public house for one lucky tenant. It may be even cheaper to provide rent assistance to half a dozen of private sector tenants rather than maintain and manage one public house. It does not cost government much to relax tenancy law so that landlords are not scared to death to provide rentals to vulnerable tenants. If there is a turn of government next year tenants, the industry sector and investors all win.

Why don’t they first build new housing with an increased number of dwellings, move the current tennants over and then sell off? That way there is always an increase in the number of dwellings and vulnerable people don’t get put on the streets

People in Govey houses generally think that there are owed a house for life and feel entitled

Free houses are the best type of houses

The problem here is a large part of the distress caused to tenants is because they have been allowed to stay in specific public housing dwellings with almost permanent tenure leading them to have a sense of ownership over what is a publically provided welfare service.

Public housing should not be thought of as a forever thing.

Chewy you keep defending ACT Housing year after year and when these particular concerns were first raised you said they were complete bull, from people trying to pull at heartstrings to get what they want. Did the independent Ombudsman make this stuff up or were the original reports correct?, Or are ACT Housing and the Minister incapable of getting even the simple things right?

Public housing in Canberra does contain people who don’t look after the properties, people who lie, steal cheat, etc. (and ACT Housing staff are way too scared of these people to do anything about them, so it’s much easier to ignore them) but there’s plenty of good public housing tenants too, who have to deal with an incompetent system who can’t properly manage ACT’s dwindling public housing stocks and can’t replace the stocks they keep selling off to high rise property developers.

What are you on about?

The people were clearly using this as an attempt to pull at heartstrings to get what they want

The Ombudsman hasn’t found anything different and whilst some of the “distress” is no doubt real, it comes from a completely wrong expectation that these people should be able to stay in public housing forever.

The problem isn’t about treating these people nastily, it’s about not curtailing those wrong-headed expectations around tenure.

The government should own almost no public housing because they are too easily manipulated by bad publicity like this.

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.