Rent hikes hit vulnerable hardest
SOCIAL housing tenants living with disabilities or mental health issues could be hardest hit by a Department of Housing decision to increase weekly rents, according to advocacy agencies.
The department told tenants last month that as of March 28, rent payments would increase to 25 per cent of their total income, including pensions, allowances and benefits.
The increase would be capped at $12 a week until the start of the next financial year.
A coalition of advocacy organisations – People with Disabilities WA, Council on the Ageing WA, Carers WA and Consumers of Mental Health WA – released a statement last week calling on the Housing Department to reverse the decision.
People with Disabilities WA chief executive Samantha Jenkinson said a report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed as many as 67 per cent of people living in social housing said they had some form of disability and that the decision to include special-purpose payments as income would put these tenants at a big disadvantage.
“We thought there was a fairness to the (current) policy which allowed special-purpose payments and part of Family Tax Benefits to not be assessed as income in recognition that they address specific disadvantage certain people and families have,” she said.
“For many people with disability, they might receive allowances such as pharmaceutical and mobility allowance, pensioners supplement, and a family would get some payment from Family Tax Benefit.
“These might provide an additional $80 per week that would normally be spent on medication, taxis, increased energy bills, extra medical or household supplies related to disability, any co-payment of treatment costs etc.
“The new assessment will lead to further rent increases once the grace period (capped increase) ends next financial year and that $80 per week will then be $60 per week to cover the extra costs as $20 will now be included with rent.”
Ms Jenkinson said they were concerned people would forgo essentials to pay for treatment and medication, or put themselves at risk by turning off airconditioners to save on their power bills.
Department of Housing acting service delivery general manager Peter Lonsdale said the new system would ensure all public housing tenants would have their rent calculated in the same way.