I will be speaking on the Investigation into Complaint Handling in the Victorian Social Housing Sector. I rise to speak on the investigation into complaint handling. Housing is a human right. In Victoria social housing plays a critical role in ensuring that the most vulnerable have a roof over their head. Unfortunately it often falls short. Social housing is more than just providing shelter; it is essential to the dignity and wellbeing of a person. In Victoria’s housing market more and more people are unable to afford private rents. This means a greater demand for social housing to shield people from homelessness.
This report was needed because repeatedly renters in public housing have reported a broken complaints system. They have been given the run-around, reporting constant delays and sometimes even an unwillingness to do anything. There are many stories in this report that speak to challenges for tenants in public housing, but one stood out to me as particularly distressing. Hannah lives in public housing and had raised multiple urgent maintenance issues. There was no electricity in her laundry or her kitchen. As a result, Hannah was forced to cook in the living room with an electric frying pan. Child protection became involved as her kids were not attending school, partly because Hannah could not wash their clothes. Despite Hannah filing complaints, nothing was done until her daughter was electrocuted. This is appalling.
Unfortunately when it comes to the flaws in the social housing system those most vulnerable in our community are the most affected and, as the Ombudsman pointed out, the least likely to complain. Complaints regarding public and community housing have increased consistently over the past five years. Even so, renters are reluctant to complain, fearing they might lose their homes or face other consequences. Others are unaware of their right to dispute decisions.
This report outlines just how complex, confusing, under-resourced, ineffective and inconsistent these complaint mechanisms are. It is damning. Demand for social housing is high. We have tens of thousands of people on waitlists and homes cannot be built quickly enough, but the Ombudsman has made some recommendations that will alleviate the daily stress on social housing tenants today. This report proposes a two-tiered system for all social housing complaints based on the principle of local resolution and central escalation. Tier 1 is where the frontline housing staff continue to manage complaints but with more resources, support and training. Tier 2 would be a single external escalation point from the unresolved housing grievances. This would go to a new social housing ombudsman.
I absolutely support the recommendation for a social housing ombudsman. This would not just create a clear avenue for housing complaints, but also significantly reduce VCAT’s tenancy load. It is my understanding that the proposed social housing ombudsman could be established quickly and efficiently within the Victorian Ombudsman’s office, which is already the ombudsman for public housing. Change cannot come quickly enough for these social housing tenants. These improvements are long overdue, and I urge the government to adopt the Ombudsman’s recommendations. Social tenants deserve to be safe in their own homes.