Eligibility for Social Housing Policy
Last published 18 Dec 2023
Social housing provides secure, affordable housing for people with a housing need on low incomes. Social housing encompasses properties owned or managed by the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ), community housing providers and the Aboriginal Housing Office. For more information on social housing, see the Housing Assistance Options policy.
Social housing and Housing Pathways
Applying for social housing
The social housing sector provides most forms of social housing assistance in NSW under Housing Pathways. Clients can apply for housing assistance online, by phone on 1800 422 322 or by accessing their local DCJ office or community housing provider. For information on what assistance clients can access through Housing Pathways, see the Housing Assistance Options policy.
In order to submit your application, you will need to provide evidence to demonstrate that you and your household meet the general eligibility criteria for housing assistance. To assess your eligibility for housing assistance, you must provide evidence for yourself and each person on your application aged 18 years and over. If you and your partner are under 18 years of age you must also provide this evidence. You must provide evidence of:
- identity, and
- all sources of income and assets, and
- New South Wales (NSW) residency or an established need to live in NSW, and
- citizenship or permanent residency of Australia, and
- any land or property you or anyone on your application own, or part own, and
- your ability to sustain a successful tenancy, without support or with appropriate support in place if applicable, and
- repayments of any former debts to a social housing provider if applicable, and
- an ongoing medical condition or disability that impacts on the type of housing you or a member of your household need and evidence to support what is required.
Information about the type of evidence we need to assess your application is in the Evidence Requirements Information Sheet.
If you do not provide the minimum requirements listed above, the application will not be accepted and assessed. Waiting time on the NSW Housing Register will not commence until a complete application and supporting evidence is submitted.
When applying for social housing, clients may choose to receive offers of social housing for properties managed by any social housing provider, DCJ only, or a community housing provider only. However, in some locations there may only be one social housing provider. In this situation, a client may not be able to choose their preferred social housing provider.
Clients may change their preference of social housing providers at any time before they receive an offer of housing.
The NSW Housing Register
When a client is eligible for social housing or transfer, the social housing provider will place them on the NSW Housing Register. DCJ and participating community housing providers will then use this register to offer housing when a suitable property in the social housing sector is available.
The intent of this policy is to outline the eligibility criteria for social housing in NSW. The Social Housing Eligibility and Allocations policy supplement provides further information to support this document.
3. Policy statement
To ensure that social housing assists clients who are most in need, the eligibility criteria for social housing concentrates on assisting:
- clients on low income that need support to help them live independently, and
- clients on low income that have problems finding affordable housing in the private market that is suited to their needs.
Participating social housing providers will assess eligibility and priority assistance for clients seeking social housing. All participating providers will accept the outcome of this assessment. When an assessment is complete, the provider will notify the client in writing of the outcome of the assessment.
If a client has any changes in their household circumstances, they must advise a social housing provider within 28 days of the change occurring. This includes any changes to contact details, the people the client may wish to include in their household or any changes to the income of any member of their household.
Clients are able to advise DCJ (Housing) of any changes to their contact details online via MyHousing, by completing a change of circumstances form or by attending their local DCJ office or a community housing provider participating under Housing Pathways.
When the client advises a social housing provider about a change in household circumstances, that provider will consider whether the changed circumstance could affect the client’s eligibility and, if so, re-assess the application and determine whether the urgency or complexity of their circumstances has changed. For more information, including information about an applicant’s obligation to provide up to date contact details, see the Managing the NSW Housing Register policy.
Eligibility for social housing
To be eligible for social housing, clients must:
- establish their identity, and
- be resident in New South Wales (NSW), and
- be a citizen or have permanent residency in Australia, and
- have a household income within the income eligibility limits, and
- not own any assets or property which could reasonably be expected to resolve their housing need, and
- be able to sustain a successful tenancy, without support or with appropriate support in place, and
- if applicable, make repayments of any former debts to a social housing provider, and
- in general, be at least 18 years of age.
Notwithstanding anything in this policy, a client may be ineligible to be placed on the NSW Housing Register if:
- he or she has a history of having committed registrable offences, and it is likely that the presence of that client in social housing will:
- cause antisocial behaviour, or
- present an unacceptable risk of harm to the client, to other social housing occupants or to neighbours.
DCJ or the community housing provider will be guided by information provided by the NSW Police Force or Corrective Services NSW as to the likelihood of the above occurring.
However, DCJ or the community housing provider will use their discretion as to providing other housing assistance, such as temporary accommodation or private rental assistance, to the client.
Clients applying for social housing must provide two forms of acceptable identification for each person on their application who is aged 18 years and over. If the client or their partner are under 18 years of age they must also provide two forms of acceptable proof of identification. The two forms of identification must be from a different source. For more information see item 1 on the Evidence Requirements Information Sheet.
The exception to this is Temporary Accommodation assistance. The initial instance of assistance may be provided to clients who have one form of identification only. A second form of identification must be provided before the client can receive further assistance.
Residence in New South Wales (NSW)
Clients applying for social housing must live or work in NSW. However, social housing providers may waive the NSW residency rule in certain circumstances. For more information, go to Compelling reasons to waive the NSW residency rule.
Clients are required to provide proof of their NSW residency or demonstrate why they need to live in NSW. For more information see item 2 on the Evidence Requirements Information Sheet.
Citizenship or permanent residency
Clients applying for social housing must be an Australian citizen or permanent resident. For the purposes of this policy New Zealand citizens granted a Special Category Visa who are classified as Protected and not under a sponsorship arrangement are considered permanent residents. Clients who are eligible to apply for social housing include those who:
- arrived on their parents’ passport, or
- came to Australia on the Assisted Migrants Passage (1945-1973),
- have been granted Onshore Permanent Protection Visas, or
- are a Protected New Zealand Special Category Visa holder (providing they are not under a sponsorship arrangement).
Clients are required to provide proof of citizenship or permanent residency. For more information, go to Proof of citizenship or permanent residency.
Generally, other household members must be permanent residents, but there are some exceptions. For more information, go to Exceptions to the permanent residency rule.
Clients who are New Zealand Special Category Visa holders are required to provide proof of their Protected status. For more information, go to New Zealand Special Category Visa holders.
To determine whether a household meets the income eligibility for social housing, providers will:
- Assess income eligibility according to the applicant’s household size, type and gross assessable household income. For more information, go to Household income.
- Apply a number of income eligibility limits and assessment rules. For more information, go to Income eligibility limits and Income eligibility assessment rules.
Clients applying for social housing must provide proof of income. For more information go to Proof of income and assets.
There are no minimum income criteria. Permanent residents with no income are able to apply. Where a client declines to apply for a Centrelink income, the social housing provider will assess the client as receiving a basic Centrelink income support payment, for example, JobSeeker Payment.
Clients or household members who have expenses due to a disability, medical condition or permanent injury may be entitled to a disability allowance or exceptional disability allowance. These allowances have the effect of raising the income limit in recognition of additional expenses incurred with a disability, medical condition or permanent injury. For more information, go to Disability allowance.
Exception to the income eligibility rule
An exception to the income eligibility rule occurs when a client who requires a live-in carer meets all the eligibility criteria for social housing, but the inclusion of the income of the carer results in the application exceeding the income eligibility limit for social housing. In this situation, the social housing provider will assess the client as a single applicant. If the provider approves their application, the client will be entitled to an extra bedroom for the live in carer.
If the carer is receiving a Carer’s Pension or Carer’s Allowance, no further proof of being a carer is required. For more information see item 21 on the Evidence Requirements Information Sheet.
If the client accepts an offer of public housing, the carer cannot sign the tenancy agreement and will have no tenancy rights. This means that the carer will be required to leave the property if the client stops living in the property for any reason. The carer’s income will be included in the assessment of the household’s gross income for rent subsidy purposes.
Indexing income eligibility limits
On behalf of the social housing sector, DCJ reviews and indexes all household income eligibility limits, including disability allowances, to keep pace with the cost of living.
Assessable incomes are incomes that social housing providers include when calculating income eligibility for social housing. Incomes that providers usually consider as assessable include payments received for general living expenses, for example:
- Most pensions, benefits and allowances paid by Centrelink and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. (These income types are also known as statutory income).
- Wages, salaries and some work allowances such as overtime, bonuses, shift allowances and penalty rates. (These income types are also known as non-statutory income).
- Other income such as regular superannuation, compensation, interest from savings and maintenance. (These income types are also known as non-statutory income).
Where an adult person in a household receives an income for a child (for example, Family Tax Benefits or child support payments), this is considered assessable income for the adult person, not the child.
For more information, go to Assessable income and assets.
Non-assessable incomes are incomes that social housing providers do not include when calculating income eligibility for social housing. Incomes that providers usually consider as non-assessable include payments received for a specific purpose, such as allowances received to assist with a particular life circumstance or disability.
Income for self-employed clients
Social housing providers calculate the income for self-employed clients by looking at their gross income less legitimate business expenses. Providers class legitimate business expenses as any expense essential for producing an income. Some items may be allowable as tax deductions, but providers may not consider them legitimate business expenses. For more information on legitimate business expenses, go to Legitimate business expenses.
If, when the income is calculated, it results in the income being below the standard rate of JobSeeker Payment, then the provider will assess the applicant’s income at the JobSeeker Payment rate.
Clients who own or part own property
If the client or their partner owns or has a share in property (including land) that could provide a viable alternative to social housing, they are not eligible for social housing if they are able to:
- live in the property, or
- sell their equity in the property.
Clients are required to provide proof of property ownership. For more information see item 7 on the Evidence Requirements Information Sheet.
Social housing providers may waive the property ownership rule in certain cases. For more information, go to Waiving the property ownership rule.
Owners of relocatable mobile homes, which are located on a leased site, are able to apply for social housing. They must meet all eligibility criteria. The social housing provider will consider the value of the relocatable home as a liquid asset, for example, savings.
Ability to sustain a successful tenancy
To be eligible for social housing, the client must be able to sustain a successful tenancy. This means that they must be able to meet the obligations of their tenancy, without support or with appropriate support in place. When determining whether social housing is the most appropriate housing option for an applicant, the social housing provider will consider whether the applicant is able to:
- pay their rent, and
- look after their property, and
- not cause or allow antisocial behaviour, and
- live independently without support or with appropriate support in place, and
- live in the property on an ongoing basis.
Where the client needs support to maintain a tenancy, they must show that they have access to and are willing to engage with appropriate support services. Social housing providers will make appropriate referrals to other agencies in situations where the client has not accessed available support services.
If there are concerns about a client’s ability to live independently, the social housing provider will request permission from the applicant to obtain:
- a living skills assessment from an external support agency, or
- an independent living skills report from their support worker.
Four criteria must be addressed in an independent living skills report. For more information, go to Criteria to be addressed in an independent living skills report.
Former social housing tenants
When a tenant of a property managed by a social housing provider (including an Aboriginal housing property) leaves, the provider will categorise their previous tenancy as:
- Eligible for a statement of satisfactory tenancy, or
- Satisfactory former social housing tenant , or
- Less than satisfactory former social housing tenant, or
- Unsatisfactory former social housing tenant, or
- Ineligible former social housing tenant.
Community housing providers will determine which category is to be applied to a former social housing tenant in accordance with their organisation’s policy and process.
When a former social housing tenant lodges an application for social housing, the provider who managed the former tenancy will review the tenancy history. They will determine eligibility for social housing and any conditions that need to be met before a request for housing assistance can be approved.
Housing providers will need to be satisfied that a former tenant has the ability to sustain a tenancy, without support or with appropriate support in place. The provider will also consider whether other people who lived in the previous tenancy can be part of any future household.This applies in cases where a household member in a previous tenancy was responsible for antisocial behaviour, property damage or acts of violence.
The satisfactory former tenant category does not affect eligibility for social housing. The less than satisfactory former tenant and the unsatisfactory former tenant category means that specific conditions must be met before a provider can make the application live on the NSW Housing Register. The ineligible former tenant category affects eligibility for social housing. For more information, go to 3. Specific conditions for former social housing tenants
All clients who have debts with any social housing provider must repay those debts. Providers will still consider the client for assistance if they demonstrate their commitment to repay the debt by making regular repayments.
Tenants who are transferred from DCJ to a Social Housing Management Transfer community housing provider under the Social Housing Management Transfer program are not considered former tenants of DCJ. Their tenancy should be classified by the Social Housing Management Transfer community housing provider under their policy when the tenant vacates the property.
Clients who are granted a provisional lease
Clients who are not eligible for DCJ Recognition as a Tenant and who are granted a three or six month provisional lease are able to apply for housing assistance. If eligible for social housing, the client will be listed on the NSW Housing Register. However, they must vacate the property at the end of the provisional lease, even if they are approved for priority housing assistance. For more information see the Changing a Tenancy policy.
Applicants who are under 18 years of age
Generally, an applicant must be at least 18 years of age before a provider can consider them for social housing. However, a provider will consider applicants under 18 if:
- they meet all the general eligibility criteria for social housing , and
- they have an income, and
- social housing is the best way to meet their accommodation needs, and
- the provider is satisfied they are able to meet their tenancy obligations.
Under the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998:
- A child is under 16 years of age.
- A young person is aged 16 years or over but under 18 years of age.
A child is not eligible for social housing. In these situations, providers will make a referral to Community Services for alternative accommodation and support services for the child.
In situations where a provider has reasonable grounds to suspect that a child or young person is at risk of significant harm, they will act in accordance with the Children and Young People At Risk policy.
Applicants in prison
Applicants in prison are able to be considered for social housing and must meet the normal eligibility criteria.
Clients currently living in community housing leasehold properties
Under Housing Pathways, providers will consider that clients are housed on a long-term basis if they are living in a social housing leasehold property. Providers will not list these clients on the NSW Housing Register unless approved for a transfer.
Applicants for community housing properties may receive different entitlements to applicants for public housing. This will occur due to the differing policies of social housing providers. Some examples where entitlements may differ include:
- Public housing’s fixed term lease arrangements will not apply to applicants housed in community housing, and community housing’s lease arrangements will not apply to applicants housed in public housing.
- An applicant’s bedroom entitlement will vary between providers.
There are certain situations, which may determine or affect an applicant’s priority for public housing and the type of housing they receive. These situations include:
- required number of bedrooms
- preferred location
- preferred type of accommodation
- having special needs.
For more information, go to Eligibility for social housing – entitlements.
Where clients have special needs, they must substantiate their need for certain entitlements. For more information, go to Information required to substantiate housing needs.
Additional eligibility criteria applied by community housing providers
In some circumstances, participating community housing providers will apply additional criteria to determine whether an applicant is eligible for their service. For example, a community housing provider who only provides housing to single women will apply this criterion to applicants applying for their service.
Community housing providers have individual policies that explain the entitlements available to clients of their organisation. These policies are accessible to the public.
Clients with urgent or complex housing needs
Clients may have urgent or complex needs which they are unable to resolve themselves. Providers will make every reasonable endeavour to interview all clients with indicators of complex or urgent needs and may consider them for emergency temporary accommodation or priority assistance.
The provider will ensure that they deal with the specific needs of the client in a sensitive manner. They will keep information provided by applicants confidential, and will only disclose information to a third party where disclosure is required by law, or if the applicant gives consent to disclose information.
Emergency temporary accommodation
Clients who do not meet the eligibility criteria for social housing, but who are in need of short-term crisis housing, may be assisted with emergency temporary accommodation in a social housing property for a period of up to three months, however in cases of a natural disaster a client will be offered a two-year lease.
This type of assistance is only available to people who cannot live in their home because of a natural disaster, or who are in extreme situations. The intention is to assist people in the general community who are facing hardship due to a crisis or emergency, which has made them temporarily homeless. Emergency temporary accommodation enables people to access temporary housing assistance while they arrange alternative medium to long term accommodation themselves.
In the case of a person who cannot live in their normal home because of a natural disaster, there is no eligibility test other than that they explain that fact. In all other cases a client must demonstrate that they:
- are an Australian citizen or permanent resident;
- have an urgent need for short-term emergency accommodation which they cannot resolve themselves;
- cannot be accommodated by family or friends; and
- are not eligible for other forms of assistance from other agencies because of income.
For more information, go to Urgent need for short-term emergency accommodation.
Except in the case of natural disasters, the provider will assess a client’s ability to resolve their urgent short-term emergency housing need by looking at various factors. For more information, go to Assessing a client’s ability to resolve their urgent short-term emergency housing need.
Evidence requirements for emergency temporary accommodation
Except in the case of natural disasters, clients must provide documentation to support their application for emergency temporary accommodation. The documentation will vary according to the nature of the emergency or crisis situation but should substantiate the reasons why the client is seeking assistance. For more information, see item 26 on the Evidence Requirements Information Sheet.
Offers of emergency temporary accommodation
Clients approved for emergency temporary accommodation will receive one offer of housing to a social housing property.
Client's leases will be assessed prior to their lease expiring. For more information, see Lease Reviews.
DCJ and Social Housing Management Transfer community housing providers offer temporary accommodation assistance. Refer to the Rentstart Assistance policy for further details about that assistance.
Priority housing assistance
Priority housing aims to meet the urgent housing needs of applicants who require long-term housing assistance.
To be eligible for priority housing, applicants must meet all three of the following criteria:
- Eligible for social housing, and
- In urgent need of housing, and
- Unable to resolve that need themselves in the private rental market.
Eligible for social housing
To be eligible for priority housing, an applicant must meet the general eligibility criteria for social housing, as outlined above.
In urgent need of housing
An applicant may demonstrate that they have an urgent housing need if they are experiencing one or more of the following:
- unstable housing circumstances, and/or
- at risk factors, and/or
- existing accommodation is inappropriate for their basic housing requirements.
For more information, go to Eligibility for priority housing – urgent housing needs.
Unable to resolve that need themselves in the private rental market
A social housing provider will assess an applicant’s ability to resolve their urgent housing need in the private rental market by considering a number of factors that may make it difficult to rent privately. Examples include the applicant’s housing requirements, availability and affordability of private rental accommodation, and the applicant’s personal or medical circumstances. For more information, go to Factors that make it difficult to rent privately.
The existence of a DCJ recognition as a tenant provisional lease does not deem the client ineligible for priority housing assistance. The client may still be in urgent need, and an appropriate assessment will be undertaken to determine if the client is able to resolve that need in the private rental market. For further information see the Changing a Tenancy policy.
Evidence requirements for priority housing assistance
An applicant must provide evidence to support their application. For detailed information on the types of evidence required, go to Eligibility for priority housing – evidence requirements.
Due to the demand for housing and limited supply options in certain areas, not everyone who wants to live in a high demand area can be housed in their preferred area. Clients who may need priority housing assistance require urgent housing ahead of other people on the NSW Housing Register. Their need for secure, affordable housing in the shortest possible waiting time is their primary need. Their need for a particular area represents a secondary need that should not take precedence over their urgent need for housing. The exception to this exists where a client can demonstrate that living in a high demand area is necessary for their physical or mental health.
Social housing providers will apply a locational need assessment to clients who:
- need priority assistance (for more information, go to Priority assistance clients), and
- want to live in an area of high demand with limited housing options.
The locational need assessment does not apply to:
- wait turn applicants
- wait turn transfer applicants
- priority transfer applicants moving within the same area
- elderly applicants over 80 years
- Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander applicants over 55 years
Eligibility for a high demand area
Where a social housing provider is assessing a client for priority housing assistance and the client has requested a high demand area, the provider will also assess the client’s locational need to be housed in a high demand area.
To be eligible for housing in a high demand area the client, or a member of their household, must have:
- an ongoing medical condition or disability (for more information, go to Ongoing medical condition or disability), and
- a need to access services at least once a week on an ongoing basis in the requested area.
In addition, the client must be able to demonstrate all four of the following:
- their need is significant and ongoing (in other words it is essential to daily aspects of life for several years), and
- they are unable to meet the need in any other area, and
- they are unable to travel to locations where the need could be met (including reasons such as lack of transport, costs of transport, mobility and living skills issues), and
- meeting the need is essential to their, or a member of their household’s, physical or mental health.
A client must show that the requested area will have a direct benefit in terms of their health or wellbeing, or that of other members of their household. For example, the client may need to be closer to essential medical services because of decreased mobility, or may need to be close to employment because they have difficulty negotiating public transport.
A client must provide adequate evidence to support their request to live in a high demand area. For more information, go to Evidence to support request to live in a high demand area.
Where a client satisfies both the priority criteria and the locational need assessment for a high demand area, the social housing provider will list the client for that area.
Where a client does not satisfy the locational need assessment for a high demand area, the social housing provider will ask the client to consider other areas, and will then assess the client’s need for priority assistance in those areas.
Social housing providers will not approve priority assistance where a:
- client selects an alternative area and their needs can be met by the private rental market in that area, or
- client does not satisfy the locational need assessment and will not choose an alternative area. In this case, if the client considers that their need to live in a particular location is greater than their need for urgent housing, they may wait their turn for housing in their preferred area.
Where a social housing tenant requests a transfer, the common eligibility criteria applies, although the tenant can choose to receive offers of social housing for properties managed by any social housing provider, DCJ only, or a community housing provider only. However, in some locations there may only be one social housing provider. In this situation, a client may not be able to choose their preferred social housing provider.
A social housing provider may also initiate the transfer of a tenant for tenancy or portfolio management reasons (known as management initiated transfer or relocation for management purposes).
For more information on tenant initiated and management initiated transfers go to the Transfer policy.
4. Legislation and compliance
DCJ and community housing providers are able to provide housing assistance in accordance with the Housing Act 2001.
5. Related documentation
- Social Housing Eligibility and Allocations Policy Supplement
- Housing Assistance Options Policy
- Transfer Policy
- Appeals Policy
6. Further information
Appeals and review of decisions
If a client disagrees with a decision a social housing provider has made, they should first discuss their concerns with a staff member from the provider that made the decision. The next step, if they still believe the social housing provider made the wrong decision, is to ask for a formal review of the decision. For information on how reviews work, the client can ask the housing provider for a copy of the fact sheet appeals and reviewing decisions, or read the Appeals policy. The provider who made the decision will manage the appeal. For further information on community housing appeals, go to Community Housing Complaints, Issues and Appeals Management Framework.
There will be no formal review of a decision that a client is ineligible for social housing assistance because they are a registrable person assessed as meeting one of the ineligible grounds in this policy.