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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2007 Week 3 Hansard (13 March) . . Page.. 459..

MR HARGREAVES (continuing):

targeted. Traditional ways of assessing housing need and providing services must be continually evaluated and improved to assist those in greatest need.

In early June 2006, I approved a range of amendments to the ACT's public rental housing assistance program, to sharpen its focus on the people most in need of public housing assistance. Under the new system, applicants with the most pressing needs are, in the majority of cases, being housed within three months. While this was an ambitious goal, it recognised that the people with critical and urgent needs cannot reasonably be asked to wait lengthy periods to be housed—as they were under the previous system.

High-need applicants have the option of support involving active engagement with Housing ACT throughout their waiting period. This person-centred approach aims to ensure that applicants maintain a connection to Housing ACT while they are waiting to be allocated public housing. It is also an opportunity for early intervention and improved client focus service delivery.

Another support measure we have introduced is pre-allocation case conferencing. This brings together an appropriate support network for the client, to identify specific housing requirements. This includes development of a plan to meet immediate and long-term sustainable housing needs. Feedback to date suggests that these approaches have been beneficial to applicants.

Consideration also needs to be given to repositioning public housing as a post-crisis response for people with very low incomes who have a range of other complex needs. In most cases, public housing is their only choice. An initiative to address this in the ACT has been to establish a transitional housing program. This program has expanded the range of options available for people who are homeless and residing in supported accommodation assistance program services. It is a practical and workable solution going towards breaking the cycle of homelessness and is in keeping with the principles of the ACT homelessness strategy.

It is too early to tell about the impact of the Welfare to Work measures and the WorkChoices reforms. However, we believe that these changes will further disadvantage people who are on low incomes, particularly sole parents and people with a disability.

On that matter, under the commonwealth government's Welfare to Work compliance framework, some Centrelink payments may be withdrawn for a period of eight weeks after a third breach of the Centrelink rules by a recipient. Although the person may apply to receive special payments during the withdrawal period to meet their essential living costs, there is no guarantee that such payments will be approved. We have adopted a position which removes these potential negative consequences. Tenants who have had their payments withdrawn under the commonwealth's Welfare to Work compliance framework will be assessed for rent rebate entitlement in accordance with their actual household income during the period in question. I am confident that this policy reform will work to the advantage of public housing tenants in special need and will assist them to sustain their tenancies. I believe this approach is critical for protecting public housing tenants at risk from the effects of potential homelessness and poverty.

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