5.2 Government housing assistance

06 Mar 2017 - 11:00 | Version 23 |

Contributed by LaurenWalker and KatherineShaw and current to 6 March 2017

The NT Government provides assistance to help people obtain affordable and appropriate housing. The main forms of assistance are:
  • public housing
  • affordable housing initiatives
  • bond assistance for tenants in the private rental market
  • affordable rental housing schemes
  • loans for the purchase of homes
The Department of Housing administers housing assistance in the NT.

Public Housing

The Department of Housing manages public housing in urban areas, some town camps, and remote communities across the Northern Territory.

The main pieces of legislation dealing with public housing are the Housing Act 1982(NT) (HA Act) and the Residential Tenancies Act 1999 (NT) (RTA Act). The Department of Housing has policies on most aspects of public housing on its website https://housing.nt.gov.au/publications

Applying for public housing

Who is eligible?

To be eligible to rent and apply for public housing the applicant needs to:
  • be over 16
  • be an Australian citizen or have permanent residency, a temporary protection visa, a special Category Visa for New Zealand citizens; sponsored migrant; or be a victim of domestic violence holding an 820 or 309 Visa
  • live in the NT
  • continue to live in the NT until allocated a house, except for brief holiday periods or to seek medical treatment interstate
  • not own, either completely or in part, a residential property anywhere in Australia (the Housing Manager can make exemptions in cases of Domestic or Family Violence, where there has been relationship breakdown, or there are medical or social issues which mean that the property is unsuitable for the household) There are additional criteria for urban applicants
  • have no debts to the Department of Housing - applications are rejected if the applicant has a debt (the Housing Manager can make exemptions if the applicant makes three months of payments towards the debt under an Agreement to Pay or is bankrupt - (see Money owed to the Department of Housing)
  • have not been evicted from public housing in the NT in the last two years

Income and asset limit

Applicants for public housing are subject to income and assets tests, which are also used for rental rebates and bond assistance.

An applicant must supply information about their income and assets when they apply, before signing a tenancy agreement with the Department of Housing, when rental rebates expire and each year to make sure that they are eligible for public housing.

Applicants need to provide:
  • a Centrelink statement of pension or benefit not more than a fortnight old
  • 13 weeks of pay slips (including overtime and allowances) or a letter from an employer
  • Tax assessments and Business Activities Statements (BAS) if self-employed

It is an offence to provide misleading information to the Department of Housing under section 36 of the Housing Act.

What assets are included?

Applicants and household members over the age of 18 years need to provide proof of their assets.

The assets that the applicant needs to tell the Department of Housing about include: cash in bank accounts; shares; investments; superannuation, life insurance policies, assets given away in the last 5 years, loans to other people, boats, caravans or recreational vehicles, the value of any businesses, compensation payments, real estate and farms. A full list of assets is available on the Department of Housing's website.

Assets not included are:
  • general household contents and personal effect household furniture
  • vehicles for personal use or transport

If the applicant cannot access the assets they need to provide proof to the Department of Housing.

Table 1. Department of Housing Income and Asset Limits as at 1 March 2016

Household Size

Household income limit -

gross (per week)

Household asset limit for new applicants

and existing tenants under 55 years

Household asset limit for existing

tenants under 55 years
Bond Assistance asset limit
1 $766 $54,057 $194,396 $5,000
2 $995 $77,129 $194,396 $5,000
3 $1158 $122,158 $273,509 $5,000
4 $1329 $122,158 $273,509 $5,000
5 $1493 $122,158 $273,509 $5,000
6 $1661 $122,158 $273,509 $5,000









The income test

The Department of Housing calculates the weekly gross (before tax) income of all adult household members against the income limit in the table above. Income earned by children and some government allowances is excluded.

If the household has more than six people, the Department of Housing has discretion around the income limit to prevent the household from being disadvantaged.

Applying

Application forms are available from Department of Housing offices, its website and its agents in remote communities. There are different forms depending on whether the application is being made for urban public housing, remote public housing or priority public housing (see Contact points). Generally applications need to include:
  • name, address, date of birth and contact details
  • statement of assets
  • proof of identification for all household members
  • name and contact details of employer
  • details of any proposed co-tenants
  • a statement of assets
  • details of recent living arrangements

Choosing where to live

On the urban application form, the applicant needs to choose the area they want to live in:
  • Darwin/Casuarina/Palmerston
  • Alice Springs
  • Katherine
  • Tenant Creek
  • Nhulunbuy

An applicant can choose only one area. Applicants are not able to request a particular suburb in an area, although request from applicants with special needs are considered.

Applicants in remote communities need to write the community they want to live in on their application form.

Remote applicants

Public housing in remote communities and community living areas is allocated according to need. There is no general waiting list.

The Department of Housing decides whether the applicant has a priority need for housing by looking at:
  • Homelessness
  • Overcrowding
  • Frail, aged, and disability
  • Domestic & Family Violence
  • Local Employment
  • Other criteria appropriate to individual communities in consultation with relevant Housing Reference Groups (HRG) and/or
  • Households with specific medical/physical needs

It is important for applicants for remote housing to get letters of support from employers, health clinics, service providers or individuals that know the applicant and why they need housing.

The letter should explain why housing is needed, the adequacy of any current housing, the impact of homelessness or lack of adequate housing and how the applicant's circumstances would improve if they were allocated a house.

Applicants should also speak to members of their local Housing Reference Group about their housing needs.

The Housing Reference Group provides recommendations to the Department of Housing about who in their community should be allocated houses.

Priority housing

Applicants with urgent need for housing can apply for priority housing at any time - this includes people who have already applied for public housing and new applicants.

An urgent need for housing includes:
  • Homelessness or risk of homelessness
  • Serious medical or social problems
  • Domestic or family violence

People who are allocated public housing ahead of other applicants means increased wait times, so the person's need for priority housing must be urgent and able to be substantiated.

The person's application for priority housing is assessed by the Department of Housing. A decision to reject the application for priority housing can be appealed.

If approved the applicant will need to wait for a suitable allocation - the wait time should be shorter than the general wait list.

If a person rejects an offer of priority housing without a good reason, their application for priority housing may be cancelled and they will be placed on the general wait list.

Rejections of applications

Applications that are not complete or do not have the correct documentation attached are not accepted - the Department of Housing will not place an applicant on the waiting list until it receives a complete application. The Department of Housing may return the application to the person.

The Department of Housing should provide notice in writing if an application is rejected or not accepted, along with reasons for the decision.

Applicants can appeal the decision to not accept or reject their application through the Department of Housing's internal appeal process (see Complaints and Appeals).

The Department of Housing does not keep copies of applications it rejects. It is important that applicants keep their application and supporting documents. This way, if an appeal of the decision is successful, they do not have to complete the application and collect supporting documentation again.

Applicants who have been rejected can reapply if their situation changes, for example if their income drops or they dispose of assets.

The waiting list

Urban

After lodging an application the applicant is placed on a waiting list until accommodation becomes available. Applicants are listed according to the date of lodgement; however, separate waiting lists are kept for different size properties. For example, the waiting list for a one bedroom flat is separate to the waiting list for a four bedroom house.

The Department of Housing provides four-bedroom houses and sometimes larger homes, but numbers are small and waiting times vary.

It is very important that an applicant tell the Department of Housing about any change in their circumstances and contact details, including residential and postal address and current telephone numbers.

Table 2 below shows the wait times as at 31 March 2015. Wait times can change according to the number of properties vacated, the application rate, the cancellation rate, the number of wait list transfers and the number of priority allocations. Contact the local Department of Housing office for information about current waiting times (see Contact points).

Table 2: Estimated wait times in months as at 31 March 2015

Region 1 bedroom (non-pensioner) 1 bedroom (pensioner) 2 bedroom 3 bedroom
Alice Springs 87 71 65 70
Darwin / Casuarina 91 93 68 74
Palmerston 84 76 58 36
Katherine 67 58 52 63
Nhulunbuy 158 * 137 141
Tennant Creek 112 77 100 98
* Indeterminate.

Remote

Allocations of remote public housing are based on need and assessed according to the priority needs criteria.

There is no publicly available wait list information for remote communities. Properties rarely become available. Unless further houses are built in remote communities, it is unlikely that applicants on the remote wait list will be housed in their lifetime.

When a house becomes available to be allocated, the Department of Housing consults with the Housing Reference Group. They decide who the house should be allocated to.

Decisions about remote housing allocations can be appealed through the Department of Housing's internal review process.

Cancellation of applications

The Department of Housing cancels applications for housing if the applicant:
  • tells the Department of Housing they do not need public housing
  • does not respond to contact from the Department of Housing while they are on the wait list, including reminders to confirm details or provide information
  • no longer meets eligibility criteria
  • rejects an offer of housing without good reason
  • defaults on first or final payment under an Agreement to Pay
  • leaves the Territory for an extended period of time, unless for prolonged medical treatment or rehabilitation.

Cancelled applications can be reinstated. The applicant needs to explain why they have not been able to maintain contact with or provide information to the Department of Housing. It is important that applicants contact the Department of Housing within six months of their application being cancelled.

A person can appeal against a decision if they feel that they have been unfairly taken off the waiting list (see Complaints and Appeals).

Ending a lease with a private landlord if offered public housing

Under section 96 of the Residential Tenancies Act a tenant who accepts an offer of public housing has the right to end the tenancy with two weeks written notice provided they have:
  • applied for residential accommodation under the Housing Act before entering the tenancy agreement
  • told the landlord of their application before signing the agreement
  • accepted an offer of public housing made to them under the Housing Act.

(see Where a tenant has been allocated public housing).

Allocation

Before being allocated a house, applicants for urban public housing will be asked to go to an interview with the Department of Housing. The purpose of the interview is to check that they are still eligible for public housing.

The applicant needs to provide two tenancy references at the interview.

The references should state whether the applicant had a good payment history; maintained the property to a reasonable standard; and whether there were any issues of antisocial behaviour at the tenancy.

The Department of Housing can exempt an applicant from providing references if they can show they:

* have the skills and support to satisfactorily maintain a public housing tenancy

* are participating in a community support program to gain tenancy skills

* have an advocate or community support network that will assist to maintain the tenancy.

What size house am I entitled to?

The size of house an applicant is allocated depends on how many people are on the application, up to a maximum of four bedrooms.

Household Composition Bedroom Entitlement
Single person 1
Couple 2
Sole parent with one dependent 2
Two singles 2
Couple with up to four dependents 3
Sole parent with two to four dependents 3
Couple with up to two singles 3
Three singles 3
Sole parent or a couple with five or more dependents 4
Sole parent or a couple with three dependents and one single 4









The Department of Housing may vary the entitlement depending on the needs of the household, such as gender ratio of children, the presence of tenants with a disability or medical condition, or in areas where there are very few available properties.

Rental rebates and market rent

Tenants on low incomes or Centrelink benefits who can not afford to pay the market rent may be eligible for a rental
rebate. The rental rebate is the difference between the market rent and the rent payable by the tenant - it is like a discount or subsidy. Rent rebates are only available to public housing tenants.

Public housing tenants must complete applications with supporting documentation for rental rebates regularly during the tenancy:
  • every three months for tenants whose income is variable or seasonal
  • every six months for tenants receiving steady wages and or income support payments
  • every 12 months for those on the Age, Widows, Veterans Affairs, or Disability Pension

    If this information is not provided, the rebate could be cancelled and market rent is charged.

    Tenants who are given rebates need to tell the Department of Housing if their income changes during the rental rebate period. If a tenant fails to do this and knows about the change, it is an offence under section 36A of the Housing Act.

How is rent calculated?

Rent is calculated on a percentage of income with tenants paying a higher percentage than other household residents:
  • 18% of current assessable income for aged pensioners in urban properties and in new houses in remote communities and town camps (some social security benefits are assessed at 10%)
  • 14% of current assessable income for aged pensioners in remote communities and town camps who live in refurbished or existing houses,
  • 23% of current assessable income for urban and Alice Springs town camps tenants from the second year of their lease, 23% of current assessable income, (some social security benefits are assessed at 10%)
  • 18% of current assessable income for remote tenants in the first year of their lease,
  • 10% of all assessable income for additional household members, that is not a tenant or a spouse, aged 18-24, that is not a tenant or a spouse
  • 20% of all assessable income for additional household members, that is not a tenant or a spouse, aged 25 and over

    Tenants who want to find out the amount of rent they have to pay and the basis that it is calculated on need to speak to their local Department of Housing, make an application for release of information under the Information Act or seek legal advice.

    A tenant will only be paying market rent if they are ineligible for public housing. If they have not provided the documentation required to calculate a rental rebate or the Department of Housing has refused to backdate an application for rental rebate, a tenant can appeal the decision to refuse to backdate a rental rebate. (see Complaints and Appeals)

    Market rent is rent is determined by the Minister under section 23 of the Housing Act and published in the Government Gazette. Market rent varies according to the type of accommodation and its location. It is based on figures provided by the Australian Valuation Office, which calculates an average rent for a type of dwelling in each suburb of the Northern Territory.

    Market rents are available from the Department of Housing's website.

Tenancy agreements

The Department of Housing requires each tenant to read and sign a tenancy agreement. The provisions of the RTA, which are outlined in an earlier section of this chapter, cover public housing tenants - see section 34 of the Housing Act 1982 (NT).

Urban public housing tenants enter into a tenancy agreement and are required to comply with the Common Provisions. Some remote public housing tenants enter into the Remote Public Housing Tenancy Agreement which contain different terms to the Common Provisions. Other remote public housing tenants enter into Occupancy Agreements.

The agreement that the Department of Housing enters into with remote tenants depends on the standard of the premises, whether new, refurbished or existing, which are also known as legacy dwellings.

Department of Housing has not considered that legacy dwellings or existing dwellings to have the protections of the RTA, even though the tenants pay rent, which is described as a Housing Maintenance Levy. Legal services disagree with this.

Tenants living in existing houses or legacy dwellings should seek legal advice if they need assistance with any aspect of their tenancy, but particularly repairs and maintenance and disputes about rent.

Fixed term and periodic tenancy agreements

The Department of Housing historically offered fixed term tenancy agreements to its 'urban tenants' subject to eligibility criteria. The aim of fixed term leases was to ensure that the Department of Housing provided housing to those most in need while also providing tenants with security of tenure.

Long term fixed term tenancy agreements provide security of tenure, which benefits health, wellbeing and family stability.

By contrast, the Department of Housing has only ever offered periodic leases to its remote tenants.

This may contravene the Anti-Discrimination Act 1992 (NT) because it could be argued that the Department of Housing is offering accommodation on less favourable terms to remote public housing tenants, who are overwhelmingly Aboriginal people.

In early 2015 the Department of Housing advised that it would start to use periodic tenancy agreements for all public housing tenancies in the NT. It has been allowing fixed term tenancy agreements to lapse into periodic agreements in urban areas - see section 83 of the Residential Tenancies Act 1999 (NT).

Periodic tenancies can be terminated at 42 days notice - see section 89 of the Residential Tenancies Act 1999 (NT) which leaves public housing tenants vulnerable to eviction at short notice.

The Department's new approach is to offer new urban public housing tenants short term tenancy agreements of three or six months.

Urban tenants who can supply references which show a good tenancy history are offered six month tenancy agreements. Urban tenants without references are offered three month tenancy agreements.

Urban public housing tenants who have complied with the terms of their tenancy agreements can ask to enter into a fixed term tenancy agreement:
  • Six month leases are offered to tenants who have completed a three month lease
  • one year leases are offered to tenants who have completed a six month lease
  • two year leases are offered to tenants who have completed a one year lease

Conditions of tenancy

The RTA states the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlord - the conditions of the tenancy.

Conditions of tenancy for public housing tenants are also outlined in the urban tenancy agreement which includes the Common Provisions and the Remote Public Housing Tenancy Agreements.

There are a number of terms within the Common Provisions and the Remote Public Housing Tenancy Agreement that are inconsistent with the RTA.

For example, the Common Provisions says that public housing tenants need to maintain the premises in a 'neat and tidy' condition (see Clause 20.5.(e) of the Department of Housing Common Provisions, contained in the Tenancy Agreement).

The RTA requires the tenant to maintain the premises in a 'not unreasonably dirty' condition (see section 51 (1)(a) RTA) which is a different standard. This term has been found to be invalid. (See Rosas & Shine v Chief Executive Officer (Housing) [2015] NTRTCmr 25; (2015) at 53.)

Section 20 of the Residential Tenancies Act 1999 (NT) states that a tenancy agreement which is inconsistent with it is void to the extent of the inconsistency.

Legal services in the NT wrote to the Department of Housing in 2011 and provided it with a detailed analysis of the inconsistencies between the Remote Public Housing Tenancy Agreement and the law, the Residential Tenancies Act 1999 (NT). In response, the Department of Housing will be replacing all urban and remote tenancy agreements in 2016.

Tenants can seek advice on their rights and responsibilities under their tenancy agreement and the RTA from community legal centres, Aboriginal legal aid services or the NTLAC. (See Contact points)

In general under the RTA the conditions of tenancy are the same as they are for tenants in the private housing market, but there are some differences, which are outlined below.

Bond

Tenants who enter into tenancy agreements pay bond to the Department of Housing. The amount changes depending on where the house is and the tenant's age.
  • Age pensioners pay 4 weeks rebated rent no matter where they live
  • In urban areas, tenants who are not aged pensioners pay two weeks market rent and two weeks rebated rent
  • In remote areas, tenants who are not aged pensioners pay four weeks market rent and two weeks rebated rent
  • In community living areas, tenants who are not aged pensioners pay two weeks market rent and two weeks rebated rent

    Tenants living in new houses in urban areas and community living areas do not need to pay bond.

Anti-social behaviour and public housing premises

The Northern Territory Government has made a number of changes to its policies since the Housing Act 1982 (NT) was passed. These changes are aimed at reducing anti-social behaviour in public housing premises. In 2014 there was the introduction of Public Housing Safety Officers and the Three Strikes Policy. Since August 2016, the Red Card Policy has replaced the Three Strikes Policy.

Section 28A of the Housing Act 1982 (NT) defines anti social behaviour as behaviour that:
  • is abusive or violent and is directed to a person
  • creates alarm or fear in, or annoyance to, neighbours or others in the vicinity
  • involves graffiti, littering or vandalism.
Making excessive noise is an example of behaviour that may create annoyance.

Red Card Policy

The Red Card Policy, which has replaced the three strikes policy, aims to respond to incidents of anti-social behaviour to public housing premises. It applies to all Department of Housing & Community Development ('Housing') tenants, recognised occupiers and visitors.

Housing will investigate all complaints--it may speak to the tenant, neighbours or other witnesses such as Housing staff or the Northern Territory Police.

If Housing finds that the complaint is substantiated it can constitute a breach of the tenancy agreement. As a result, the tenancy may then be issued with demerit points. A tenant will be notified if a complaint is issued against them and advised in writing if a demerit point is issued against them.

When a tenancy attains six demerit points, Housing may try to terminate the tenancy.

There are three classifications of severity that attract a different number of demerit points.
Table 3: Table of Classification of Severity & Demerit Points

Classification of Severity Demerit Points
Minor 1
Moderate 2
Severe 3

Minor Anti Social Behaviour

Minor anti-social behaviour attracts one demerit point. This is determined as conduct that causes annoyance to anyone in the vicinity of a public housing premises. Examples of this can include; excessive noise from the television, stereos, radios or motor vehicles.

Moderate Anti Social Behaviour

Moderate anti-social behaviour attracts two demerit points. This relates more directly to abusive behaviour by a tenant causing fear or alarm amongst neighbours.

This can include intentionally causing or allowing property. It can also include verbal abuse including, but not limited to, threatening, intimidating or harassing Housing staff, neighbours or others in the vicinity of the property.

Serious Anti Social Behaviour

Serious anti-social behaviour attracts three demerit points. This will be specific to violent behaviour or excessive property damage. This includes damage caused by the tenant or anyone allowed on the leased property with the tenants consent.

Serious behaviour can also include physical acts of violence, or use or threatened use of a weapon.

Termination of Tenancy

Housing may only terminate a tenancy agreement by seeking an order for termination and possession through the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NTCAT).

Instead of trying to terminate a tenancy the Department of Housing may enter into an Acceptable Behaviour Agreement with a tenant.

Public Housing Safety Officers: Role and Powers

The Department of Housing has employees called Public Housing Safety Officers (PHSOs) who patrol public housing. Their role is to try to reduce anti-social behaviour around public housing.

Public Housing Safety Officers also conduct investigations into complaints of anti-social behaviour.

Information given to Public Housing Safety Officers by tenants and visitors to public housing is often used as evidence in eviction proceedings. Tenants and visitors to public housing may therefore wish to exercise caution when speaking with Public Housing Safety Officers about matters that may prejudice their interests.

If the Public Housing Safety Officer (PHSO) reasonably believes a person has engaged, is engaging or is about to engage in anti social behaviour; or has committed a (defined) prescribed offence; or the person can help with an investigation of anti social behaviour on public housing premises, they can:
  • Ask the person to state their name, address, and age if the PHSO thinks they are under 18 - section 28D(2) Housing Act 1982 (NT)
  • Ask the person to give evidence of their name if the PHSO thinks a false name has been given - section 28D(3) Housing Act 1982 (NT)
  • Direct the person to stop doing something that the PHSO thinks is necessary to stop or prevent antisocial behaviour - section 28E(2) Housing Act 1982 (NT)
  • Direct the person to leave immediately and not come back for up to 12 months if the person is not a tenant or a recognised occupant of the premises - section 28E(3) Housing Act 1982 (NT)
  • Seize an article or container if the PHSO thinks that that is dangerous or contains alcohol, and the article or liquor is located on common property or a common area within the public housing premises no one is controlling it - section 28G Housing Act 1982 (NT)
  • Seize any container if the PHSO reasonably believes the container contains alcohol and it is located anywhere within the public housing premises or its in contravention of section 75, 101AE or 101L of the Liquor Act 1978 (NT) and section 28G (3) Housing Act 1982 (NT).

Offences

It is an offence under the Housing Act 1982 (NT)to:
  • Refuse to provide your name and address or evidence of the correctness of your name
  • Not comply with a direction of a PHSO to stop doing something
  • Enter the public housing premises for the period on the notice.

Public Housing Safety Officers can issue infringement notices under regulation 15 of the Housing Regulations 1983 (NT),which need to meet the requirements of regulation 16. The CEO of the Department of Housing can withdraw infringement notices.

The penalty payable under Schedule 2 of the Housing Regulations 1983 (NT),is 0.5 of a penalty unit, or $76.50.

A person can be prosecuted for these offences and they are offences of strict liability. It is a defence to a prosecution if the person has a reasonable excuse (see section 28D of the Housing Act 1982 (NT).

Seized objects

A Public Housing Safety Officer that seizes a dangerous item has to keep it or give the article to a police officer. If a container of alcohol is open, the Public Housing Safety Officer has to empty it. If it is closed, the PHSO has to keep it or give it to a police officer (section 28G of the Housing Act 1982 (NT).

The Public Housing Safety Officer has to attach a receipt about the seizure something where the item was seized. The Public Housing Safety Officer must return the item to a person who claims to be the owner 3 months, unless it needs to be kept as evidence of an offence. If the item is not returned or kept as evidence, its forfeited to the Territory at the end of the three months (section 28G of the Housing Act 1982 (NT).

Notices of direction

Notices of direction need to be given in writing. They can be given orally if the Public Housing Safety Office thinks that it is not practical to give it in writing.

If the direction is given orally, it expires 2 days after it is given unless the Public Housing Safety Officer gives written notice about the direction to the person during that time.

The written notice needs to include:
  • the name of the person that the direction relates to
  • the name of the public housing safety officer giving the direction
  • the conduct the person is not to engage in
  • the period that the person is directed to not enter the public housing premises on the notice (which cannot be more than 12 months)
  • the reasons for giving the direction
  • that a person affected by the decision may apply for it to be reconsidered, and how to do this

Review of decisions

A person can seek a reconsideration of a decision to:
  • direct them to not engage or stop engaging in conduct
  • direct them to leave immediately and not enter the premises for a specified period
  • seize an article or container

The person needs to write to the CEO of the Department of Housing within 28 days of the decision if they want a reconsideration of the decision. The person needs to continue to comply with the decision while the reconsideration is happening.

The CEO of the Department of Housing needs to reconsider the decision within 28 days and provide the applicant with a notice which includes:
  • the outcome of the reconsideration
  • the reasons
  • that the applicant can apply to the Local Court for review of the merits of the reconsidered decision
  • how to apply for a review
  • that the applicant needs to apply to the Local Court within 28 days

The Local Court can review the merits of a reconsidered decision, is not bound by what was considered by the CEO and can admit or refuse to admit evidence. The Local Court can vary the reconsidered decision or set it aside - see Part 7 of the Housing Act 1982 (NT).

Eviction

The Department of Housing will only terminate a public housing tenancy as a last resort. Department of Housing's policy states: "It is the Department of Housing's preference that any breach of a tenancy agreement be remedied and that the tenant should stay in public housing."

The consequences of termination of a public housing tenancy are significant for a number of reasons.
  • The Department of Housing's Public Housing Eligibility Policy prevents tenants who have been evicted from public housing from applying for, or staying in, public housing for a period of two years.
  • There is a significant shortage of private affordable rental accommodation in the Northern Territory. In 2015, Anglicare's Rental Affordability Snapshot 2015 surveyed 1,367 private rentals that were advertised for rent in the Northern Territory on 11-12 April 2015 and found that there were no properties that were both affordable and appropriate for people who receive Newstart Allowance, Single Parenting Payment, Disability Support Pension or Youth Allowance.
  • There are very limited numbers of beds in supported accommodation, hostels and other emergency housing facilities.

The procedures for the eviction of public housing tenants are the generally the same as the ones used to evict tenants in the private housing market.

If a tenant breaches the tenancy agreement by falling into rent arrears, failing to maintain the premises, or causing or permitting nuisance to neighbours, the Department of Housing may take action to end their tenancy by giving the person a notice to remedy breach, a notice of termination or making an application to the NTCAT. These procedures are outlined in the Residential Tenancies Act 1999 (NT) (see Renting)

The Department of Housing can also make an application to the NTCAT and ask for the tenancy to be terminated if the tenant has not entered into an acceptable behaviour agreement after being given a valid notice under section 28C (1) of the Housing Act 1982 (NT), or has seriously or repeatedly breached the terms of the acceptable behaviour agreement (see section 99A of the Residential Tenancies Act 1999 (NT).

The Department of Housing has stated that it will not evict public housing tenants without a reason, that is using a section 89 or 91 notice of termination. Sections 89 and 91 of the Residential Tenancies Act 1999 (NT) allow a landlord to give a tenant a notice terminating the tenancy without specifying the reason or the grounds of termination. These are often called 'no reason' or 'without grounds' notice of termination.

Tenants who receive a notice of termination from the Department of Housing should seek legal advice immediately (see Legal aid). Importantly, the tenant does not need to leave the house on the date of the notice - the tenant only needs to leave if ordered by the NTCAT (see sections 66 (2), 104 and 106 of the Residential Tenancies Act 1999 (NT).

Keeping pets

Public housing tenants can keep pets provided the pets do not
  • prevent access to the house
  • create nuisance or danger to others
  • cause damage to property

Pet owners are required to comply with any Local Council by-laws regarding pets, ensure the welfare and safety of their pets, and that they have the appropriate registration or certification.

Tenants cannot keep livestock as pets. Livestock includes crocodiles, cattle, buffalo, horses, camels, sheep, goats, pigs (including wild pigs), deer, llamas, alpacas, poultry and honey bees.

The Department of Housing investigates complaints about pets causing nuisance or danger and may ask the tenant to take action in response. If the tenant does not fix the problem, the Department of Housing may contact the local council, the Animal Welfare Branch of the Northern Territory Government, or terminate the tenancy.

Visitors

The Department of Housing changed its Visitor Management Policy in 2015. There are some aspects of the policy that appear to conflict with the provisions of the Residential Tenancies Act 1999 (NT)regarding quiet enjoyment of the premises (see sections 65 and 66) and the Trespass Act 1987 (NT).

Tenants who receive notices of breach or have questions about the Visitor Management Policy should seek legal advice.

The policy states that visitors are permitted in public housing dwellings for up to two weeks provided:
  • the tenant consents to the visitor being there
  • the Department has not issued a Notice of Direction under the Housing Act 1982 (NT) or a Trespass Notice
  • the visitors do not cause or permit antisocial behaviour or unreasonable disruption
  • the visitor can provide evidence that their primary place of residence is elsewhere.

The policy states that tenants need to request permission from the Department to have a visitor for longer than two weeks. There is nothing in the Residential Tenancies Act 1999 (NT) or the Housing Act 1982 (NT) that requires a tenant to ask permission for a visitor to stay.

The policy states that the Department of Housing will not allow visitors to stay for longer than two weeks if:
  • it will cause overcrowding
  • the visitor cannot provide evidence of having a permanent place of residence elsewhere
  • the visitor owes a debt to the Department of Housing
  • the visitor is a former tenant or recognised occupant of a Department of Housing tenancy which has been terminated and/or repossessed by the Department within the last two years.

Despite the above, there is nothing in the Residential Tenancies Act 1999 (NT) or the Housing Act 1982 (NT) that requires a tenant to ask permission for a visitor to stay.

The Department of Housing can enforce its Visitor Management Policy in a number of ways.
  • Issuing a section 28C of the Housing Act 1982 (NT)(see Anti-social behaviour and public housing tenants). The maximum penalty for a breach of a Notice of Direction is a fine of $76.50.
  • Issuing a trespass notice under the Trespass Act 1987 (NT) at the request of the tenant. It is unclear whether any trespass notice issued by the Department of Housing would be legal except in common area of a complex.

A tenant or person given a trespass notice by the Department of Housing should seek legal advice immediately as if they are warned by the occupier, then a member of the police force and they fail to leave, they may be arrested or removed.

Relinquishment

The Department of Housing occasionally asks tenants to relinquish public housing premises instead of issuing notices of termination, or applying to NTCAT.

Any tenant who is asked to relinquish their public housing premises should seek legal advice immediately as the consequences of relinquishing a tenancy are significant.

Tenants can apply to give up their tenancy for three to twelve months in order to:
  • seek medical treatment
  • take up an opportunity to study or temporary employment
  • leave temporarily due to domestic violence
  • serve a term of imprisonment

The tenant should apply prior to leaving the tenancy. The Housing Manager has discretion to waive this requirement in exceptional circumstances.

If approved the tenant is allocated another property at the end of the period.

Transfers

Public housing tenants can transfer to other properties and locations, including from remote to urban areas. The tenant needs to fill out an application form and provide supporting documents.

Tenants must have served the full wait time for the location they wish to move to, from the date of application for public housing.

Tenants can apply to transfer if it will improve their or their dependant's well-being, for example in cases of domestic violence, overcrowding or there is a need to access medical treatment in another location.

The Department of Housing may also transfer tenants described as 'disruptive' if it the current location has 'significantly contributed to their behaviour'. Tenants will be asked to enter into a three month fixed term lease and an Acceptable Behaviour Agreement.

Tenants can also apply to swap dwellings provided both households are eligible and the houses match the tenants' entitlement.

The Department of Housing initiates transfers in some circumstances:
  • if the house is uninhabitable
  • if the house is under occupied

Transfers may be rejected if:
  • there is any damage to the existing property outside of fair wear and tear.
  • there are rental arrears or a debt totalling more than two weeks rent
  • the Department of Housing is about to take legal action against the tenant about rent arrears
  • the tenant has defaulted on an Agreement to Pay within the past three months.

Offers of transfer are not made until outstanding debt is paid.

Tenants who wish to transfer can ask for the Department of Housing to exercise its discretion to waive the above criteria.

If a transfer is approved, the tenant will be added to the wait-list for a suitable home.

Money owed to the Department of Housing

The Department of Housing collects debts from current and former tenants to recover outstanding rent or the costs of repairing any damage intentionally or negligently caused by a tenant or visitors at the premises with the tenant's consent.

In order to collect the debt, the Department Housing will send the person an invoice and a demand for payment. Generally, the Department of Housing does not apply to the Commissioner of Tenancies or NTCAT for compensation, which would require it to provide proof that the tenant caused the damage and therefore owed the debt.

The Department of Housing often raises and collects debts without considering:
  • whether the premises were in a reasonable state of repair and are reasonably clean
  • fair wear and tear, given the length of the tenancy
  • the age of the assets needing to be replaced or their depreciated value
  • whether it has evidence that damage to the premises was intentional or negligent, or caused by people at the premises without consent, or was criminal
  • the reasonableness of the costs of repair
  • the vicarious liability provisions of the Residential Tenancies Act 1999 (NT), including where damage is caused by domestic violence;
  • what the condition of the premises on occupation or vacation say about the state of the property
  • whether the Department of Housing has complied with the Residential Tenancies Act 1999 (NT) before retaining the bond

This means that many of the debts collected by the Department of Housing can be challenged. If challenged, debts will generally be waived in whole or in part. People with debts can seek assistance from a legal service or appeal the debt through the Department of Housing's internal appeals process and ask for the Department to consider the list above when appealing.

Generally the Department of Housing will not allow a person owing money to apply for housing, to enter into a new lease, transfer or receive bond assistance. However discretion may be exercised if the person has entered into an agreement to repay the debt and has made regular payments reducing the debt to an acceptable level or there are other reasons which mean it is preferable to waive the requirement.

Remote housing

From 2007 the Australian and Northern Territory governments changed Aboriginal housing from a model based on self-management to a public housing model managed by the NT Government. The changes included:
  • compulsory 5-year leases over communities under the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER)
  • the abolition of Indigenous Community Housing Organisations (ICHOs)
  • the transfer of community housing in town camps and remote communities to NT Government public housing stock

In 2008 the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing (NPARIH) committed $2 billion over 10 years for the NT. Its objectives were to reduce severe overcrowding, increase the supply of new housing, improve existing housing and implement tenancy management standards in remote communities. The NT Government was made responsible for both the capital works program and the ongoing management of housing.

For a timeline of changes to Aboriginal housing in the NT and information on the major concerns of residents of remote communities and town camps regarding housing see:

http://www.amsant.org.au/apont/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/APONT-Housing-Forum-12-13-March-2015-Report_LOW_RES.pdf

http://www.naaja.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/NAAJA-submission-NTG-Housing-Strategy-2016.pdf

A number of the issues faced by tenants in remote public housing, or people who are homeless due to severe overcrowding have legal courses of action:

Leases

The Department of Housing operates in a number of communities without an underlying lease over housing. This places the people living in the houses in an uncertain legal position. It is unclear whether the Department of Housing has the legal authority to charge rent or enter into tenancy agreements in these communities.

People living in remote communities should contact the Northern Land Council or the Central Land Council for information on whether there is a lease over their community and the identity of the holder of the leases or sub-leases or seek legal advice.

Overcrowding

People living in overcrowded houses in remote communities or town camps should be encouraged to or assisted to complete an application for remote housing, so that the Department of Housing is aware of the demand for housing in remote communities so it can plan where to build more.
  • Apply for a house - make sure you tell the Department of Housing in writing the reasons why you need a house - homelessness, overcrowding, domestic and family violence, health problems, local employment, caring responsibilities or get support letters
  • If you live in a remote community or town camp, the HRG needs to know why you need a house.
  • There should be a service which helps you apply for housing in every community
  • If no houses or not enough houses are being built in your community, complain to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and/or the Commonwealth Ombudsman
  • Write to the Prime Minister and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs about the housing in your community

Delays in repairs and maintenance

Many remote tenants have experienced long delays in the Department of Housing responding to requests for repairs and maintenance.

Tenants who have made requests for repairs and maintenance which have not been responded to or not been responded to in accordance with the time frames in the Residential Tenancies Act 1999 (NT) should:
  • Report all repairs and maintenance to the Department of Housing on 1800 076 044
  • Keep a receipt or a record of the report as proof
  • Complain if the repairs don't get fixed within two weeks for emergency repairs, or a month for non urgent repairs (see Delays in repairs and maintenance and Complaints and Appeals)
  • If it's not fixed after you complain, contact a legal service or the NT Ombudsman
  • Ask for compensation or a rent reduction from the Department of Housing or apply to the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Rent

Rent in remote communities is calculated based on the income of the household, the type of house, how long the tenancy has been going, and the maximum dwelling rent.

The maximum dwelling rent is a cap or limit on the amount of rent payable, to ensure people living in overcrowded houses or dwellings are not disadvantaged because of their higher total household income.

Table 3: Maximum dwelling rent - remote public housing

Dwelling Classification Description 1 bedroom 2 bedroom 3 bedroom 4 bedroom
New houses Maximum dwelling rent ($/week) $150 $175 $230 $250
Refurbished houses & other compliant houses Maximum dwelling rent ($/week) $120 $140 $184 $200
Existing houses Maximum housing maintenance levy ($/week) $90 $105 $138 $150






Tenants who want to know about their rent can:
  • Ask for a copy of their statement and rent calculations
  • Ask for their household rent to be reconciled
  • Ask for rent debts to be waived if they are not your fault (for example, your employer did not take rent out of your wages like you told them to, or the Department of Housing did not tell you for a long time that your rent was in arrears).

Remote rent issues

Prior to 1 July 2010, the Department of Housing charged remote public housing tenants poll tax, a charge per head of around $30-40 per person each fortnight irrespective of whether they lived in a house or a tent, were homeless, or severe to extreme overcrowding. The Department of Housing cannot provide the legal, contractual or policy basis for retaining poll tax payments.

The NT Ombudsman has recommended that the Department of Housing refund poll tax payments made by some people. The Department of Housing has refused to implement this recommendation. To date, there is no publically available policy regarding poll tax.

Until 2013, the Department of Housing did not keep adequate records of rent for its remote tenants, in contravention of section 36 of the Residential Tenancies Act 1999 (NT). It's systems could not track who was paying rent and which house the rent should be attributed to. There was no effective mechanism to ensure that remote tenants were paying the correct amount of rent and the maximum dwelling rent was not being exceeded as the Department of Housing did not know how much rent it received for a dwelling. It still has difficulties identifying rent payments made by some tenants.

Many remote tenants don't know how much rent they are paying, whether they are paying too much rent, or if they have a debt. Some people have paid rent to the Department of Housing without liability to do so.

People should speak to a lawyer if they think that they should not have paid rent or have paid rent or poll tax, their name was not on the tenancy agreement and for example, they lived in a tent, outstation or slept in the kitchen of the house.

The Department of Housing is manually checking all rent payments made to it since it started receiving rent payments in 2008. It expects to finish this in June 2016. Until this is properly completed, the information that the Department of Housing holds regarding remote tenants' rent is inaccurate.

This is a problem as if a person owes a debt to the Department of Housing, they are prevented from applying for, being allocated a public housing dwelling or transferring to another public housing dwelling.

If a tenant's account is in credit following reconciliation, the rent payments are applied to outstanding debts from previous tenancies (which are generally unproven - see Money owed to the Department of Housing), without apparent authority from the tenant. The Department of Housing should contact tenants after the reconciliation is complete to give the tenant the chance to appeal any decisions made. Tenants should contact a lawyer if they have questions about their rent reconciliation.

Beyond Economic Repair houses

The Department of Housing occasionally deems houses that are not safe or habitable as 'Beyond Economic Repair' (BER). Tenants are no longer charged rent and the house may be demolished or closed up.

This is a significant issue particularly in remote communities where the removal of one house from the public housing stock can impact up to 15 or 20 residents. This in turn puts more pressure on overcrowded houses and impacts on levels of homelessness.

There is no policy on the decision-making process that guides the Department of Housing when it decides to deem a house BER.

The Department of Housing has not always provided tenants living in BER houses with notices of termination. This means that tenants have been unable to appeal the decision or respond to a notice of termination with the Commissioner of Tenancies or NTCAT.

Tenants who are living in houses which are Beyond Economic Repair should seek urgent legal advice if the tenant has been asked to leave or received a notice of termination by the Department of Housing.

Existing houses or Legacy dwellings

Existing houses or legacy dwellings are houses in remote communities which have not been refurbished or have been refurbished but are deemed by the Department of Housing to not be 'safe and habitable'. Tenants of these houses pay rent, which the Department of Housing terms a 'maintenance levy'. The Department of Housing enters into tenancy agreements with the tenant which it terms 'occupancy agreements'.

The Department of Housing has historically considered that tenants of legacy dwellings do not have the protections of the Residential Tenancies Act 1999 (NT)and has limited its responsibilities to 'arranging for repairs and maintenance to be completed'.

The Department of Housing now appears to countenance the Residential Tenancies Act 1999 (NT) that may cover tenants of legacy dwellings stating:

"The application of the Residential Tenancies Act 1999 (NT) is a legal determination after consideration of the facts and circumstances of a particular case, including the existence of land tenure and leasing arrangements in 73 remote communities."

Tenants of legacy dwellings should seek legal advice, particularly around rent, repairs and maintenance and notices of termination.

Remote public housing application forms and allocation process

The decision as to whether to allocate a person a public housing premises in a remote community is incredibly significant as if a person has not been allocated a house to date, unless more houses are built, their current situation or lack of housing is now permanent or indefinite.

The remote housing application form does not ask applicants to provide information that is relevant to allocation decisions.

In an attempt to counter this, the Department of Housing's practice is to interview applicants for remote housing prior to allocation decisions being made. It does not appear that all applicants are interviewed prior to each allocation meeting and interpreters are rarely used.

The Department of Housing does not provide written confirmation of the receipt of an application for remote housing. Applicants who want confirmation that they have put in an application need to contact the Department of Housing or seek legal advice. If the person has submitted an application, but the Department of Housing does not have a record of it, they can complain to the Department of Housing or the NT Ombudsman.

From 2009 to 2014 the Department of Housing did not advise applicants in writing that that they had not been allocated a house, the reasons for the decision or their ability to appeal it. Remote applicants who wish to appeal allocation decisions should contact the Department of Housing or a legal service.

Concerns regarding quality of SIHIP and NPARIH works and materials

The refurbishment of houses under SIHIP and NPARIH did not improve the standard of remote houses to an 'urban standard' in all cases. The Department of Housing accounts for this by charging less rent for houses with fewer amenities. Tenants of refurbished houses are charged rent at 18 per cent of assessable income compared to tenants of new dwellings and those in public housing in urban areas, where tenants are charged at 23 per cent of assessable income.

Concerns regarding the quality of materials used in construction are ongoing. For example, in Maningrida because low grade fly wire was used on all of the houses constructed in the new suburb instead of security mesh, a significant proportion of the 125 houses newly constructed no longer have functional fly wire. The Department of Housing has advised tenants that they are responsible for the cost of replacing fly wire.

Tenants who are concerned about the condition of their houses should seek legal advice.

Power and water meters

The Department of Housing is responsible for maintaining electricity supply to houses in remote communities.

When meters are damaged and no wrongdoer can be identified, it is not clear which agency between PowerWater and the Department of Housing will take financial responsibility for the costs of a replacement meter. Neither Department of Housing nor PowerWater have published polices which state this.

Tenants whose meters are damaged in criminal acts should make reports to the Northern Territory Police and advise the Department of Housing as soon as possible.

Tenants who have been asked to pay for replacement meters which are damaged in criminal acts should seek legal advice immediately. Tenants who have been without power may be able to seek compensation.

For background to the issue see:

http://www.ombudsman.nt.gov.au/sites/default/files/downloads/let_there_be_light_0.pdf

Seniors housing

The Department of Housing has developed purpose built seniors villages for the accommodation of older people. These villages are only available for seniors over the age of 55 years. Some seniors who have lived in public housing prior to the age of 55 years may voluntarily relocate from larger accommodation into a seniors village. The Department of Housing may contact seniors with the offer of relocation, and seniors who apply in the normal manner are allocated this accommodation if and when it becomes available.

People with disabilities

The Department of Housing has accommodation suitable for people with disabilities and can also modify existing dwellings for tenants with specific needs. People with disabilities should provide medical confirmation of their disability and the type of modifications they require.

Employment Incentive Scheme

The Department of Housing has an Employment Incentive Scheme which is designed to help to reduce the financial disincentives of public housing tenants taking up employment.

To be eligible, the household needs to earn at least $200 per week before tax from wages.

The scheme works by gradually increasing a tenant's rent from the rebated amount to market rent over a period of six months. Tenants who have less then 12 months to run on their existing lease will also be offered a new lease of 12 months from the date of employment or increased hours of employment.

Complaints and Appeals

A person who is dissatisfied with a service provided or a decision made by the Department of Housing has several options:
  • seek legal advice from a community legal service or legal aid office (see Contact points)
  • make a complaint to their Housing Manager
  • ask for the Department of Housing to exercise discretion to not apply the policy
  • seek an internal review of the decision, called a first tier review
  • if the first tier review is unsuccessful, seek a second tier review by the Public Housing Appeals Board
  • complain to the Ombudsman NT (see Complaints about government administration)

    Appeal forms are available at Department of Housing offices and on the website.

    A person can appeal the majority of decisions made by the Department of Housing, including:

    Tenancy matters - for example strikes, debts, transfers, rent rebates
  • Housing applications and priority housing
  • Bond Assistance
  • The outcome of a complaint
  • Termination of a public housing tenancy.

    There are some decisions that can't be appealed:
  • Where legal action has been taken against the tenant
  • Most Department of Housing decisions which were made more than two years ago
  • The methods or timing of any debt repayment arrangement by Department of Housing
  • Decision by the Minister for Public and Affordable Housing to change public housing rents.

    Even if the decision to raise a debt happened more than two years ago, if you are still paying back the debt or the Department of Housing says you still owe a debt, you should be able to appeal it. Contact a legal service for advice.

    The members of the Public Housing Appeals Board are appointed by the Minister for Housing. They are independent of the Department of Housing. Following a hearing, the Public Housing Appeals Board will write to the Department of Housing with its recommendations. The Department of Housing does not have to implement its recommendations.

    A person who is still unhappy with a decision or process can contact the Ombudsman NT (see Contact points). The Ombudsman has the power to investigate processes and make recommendations about policy to the Department of Housing (see Complaints about government administration).

Affordable Housing Initiatives

Bond loans

The Department of Housing provides interest free loans of up to 4 weeks rent for bond, and two weeks rent to help people access private rental housing, including permanent on-site caravans. These loans can help to cover bond and initial rent payments at the start of a tenancy.

The eligibility criteria for bond assistance is the same as the criteria for the allocation of public housing (see Applying for public housing), plus

Rent must not be more than 53% of the applicant's income
  • The applicant needs to be a resident in the Northern Territory for 3 months prior applying
  • The applicant needs to meet income and asset limits

    The applicant needs to complete and submit a form with supporting documents to the Department of Housing, including copies of income and bank statements, details of assets and proof of three month Northern Territory residency and photo ID.

    If the applicant for bond assistance will be sharing accommodation with people who are not applying, only the applicant's income and assets are assessed. If the applicant is sharing accommodation, the amount of bond assistance will depend on how many other people sign the tenancy agreement.

    An application should be made prior to looking for a suitable property. If the application is approved, the Department of Housing give the applicant a letter of approval that is valid for four weeks. The letter says how much bond assistance the applicant is eligible for.

    Once a property is found, the applicant needs to take the tenancy agreement to the Department of Housing and arrange to pay back the bond assistance loan. Repayments are a minimum of 7% of applicants' household income, and no less than $10 per week. Recipients are asked to enter into an Agreement to Pay which ends within 18 months.

    The Department of Housing pays the bond directly to the landlord.

    Applicants can apply for bond assistance more than once provided the previous loan has been repaid

Affordable Rental Housing Schemes

The Northern Territory Government has a number of initiatives designed to increase the supply of affordable rental properties in the NT.
  • Real Housing For Growth Head Leasing Initiative
  • Venture Housing

Real Housing For Growth Head Leasing Initiative

The Northern Territory Government is leasing privately owned dwellings for a 10 year period in Darwin, Palmerston, Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs. It rents the properties to 'key service industry workers' at 30% below market rent.

Applicants need to be employed in the following sectors:
  • Tourism and hospitality
  • Retail
  • Trades
  • Education and childcare
  • Health and emergency services
  • Public service (front-line only)
  • Agriculture and fisheries
  • Community and social services
  • Transport and logistics.

    The applicant needs to submit a form with income and identification documents and meet income criteria. The applicant cannot:
  • Own property in the Northern Territory
  • receive a rental subsidy from their employer
  • be directly employed in the resources sector

Venture Housing

Venture Housing is a not-for-profit company established by the NT Government to provide rental properties for low to moderate income earners.

The household income limits are available by contacting Venture Housing (See Contact points).

Venture Housing suggests contacting it to find out what properties are vacant and affordable, viewing the property and then putting in an application form.

Applicants need to provide proof of earnings for the past 12 months, including Centrelink Income Statement, six weeks of pay slips from current employment, final payslips of any jobs in the past 12 months and the applicant's most recent Income Tax Return.

Venture Housing will check the applicant's references, their rental history, and whether the rent is affordable. The weekly rental can't be more than 35% of the applicant's weekly income.

It takes Venture Housing around four days to process and approve applications.

Rent assistance

Department of Human Services - Centrelink provides rent assistance for people living in private rental accommodation. It is not available to people in public housing. (see Pensions benefits and allowances)

Assistance to buy a house

The Department of Housing provides assistance to those seeking to buy their own home through the following schemes
  • Real Housing for Growth Home Buyer Initiative
  • HomeBuild Access
  • Remote Home Ownership Scheme

Real Housing for Growth Home Buyer Initiative

The Department of Housing assists eligible applicants to purchase newly constructed or house and land packages which are not available to purchase on the open market. Eligible applicants pay a deposit of $2000 rather than the standard 10%. To be eligible the applicant needs to:
  • be over the age of 18
  • be an Australian citizen or permanent resident
  • not own other property or a share in a property in Australia (this also applies to the applicant's spouse or defacto partner)
  • have a pre-approval letter for finance
  • not exceed maximum income limits
  • not be party to a contract of sale for the purchase of a house, land or unit

    Applicants need to complete and submit an application form with supporting documentation.

    If successful, the applicant can then purchase an available property. Details of available properties and application forms are available on the Department of Housing's website.

HomeBuild Access

HomeBuild Access offers two loan products to assist Territorians to purchase their own home.
  • Subsidised Interest Rate Loan
  • Low Deposit Loan

    The loans are through the People's Choice Credit Union on behalf of the Northern Territory Government.

    To be eligible for either of the HomeBuild Access loans, the applicant and their partner need to:
  • be Australian Citizens or permanent residents
  • be contracting to build or purchase a new property within a price limit
  • have the required deposit
  • live in the property as their principal place of residence for a minimum of three years after purchase/construction and
  • not currently have a HomeBuild Access loan

    Applicants who are building a house need to be in a single fixed price building contract with a Northern Territory licensed builder. Construction has to have started after 1 January 2013.

    Purchase price limits apply to both HomeBuild Access loan products:

Number of Bedrooms Purchase price limit
1 - 2 bedrooms $475,000
3 or more bedrooms $550,000




(Subsidised Interest Rate Loan)

The HomeBuild Access Subsidised Interest Rate Loan is available to eligible applicants who have a 2.0% deposit. It includes:
  • a subsidised variable interest rate for the first five years of the loan;
  • no lenders mortgage insurance
  • no monthly service fees
  • up to a 35 year loan term
  • no application fee
  • access to an interest free Fee Assistance Loan of up to $10 000 for costs associated with buying a home such as conveyancing, white goods, deposit and stamp duty. It is repayable over a maximum term of 15 years.

Low Deposit Loan

The Low Deposit Loan is a loan of up to 17.5% of the purchase price of the property. The applicant needs to get a loan for 80% of the purchase price through an approved finance company, currently People's Choice Credit Union and have a 2.5% deposit. There are no income or asset limits applied.

The HomeBuild Access Low Deposit loan includes:
  • no monthly service fees
  • 30 year term
  • no application fee
  • access to an Off the Plan Deposit Loan to help fund the deposit.

Remote Home Ownership Scheme

The Remote Home Ownership Scheme started in March 2014. It aims to enable public housing tenants in a small number of remote communities to purchase the house that they live in from the Department of Housing. The communities are:
  • Wurrumiyanga and Milikapiti (Tiwi Islands)
  • Umbakumba and Angurugu (Groote Eylandt)
  • Milyakburra (Bickerton Island).

Houses cost from $80,000 to $150,000. To be eligible, applicants must:
  • be living in the house they want to buy
  • be a signatory to the tenancy agreement
  • have two or more years of good rental payment history
  • satisfactory property condition history.

The steps are:
  • Fill out an expression of interest form with their name, address and contact details
  • The Department of Housing checks the condition of the house and if the applicant is eligible
  • The applicant completes training run by Indigenous Business Australia on the responsibilities of remote home ownership including maintaining monthly loan repayments, repairs and maintenance, insurance, and paying council rates
  • Independent valuation of the house
  • The Department of Housing sets the sale price
  • Applicant decides whether they want to buy the house.

The Department of Housing also provides a $20,000 'remote home ownership program bonus' to enable home owners to make improvements to their home. It is available for twelve months after ownership is transferred to the home owner.

Indigenous Business Australia also offers an additional loan to pay the costs of buying the home, up to $13,000, such as:
  • Legal fees
  • Stamp duty
  • Survey costs
  • Getting independent financial and legal advice
  • Making a will
  • Home insurance for the first year
  • Property valuation
  • Cost of establishing a land use agreement.

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