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Income Management

Community Affairs - Income Management 01/06/2001 (cont)

Senator SIEWERT:  In terms of how much you have been allocated for your input into that—and I realise the bulk of it is being handled by DHS—what is your level of involvement from now on? They have now been identified and set up, so what level of involvement is FaHCSIA going to have on an ongoing basis?

Ms Carroll:  We will have very close involvement going forward. There are processes across government. There is an interdepartmental committee process looking at all the participation measures, but there are also subgroups that are looking at the different elements in the different locations. We have already attended meetings that have included us, DEEWR, Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Human Services, which are looking at each of those locations, the measures going into those locations and how we are going to implement them in a more holistic and less piecemeal way. For our department, in particular, obviously we have the income management in the five sites that we will have a lead on, and we also have some Communities for Children additional funding across the 10 sites. We have measures that are part of that whole and we are obviously working across government, but also some discussions have started to happen, for example, with the state governments that we have been participating in as well.

Senator SIEWERT:  In terms of the five income management sites, there are child protection measures, vulnerable measures and voluntary measures; is that correct?

Ms Carroll:  Yes.

Senator SIEWERT:  This might be a DHS question. In WA there was money set aside for 1,000. How many are there in the trial sites? Is there a cap on that?

Mr Lye:  It is the same.

Senator SIEWERT:  So, it is 1,000 capped in each?

Mr Lye:  Yes.

Senator SIEWERT:  I do not know whether I have asked this before and if I have I have forgotten so I apologise. What happens if you get more than 1,000?

Ms Hefren-Webb:  Centrelink would need to decline applications for voluntary income management.

Senator SIEWERT:  So they are the ones that go off first?

Ms Hefren-Webb:  Yes, that is correct.

Ms Carroll:  There would also be a process where you could go forward to government to ask to extend that if there was deemed a huge swell in demand greater than we had anticipated.

Senator SIEWERT:  Are we using the same list for the vulnerable as is currently used?

Ms Hefren-Webb:  There are likely to be some amendments to the instrument that sets out vulnerability criteria.

Senator SIEWERT:  You are going to my next question.

Ms Hefren-Webb:  There is an interest in including people at risk of homelessness due to eviction from public housing due to rental arrears. We might update the legislative instrument on that basis.

Senator SIEWERT:  How are you going to get information on rental arrears?

Ms Hefren-Webb:  Information on rental arrears would be provided by the public housing authority in each jurisdiction.

Senator SIEWERT:  Let us go into the vulnerability criteria. Is that the only additional vulnerability criterion?

Ms Hefren-Webb:  At this stage.

Senator SIEWERT:  In what other instances do you go to outside agencies when you are determining who is vulnerable? What other criterion on the vulnerable list of people on income support do you go to outside agencies?

Ms Hefren-Webb:  As to the current vulnerability criteria to provide guidance to a social worker who makes a decision, that social worker would have a number of sources of information and would speak regularly with a range of organisations, but there is no formal list of organisations from whom they can take advice.

Senator SIEWERT:  How will this work? You will have a list of people in a trial area who are on income support. You surely do not go to the housing records of everyone on income support to find out who is in rental arrears?

Ms Hefren-Webb:  No.
Senator SIEWERT:  How will you do that?
Ms Hefren-Webb:  The housing department would advise Centrelink of the name of the client who was in rental arrears and at risk of eviction.
Senator SIEWERT:  So that is if you are in public housing?
Ms Hefren-Webb:  That is correct.
Senator SIEWERT:  So if you are in public housing you get pinged. What happens if you are in private rental?
Ms Hefren-Webb:  If the Centrelink social worker is aware that you are at risk of homelessness because you are in private rental, which they may do because of your disclosing that fact, that could come into play, but there is no formal mechanism by which private landlords can provide that information to Centrelink.
Senator BOYCE:  Would these be people who are receiving rent assistance?
Ms Hefren-Webb:  I do not believe that people receive rental assistance when they are in public housing.
Senator BOYCE:  No, I was thinking about private.
Senator SIEWERT:  So potentially they could get a list of people receiving rental assistance and then look at them?
Mr Lye:  Importantly, the Centrelink social worker is the decision maker and so that might trigger a discussion with the person. The Centrelink social worker would determine vulnerability, not the referee.
Senator BOYCE:  Can child protection workers put people forward as well?
Mr Lye:  That is separate. You would be aware that is where there is a formal—
Senator BOYCE:  That is in those five areas?
Ms Hefren-Webb:  That is correct.
Senator SIEWERT:  That is a different measure.
Ms Carroll:  That is right. On the vulnerability measure it is the Centrelink social worker that would remain as the decision maker. It is not that anybody could be referred from the public housing area and automatically be put on income management.
Senator SIEWERT:  No, but you are getting their data, aren’t you? Centrelink will be getting the data from the public housing association about anybody in arrears on income support.
Mr Lye:  The housing manager who is in discussion with that person who is in arrears might say to that person: ‘This is the situation. We don’t want to evict you. I have an ability to make a referral through to the Centrelink social worker.’
Senator SIEWERT:  This gets better and better. So now you are turning housing people into people that could potentially require a person to be income managed?
Mr Lye:  They would not have that ability. The Centrelink social worker would be the decision maker.
Senator SIEWERT:  They still have a position of authority over those people by saying, ‘We could be referring.’ Does somebody know when they are going to be reported to Centrelink for being in arrears from the department of housing?
Ms Hefren-Webb:  We would be envisaging a practice very much like the current child protection model where the child protection worker has that discussion with the person and advises them that the intention of the department is to make that referral. We have not yet had detailed discussions with state housing authorities, but we would envisage it being an appropriate process that there was discussion with the client and they were made fully aware that this was pending and potentially even might be offered the chance to put in place regular deductions to deal with the issue that way prior to the referral happening. That is still to be negotiated.
Mr Lye:  The policy intent is to try to prevent the person from being made homeless through eviction. That is the intention of having that ability to refer to the social worker.
CHAIR:  We will take a break and then come back to this issue.
Proceedings suspended from 16:00 to 16:15
CHAIR:  We are on Outcome 3.1, and Senator Siewert was in mid-question.
Senator SIEWERT:  Can we go back to how we pick up this indicator on housing? How regularly will somebody be checked? Will the housing department be trained in how to deal with these issues?
Ms Carroll:  One of the things is that obviously this is new; we have not done this before. As Mr Lye said earlier, the objective is really to ensure that we do not have people that are falling out into homelessness that have multiple other issues for which it would be deemed by the Centrelink social worker that they met the kind of vulnerable criteria and therefore income management would be a useful thing. We are in the process at the moment of just starting to talk to states and territories, and obviously the way things occur in every state and territory will be a bit different around housing. We would be wanting to ensure that in working with the states about the protocols to get to those kinds of things like you have just described, like how frequently or whatever. We would be wanting to ensure, as we worked through with the state governments, that it was a more senior officer that did any of those referrals through to the Centrelink officer. 
They are the sorts of things we still have to talk to the states about and work through, but we are quite conscious that it is not, ‘Oh, this person looks like they are not going to pay their rent. We are going to refer them through to income management.’ That is not the intent. The intent is to pick up highly vulnerable people that have significant issues and that are at risk of falling out into homelessness. Why we are being a bit vague on the detail is we are still working through that and working through what that might look like, both with the state governments—and we have only just started preliminary discussions with them—but also on the Centrelink side about how the Centrelink social worker as the decision maker would handle any of that information that they received. Because it might be that they receive the information from the state government person and all they need is to go onto Centrepay onto a compulsory rent deduction and, in fact, everything else is okay, so they do not need to go onto income management. They are the kinds of things that we are still working through because, as indicated right at the beginning, we do not have this as one of the criteria in what currently exists, so it is one of the things that we are still working through.
Senator SIEWERT:  I appreciate what you have just said. This is occurring in certain locations. I am a senior housing person. There has got to be some process of indicating to me in that region. You are not going to be doing it across the state, so there will be a list that exists of people that are on income support in that locality, or is it just that if you are in that locality, you may be on income support?
Ms Carroll:  It would just be if you were in that locality and in public housing. We would be working with the housing authority to be saying if they have public housing in that locality and the person is highly vulnerable and they are very concerned and think that it might be a useful tool, then there would be a mechanism to refer them in. It is Centrelink that understands whether they are on income support or any of those other things. If you are in public housing you are mostly on income support, so we are actually not asking the housing authorities to have a list of people—or Centrelink certainly are not giving them a list of people—of this is who is captured in that area.
Senator SIEWERT:  So, the indicator will be if people are in arrears? I am really struggling with, ‘I think this person is vulnerable. They are struggling and they are in arrears, so they are vulnerable, so I am going to send their name to Centrelink.’ That is how it is going to work.
Ms Carroll:  As I said, we still have to work through that with the state governments, but one of the things that we certainly hear from the state governments on the housing side is that one of the things they struggle with is people not just getting in arrears, but they might actually have other complex issues—multiple issues—that are being dealt with at the same time, and their risk of getting so much in arrears that they actually lose their tenancy is like a final trigger. So, that is the idea, not just to say, ‘You are a month behind in your rent and therefore you get sent off to Centrelink’, which is why we would want to, as we work through it with the state governments, ensure that there is obviously an appropriate protocol but also some senior level oversight of how all of this happens.
Senator SIEWERT:  This mechanism is not being used in the NT at the moment, is it? Because it is a new criterion, it is going to be added to the list?
Ms Hefren-Webb:  That is correct; it is not currently operating in the NT.
Senator SIEWERT:  If I am in a private rental and I am in arrears, I am not going to be telling my social worker because I am going to learn pretty quick that if I tell my social worker at Centrelink, I will get pinged and I will be classed as vulnerable. So, how then do they seek help if they want some support to get their way through issues, but they know they are going to get income managed? I tell you what, I would not be telling them, so how are you going to deal with that issue? You are pinging the people that are in housing authority houses, but there is no way that those that are in private rentals are going to be asking you for help. One of the avenues where you can get help is going to be excluded because I will be running a mile.
Ms Carroll:  Again, we will be working through, obviously, with Centrelink, and you can ask them some questions about some of their thinking about how this might work as well. A lot of times the Centrelink social workers are seeing some people anyway is because they have multiple, complex problems, and the fact that they are in private rental and getting in arrears is an additional thing which makes it very difficult for them to stabilise, which is the idea of then bringing in the income management.
Senator SIEWERT:  I am hearing you; I just do not agree. I appreciate that. I understand in this measure there is additional funding for additional social workers. Do I ask that here or DHS?
Ms Carroll:  DHS.
Senator SIEWERT:  Thank you. In terms of the time process for the generation of the new criteria for the vulnerable list, first, what is the time line and, second, are there any other additions?
Ms Hefren-Webb:  The new locations are scheduled to commence from 1 July 2012, so we would be looking to have the revised instrument in place prior to that, but obviously they are likely to be totalled for first half of next year, say. There are no other criteria currently under discussion.
Senator SIEWERT:  Will that instrument then be used for the NT as well?
Ms Hefren-Webb:  At this stage, no decision has been made about that.
Senator SIEWERT:  So, at the moment it will apply only to the five locations?
Ms Hefren-Webb:  That is the current intention.
Senator SIEWERT:  Are there any other legislative changes that are required to do the trials?
Ms Hefren-Webb:  We are just looking at that at the moment. There may be some minor amendments, not so much required as that would facilitate the operation. The underpinning legislation is there already to implement, but just in terms of particular tweaking around the new locations, we are just looking at that issue at the moment.
Senator SIEWERT:  Is the child protection measure going to operate in the same way it operates in Western Australia?
Ms Hefren-Webb:  Subject to the discussions we have with each jurisdiction and how their child protection system operates. They all operate slightly differently, so in terms of what is their policy around keeping cases open and what level of seniority and so on would be required for referral, but we would be intending to use the system we have got set up in WA and NT at the moment as I guess a kind of a starting point for discussions with the other jurisdictions. We will be providing them with examples of how it works there and getting their views as to how that relates to their system.
Senator SIEWERT:  Did you hold any discussions with the state governments prior to announcing these measures on these trials?
Ms Carroll:  Not before the announcement. On the day after the budget there was a telephone conference with state government officials where we discussed the measures that were announced in the budget.
Senator SIEWERT:  I understand that when the Western Australian one was brought in you had had prior discussions with the state government. Is that a correct understanding?
Ms Carroll:  I would have to check, I am sorry. I do not know.
Ms Hefren-Webb:  I believe that is correct.
Senator SIEWERT:  So, why not this time, and what were the states’ reactions?
Ms Carroll:  Obviously, it was a decision of government about whether they have discussed things that are in the budget prior, or not. We have had two conversations with the states since then. There was, as I said, a telephone conversation on the day after the budget and then we had a community services senior officials meeting in Adelaide last week where we spent some time talking through the measures and the issues. The states were quite receptive. They had lots of questions, obviously. They wanted to understand how it would work and what it meant; not just the income management part, but all of the place based measures. They were very interested in how we would work together. Some jurisdictions were keen to be starting as quickly as possible and others were more wanting to understand how it might work in with what they have already got, but we certainly have had very positive conversations with the states.
Senator SIEWERT:  They are obviously having to commit additional resources. Are they prepared to commit the additional resources?
Ms Carroll:  We have not had a resourcing discussion with them, but they obviously are talking to us and interested in how to take this forward.
Senator PRATT:  This is speculative, but clearly it could actually result in a saving for the state and territory governments if they do not have to pursue people who are at risk of homelessness around rent arrears and things like that.
Senator SIEWERT:  In terms of additional financial counselling, are there going to be additional resources? In Western Australia there were some additional financial counselling and a bit of extra emergency financial counselling provided when that first started, was there not? Is that going to happen in these locations?
Ms Oswald:  That is right. Over the five years that the pilot will be running, there is about $13.6 million that will be put into additional financial management support services.
Senator SIEWERT:  That is across the five locations?
Ms Oswald:  That is across the five sites; that is right. We have not yet done a distribution across those sites. We need to do a scoping study first to work out what is in each of those locations before we determine what services are needed and what the gaps are.
Senator SIEWERT:  Presumably, that will be tendered out like it was in Western Australia?
Ms Oswald:  That is right.
Senator SIEWERT:  While we are on Western Australia, going back to the table that you provided and the percentages in the column for WA for the income management trial. I have not done the calculations on my calculator; I am presuming where we are talking about the 55.5 per cent, that is the percentage of customers of the total amount that are being income managed.
Ms Hefren-Webb:  That 55 per cent of the child protection customers are in the Perth metro area and 44 per cent are in the Kimberley; that would total 100 per cent.
Senator SIEWERT:  In WA we have got a group of people—less than 20—which are outside metro and outside the Kimberley, so that would be south-west of the Pilbara. Is that what I can assume there?
Ms Hefren-Webb:  The people out of area would be people who have subsequently moved out of area. You cannot sign up for voluntary income management unless you are in that area, but once you have signed up you can move away, subject to Centrelink being able to adequately service.
Senator SIEWERT:  We have had a discussion before about the number of people that are cycling on and off voluntary income management in WA. Can you tell me, of the 542, how many of those have been on and off? Do you know what I mean?
Ms Hefren-Webb:  I do not have that information with me.
Senator SIEWERT:  Are you able to get it? The reason I am asking is there was some evidence in the past that people were signing up, going off. Some were going back on again. Could you get—
Ms Hefren-Webb:  There have been new rules put in place putting a minimum of three months participation, so that may have affected that. I can try to get you that information. We are observing a somewhat similar pattern in the NT, where we have had some people cycle off and then on again.
Senator SIEWERT:  For how long do they stay off?
Ms Hefren-Webb:  Do you mean on average?
Senator SIEWERT:  I beg your pardon, I meant when you are finding that. I should have been more clear. As I understand it, the Local Solution Fund is going to be administered by DHS?
Ms Carroll:  That is correct.
Senator SIEWERT:  Is there going to be an advisory committee process on that?
Ms Carroll:  I think all of that is just being finalised at the moment about how that will actually operate. The funding has been provided to the Department of Human Services to administer and obviously there will certainly be local advisory committees that determine the needs in a particular area and also help these thing work. We are still in the process of working out how all those things might work together.

Senator SIEWERT:  So, that we can get an understanding of the total cost of this approach, who is doing that overview? I have some figures from DEEWR, I have some figures from you and I will get some figures from DHS tomorrow. Is there anybody who says, ‘This is how much we are spending in total?’ And, for example, per person or should I say per measure? Do you know what I mean? I am in the vulnerable group. There is obviously work that you were doing in terms of FaHCSIA. There is obviously work that DHS does and DEEWR does. Do we just have to keep going between each committee or is there an overview of all the expenditure to see whether it is working?

Ms Carroll:  At a bureaucratic and a government level the IDC that I described before, which is actually chaired by DEEWR, will be keeping that kind of overview of how everything is coming together. In terms of providing something to this committee in an overview way, we could perhaps take that on notice as to how we could provide more of an integrated update to the committee.

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