report

Managing Disruptive Behaviour in Public Housing

Key findings

  • The Disruptive Behaviour Management Strategy includes 11 approaches to managing disruptive tenant behaviour, all but one of which has been progressed (Table 1). The Strategy and associated policies and procedures enable the Department to resolve complaints about disruptive behaviour and illegal activities though all require update to better reflect the Department’s focus on sustaining tenancies.
  • The Department generally manages complaints well, following documented policies and procedures that broadly align with its Strategy. We found these also aligned with established complaint handling guidelines.[1] Each complaint entered in Habitat is assessed, tenants are given an opportunity to provide evidence, and multiple staff are involved in making decisions to reduce bias. This approach gives confidence that incidents are investigated and resolved according to standard policies and procedures, and decreases the risk that community concerns will be missed. It may however, be disproportionate for routine, simple complaints.
  • Overall, the Department meets its target of resolving 90% of complaints within 30 days, with 92% of the over 11,500 complaints per year completed within this timeframe. Six of the 11 offices met this target but not all outside the metropolitan area did. Staff we interviewed in these offices said they had less time to support tenants through site visits and referrals.
  • Low participation in disruptive behaviour management training, which ranged from 60% to as low as 13%, is another factor likely to be affecting efficient management of complaints. There are opportunities for the Department to increase training attendance to ensure staff are trained in all aspects of disruptive behaviour management. Streamlined complaints assessment or using central coordinators to first assess all complaints, and providing guidance to the community about who to contact for different complaint types would allow the Department to better use its limited resources.
  • Opportunities to achieve better outcomes for more vulnerable tenants and the community are missed. Early intervention is limited to giving tenants a short ‘Help is Available’ brochure that lists tenant support services at the start of each tenancy. Tenant support is typically not offered until disruptive behaviour incidents are reported. We found strikes were issued against tenants with complex mental health illness, family violence or inter-generational dysfunction. The Department does not direct resources towards early intervention for these tenants, instead following standard procedures to manage all disruptive behaviour.
  • Information sharing within and between agencies is also inadequate. Staff are not routinely informed of the outcomes of referrals to mental health and child protection service providers for tenant support. This limits the Department’s understanding and ability to effectively identify and help vulnerable tenants to succeed in public housing.
  • Out of date Memorandums of Understanding with Police, the Mental Health Commission and the Child Protection and Family Support unit of the Department do not reflect current information sharing arrangements and agency relationships. For example, the Mental Health Commission is no longer able to assist with mental health referrals and support, yet no alternative arrangements are in place.
  • The Department could better communicate its dual, and sometimes opposing, roles of landlord and supporting tenants to sustain their housing. Many of the measures outlined in the Strategy have been progressed, but a ‘Responsible Tenancy’ education and awareness campaign was not (Table 1). The Strategy and key policy and procedure documents have also not been updated to reflect the intent and direction of the Department since machinery of government changes in July 2017. It is still important to target positive messages about appropriate behaviour and raise awareness of the responsibilities of tenants, the Department and the community.
  • The Department could improve its outcome measures and quality of data. Outcomes from the $35 million of funding paid to STEP service providers since 2013 have not been independently assessed by the Department. It relies on anecdotal feedback from the 7 service providers who deliver the program. In response to deficiencies with STEP, which did not focus enough on early intervention or culturally appropriate services, a new Thrive program will be introduced in 2019. This program aims to support tenants to achieve their own social and economic goals, but will need to be carefully managed to get measurable value from the $50 million investment.
  • The Department’s reporting provides a limited view of the work it does to support tenants and reduce disruptive behaviour. It only reports the numbers of strikes, evictions, and complaints resolved in 30 days. These show that the number of strikes issued has declined from 2,102 in 2013-14 to 1,305 in 2017-18 and the number of evictions has varied from 15 to 53 during the same period. The number of referrals to support services and offers of alternative tenancy options after eviction could provide valuable insights into the Department’s performance and help inform services.
  • The quality of some complaint information and therefore reporting, is compromised by data that is not centrally stored or is missing. In addition, the Department does not always record in easily accessible format:
  • aggressive or disruptive behaviour directed at maintenance contractors that has not been lodged as a complaint
  • the number of referrals made to the Mental Health Commission or Child Protection and Family Support
  • information about tenant diversity, such as mental illness, disability or cultural and linguistic diversity
  • the outcomes of Court decisions.
  • A 2016 internal review also found weaknesses in how complaint data across regions was recorded. The Department has addressed the recommendations of the review, but there is still more work to be done to fix the data gaps identified above. Better data recording in a central repository, including complaint types, referrals and Court actions and outcomes, would further help identify opportunities to minimise disruptive behaviour.

[1] Ombudsman Western Australia (2017). Guidelines on Complaint Handling.

Page last updated: December 20, 2018

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