Outcomes of the $35 million tenancy support service program have not been independently assessed by the Department
The Department has not implemented good program governance around its $35 million Support and Tenant Education Program (STEP), introduced in 2013. It therefore does not know how well the program is helping to sustain tenancies. STEP services include mental health, legal, Aboriginal medical, and family violence support. The program is a free voluntary case management service and is offered every time a strike is issued to a tenant.
We identified a number of deficiencies in the way the STEP program is administered, including:
- The Department does not compel providers to report against all of the performance measures that are outlined in their contracts.
- Providers categorise each client as “improved” or “not improved” when they exit the program. This is based on anecdotal evidence, and does not quantify the nature of the improvement or the impact on sustaining tenancies (Table 4).
- The Department does not independently verify the reported STEP numbers.
Without this information, there is a risk that the $35 million program has not helped to sustain tenancies.
The available information about STEP outcomes over the last 5 years has not been used to modify and improve the program. For example, nearly half of all STEP referrals were in non-metropolitan regions, which account for only 20% of public housing properties. But only 68% of these clients ‘improved’ compared to the much higher rate of 93% for metropolitan clients (Table 4). We expected to see effort to change the way STEP services were delivered in non-metropolitan areas, but found no evidence that this occurred.
From 1 July 2019, the Department will launch the ‘Thrive’ program to replace STEP. This new program is a response to the wider remit of the newly created Department. The program will cost $10 million a year for 3 years, with an option to extend for another 2 years. Thrive intends to increase the focus on earlier intervention, offer more holistic tenant support, and improve tenant social and economic goals. It also aims to provide more culturally appropriate services and cater better for those in remote areas. The scope of the program was developed following extensive consultation with stakeholders, other parts of the Department, STEP providers and clients.
It is encouraging to see more detailed performance measures within the scope of the Thrive tender, that are to be determined in consultation with the Department and the winning provider. The measures need to directly relate to sustaining tenancies, be measureable, and be effectively implemented and followed up by the Department. Good practice project management and governance will be crucial once the contract is awarded to ensure tenants with complex needs are adequately catered for with this new $50 million program.
The Department could improve its performance reporting and data quality
The Department’s performance reporting captures only part of the work it does to support tenants and address disruptive behaviour. It currently only reports the number of strikes and evictions, and the timeliness of complaints resolved within 30 days. There are many other ways to measure the outcomes achieved by the Department.
The number of strikes is reported externally as a measure of the Department’s progress towards reducing disruptive behaviour. Reports show that the number of strikes increased after the introduction of the DBM Policy in 2011 (Figure 5) before peaking in 2013-14. Since then, the number of strikes has declined as the Department has shifted its focus towards improving tenant social outcomes and has introduced STEP services.
The number of evictions is also externally reported as an indicator of the overall impact of the Department’s Strategy and policies. Eviction numbers have varied from 53 in 2015-16 to 15 in 2017-18 (Figure 5), and could also be viewed as an indicator that tenant support initiatives are inadequate. However, the eviction numbers do not fully reflect the Department’s efforts. For example, not all Court applications to terminate a tenancy succeed, and some tenants choose to vacate rather than face a formal eviction.
A more complete picture of the Department’s performance and efforts to minimise poor tenant behaviour could come from measuring:
- the number and type of referrals to support services. Efforts to support tenants include help with accessing financial counselling and social support programs
- offers of fixed-term tenancies with conditions of good behaviour following eviction proceedings
- the impact of support services, such as STEP, in helping to sustain tenancies
- associated legal, cleaning and repair costs, which could be used for direct comparison over time.
Key information that the Department needs to inform how it manages disruptive behaviour is not always recorded in an easily accessible format. Department data is not centrally stored, with information housed in various electronic and hard copy records management systems. For example, there is no easy and reliable way to find out how many referrals were made to the Mental Health Commission or Child Protection and Family Support. Seeking information from multiple sources also creates a risk of incorrect decision making, both at the individual complaint level as well as more broadly across the Department’s efforts to manage disruptive behaviour.
We found examples of key information that was not always captured or available in the Habitat system, such as:
- Details of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status, despite it being common practice across government to collect this diversity information. The Department has a range of additional programs to support these tenants, such as the Building Safe and Strong Families Earlier Intervention and Family Support Strategy. Improved information capture and storage would allow the Department to better match tenants to these programs.
- Court and eviction information is often missing or is not well documented. The Department recognises that reviewing Court proceedings and outcomes is essential to understanding why applications to terminate tenancies involving disruptive tenants with complex needs are dismissed or not approved, and update policies and procedures to reflect lessons learned from Court outcomes.
- Complaints from contractors, staff, support service staff, other agencies and visitors who do not live near the tenant. For example, the Department’s Manager of Housing Maintenance Contract Performance advised that of the 20,000 work orders actioned each month in Department owned and managed housing, approximately 1% result in a complaint from a contractor, which could equate to as many as 200 complaints per month. Contractor complaints ranged in severity from mild swearing to one tenant chasing a contractor off the property with a machete. However, only 7 contractor complaints were recorded in Habitat over the 22-month period (Table 2).
The Department is committed to improving data quality. A 2016 internal review found problems with how complaint data is recorded across regions. The review recommended operational procedures be updated to support data collection. The Department addressed each of the recommendations. However, further improvements, such as ensuring Court and eviction data are consistently entered in all relevant fields, are needed to make Habitat data complete and reliable. Good quality data informs reporting and would help the Department to identify areas to improve how it manages disruptive behaviour from tenants.
 Housing Authority Annual Report 2016-17 p. 56.