Monday, May 7, 2018

The bond is too damn high


Paying the bond is a real hardship for many tenants. Tenants move on average every 2 years, and for many its much more frequent than that! NSW Rental Bond Board data shows of tenancies ending in 2016 and 2017 more than 50% of tenancies ended after less than 18 months, and a full third ended in less than 1 year. That is a lot of people moving home!

To make matters worse, there is often a cross over period between tenancies where a renter has had to pay a bond on the new place, before the bond from the previous home has been released. Tenants also run the ever-present risk that an agent/landlord will make a claim on their bond - whether or not there appears to be any merit to the claim.

However, it is also important to note that the stats suggest that most tenants receive their bond back in full, or with very minor payments to the landlord. Over the two years 2016 and 2017 there were more than half a million bonds released from the Rental Bond Board - 57% of them returned to the tenant in full and 75% of tenants received more than half the bond back.


Of the bonds where some amount was claimed by the landlord, 41% were for an amount of less than $500.


Several companies have recognised the issue of bonds as a pain point for tenants and are pushing the boundaries of the law and math to try and work out how best to insert themselves into this process. For people who don't have the money for the bond there are currently pay day lenders, bond loan specific companies, and bond insurance products. Now come bond “surety” (or “guarantee”) products where the company promises to pay the landlord if there is a compensation claim at the end of the tenancy. Though not technically loans they function in the same manner - you have money in your pocket that you would not have had before, and you pay fees which effectively constitute interest on that amount.

Some bond surety companies have even attempted to promote themselves as a response to housing affordability. The ACT government has apparently rushed to allow at least one such company, Snug, to operate their BondCover product, to the dismay of some in the territory. We examine Snug’s BondCover in a companion piece also published today looking at whether BondCover works well for tenants. In this piece, we’ll focus on the broader issues raised.

Are bonds a tax?

Snug has taken to pointing out recently that bonds are an extra tax on renters. This is true. Bonds do create a kind of tax - but they are levied by landlords who require their payment as a condition of securing a home. While their stated purpose is to act as an assurance for the landlord, the effect of that payment is to cost the tenant the potential benefit of doing something else with the money. As bonds are refundable, strictly speaking the tax is 100% of the potential for using that money for something else rather than the bond itself.

These are known as private taxes – a cost which someone with no alternative is forced to pay to a private entity. For a further introduction to the concept of private taxes, we recommend this article on the subject from economist Philip Soos.

It is clear to us that Snug’s BondCover makes this private tax burden heavier, not lighter. The current rental bond board system doesn't solve the problem, but does change the private tax to something approaching a public one, which allows the benefit of the tax to be shared beyond only the landlord.

Snug's BondCover seeks to convert this back to a private tax, with the benefit mostly flowing to them. In the companion piece we meet a tenant, Jen, who finds that she is even worse off than if the landlord kept the bond themselves - here is a simplified version of a chart showing by how much Jen is worse off if the bond is in the Rental Bond Board or under BondCover.



So what does this bond tax currently pay for? The Rental Bond Board in NSW has $1.4 billion in bonds, which is then invested in a portfolio by TCorp, NSW Treasury’s investment arm. The interest the Bond Board earns on these bonds is spent on various aspects of infrastructure around renting – mostly Fair Trading NSW’s tenancy-related activity such as administering the Rental Bond Board, and administering complaints as well as funding the tenancy-related parts of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

A small portion (about $6million a year) is used to partially fund the Tenants’ Advice and Advocacy Program which assists more than 25,000 tenants a year, and we at the TU receive some of that funding for our role in supporting the services.

We might spend the interest earned on tenants’ bonds differently if it was up to us. There are legitimate questions about the benefit tenants receive from this investment. But it is unquestionably better value than the traditional alternative which gave all the benefit to the landlord. Giving it and more to Snug instead doesn’t seem a better deal for renters.

Tenants will generally be distinctly worse off. Rather than the landlord demanding a fully refundable bond paid to the Rental Bond Board which costs the tenant potential interest, BondCover is an non-refundable amount which costs the tenants both actual fees and potential interest.

So, are there any other ways to reduce the hardship caused to tenants by bonds?

The NSW state government, and other state and territory governments, already has a solution available to them. For several years now, people who are eligible for social housing have been able to pay for their bond in installments over 12 months or more on an interest free loan.

Word from Family And Community Services who administer the program is that this is a highly successful program. It is a low cost, high impact program that effectively reduces the strain on households during their too-frequent moves.

We could consider this a pilot program, and expand its eligibility to every tenant in the state. Most tenants will not need it, but for those that do, it would be a very simple solution. With modern application processes the administrative costs for government are minimal and even if they are passed on to tenants it would be at a fraction of the cost of Snug. Fair Trading NSW could even use the money already sitting in the Rental Bond Board accounts to cover the loans – a true win-win.

Of course, we could also reduce the number of moves by ensuring the private rental market is not the insecure nightmare many experience (by the way, we've got a pretty good idea how to make that fairer too) – or even expand our public housing stock to ensure everyone who needs a home, has one.

Now that would be a real market disrupter.

Disclaimer: As discussed in this piece, the Tenants' Union of NSW receives some funding from the interest the Rental Bond Board earns on tenants' bonds. Details of what the bond interest money is spent on are detailed in the Rental Bond Board's annual reports.

Does BondCover have you covered?

In this article we take a look at a product known as bond surety, or bond guarantee – Snug’s BondCover – and whether it is a good deal for renters. The ACT government has apparently made regulation to allow Snug and other products lawful in that territory, to the dismay of renting experts there. See our companion piece also published today which discusses the rise of these products and offers some ways of thinking about the issue of bonds.

What is Snug’s BondCover?

In Snug's BondCover model the landlord agrees for there to be no 'bond' for the tenancy. Instead, the tenant pays between 5% and 9% per annum fee either as an annual, monthly or weekly fee to Snug (along with an initial administrative set up fee). In exchange for that fee Snug issues a certificate guaranteeing to the landlord that if there is any breach at the end of the tenancy for which a bond claim would ordinarily be made, Snug will pay it out.

To receive coverage by Snug, they must judge you as having a good tenant history and the landlord must also agree to the arrangement.

At the end of the tenancy, if the landlord makes a claim which the tenant doesn't agree with and it's under $500, Snug will assess the claim by the landlord and pay out if they think it's appropriate. It is not clear what expertise Snug has in assessing these kinds of claims. They are backed by IAG insurance though in our experience insurance companies aren't necessarily well-versed in tenancy law either.

If the landlord’s claim is over $500 the landlord will need to make an application against the tenant in the relevant court or Tribunal (in NSW the Civil and Administrative Tribunal or NCAT). Snug will pay the landlord according to the orders made by the Tribunal.

If Snug pays out to the landlord, they will attempt to recover the money from the tenant. If the tenant disagrees with Snug's assessment for under $500 Snug would need to take the tenant through the Local Court. Dealing with disputes in the Local Court tends to be more costly and difficult than dealing with disputes in the Tribunal – which is designed to be more accessible and less formal for tenants.

We understand the Snug contracts attempt to ensure that if they pay out money to the landlord you will owe them the money, even if it can be proven that they paid out incorrectly. For instance a landlord might apply to the Tribunal and be successful initially, but after Snug pays out the Tribunal decision might be overturned. It will be interesting to see how that pans out in practice.

Snug's selling point for tenants is that they will have their money in their hands, to do something more productive with it. Snug asked its potential customers what they would do with the money. 68% said either save or invest. 6% said spend it on a holiday. The other 27% of responses weren't made public.


Material on Snug’s Facebook page appears to encourage people to spend their bond money instead on very risky investment strategies like trying to find the next Amazon. This would be astonishingly poor financial advice for anyone who needs to be concerned with the affordability of their housing.

There are some transparency issues with Snug’s product. When using the example given on Snug’s website (a bond of $1,500), two different prices are given for the same bond amount. The first, static pricing example says $110 for a 2 bedroom. But when you start getting a quote in the second its jumped up to $140 for a 1 bedroom. We haven’t attempted to gain a full quote.

The fee is between 5-9% which is really a large range. It would be good if there was some transparency on how these fees are actually calculated. Clearly the number of bedrooms makes a difference. What else does?

The fee reduces over time as various loyalty bonuses are applied - but note the fine print: you appear to start with an all new administration fee and the higher cost, except for a 5% “no claim” discount, with each new property.

So is Snug’s BondCover worth it?

Let’s take the example from the website and use the example of a $1500 bond for a 2 bedroom apartment that a tenant, let's call her Jen, is going to move in to. To give Snug a bit of help, let's also assume we know Jen is going to get to stay for 3 years (a very long period for most tenants at present – only about 20% manage to stay for 3 years or longer). Jen takes her $1,500 and instead of putting all of it in the Rental Bond Board, she gives $110 of it to Snug. Now she starts the tenancy with $1,390 in her pocket. How much would Jen have to earn on the $1390 to avoid being worse off with Snug?
Assumes interest compounds daily, and tax is paid on interest earned at 2017-18 rates on additional income for a lone person household earning $60k pa - just under the income needed for rent to be considered affordable at $375 per week
After 3 years, Jen would have needed to have achieved returns of 8% a year just to cover the snug fees. In various parallel universes, some Jens who put their money into managed investment funds tied to the stock exchange will have achieved that – but many won’t have. They aren’t at all reliably performing at above 8% returns per year. The Jens who kept their money in high interest bank accounts would be topping out at about 3% pa at the moment, so those Jens are more than $100 worse off. The 6% of Jens who went on holiday effectively paid $223 extra for their tickets.

To explore the issue fully, we also ran the numbers where Jen would be with the money without having to pay a bond at all, and if the landlord held the bond (as they used to before the Rental Bond Board was implemented).



Jen is actually worse off in terms of productive use of her $1500 using Snug than just handing the whole bond over to the landlord.

Who is the real customer of Snug’s BondCover?

So, apart from Snug, who really benefits from this BondCover scheme? Ultimately, BondCover will need to be of benefit to either landlords or their agents if Snug is to run a successful business. It is landlords, not tenants, who choose whether a bond is taken and thus whether BondCover is required. Consider - if a landlord says they want BondCover and the tenant says they don't, the tenant might choose not to move in but you can be pretty sure someone else will. If the tenant says they want BondCover and the landlord says they don't - then there is no BondCover for that tenant.

You might think it could prove difficult to convince landlords to trust a start-up merely promising to have cash available, since landlords already have ready access to cash set aside specifically for the purpose of reimbursing them for any costs at the end of the tenancy. There are two clear advantages for the landlord and their agent.

Unlike a Tribunal member, Snug needs to consider its relationship with the landlord in order to ensure return business – the customer is always right and in this case, landlords are the real customers, even though they are making tenants cough up to pay for it. There will be a real incentive for landlords to make even more claims that come in just under $500, since that avoids the need for Tribunal scrutiny. Even if the claim is unsuccessful it saves real estate agents and landlords both time and money. We would expect to see more, not less, claims made on tenants’ bond money.

The second is that it appears Snug now pays referral fees equal to the first year's fee to real estate agents who sign their landlords up. This has code of conduct implications for real estate agents who need to disclose this kind of payment system in NSW, but it certainly could be enough to grease some wheels.

Is BondCover legal?

No. Not in NSW.

You don’t even need to take our word for it. The Snug website claims that BondCover is legal in all states where it is offered. It isn’t offered in NSW, and there’s a lobbying attempt to have government change the law, so you can be pretty sure it isn’t legal here.

There appears no good reason why a government would make a product like this legal – the math just doesn’t work out for tenants.

Disclaimer: As discussed in the companion piece, the Tenants' Union of NSW receives funding from the interest the Rental Bond Board earns on tenants' bonds. Details of what the bond interest money is spent on are detailed in the Rental Bond Board's annual reports.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Fair renting laws: An idea whose time has finally come?

In 1975 the Henderson Poverty Inquiry handed down its final report. One of the major recommendations in the Law and Poverty section, and the only major one which was not implemented, was ending the practice of landlords evicting tenants without a good reason.


Listen to Brendan Edgeworth, Professor of Law at UNSW speaking on ABC Radio National last year.

Is Australia finally, 43 years later, on the verge of accepting the need for change? In just the last few years we have seen a growing recognition of the issue. A number of campaigns have started - the "Make Renting Fair" campaigns in both NSW and Victoria collectively bringing together more than 160 organisations across the two states including NGOs, faith-based groups, unions, councils and tens of thousands of individual tenants and supporters.
Victoria

New South Wales


Late last year the social housing and homelessness sectors launched their national Everybody's Home campaign - and included in their platform is ending no grounds evictions. While some of the organisations involved in Everybody's Home have been campaigning on this issue for some time, it is significant that it showed for the first time the public support of community housing landlords for ending no grounds evictions.

The Sydney Alliance recently included renting questions in an opinion survey in Penrith and found that 82% of residents disagreed that landlords should be able to evict tenants without giving any good reason).


Now in the last few days, GetUp! has launched their Future to Fight For campaign, with 7 broad-reaching changes including a platform of very positive housing reforms. The platform includes implementing a broad based land tax, increasing public housing, and amongst a range of tenancy law proposals - an end to "no grounds" evictions.
With more tenants than ever before, and more attention to the issue of a fair renting system - are we finally seeing the voices of tenants and their supporters growing loud enough to create real change and bring Australia's tenancy laws, if not into the 21st century, at least in to the 1970s? 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Anglicare Rental Affordability Snapshot 2018

Anglicare Australia have released their latest 'Rental Affordability Snapshot' and find that the rental crisis is worse than ever. The Snapshot surveyed over 67,000 rental listings across Australia and found that there is a chronic shortage of affordable rentals across Australia. The Snapshot is consistently a powerful reminder of how tough it can be surviving in the rental market on lower incomes.

(C) RL Crabb 2015

We've had a look at the numbers for NSW - it's bleak.

Across Sydney, for any household type with children and relying on any form of income support there were 0 properties available and affordable for rent.

Across NSW, for any singles on Newstart or Youth Allowance there were 0 properties available and affordable for rent, including in sharehousing.

Across the rest of the country
– 485 rentals were affordable for a single person on the Disability Support Pension
– 180 rentals were affordable for a single parent with one child on Newstart
– 3 rentals were affordable for a single person on Newstart
– 2 rentals were affordable for a single person in a property or share house on Youth Allowance
– 0 rentals were affordable for a single person on Newstart or Youth Allowance in any major city.

One thing to keep in mind with the Rental Affordability Snapshot and most measures of rental affordability is that they are measuring the rents at the point people are moving. The complete absence of available and affordable options may weigh heavily in the minds of tenants who are living in substandard, inappropriate but not quite as expensive accommodation - what are their real options? Even if they were to move, would any one approve their application?

One of the findings of the report is that there are more rental properties available than before - but it hasn't helped with affordability. The market is failing to provide homes for people on lower incomes. What we need is a massive increase in the number of "market-proof" housing - housing supply which is aimed not at achieving the most profitable outcomes, but the most necessary. This is the role of good government - we hope they are listening!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Getting in to hot water: energy charges for common hot water systems

This post authored by Grant Arbuthnot, Principal Solicitor at the Tenants' Union.There has recently been some developments in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal for renters with common hot water systems. The Tribunal has found, and the TU agrees, that tenants are not liable for paying the energy bill required to heat hot water systems which are shared by multiple homes.



What is a common hot water system?
Some blocks of flats have common hot water systems.  This is where one water heating plant provides hot water to all the flats – individual flats do not have their own hot water systems. This was probably to keep the costs of building the flats lower.
How do they work?
Most common hot water systems are gas fired.  A large central hot water heater is connected to each flat.   Some have a circulation pump to reduce waste by cold water coming from the tap first.  The good systems are well insulated and well maintained. 
In a flat with its own hot water system, the tenant pays the gas or electricity bill used to heat the water. However, this is through an account with their own separate meter.
How were bills being calculated in common hot water systems?
Gas and water entering the plant are metered to allow calculation of the energy per water volume ratio (also known as a common or conversion factor) for the system, over a billing period.  This ratio is then applied to the water volume measured by each flat’s hot water flow meter.  This produces a figure for gas energy for each flat that can be multiplied by the tariff charged by the energy provider on the gas used.
What can go wrong?
We find that with both common and individual hot water systems, some are not well insulated or maintained.  The bad ones leak heat and water and they deliver much cold water, at the tap, before it gets hot.  Gas combustion may also be inefficient by neglect.
In both types of hot water system, because the tenant pays the bill, there is no incentive for the landlord to ensure the efficiency of the system unless the inefficiency can be seen as a repair issue. When tenants complain about common hot water systems, inefficiency is always mentioned. That is, it is very expensive to heat the water and users receive much higher bills than they would expect.
See the end of the article for an explanation of how we might calculate efficiency, and what we should expect in terms of the cost to heat water. It is not unreasonable for tenants to expect an efficiency of 70-80%. Two bills we have obtained from tenants were almost half as efficient and there are common hot water systems that are even more inefficient again.
Good news!
However, there is good news for tenants with common hot water systems. The Residential Tenancies Act 2010 says, at section 38, that the tenant shall pay for gas supplied to the tenant at the premises, if the premises are separately metered.  Further, the Act says, at section 40, that the landlord shall pay for gas supplied to the tenant at the premises if the premises are not separately metered.
With a common hot water system the gas is not supplied to the tenant at the premises or separately metered.  Therefore, the landlord shall pay the gas bills.
This has been backed up by two recent tenancy cases (though neither have been published):
In one, the landlord agreed that the landlord should pay the gas bills before it went to a decision.
In the other, NCAT decided that the landlord should be paying the bills going forward and ordered repayment of some of the tenants’ previous gas payments.


So, if your apartment has a common hot water system, where more than one unit is sharing the hot water tank, then you are not obliged to pay for the gas or other energy used to heat the water. If you think you might have a system like this, get advice from your local Tenants’ Advice and Advocacy Service.
Calculating efficiency
The bills people receive for common hot water systems are confusing because the units of volume are not litres and there are figures called Units, Multiplier, Conversion factor, Heating value, Pressure factor and Base usage.  Bills do state daily use of energy and compare it to prior bills.  This is helpful, but it does not tell you how efficient the plant is.  An efficiency figure would tell us what proportion of the heat of the gas used is actually getting into the water.
It is possible to estimate the efficiency of your common hot water system, by making two assumptions:
  • it takes 4.186 kJ to heat a litre of water one degree Celsius &
  • the water is being heated 500 (from 15 to 650C)
Note that the second assumption may vary between systems and weather conditions.
Based on these assumptions, 209.3 kJ per litre (4.186 x 50) would be 100% efficient.  This can also be expressed as 0.2093 MJ/l.
The two bills we obtained from tenants have effective energy per water volume ratios of 0.494311 and 0.49123.  The bills use MJ as the energy unit.  Assuming the order of magnitude for MJ/l as 0.49… the efficiencies for the bills are:
-        44.33% (0.4433 = 0.2093 /0.494311) &
-        42.61% (0.4261 = 0.2093 /0.49123) respectively.
EWON (Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW) investigated the gas bills of one of the tenants and reported that the common factor [or conversion factor] for an efficient common hot water system ranges from . . . 0.3 to 0.7 . . .
Doing the same calculation (divide into 0.2093) for that range we get:

Factor
% efficiency
0.3
69.77
0.4
52.33
0.5
41.86
0.6
34.88
0.7
29.90

What could we compare these figures with?
An American National Standards and Technology study from the 1990s demonstrates that the greatest difference to thermal efficiency of electric domestic hot water systems is made by insulation.  The uninsulated units averaged 40.6% (which is similar to the cases we described above) and the insulated units averaged 88.2%.  American advertising claims 80% thermal efficiency for a conventional domestic natural gas hot water system.  Elgas (Australia) correlates 4 to 7 star ratings with 73 to 94% for LPG domestic hot water systems.
Note that all the above figures are for the water heating plant only.  They take no account of loss of heat or water between the plant and the flats.  Calculating efficiency figures at the tap would need temperature measurements at the tap.  That would provide information on the efficiency of the whole system, plant to tap.

UPDATE
The second NCAT decision referred to above was briefly subject to appeal - but the appeal by the landlord has not continued.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Wealthy landlords and more sharehousing: how the rental sector is changing

This article by Chris Martin, UNSW was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article

[TUNSW comment: This research highlights the need for modernised renting regulations. Renting in Australia in the 21st Century is increasingly for everyone - but our laws are designed to entrench insecurity and diminish the ability of renting households to create homes for themselves.]

 More people are becoming heavily indebted by buying rental properties and shared accommodation is flourishing, as third party tech platforms help people find a place without a real estate agent.
A new report from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute explains how the private rental market is changing over time for both landlords and tenants.

Over the 10 years to 2016, the number of renters grew 38% - twice the rate of household growth. More renters now are couples, or couples with children, so it seems the sector is shaking its image of unstable housing or perhaps these people are left with few other options.

Households by type, 2006 and 2016
 
The report analyses data from the 2016 Census, the 2013-14 Survey of Income and Housing and the 2014 Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. It also draws on interviews conducted with 42 people involved in all aspects of the private rental sector: financing, provision, access and management.Rental property ownership also grew. We found the number of households with an interest in a rental property grew and the number that own multiple properties grew slightly as well.

But the typical landlord is still the conventional “mum and dad” investor. Two-thirds of rental investor households have two incomes, and 39% have children.

However they are also mostly high-income and high-wealth households: 60% are in both the highest income and highest wealth bracket. Interestingly, about one in eight landlords is themselves a private renter.

Housing finance ($A), 2000 - 2016

The biggest change in ownership is in finances: owners of rental properties are relying more heavily on debt.

Financing rental properties

 

The people we interviewed highlighted the Australian Prudential Regulation Authorities’ (APRA) guidance to lenders on loan serviceability calculations as having the greatest impact on overall investment levels and investor decisions.

Adding to the complexity is the proliferation of intermediaries, such as mortgage brokers and wealth advisers. These advisers are telling borrowers what lenders and loan products to use to maximise their borrowing power and negotiate lender and regulator requirements.

Houses are the most commonly rented in Australia, but everywhere rental markets are moving away from this and towards dwellings like apartments.

There’s now more diversity in rental properties too. For example the building of high-rise student accommodation, “new generation boarding houses” and granny flats.

These allow landlords to house more people in the one building, increasing revenue and making management more efficient.

The informal sector of shared accommodation appears to be flourishing, like improvising shared rooms and lodging-style accommodation in apartments and houses.

Finding a rental

 

People have moved from finding rentals in real estate agents’ high street offices and onto online platforms. New third-parties like apps and other digital platforms offer non-cash alternative bond products, schedule property inspections, collect rents, and organise repairs.

Even though these technological innovations avoid agents, they have in fact increased their share of private rental sector management. Agents themselves are use these platforms to change their businesses, and the structure of their industry.

Our research found that revenue from an agency’s property management business (its “rent roll”) has become increasingly important. Some players in the industry are consolidating their businesses around it, to make higher profits from tech-enabled efficiencies.

However, the real estate business still depends on building personal relationships, particularly in high-end markets.

The new tech platforms of the private rental sector raise issues for tenants too, particularly in terms of the personal information they collect. For example, one of the online platform operators told us they looked forward to using applicants’ information to score or rank applicants. Another one of the new alternative bond providers uses automatic “trust scoring” of personal information to price its product.

These innovations may be convenient to use, and may give some tenants an advantage in accessing housing - but at the expense of others who are already disadvantaged.

Rental properties meeting demand?

 

If the private rental sector is going to meet the demand for settled housing, governments will have to intervene. This can’t be left to technological innovation, or higher income renters exercising their consumer power.

Federal or state governments could create public registers of landlords, or licensing requirements, to police landlords who are not “fit and proper” and exclude them from the sector.

There could also be stronger laws around tenancy conditions and protections for tenants against retaliatory action. The Poverty Inquiry in the 1970s set the basic model of our present laws and they haven’t changed much.

Tenants’ personal information also needs to be protected, to properly take account of the rise of the online application platforms; another is the informal sector, which is currently in a regulatory blindspot.

The ConversationThe popular emphasis on “mum and dad” investors diminishes expectations of landlords. Rental property investment should be regarded as a business that requires skill and effort. As for-profit providers of housing services, landlords should be held to standards that ensure the right to a dignified home life.

Chris Martin, Research Fellow, City Housing, UNSW

Thursday, March 29, 2018

FACS: Alternative waiting list figure

On 20 March 2018 NSW Family and Community Services (FACS) Housing placed on their website updated information about waiting lists, which is now current to 30 June 2017.

They call it the 'Social Housing Expected Waiting Times dashboard' and the link is here.

The dashboard does not show historical figures, but the Productivity Commission's Report on Government Services shows the waiting list at 30 June 2017 across New South Wales has dropped significantly.

Source: Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, 'Report on government services 2018', Productivity Commission, 23/1/18, Table 18A.5. Figures for 2012 to 2012 from previous reports. (You can view Table 18A.5 here.) This data excludes people who have applied for community housing only. Most applicants in NSW may be offered either community housing or public housing.
This news is too good to be true. As mentioned in our blog here, figures for 30 June 2017 exclude 'suspended applicants'. Suspended applicants won't be offered properties during suspension, but unlike closed applications, if their suspension ends their waiting time will be counted from the original registration of their application.

One way of thinking of the difference is that suspended applicants are assumed to want and be eligible for social housing, but there is currently a reason not to offer them a property. Closed applicants are assumed not to want or be eligible for public housing. For more detail see the 'Managing the NSW Housing Register Policy' page.

FACS Housing's dashboard has separated out 'General' and 'Priority' applications and also has made a notation that their figure for 30 June 2017 excludes 'suspended' applications and, accordingly, 'this data is not strictly comparable to published data in previous years'. Check here.

FACS Housing kindly has supplied the number of suspended applications at 30 June 2017. These stand at 5,499.

So, the total number of applicants on the waiting list at 30 June 2017 arising out of the additional information supplied by FACS Housing = 'General' + 'Priority' + 'Suspended' = 51,453 + 4,496 + 5,499 = 61,448.

The alternative waiting list figure at 30 June 2017 is 61,448.

We now are able to compare waiting list figures from previous years.
Sources: For Productivity Commission data, see foot of previous histogram. For FACS Housing data for 30 June 2017, check here and for 30 June 2016, check here. For figures for 30 June 2012 to 30 June 2015, check similar links to the last one. The 2017 figures shown above for both agencies include the 5,499 suspended applications. We have added these because suspended applications were included in previous years.

There has been a steady increase in waiting list numbers over the last five years. Indeed, FACS Housing's waiting list figures show an increase of just over 10 per cent in this period. This does not bode well for the future. Check out Nigel Gladstone’s recent article in The Sydney Morning Herald here on why more people are joining a decade-long wait for public housing in a queue that stretches past 55,000 people ... we say past 60,000 people.

Postscript

It is unclear why the waiting list figures published in Table 18A.5 of the Productivity Commission's Report on Government Services (51,571) and those now published by FACS Housing (55,949) vary. Both exclude the number of suspended applications and both come from the same original source. Indeed, this has been the story for the last few years, although not so pronounced.

Further notations in Note (d) of Table 18A.5 here may tell some of the story:
- waitlist data should be used with caution as over counting may stem from the use of a single integrated social housing waiting list (since 2010) for public housing and SOMIH (which includes those who have also applied for community housing, but not applicants for community housing only).

- fewer waitlist applications were closed in 2015-16 because a review and redesign of the annual Housing Eligibility Review (HER) process delayed its completion until 2016-17. Data for 2016-17 may not be comparable to 2015-16 due to outstanding data remediation at that time.