Time to address pensioners’ rental stress

It’s no secret – low-income households that rent struggle to make ends meet and many age pensioners in this category are living in poverty.

The most recent Age Pension increases announced last month saw an increase in Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) for both singles and couples of $1.60 to $139.60 per fortnight for singles and $131.60 for couples, depending on rent paid.

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the situation, despite some relief offered by the federal government ban on evictions and rent increases.

Anglicare Australia is now calling on the government to raise the rate of welfare payments – increased during the pandemic – for good.  Which assists anyone on JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments but not age pensioners who rent.

Its Rental Affordability Snapshot surveyed almost 70,000 rental listings across Australia and found a chronic shortage of affordable rentals – even after recent welfare increases.

The snapshot shows that:

  • pensioners and people with disability have been left behind with no increase to their payments
  • just one per cent of rentals (743 out of 69,997) are affordable for a person on the Age Pension
  • 0.5 per cent of rentals (326 out of 69,997) are affordable for a person on the Disability Support Pension
  • 1040 rentals (1.5 per cent) are affordable for a person on the new JobSeeker payment (formerly Newstart), which has been doubled for six months
  • without the increase, just nine rentals out of 69,997 would be affordable for JobSeekers
  • without the increase, not a single rental would be affordable for JobSeekers in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Darwin or Canberra

Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers said the increases put in place to assist renters through the pandemic should be extended to anyone on a government payment – and should be permanent.

“Welfare increases have given people badly needed relief,” Ms Chambers said.

“But the market is still failing people on the lowest incomes.

“Our snapshot shows that a person who is out of work can afford less than two per cent of rentals – and that’s with their payments doubled. Under the old rates, just nine rentals across Australia would be affordable.

“Age pensioners and people with disability have been left out altogether. They are at the very bottom of the market, and can afford just one per cent of rentals. Instead of looking after them in the midst of a health crisis, we are leaving them to the mercy of the market.

“We must raise the rate of these [pandemic] payments for good. If they are halved in six months – and if pensioners and people with disability are left out – renters will be pushed even deeper into poverty and homelessness.”

Ms Chambers said that more must be done to help people on the lowest incomes.

“We’re asking people to stay at home – so we must invest in homes for people who need them most. Nobody should be squeezed out of the market during a health emergency.”

She said Australia needed to invest in affordable housing and was 500,000 dwellings short of what was needed.

“Investing in housing would be the most powerful way to tackle the rental crisis – and boost our economy,” she said.

“We’re calling on the government to end this shortfall – and ensure everyone has a place to call home.”

Anglicare Australia is seeking:

  • an expansion of the temporary welfare increases to cover people with accommodation costs and who receive the Disability Support Pension, Carers and Age Pensions
  • an expansion of the JobSeeker payment to cover migrants, people seeking asylum and international students
  • a permanent adoption of the $275 per week increase for JobSeeker, Youth Allowance, Austudy and Parenting Payment recipients
  • the creation of an Independent Social Security Commission to review and set government income payments.

Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), said the current crisis had made it crystal clear that a permanent fix to the country’s income support system was urgently needed.

“We can never go back to the old, low rate of Newstart at $40 a day and we must fix the inadequacy of rent assistance, which is less than $10 a day,” she said

“We’re calling on the government to stimulate recovery through a public infrastructure program to build social housing, which would create thousands of jobs and reduce homelessness.”

A Productivity Commission report, Vulnerable Private Renters: Evidence and Options, also argues for an increase in the maximum CRA payment, explaining that it had failed to keep pace with the rise in rents

“Further, the share of CRA recipients who received the maximum payment has steadily increased from around 57 per cent (representing about 566,000 recipients) in 2001 to 80 per cent (representing just over one million recipients) in 2018,” the report says.

YourLifeChoices’ March edition of the quarterly Retirement Affordability Index showed that the Cash-Strapped tribes (couples and singles who receive an Age Pension and rent) spend 29 per cent and 36 per cent of their income respectively on housing.

Do you believe it is past time for a significant increase in rent assistance? Are you a renter? Do you have trouble making ends meet?

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Written by Janelle Ward

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