The Federal Coalition Government will be “winding down” the operations of the Prime Minister’s Council on Homelessness, Minister for Social Services Kevin Andrews has told a housing conference in his first major speech since becoming Minister.

 Andrews, who made the speech at the National Housing Conference in Adelaide, said working collaboratively with stakeholders and industry was critical but under the Council’s watch, homelessness had increased.

“I am currently considering what forum or engagement model might be best to provide sector-based advice on social and welfare issues,” Andrews said.

The Prime Minister’s Council on Homeless was a Labor Government initiative. In 2009 Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd committed the Government to halve the number of homeless people by 2020.

Since then $5 billion has been spent to improve the national issue under the the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH).

Andrews also said the National Affordable Housing Agreement had failed to deliver and reforming it will be one of the major priorities for the Department of Social Services.

“My Department advises me that around $250 million in the NAHA has its origins in former programs for homeless Australians,” he said.

“I am therefore keen to ensure that any reform to the NAHA recognises the need for continuing investment in effective services that provide stable pathways to housing and further training and employment.”

He said from the Commonwealth’s perspective, “it feels like we are simply throwing money over the fence”.

“It would not be surprising if some, if not most, of the states and territories are spending less, in real terms, on public housing now than they did under the former Commonwealth State Housing Agreement. But without reliable reporting, we simply do not know,” Andrews said.

“I have long campaigned for greater transparency and accountability. Now, as Minister, I believe the National Agreement should incentivise performance.

“It should set benchmarks and performance measures and it should drive competition. And it must improve reporting on what is actually being delivered.

“Providing money without being provided outcomes is no longer good enough.”

Andrews said he would also be looking into charities being able to choose how they want to receive their incentives and exploring a “use it or lose it” approach with National Rental Affordability Scheme incentives.

“Some charities may change their NRAS business model over time,” he said. “Where they decide to sell some of their NRAS homes to small investors they need to receive future incentives as tax offsets, rather than cash, so the benefits can be passed on to the investors.

“Accordingly, there may be some scope for the Government to consider giving charities the flexibility to change the way they receive their incentives.”

He said there was significant scope to improve the administration of the scheme to “spur delivery”.

“A particular concern I have had relates to a practice that some call the ‘trading’ of NRAS incentives,”

“I am interested in further exploring a ‘use it or lose it’ approach with NRAS incentives.

“If adopted, this would involve taking a harder line to changes to promised delivery dates, locations and dwelling types to further incentivise delivery being on time and to the standard expected.”

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said ACOSS was pleased to hear the Minister acknowledge the scale and seriousness of the housing supply and affordability crisis and the clear link between lack of supply and homelessness.

“ACOSS and the community sector are very keen to work with the Government to develop and implement effective and innovative housing policy solutions,” she said.

“With poverty and homelessness at unacceptably high levels, and a need to increase productivity, we must address a key obstacle to getting and keeping a job – which is Australia’s housing affordability crisis.

“We know that two in five low income households are in housing stress, paying over 30 per cent of income in rent. This is much worse for families on very low incomes, 61 per cent of whom are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

“Recent investments in homelessness and affordable housing programs have reduced the number of people sleeping rough, but the number of people who do not have stable, secure housing continues to grow.”

Dr Goldie said all governments need to provide funding certainty for vital programs already in place.

“We support the Commission of Audit focusing on removing real waste in government administration and tax arrangements so that now and in the future governments can respond to community expectations about meeting real needs,” she said.

“Having an affordable roof over your head would have to be near the top of what most people expect.

“While this review is being taken, it is critical that the individuals, families and communities that are supported through the current National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness have certainty into the future.”

This article was first published on Pro Bono Australia News – a national news service for the Not for Profit Sector