Communtity Law Manual | Tenancy & housing | Qualifying for social housing

Social housing: Tenants in state and community housing

Qualifying for social housing

Who do I apply to, to get on a waiting list for social housing?

Housing Restructuring and Tenancy Matters Act 1992, s 100; Housing Restructuring and Tenancy Matters (Appointment of Agency and Regulatory Authority) Order 2018

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) assesses whether people qualify for subsidised state or community housing – called “social” housing. MSD is the government department that deals with benefits and other forms of income support through Work and Income (which is part of MSD) and other MSD units. The MSD unit responsible for social housing is sometimes referred to as “Centralised Unit – Housing”.

To find out if you qualify for government-subsidised social housing, contact Work and Income on 0800 559 009 – or, if you’re 65 or older, contact MSD’s Senior Services unit on 0800 552 002.

The first step will be an initial screening assessment, which may be done over the phone. Someone from MSD will ask you questions about your housing needs, your current living arrangements, your weekly income and so on. If they find you meet the qualifying criteria, you’ll next have a full needs assessment (usually face to face) to decide how high your housing need is and where you’ll be on the social housing waiting list.

Who qualifies for social housing?

Housing Restructuring and Tenancy Matters Act 1992, s 102(2)(a); Ministerial Direction on Eligibility for Social Housing, 14 Apr 2014; Ministerial Direction on Continued Eligibility for Social Housing, 1 Jul 2014

To qualify for government-subsidised social housing from Housing NZ or a community housing provider, you must:

  • be at least 16 and be a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident, and New Zealand must be your usual home
  • have after-tax income under $616 a week if you have no partner and no dependent children or under $948 a week if you have a partner and/or dependent children; and have less than $42,700 in cash savings or other property that could be converted into cash
  • have a high need for social housing – this will depend on who’s in your household, what your current place is like, your ability to find suitable housing in the private market, and other factors (housing needs are assessed under what’s called the “Social Allocation System” – SAS).

If you have a partner, their situation will be assessed as part of your application.

If I’m turned down for social housing, how can I challenge the decision?

If the Ministry of Social Development decides you don’t qualify for social housing (for example, because they think your housing need isn’t high enough), and you disagree, you can ask for the decision to be reviewed by a Benefit Review Committee. (See “Challenging Work and Income decisions: Reviews and appeals” in the chapter “Dealing with Work and Income”.)

If I’m turned down for social housing, is there any other help I can get from MSD?

If you’re not approved for social housing, you may be entitled to a range of “housing support products” from MSD. Some of this support has to be repaid to MSD, but some doesn’t. You can apply for help to pay for things like bonds, letting fees and moving costs. You can also ask for financial help to leave a tenancy. (For more information see “Types of benefits and other assistance / Assistance with tenants’ renting costs” in the chapter “Dealing with Work and Income”.)

How long will I be on a waiting list for?

This will depend on how high your housing need is, how quickly a suitable place comes up, and the number of people on the waiting list with urgent needs.

If your situation changes while you’re on the waiting list (for example, a change in your income or in the number of people in your household) you should tell MSD, as this could affect whether you still qualify for social housing or your position on the waiting list.

What happens next if a place becomes available?

You’ll be contacted by Housing New Zealand or the community housing provider who owns the property. They’ll show you the property and, if you want to take it, they’ll draw up a tenancy agreement for you to sign. They’ll also let the Ministry of Social Development know that you’re taking the property. MSD will work out what your rent will be.

Although you’ll still need to deal with MSD about some issues, from this point on your landlord will be Housing NZ or the relevant community housing provider. You’ll deal with them for all the usual things that tenants deal with landlords for – such as paying rent and asking them to carry out any necessary repairs.

What if I refuse a place because, for example, it’s not a good location for me?

If you have a good reason for turning down a social housing property that’s been offered to you (for example, it’s too far away from your doctor), talk to the housing provider (Housing NZ or the relevant community housing provider). They may be able to find you a more suitable place. This can be difficult, however, because in many places the demand for social housing is far greater than the number of places available.

Note: If you turn down a suitable property three times, and MSD thinks you don’t have a good reason, their policy is to take you off the waiting list. It’s a good idea to always keep good written records of your contact with Housing NZ or the community housing provider and of all issues to do with your tenancy, and this could be particularly helpful if they want to take you off the waiting list. Keep copies of any letters you write to them, and make written notes after each conversation with them. If anything gets damaged, take a photo and write down what caused the damage.

Can I have someone represent me when I deal with MSD?

Yes. You’ll need to get an “Appointment of Agent” form from MSD and complete it – this will authorise your agent to deal with social housing issues and also any other Work and Income issues if you’re on a benefit. If you’ve already appointed someone to deal with Work and Income as your agent, you’ll need to fill in another form, “Agent – Extension for MSH Housing Assessment”.

What if I have nowhere to stay and need emergency accommodation?

If you need emergency accommodation, contact Work and Income on 0800 559 009 – or Senior Services on 0800 552 002 if you’re over 65. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) will also be able to work with you to find out what’s available in your area (see “Other resources” at the end of this chapter for how to contact a CAB). Emergency housing is provided by organisations such as church social service agencies. Housing New Zealand doesn’t provide emergency accommodation.

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