My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Housing, and the action I seek is that the minister adopts the recommendations of the Ombudsman’s investigation into complaint handling in the Victorian social housing sector, which was released in July last year. Prahran is home to several public housing estates, and I have been privileged to meet many of the residents who call the Prahran electorate home. Over the past few years conditions at our local public housing estates have gone from poor to just woeful. Buildings are run-down and are in constant need of repairs. Many residents are reporting feeling unsafe and routinely report issues including pigeon, rodent and bedbug infestation, filthy communal areas, lack of a security presence and antisocial behaviour. Residents report that these already difficult conditions are made so much worse by the department’s apparent inability to adequately manage complaints and requests for assistance.
My office receives requests for help from residents on a daily basis. Some of the stories I have heard and some of the places I have seen are nothing short of disgraceful. Sadly, it is not uncommon for tenants to contact my office in tears or report feelings of hopelessness. Calls to the housing call centre routinely go unanswered and unreturned, and my office has heard from residents who have been waiting over a year for basic maintenance to be carried out. For over two weeks last year the phone line to the security service remained disconnected despite numerous residents reporting it to the housing office. The problem has only been made worse by the fact that housing officers are now seen by appointment only. Residents are reporting that they are feeling like they are a burden or a nuisance.
Many residents are also unaware of and unclear on the process for complaints escalation. My office was advised that residents could escalate requests for maintenance or complaints online or over the phone via the department’s feedback service. Residents who attempted to do so, however, reported excessive wait times or that their calls went unanswered and were not followed up. An independent social housing ombudsman and a better implemented complaints handling process would not only assist individual tenants with their requests but also facilitate the gathering of information and quality assurance, which could in turn lead to desperately needed systemic improvements.
Residents are not asking for much, just to live in a safe, secure and adequately maintained home and, perhaps most importantly, to be treated with dignity and respect. Residents are quite rightly fed up. They are tired at being treated like second-class citizens, so on behalf of my constituents and all public housing residents, I strongly urge the government to adopt the Ombudsman’s recommendations.