Temporary absence operational guidelines

Effective date: 21 September 2015

Policy statement

Temporary absence

The Department of Health & Human Services (the department) recognises that public housing tenants may be absent from their property for periods of time, and accepts periods of temporary absence of up to six months as outlined in this policy statement.

It is the responsibility of the tenants and/or the household members to inform the department if they are going to be temporarily absent from their public housing property.  The department must be given advance notice of all temporary absences longer than six weeks. Temporary absence also applies when a sole tenant is absent or living in the property for less than three nights a week.

Exceptions to providing the department with six weeks’ notice will only apply in special circumstances where advance notice is not possible, for example, in a matter involving family violence, when an intervention order has been issued and the perpetrator (or victim) of family violence is required to leave the public housing property immediately.

Departmental staff will generally not take steps to end the tenancy in circumstances where other known householder members continue to reside in the public housing property with the tenant’s permission. These include, but are not limited to:

  • the tenant is overseas for a significant period but other household members remain in the public housing property
  • family members or relatives move in to care for children of the household when the primary carer (tenant) is overseas.

If the tenant is the perpetrator of family violence, the permission of the tenant for household members to remain in the public housing property is not required.

Tenants and household members who are approved by the department as being temporarily absent from their public housing property are required to pay the full amount of their rent during their absence. Under no circumstances are tenants permitted to sublet their public housing property at any time during the temporary absence period.

If the tenant does not return within the specified period and no other household members reside in the property, housing staff will make reasonable attempts to ascertain the situation and then seek possession of the public housing properties if necessary by making an application to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

Notwithstanding an approved temporary absence, the department reserves the right to pursue action for tenancy breaches whilst the tenant is, or tenants are, absent.

Special circumstances

There are sometimes temporary absences which are beyond the control of the tenants or household members. The department is committed to supporting and sustaining these tenancies in the longer term.

Special circumstances include:

  • when a tenant or household member is a victim of family violence who is forced to leave the property, for example, to a women’s refuge or family violence emergency accommodation, is at risk of homelessness such as couch surfing, sleeping in their car or remains in the public housing property.
  • when a tenant is:
    • temporarily residing in a nursing home
    • in a psychiatric, physical or drug or alcohol rehabilitation treatment
    • in respite care due to unforeseen emergencies, for example, an elderly tenant who has been admitted for medical treatment for an extended period, or
    • on remand or incarcerated for a period up to six months.  In the event the remand and/or incarceration is longer than six months, the tenant may submit a request for an extension to the department for consideration. In the event the remand and/or incarceration is longer than six months, the tenant may submit a request for an extension to the department for consideration.

If special circumstances are agreed by the department, a reduced weekly rental cost of $15 will be approved. This is in recognition of the financial hardship placed on tenants, or household members remaining in the property, for example, victims of family violence, where they are expected to pay temporary accommodation costs elsewhere or have no income during this period.

The reduced rent will apply until either:

  • the tenant returns to the property, or
  • if the tenant does not return within the timelines required (and no other householders reside in the property), possession is obtained after an application is made to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

The department will also assess individual circumstance and exercise discretion in special circumstances to implement strategies to support and sustain tenancies. These actions are to be approved by senior line management and may include the following:

  • removing or reducing any rental costs for the victim of family violence for a period during the temporary absence
  • recalculating the rent and rebates during the temporary absence period based on the income of the remaining household members only
  • renegotiating any debt repayment requirements (for example, maintenance or rental arrears) during the temporary absence period
  • working with the tenant, household members and their support workers (if available) to identify an alternative housing option where required, for example, in the case of a victim of family violence requesting a transfer.

Information to confirm the temporary absence

Tenants will need to complete a Temporary absence form to notify the department of a proposed absence.

Tenants and household members will be required to provide relevant information and documentation about the nature of the temporary absence.

Documentation is required to confirm:

  • the dates the tenant will be absent, for example, the date of entering a facility or other accommodation or a period of overseas travel
  • the expected length of absence
  • whether the tenant will be required to pay  temporary accommodation costs in special facilities
  • the anticipated return date.

If the tenant is temporarily absent due to special circumstances, the department will discuss the nature of the temporary absence with the tenant and / or other affected parties and work with the household and / or support worker to gather the relevant information.

Information can be provided by:

  • the tenant
  • a support worker from an agency
  • the tenant’s legal representative
  • a court, or
  • the facility where the tenant will stay temporarily, for example, the rehabilitation facility.

If the temporary absence changes the household composition, the department will require a new rental rebate assessment to be completed.

Caring for dependants

A person who moves into the public housing property to care for dependants remaining in the property will not be included in the household income assessment if:

  • the tenant is temporarily absent due to special circumstances, and
  • the carer can demonstrate they live elsewhere permanently.

Documentation that can be provided to support permanent residence elsewhere includes recent gas, electricity or telephone bills showing the address and the account in the carer’s name.

The tenant must verify that the carer has moved in to care for their dependents whilst the tenant is temporarily absent.

If the person cannot demonstrate they live elsewhere permanently, housing staff will add the person as a resident to the household composition and include their income in the rent calculation.

Extending the six-month period

The department does not generally support periods of temporary absence longer than six months (where no household members remain in the public housing property) unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Tenants must request an extension in writing for a further temporary absence (of up to another six months). This request must be made to their local office for consideration and approval.

When considering a request for a further temporary absence period, the department will take into account:

  • whether the tenant is absent due to special circumstances
  • the tenant or household history, including any complex tenancy issues
  • the involvement of other departmental programs, for example, Child Protection
  • the additional amount of time they have requested to extend their absence
  • any tenant or household issues relevant to the decision
  • any opportunities provided to the tenants to explain their current circumstances
  • any previous temporary absence period, including frequent temporary absences (excluding special circumstances)
  • the individual circumstances of the tenant and the impact should the extension not be approved.

If the tenant and household members do not have an extension of their absence approved by the department and do not return to the public housing property after the six month period, the department may seek to regain possession of the property and issue a Notice to Vacate in line with the Residential Tenancies Act 1997.

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