18 April 2022

Rent assistance: what it is, who qualifies, and how much you can get

Danielle Redford
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Rent Assistance is a payment available from the government designed to help tenants pay their rent. It’s not available to everyone, and the amount available is different from individual to individual. Whether or not you qualify for Rent Assistance and how much you qualify for depends on several factors.

The rising cost of living

It’s no secret that increasing rental costs add pressure to many everyday Australian families. With rising property values and a shortage of rental supplies in many critical Australian markets, accessing a quality rental property can be challenging. Many families have seen their rent increased over 2021. There's also high competition for the properties available in key markets such as Brisbane and Sydney.

Centrelink’s Rent Assistance payment looks to aid families and individuals receiving a Centrelink payment by contributing to their weekly rent costs. This is good news for those within a challenging property market, as Rent Assistance is also a sliding payment. Although it has maximum limits in place, it can increase up to those maximums based on any increases in your rental payment.

How eligibility is defined

Centrelink will automatically assess someone’s eligibility for Rent Assistance when they claim another payment - for example, the Newstart Allowance. It’s designed as an additional payment for those who pay rent and meet the eligibility criteria.

To qualify for Rent Assistance, you need to be receiving certain payments from Centrelink, and receiving more than simply the base rate of the Family Tax Benefit. Rent must then also be paid either to a landlord, in a retirement home, as lodging, board, or in the form of site or mooring fees if that residence is a caravan, relocatable home or boat.

Payments that qualify you for Rent Assistance consideration include ABSTUDY, Age Pension, Austudy, Farm Household Allowance, JobSeeker Payment, Partner Allowance, Special Benefit, Widow Allowance and Youth Allowance.

Rent Assistance is calculated on a sliding scale, with a minimum amount of rent payable to receive it. For every $1 of rent paid above that minimum, individuals can receive 75c until a set maximum limit.

Rent assistance rates are updated twice a year, on 20 March and 20 September. This is designed to keep them in line with the Consumer Price Index.

Example: Rent Assistance for a single person

If you’re a single person receiving a qualifying payment from Centrelink, and your fortnightly rent is at least $123.20, the maximum fortnightly payment is $138 (based on a minimum fortnightly rent of $307.20).

If you’re a couple with 3 or more children, with a fortnightly minimum rent of $239.12, the maximum fortnightly payment is $183.12, which would require your fortnightly rent to be at least $483.28. The scale changes based on the particular amount of rent you’re paying and your individual circumstances.

Exceptions to these categories

For single shares, or people who are paying board and lodging, Centrelink takes a different approach. They work out the payment based on the lodging portion only. If splitting the two is not achievable, Centrelink will calculate the total amount paid as ⅔ of the board and lodging cost.

These can also differ for people under 25. Here, the rules of Rent Assistance depend on both the type of payment the individual is receiving and whether or not they live with a parent.

Retirement village inhabitants

Here’s where payments get a little bit more complicated. If you’re living in a retirement village, Centrelink must assess you as a ‘non-home owner’ to be eligible for Rent Assistance. Centrelink will assess this when the individual enters the retirement home. If eligible, the rate of Rent Assistance will be paid based on the ongoing retirement village fees.

Payment adjustments

Your Rent Assistance payment may be adjusted based on several factors. These include if you move house, if the rent you pay weekly increases or decreases, if you see an increase or decrease in your income, or if your family circumstances change. This may look like a separation from your partner or a change to the number of children in your car.

It’s important to keep Centrelink up-to-date with your circumstances. Rent Assistance (and other payments) can be updated accordingly if anything changes. Failing to do so can result in a debt and in further penalties.

Non-eligibility

Rent Assistance isn’t automatically available to everyone receiving an existing payment. You’re not eligible for Rent Assistance if you lease from a state or territory housing authority; if you’re the owner of your home (except for relocatable homes); if you travel away from a home you own for less than 12 months; if the residential aged care facility you live in already receives an Australian Government subsidy; if your partner already receives Rent Assistance with Family Tax Benefit; or if your partner gets Rent Assistance alongside their pension.

How to calculate how much Rent Assistance you can receive

While Centrelink will automatically calculate how much Rent Assistance you can receive, you can use an online calculator to assess how much you’re likely to receive. Centrelink’s online page provides details about Rent Assistance criteria and the different rates that apply based on individual circumstances. You can access it here to learn more about how much you’re likely to receive, based on which category you fit into.

How to apply for Rent Assistance

Centrelink works with the information it already has on file to automatically assess a person’s eligibility for Rent Assistance. This happens when they claim another payment. This is one reason why it’s important to keep your details up-to-date with Centrelink, as this can impact whether or not you receive the full entitlement available to you.

Centrelink may request a Rent Certificate to prove that rent is being paid. These forms are available via myGov or at in-person Centrelink service centres.

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