If you disagree with a decision about you made by a social housing provider, you should ask for the decision to be reviewed. This is called an ‘internal review’ or ‘first-tier review’.
If, after the review, you still disagree with the decision, you should appeal the decision to the Housing Appeals Committee (HAC). This is called an appeal, ‘external review’ or ‘second-tier review’.
Apart from these processes for review and appeal, the NSW Supreme Court has jurisdiction to review administrative decisions of government agencies, such as FACS Housing and the AHO. Some decisions of Local Aboriginal Land Councils may be reviewed by the NSW Land and Environment Court. It is unclear whether, and to what extent, the decisions of community housing providers may be subject to judicial review.
In any event, judicial review is complicated and potentially costly, so you should first consider asking for internal review, then review by the HAC. Seek advice from a lawyer before initiating judicial review.
Most social housing providers have a policy that sets out how they will conduct reviews (FACS Housing’s policy is called the Clients Service and Appeals Policy).
You can ask a social housing provider to review any decision that it makes about you. Social housing providers usually refuse to review decisions that may be the subject of proceedings in the Tribunal (for example, a decision not to do a repair, or a decision to give a termination notice). In these cases, there is no harm in asking the social housing provider to reconsider its decision, but you should focus on preparing your case for the Tribunal.
Social housing providers will also refuse to review decisions that are not actually about you (for example, a decision to offer a tenancy to some other person).
Any other types of decisions – in particular, decisions about eligibility, rent rebates, modifications, transfers and succession – should be reviewed by the social housing provider.
Note that some problems may involve a combination of issues, some of which may be dealt with by the Tribunal, and some of which may be dealt with by the review and appeal process. It may be necessary to be involved in both at once.
If you are dissatisfied with a decision, ask for the reasons for the decision (get them in writing if you can) and consider asking to see your file. Request a review of the decision without delay. FACS Housing expects requests for reviews to be made within certain timeframes set out in its Clients Service Delivery and Appeals Policy: for most types of decisions, the timeframe is three months, but for some it is much less. Other social housing providers may have timeframes of their own in their policies.
If the problem is a non-decision – that is, you’ve asked for something and the social housing provider has failed to make a decision at all – treat it as a negative decision after 20 working days – or fewer, if the thing you’ve asked for is urgent.
When you ask for a review, put your request in writing and, as always, keep a copy. Some social housing providers may have a form for you to fill in: you may use it or draft your own, if that suits you better. Have a look at the relevant policy: it may help you say why the decision is incorrect or bad. Point out any errors in the decision or in the information on which it is based, and put your side of the story. Consider writing a summary, along the lines of the sample summary of case for the Tribunal, to go with your request for an appeal.
Appeals to the HAC
The HAC is the independent appeals agency for social housing in New South Wales. It is not a statutory agency (it is not established in any legislation and, technically speaking, is instead an advisory committee to the Minister for Family and Community Services). The HAC does not have any formal powers, and its decisions (except in relation to strike notices) are not binding – they are recommendations only. The HAC does, however, have a strong record of compliance by social housing providers with its recommendations.
As with first tier reviews, the HAC will not deal with decisions that may be the subject of Tribunal proceedings, or with decisions that are not actually about you.
When you appeal to the HAC, it will ask the social housing provider for your file, then conduct a hearing. The hearing is an informal interview with you (the social housing provider is not involved) and may be by phone or face-to-face. You may have an advocate or support person with you. Use the hearing to explain why you are dissatisfied with the decision and make sure that the HAC has all the information it needs.
When it makes a recommendation, the HAC will write to you and the social housing provider – usually within two weeks of the hearing. If it makes a recommendation in your favour, the HAC may make further contact with the social housing provider and try to convince them to accept the recommendation.