Single Parents Locked Out Of Rental Market

ParentsNext program leaves single parents wondering about next steps to secure rental properties

Gladys Serugga ABC Gippsland reports that single parents on a federal government income support program say mandatory reporting requirements introduced this year are locking them out of the housing market.

Bridie Stirling has moved four times in eight months with her four-year-old son.

She said a lack of rental vacancies in regional Australia, and the stigma associated with income support linked to a parenting employment program, had left her struggling to break into the market.

Bridie is studying a Bachelor of Community Services at Federation University.

As a single parent and student, she qualifies for income support and has been placed in the federal government’s ParentsNext program.

Woman stands next to young boy in a dooraway.
Bridie Stirling, pictured here with her son Charlie, says she’s had no luck getting back into the rental market, even after applying with friends.(Supplied)

“You have to sign a compulsory participation plan, where you’re told you have to meet certain obligations. And those obligations are different for everyone,” Bridie said.

She said if you missed a call, forgot to report or didn’t meet your obligations you did not get paid and that uncertainty had not helped her find a place to live.

“At one point, I had $5,000 in savings, and I said, ‘I can pay this month’s rent in advance’, but it still wasn’t enough to get a lease.”

“I had nowhere to go when my lease ended, so I went to stay with my aunty in Bairnsdale, sharing a room with [my son] Charlie.”

What is the ParentsNext program?

The federal government made the compulsory participation changes in March.

The government says ParentsNext is designed to support parents to plan and prepare for work by the time their youngest child starts school.

But Bridie said the new policy meant payments were not as fixed as they used to be.

“I think rental agencies see that and go, ‘well at any moment that person will lose their income, so it’s not worth renting [it out to them],'” she said.

In April 2016, the ParentsNext program was trialled in 10 locations and was rolled out nationally in July 2018.

According to Department of Education, Skills and Employment statistics from the end of last month, 95 per cent of ParentsNext participants are women and almost 80 per cent are single parents.

What are the next steps?

A department spokesperson said a range of exemptions were available for parents who were genuinely unable to participate due to health, domestic and family violence or a death in the family.

Young mother sits on the floor with a baby.
Sian Stirling says there needs to be “less discrimination and more help in place” towards single parents and youth who become homeless.(ABC Gippsland: Gladys Serugga)

Bridie’s cousin Sian Stirling, who is also a single mother, is two months away from qualifying for the ParentsNext program.

Having received more than 300 rejection letters for rental applications in Gippsland in eastern Victoria, she said she felt like quitting her house search but there was no alternative.

In 2019, she was made redundant from her full-time job as a dental nurse.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she and her two boys stayed with her grandmother while she looked for accommodation.

“I think there’s a certain stigma towards single parents. We get looked at differently because we’ve got one income which doesn’t seem as secure anymore,” Sian said.

“Because the ParentsNext program can just get cut.

“Then you can’t put a roof over your head, can’t feed your children and once you’ve got that red mark against your name, everyone looks at you like ‘Why did you get that red mark?'”

Low rental vacancies

Sian is trying to find a rental home in Gippsland.

Although she is not yet part of the program, the stories she has heard from friends and family have made her anxious about joining it.

Real Estate Institute of Victoria president Leah Calnen said the statistics showed Gippsland’s rental crisis is the worst in Victoria.

“In Gippsland, from a rental vacancy [viewpoint], it is the lowest [number of rental vacancies] in the state and it has been trending downwards for some time,” Ms Calnen said.

Due to the low vacancy rate, Bridie searched beyond Gippsland to Ballarat and even interstate to Tasmania.

When she arrived in Tasmania, she found the situation was no different.

Now living in Ballarat with her mum, she said the biggest issue she faced when applying for homes was the lack of communication from real estate agents.

“I think a lot of the issue is [real estate agents] won’t accept people on welfare,” she said.



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