What is rent assistance and can I get it?

KATIE RODWELL
Finance Writer · 20 April 2021
If paying your rent each month is a struggle and you are already on certain Centrelink payments, you may be eligible for rent assistance.

Housing is one of the most significant outgoings we have in Australia. A quick look at recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and the Domain Rental Report shows that rent can easily eat into more than 30% of average weekly earnings and for some this can be up to 50%, typically described as a ‘housing stress’.

The average weekly earnings for an employee is $1,280.30, while average weekly rent for a house in Sydney is $550, in Melbourne is $440, in Brisbane $425 and in Canberra it’s a whopping $600 at the time of writing.

For those on lower incomes, and receiving Centrelink support payments, affording private rental market rates can be even more of a stretch, which is where the rent assistance payment program comes in. So what is rent assistance and how can you find out if you are eligible for it? Canstar explains:

What is rent assistance?

Rent assistance is a regular payment from Services Australia (Centrelink) for certain people who pay rent and currently receive other government welfare support such as a pension, income support or more than the base rate of Family Tax Benefit Part A. The payment is a non-taxable income supplement. It is available for eligible Australians who either rent in community housing or the private rental market, with variable rates based on thresholds that consider income and assets (indirectly), as well as a person’s family situation and whether or not they have children. Rent assistance payments are adjusted for the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Who can get rent assistance?

You may be eligible to receive rent assistance if you are currently getting:

  • Age Pension, Carer Payment or Disability Support Pension
  • ABSTUDY Living Allowance, Austudy or Youth Allowance
  • Widow Allowance
  • Partner Allowance or Special Benefit 
  • Family Tax Benefit – Part A at more than the base rate
  • Parenting Payment partnered and single
  • JobSeeker Payment or Farm Household Allowance

You must also pay one of the following:

  • rent
  • fees in a retirement village
  • lodging
  • board and lodging
  • site or mooring fees if your main home is a caravan, relocatable home or a boat

There are additional eligibility rules for people living in retirement villages and for young people who may be co-locating with a parent or guardian, so it’s a good idea to check with Centrelink if this applies to you.

How much rent assistance can you get?

To be eligible for rent assistance there is a minimum amount of rent you need to be paying currently. For every $1 above this amount, Centrelink will pay you 75c up to a maximum limit.

The tables below outline the current rent assistance available. These rates get updated on 20 March and 20 September every year in line with CPI.

People without dependent children

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If you’re Min rent* Min rent* for
max payment
Max fortnightly
payment
single $125.80 $313.53 $140.80
single, sharer $125.80 $250.96 $93.87
couple, combined $203.60 $380.67 $132.80
1 of a couple
separated due to illness
$125.80 $313.53 $140.80
1 of a couple
temporarily separated
$125.80 $302.87 $132.80

*Based on fortnightly rent

Source: Services Australia, 2021

People with dependent children

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If you’re Min rent* Min rent* for
max payment
Max fortnightly
payment
single,
with 1 or 2 children
$165.06 $385.89 $165.62
single,
with 3 or more children
$165.06 $414.45 $187.04
a couple,
with 1 or 2 children
$244.16 $464.99 $165.62
a couple,
with 3 or more children
$244.16 $493.55 $187.04
1 of a couple
separated due to illness
or temporarily separated,
with 1 or 2 children
$165.06 $385.89 $165.62
1 of a couple
separated due to illness
or temporarily separated,
with 3 or more children
$165.06 $414.45 $187.04

*Based on fortnightly rent

Source: Services Australia, 2021

Rent assistance payments may be adjusted if either your rent or income increases or decreases, you move to a new house or your family circumstances change, such as a separation or birth of a child. Special rules also apply if you are a single sharer who is renting or you pay board and are lodging, and you can contact Centrelink for more details.

How do you apply for rent assistance?

There is no formal application process for rent assistance as Centrelink will automatically assess your eligibility when you claim other payments from them or update your address after moving house. If eligible, you may need to provide proof of your tenancy agreement and could be asked to complete a rent certificate. If you aren’t currently receiving rent assistance and think you may be eligible you can check online with Centrelink.

It’s important to let Centrelink know if you change your name, your rent or income changes, you move house, your marital status changes, the number of dependent children in your care changes or if people move in or out of the house you live in.

Can I get emergency money for rent?

If you find yourself facing financial hardship and are unable to pay your rent in the short term, the National Debt Helpline offers advice. It could also be a good idea to contact your local emergency relief service, such as the Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul, Anglicare or the Australian Red Cross, who may be able to provide some short-term assistance or guidance to help you get back on your feet. 

It may also be worthwhile speaking with your landlord and real estate agent to see if you might be able to negotiate some rental relief. You could also check with your local state tenant union, as some state governments are continuing to offer rental relief grants as an extension of COVID-19 assistance packages. For example, Western Australia has extended its COVID-19 residential rent relief grant scheme through to 28 June 2021. The scheme offers assistance of up to 75% of rent arrears up to a maximum of $4,000. Tasmania has also extended its COVID-19 rent relief scheme through to 30 June 2021 which offers eligible renters up to $2,000 of rental assistance.

Cover image source: Andrii Yalanskyi/Shutterstock.com


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