Law Reform Submissions

IMCL regularly develops Law Reform Submissions in response to proposed and existing legislation and other legal issues that affect the community.

Submission Summaries

Submission to Consultation Paper 3 of the Social Housing Regulation Review

Date of Submission: 1 November 2021

IMCL provided a brief response to the Social Housing Regulation review's Consultation Paper 3, commenting on:

  1. The interaction of contracts and regulation: providing that a minimum standard of policies and procedures governing the tenancy relationship should be established to simplify contracts and ensure certainty.

  2. For profit providers: noting the findings of the Royal Commission into Aged Care in asserting that the social housing system in Victoria should avoid relying on for-profit-providers.

  3. Affordable housing: arguing that the government should steer away from subsidising affordable housing as part of social housing investment because by definition it remains unaffordable for most people on welfare.

  4. Growth and providers diversity: reflecting findings that smaller organisations provide a better quality of care, establish appropriate regulation in relation to the diversity of providers.

Submission to Consultation Paper 2

Date of Submission: 1 November 2021

IMCL's submission to consultation paper 2 of the Social Housing Regulation Review highlights the trend in government investment towards relying on community housing proviers and proposes a number of recommendations to protect social housing tenants during this shift in housing policy. These recommendations include:

  1. Strengthening renters' voices through human rights: requiring all agencies registered under the Housing Act to be bound by hte Charter in their decision-making and to communicate this via public-facing statements and policies.

  2. The fair allocation of homes: ensuring that allocations to rooming houses do not count as long-term housing and requiring that all social housing providers are required to publicly report on allocation data.

  3. Transparency for renters: that the Victorian Ombudsman has clear jurisdiction to oversee community housing organisations and that decisions by social housing providers are made accessilbe under FOI provisions.

  4. Access to consistent and transparent model rules: that publicly accessible model rules be developed for the community housing sector that are of a standard equivalent to public housing tenancy management policies.

  5. Robus accountability: establishing the Social Housing Inspectorate to promote, monitor and enforce compliance with social houisng rules and creating a central housing appeals office to oversee complaints of all social housing renters.

  6. Independent integrated services: banning housing providers from providing support services directly to renters and expanding legal assistance provision beyond tenancy.

Joint Submission to the Social Housing Regulation Review

Date of Submission: 1 November 2021

Together with a group of community legal centres that provide assistance to people with tenancy related needs, we responded to Consultation Paper 1, which invited feedback on the terms and scope of the inquiry. Our joint submission set-out key underlying principles that should inform the review.

  1. A fair regulatory system must deliver positive renter outcomes for all people living in social housing, with key measures of success being the provision of safe, suitable, secure and affordable hosuing.

  2. Robust data analysis must be used and future regulation should be underpinnned and accessible data that demonstrates positive renter outcomes and identifies where there are areas of concern.

  3. There should be a clear and consistent standard of rights for everyone who lives in social housing:

    • Tenants should not be left worse-off based on the type of social housing (public or community) that they are allocated.

    • community housing provider policies must provide equitable support and protections, and be publicly available.

  4. The human rights of all social housing renters must be enforceable through the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic): The Charter provides an effective tool to ensure the human rights of renters in social housing, yet not all community housing providers recognise their obligations under the Charter. In contrast, Home Victoria uses the Charter to inform decision-making and embed human rights in their policies and procedures.

Submission to the 10 Year Social and Affordable Housing Strategy

Date of Submission: 9 April 2021

Submission to the Victorian Ombudsman Investigation into the Treatment of People and Conditions of Public Housing Lockdown

Date of Submission: 29 August 2020

Recognising the unprecedented impact of the hard lockdown on public housing residents in North Melbourne and Flemington in July, IMCL made a submission to the Victorian Ombudsman's Investigation into the Treatment of People and Conditions of Detention at 33 Alfred Street, North Melbourne.

Informed by our experience assisting residents, IMCL made several early complaints to the Victorian Ombudsman outlining our concerns around residents' health and safety, and a lack of access to clear, accessible information. We then welcomed the Victorian Ombudsman's subsequent announcement of a formal investigation into what was a disproportionate and militaristic response to a public health issue. The investigation, announced on 17 July, encompasses four terms of reference:

  • The conditions under which people were, and continue to be, detained at 33 Alfred Street
  • The nature and accessibility of official communications with residents and advocates
  • The nature and appropriateness of restrictions upon people's access to fresh air, exercise, medical care and medical supplies while detained
  • Whether, in relation to the above, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and other relevant authorities have acted compatibly with, and given proper consideration to, the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic) (the Charter)

In our submission, we highlighted our experience and the experience of local community members in coming to grips with a sudden and catastrophic decision by the Victorian State Government. 

In particular, we expressed our concern about the government's reliance on a large contingent of Victoria Police to enforce its hard lockdown, instead of adopting a health response. It is clear that no other group in Victoria has been policed as intensively during COVID-19 as public housing residents, a community already subject to over-policing and marginalisation. The presence of police on their front doorstep and actions like the construction of a fenced exercise yard meant that residents no longer felt safe in their own homes and were stripped of their dignity. For many residents from refugee backgrounds, the experience was also re-traumatising. The discriminatory nature of this intervention was exacerbated by the continued police presence at 33 Alfred St after the Detention Directions were lifted. 

The submission also drew attention to the lack of notice given to tower residents and the absence of plain English and translated information throughout the lockdown. Not knowing or understanding what was happening in their home compounded the fear and confusion felt by residents. Communication breakdowns also meant that many residents were unaware of, or unable to exercise, their safeguarded rights to access fresh air, exercise, medical care, medical supplies and compassionate leave. The absence of clear processes and chains of command made it nearly impossible for residents to request access to those rights and extremely difficult for other organisations like IMCL to advocate on residents' behalf.

These communication failures were compounded by a failure to engage with residents and provide them with an opportunity to participate constructively in the management of the health risks. Instead, a coercive top-down approach dismissed early efforts by residents to address safety concerns at the initial onset of the pandemic and failed to acknowledge the subsequent organisation of relief efforts by community volunteers adopted in the absence of effective government management. 

Other identified concerns that we raised in the submission included:

  • inadequate access to food and other necessities
  • lack of access to hardship payments 
  • detention of non-residents who were prevented by police from leaving the towers to return to their normal place of residence 
  • a prohibition on residents who were not in their homes at the time of the lockdown to return, causing homelessness
  • a failure by DHHS to provide appropriate hotel accommodation to enable reisdnets with COVID-19, or those living with COVID positive cases, to self-isolate
  • inability for residents to elect to voluntarily relocate to reduce the risk of transmission
  • absence of risk mitigation activities, and lack of transparency around any risk assessments undertaken (including assessments about COVID transmission risks, as well as family violence, child abuse, mental health, chronic illness or disability needs)
  • lack of social supports
  • lack of access to laundry facilities and other communal spaces such as rubbish facilities and mailrooms for several days, and when re-opened, insufficient cleaning

Ultimately, we noted in our submission that without access to safeguarded rights and genuine opportunities for collaboration and participation, the rights of residents subjected to the hard lockdown were unduly limited. Had proper consideration been given to residents' rights and their capacity to inform a community public health response, we would not have seen the adoption of such coercive measures that were disproportionate to the purpose of protecting the health of residents and the wider community from COVID-19.

We look forward to the publication of the Victorian Ombudsman's findings and will support the implementation of legislative and policy changes necessary to prevent a recurrence of the July events and to ensure the long term support and sustainability of our public housing communities.

In the meantime, we continue to work with human rights organisations to assess the rights violations and support residents to understand their options and access remedies.

You can read our lockdown media releases here.

 

Submission to Review of Fines Reform Under the Fines Reform Act 2014

Date of Submission: 3 February 2020

IMCL assists vulnerable members of our local community with a number of legal matters, including fines. The Fines Reform Advisory Board has requested submissions regarding the fines system on the back of reforms introduced by the Fines Reform Act 2014, which took effect at the start of 2018. In response, IMCL makes a number of recommendations, including:

  • increase resourcing to Fines Victoria's assessments team to improve processing times for all requests/applications;
  • develop clear policies and procedures in relation to all Fines Victoria processes and ensure that all phone operators are provided with consistent training in relation to them;
  • immediately reduce the threshold for proving special circumstance applications;
  • legislate for the reinstatement of the Special Circumstances List at Melbourne Magistrates' Court and/or expand the Special Circumstances List as smaller lists sitting at a larger number of Magistrates' Courts across Victoria;
  • undertake large scale reforms to the fines system whereby the penalty imposed is proportionate to an individual's income level. In the meantime, introduce a set fixed reduction system to allow people experiencing special circumstances and financial hardship to access a concession reduction on their outstanding fines; and
  • undertake appropriate evaluation and economic research to determine if there is any economic argument in support of pursuing fine debts against people experiencing homelessness, mental illness and alcohol or drug dependency.

Submission to the Inquiry into Homelessness in Victoria

Date of Submission: 31 January 2020

In our submission to the Inquiry into Homelessness in Victoria, IMCL strongly opposes the Public Housing Renewal Program initiative of the Victorian Government, which will only marginally increase the number of publicly owned homes while in fact reducing the overall capacity to house people on these redeveloped estates.

In addition to undertaking large scale investment in public housing to enable rapid expansion of housing stock owned and managed by the DHHS, IMCL makes a number of recommendations, including:

  • no further sale of public land to private developers or further transfer of titles and/or management of housing to Community Housing Providers;
  • strengthen and implement safeguards to prevent evictions, such as provision of appropriate legal representation and integrated health and welfare services;
  • align the internal policies of DHHS and CHPs so that all tenants are treated equally, with CHPs required to use eviction only as a last resort;
  • provide funding for independent support services to assist tenants/residents experiencing mental illness and require CHPs to refer to them before pursuing compliance and eviction proceedings in the first instance;
  • provide rapid rehousing to individuals fleeing family violence so that they can build a stable future around secure housing;
  • divert people experiencing homelessness out of the criminal justice system and provide people with health and social interventions over criminal interventions;
  • establish a specialist court list for people experiencing homelessness; and
  • increase housing support for separated families, including at the Family Law Courts, and further resourcing for Department of Health and Human Services to assist parents and children to access housing when child protection is involved and increased.

Submission to the Victorian Ombudsman on the Investigation into State Trustees Limited

Date of Submission: 17 August 2019

IMCL was invited to provide a submission for the Victorian Ombudsman’s investigation into State Trustees. Through IMCL’s various partnerships and close work with social workers, we were made aware of several issues that State Trustees’ clients were experiencing. These include:

  • difficulties in communicating with State Trustees;
  • delays in distributing personal allowances;
  • inadequate balancing of the competing needs for regular saving and for individual autonomy;
  • issues with State Trustees not administering their duty properly when their clients have outstanding infringements; and
  • State Trustees not acting in the best interests of clients and not acting in consultation with clients

IMCL's concerns have now been recognised in the Ombudsman’s report, which identifies State Trustees’ financial management and communication with clients as key problem areas. Read more about IMCL's response to the Victorian Ombudsman's report here.

Submission to the Inquiry into a Legislated Spent Convictions Scheme

Date of Submission: 9 July 2019

Criminal checks are increasingly becoming common practice by major employers, yet Victoria remains the only jurisdiction that does not have a legislated scheme for convictions to become spent. Such a scheme would allow people who have been involved in the criminal justice system the opportunity to leave behind the stigma attached to this, particularly in relation to minor offences and significantly aged convictions or findings of guilt. IMCL endorses the recommendations made by Liberty Victoria's Rights Advocacy Project (RAP) and the Federation of Community Legal Centres (FCLC). Our submission outlines the following recommendations:

  • a criminal record information check should not disclose pending charges, in particular where the charge relates to a minor offence; 
  • a criminal record information check should not disclose diversion matters whilst a person is complying with the conditions of their diversion plan;
  • a subsequent minor conviction should not restart the waiting period for a prior conviction to become spent;
  • once a conviction becomes spent it should not be capable of being revived by a subsequent offence.

Submission to the Royal Commission into Mental Health

Date of Submission: 5 July 2019

In our submission, we highlight the importance of integrated legal assistance services for our clients, who often experience a range of intersecting legal issues arising from mental health issues and face significant obstacles in accessing services. In addition to increasing funding for existing and future integrated service models, IMCL makes a number of recommendations to address the overrepresentation of people with mental illness in the justice system:

  • investment in the construction of more public housing and an improvement in the policies and regulation of Community Housing Organisations;
  • funding of independent support services for tenants with mental illness and a requirement that CHOs refer to them before resorting to compliance or eviction proceedings;
  • the introduction of a specific mental illness caution by Victoria Police for low level offending;
  • the inclusion of a mental health diversion program in all Victorian Magistrates' Courts and increased resourcing for specialist therapeutic courts;
  • a requirement that Corrections staff make proper enquiries with mental health practitioners and support services before making an assessment in relation to CCO conditions;
  • amendment of s 48 of the Sentencing Act 1991 to require the court to regard a mental health diagnosis when deciding to place an unpaid community work condition on a CCO;
  • consideration of the repeal or amendment of offences in the Summary Offences Act 1966 that disproportionately target persons with poor mental health or those experiencing homelessness;
  • the employment of mental health triage workers at Magistrates' Courts to assist police and Magistrates with making interim risk and mental health assessments; and
  • a pilot program for mental health response teams working in conjunction with police to provide assessments and mental health care for family violence callouts.

Submission on the Abbotsford Street Renewal Program

Date of Submission: 16 October 2017

Proposals by the Department of Health and Human Service to redevelop ageing public housing estates have been referred for consideration to the Social Housing Renewal Standing Advisory Committee. The Committee has been asked to advise on the suitability of these proposals and to enable community consultation on the issue. One of these estates - Abbotsford Street, North Melbourne - is within IMCL's catchment. Based on our ongoing legal work with vulnerable tenants, we make the following observations:

  • There will be considerable disruption for already vulnerable tenants.
  • There is no guarantee that there will be an increase in social housing stock, and in any event a 10% increase is grossly insufficient.
  • We will lose invaluable public housing with the transfer to private ownership.
  • There is no clear plan about how private and public properties will be distributed across the site.
  • There will be insufficient onsite parking leading to the accumulation of fines which disproportionately impact those on low incomes and which often lead to a costly infringements roundabout.
  • The shift from public to community housing provider managed social housing means less public accountability of housing providers as the government distances itself from the needs of social housing tenants.

 

Submission to the Victorian Ombudsman on the Investigation into State Trustees Limited

Date of Submission: 17 August 2018

IMCL was invited to provide a submission for the Victorian Ombudsman's investigation into State Trustees. Through IMCL's various partnerships and close work with social workers, we were made aware of several issues that State Trustees' clients were experiencing. These include:

  • difficulties in communicating with State Trustees;
  • delays in distributing personal allowances;
  • inadequate balancing of the competing needs for regular saving and for individual autonomy;
  • issues with State Trustees not administering their duty properly when their clients have outstanding infringements; and
  • State Trustees not acting in the best interests of clients and not acting in consultation with clients.

IMCL's concerns have now been recognised in the Ombudsman's report, which identifies State Trustees' financial management and communication with clients as key problem areas. Read more about IMCL's response to the Victorian Ombudsman's report here.

 

Submission on the Review of Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (Vic)

Date of Submission: 30 October 2017

Submission on the Abbotsford Street Renewal Program

Date of Submission: 16 October 2017

Proposals by the Department of Health and Human Services to redevelop ageing public housing estates have been referred for consideration to the Social Housing Renewal Standing Advisory Committee. The Committee has been asked to advise on the suitability of these proposals and to enable community consultation on the issue. One of these estates - Abbotsford Street, North Melbourne - is within IMCL's catchment. Based on our ongoing legal work with vulnerable tenants, we make the following observations:

  • there will be considerable disruption for already vulnerable tenants;
  • there is no guarantee that there will be an increase in social housing stock, and in any event a 10% increase is grossly insufficient;
  • there is no clear plan about how private and public properties will be distributed across the site;
  • there will be insunfficient onsite parking leading to the accumulation of fines which disproportionately impact those on low incomes and which often lead to a costly infringements roundabout; and
  • the shift from public to community housing provider managed social housing means less public accountability of housing providers as the government distances itself from the needs of social housing tenants. 

Response to Victoria Legal Aid’s Means Test Options Paper

Date of Submission: 11 June 2017

Law Reform Proposal on the Requirements to Notify VicRoads of a Change of Address

Date of Submission: 4 April 2017

Submission on the Activities (Public Amenity and Security) Local Law 2017

Date of Submission: 17 March 2017

The City of Melbourne have proposed amendments to the Activities Local Law 2009 in an attempt to address the increased numbers of people sleeping rough in the CBD. The key aspects of the Amending Law broaden the ban on camping and provide for confiscation and disposal of unattended items.

IMCL opposes the amending law on the basis that:

  • Criminalising homelessness will further entrench disadvantage;
  • Fining people for offences associated with homelessness is against the intention of theInfringements Act 2006 (Vic); 
  • These fines will result in processes that are resource intensive for all involved, be the subject of long delays and unlikely to see fines paid;
  • Some of the laws contravene the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic); and
  • These laws contradict recent City of Melbourne and state government measures that will significantly contribute to reducing homelessness in the longer-term.

Response to Options Paper on the Residential Tenancies Act Review

Date of Submission: 10 February 2017

Submission for the Ombudsman’s own motion investigation into maintenance charges against tenants (MCATs)

Date of Submission: 3 October 2016

IMCL considers MCATS to be a systemic issue which can place tenants at risk of homelessness or continued homelessness. This submission raises concerns that MCAT amounts are often inflated; that the Office of Housing fails to act as a model litigant; and that the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal is not an even playing field for vulnerable tenants. IMCL also considers that MCATs issued in the context of family violence warrant the attention of the Ombudsman.

Response to Victoria Legal Aid’s Means Test Review

Date of Submission: 20 September 2016

This submission suggests that VLA develop an online screening tool to assess eligibility; that VLA considers whether documentary requirements should be waived if a person is experiencing homelessness or unable to access their usual accommodation due to family violence; and that VLA should use greater discretion when considering financial information from financially associated persons. The submission also addresses issues with funding associated with preparation work by CLCs and obtaining expert reports.

Response to the RTA Review Consultation Paper

Date of Submission: 11 August 2016

IMCL believes that a central purpose of residential regulatory and policy framework in Victoria should be to ensure that rental properties are safe, structurally sound and fit for habitation. In light of this, IMCL made five recommendations in this submission: that the Act be amended to introduce mandatory minimum standards; the Act be amended to require a condition report for all residential tenancies and be accompanied by photographs; the Act be amended to allow VCAT to make orders allowing tenants to make modification where landlords are unreasonably withholding consent; the Act be amended to allow VCAT to make orders directing the Office of Housing to make disability modification; and that the 120 day Notice to Vacate for no reason be repealed.

Access to Justice Review

Date of Submission: 22 February 2016

In a submission to the Department of Justice and Regulation Victoria, IMCL recommends improving access to legal assistance by developing a database of services and information available in Victoria; supported the expansion of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms; and appointing additional Tribunal members to VCAT and amending legislation as to the enforceability of VCACT decisions. Additionally, the submission draws attention to the problem of increased demand for legal assistance coupled with a lack of stability in funding for the legal assistance sector.

Submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence

Date of Submission: 29 May, 2015

Drawing on almost 40 years’ experience, IMCL’s submission adresses the need to expand and improve support available for victims of family violence. We recommend improving and increasing the availability of multi-disciplinary and holistic models of care; recognising that the antenatal and postnatal periods are high risk times for victim/survivors of family violence; amending the Birth Registration Statement to include information on service providers; the inclusion of respectful relationships education in the national curriculum; and that the intervention order framework be improved to better support victims of family violence.