Applying for a government-subsidised home 

Social housing is accommodation which is aimed at people with low incomes and/or special housing needs (e.g. to cope with a disability).

Housing New Zealand (HNZ) provides the majority of social housing properties with Income Related Rent (IRR), which is calculated based on the tenant’s household income; however some community housing providers are also funded by the government to provide housing with IRR.
Note that HNZ and the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) use the term ‘social housing’ to refer specifically to that which is provided by HNZ and housing providers registered to receive the IRRS.

What is Income Related Rent?

Income Related rent (IRR) is rent which is subsidised by the government in order to make accommodation more affordable for those on low incomes.

IRR is calculated based on your income and that of the people who are living with you at the time you accept a housing offer. It works out at 25 percent of your take-home income if you earn less than the weekly New Zealand Superannuation payment, or 50 % of your income if you earn more than that. 

Visit the Housing New Zealand website for more details about how IRR is calculated.

Who provides housing with the Income Related Rent subsidy?

Most social housing with government subsidised rent (Income-Related Rent or IRR) is provided by Housing New Zealand, but since April 2014 it is also available from other registered social housing providers. The application process is the same for both types of social housing.

You can find a list of social housing providers (who can provide housing with IRR) on the Family Services Directory.

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Who is eligible for a home with Income Related Rent and how can I apply for one?

You and your family may be eligible for social housing with Income-Related Rent if you:

  • have New Zealand residency (through citizenship or permanent residency) and usually living in New Zealand (there are exceptions to this criteria)
  • are aged 16 years or over
  • have a low income (the income threshold depends on whether you have a partner and/or dependents)
  • have little or no cash assets
  • a high housing need

The Ministry of Social Development is responsible for assessing the eligibility of potential social housing tenants.

To find out whether you are eligible, call one of the MSD agencies listed below:

Contact the agency you already have dealings with, or Work and Income if you aren’t already a client of any of the above.

Eligibility screening
Someone (probably from Work and Income) will call you for an initial screening, when you’ll be asked about:

  • your current living arrangements  
  • your housing needs  
  • your weekly household income  
  • how much you can afford to pay in rent  
  • your housing expenses

If you are already receiving government assistance (e.g. a Work and Income benefit), some of this information may already be held by MSD. If you aren’t eligible for Income-Related Rent, MSD may be able to help you in other ways e.g. through financial assistance.

Housing needs assessment
If you meet the eligibility criteria, you’ll be booked in for a full needs assessment at your local Work and Income office (but it can be done over the phone if you aren’t able to get to the interview). You’ll need to provide proof of identity, income and assets, and the birth certificates of your dependent children. The assessment is to determine your level of need and where you’ll be on the housing wait list.

Changes of circumstance
If your situation changes (e.g. a change in the number of people in your household) while you are still on the waiting list, this can affect your position on the waiting list or your eligibility for social housing.
MSD's Housing Assessment website has more information about eligibility for social housing and the application process.

If you are found to be ineligible after the pre-assessment, they will probably discuss other housing options with you. You can also read our Other social housing page.

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MSD told me I wasn’t eligible for Income-Related Rent, but I don’t agree. What can I do?

MSD is responsible for reviewing decisions about eligibility Income-Related Rent. If you don’t agree with their decision about your eligibility and the reasons they have given, you can ask for a review by the Benefits Review Committee.

To do this, either send a completed Review of decision form to your local WINZ branch, or write them a letter explaining your situation. It’s best to do this within three months of receiving the decision.

You can ask for a review of a decision about:

  • your eligibility
  • your housing needs
  • the calculation of Income-Related Rent
  • your Income-Related Rent debt

If you're not satisfied with the outcome of MSD’s review, you can ask for it to be looked at by the Social Security Appeal Authority.

There’s more about asking for a review on the WINZ website and the MSD website. You can read about advocacy to help you in your dealings with MSD on our Beneficiary Advocacy page. 

Who can help me with my application for social housing?

If you are having problems with your application, e.g. you don’t know why you aren’t eligible, your local CAB can help you understand what the problem is, including contacting MSD on your behalf.

If English is not your first language you may find that CAB Language Link can contact MSD on your behalf and speak to you in your own language.

Another option, if you wish to have someone (e.g. a close friend or family member) be able to act for you when dealing with MSD (for example if you have language difficulties), is to appoint an agent. This allows that person to access your personal information, receive your mail or deal with Work and Income, Senior Services and Housing Assessment for you (you can decide what they are allowed to do).

If you have already appointed someone as your agent for Work and Income matters, you can complete a Agent - Extension for MSD Housing Assessment form. Otherwise, you can complete an Appointment of agent form if you want someone to be able to act on your behalf on Work and Income and social housing matters. There's more about appointing an agent on our Beneficiary Advocacy page.

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What happens once I have successfully applied for social housing

MSD will refer you to a housing provider to be matched to a suitable property. The housing provider could be Housing New Zealand or another provider, such as a community group.

As soon as a home becomes available which is suited to your needs, the housing provider will contact you and show you the property. If you agree to become a tenant there, they’ll draw up a tenancy agreement for you to sign.

The housing provider will then advise MSD that you’ve accepted tenancy at the property, and MSD will then:

  • calculate your Income-Related Rent (i.e. how much you’ll pay the housing provider – the balance of the rent is paid to the provider by the government)
  • process your application for bond and rent in advance
  • redirect the proportion of your benefit which will pay your share of the rent (if you are receiving a Work and Income benefit)

It's important to let MSD know (Work and Income on 0800 559 009 or Senior Services on 0800 552 002) if there is any change to your circumstances as this can affect your eligibility, housing needs and Income-Related Rent.

How long will I have to wait for a home?

This will depend on your position on the waiting list (which is determined by your housing needs), how many people on the waiting list have urgent needs, and the availability of suitable homes.

It’s a good idea to look for other rental options while you are on the waiting list, in case you find something suitable yourself.

If your situation changes it’s important to advise MSD, as it could change your position on the waiting list and affect how long you’ll have to wait.

More information about the waiting list and how it is managed, is on the Work and Income website.

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Who administers government-subsidised housing?

This role is shared by MSD, Housing New Zealand and the community housing providers who are registered to provide government-subsidised housing.

MSD is responsible for deciding who is eligible for getting the Income-Related Rent Subsidy (IRRS) and managing that process. They receive applications from prospective tenants, determine eligible applicants’ positions on the housing waitlist, calculate how much rent tenants need to pay and conduct tenancy reviews.

This will be done by case managers (housing), who are located at Work and Income service centres and at a centralised housing office in Auckland.

As the landlord, the housing provider (either HNZ or a community housing provider) is responsible for managing the tenancy of the property. This includes matching prospective tenants to houses, preparing tenancy agreements, organising repairs and maintenance and collecting rent.

For more details see the Work and Income website.

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I have been offered a house, but it is not in a good location for me, what happens if I refuse it?

If you have a really good reason for refusing a particular state house (e.g. you have to be closer to the hospital for medical appointments), talk to them about it. They may be able to find you a house which is more suitable – but be aware that in many locations the demand for state housing far exceeds supply.

I need emergency accommodation, can Housing New Zealand help?

Housing New Zealand does not help with emergency accommodation. If you need emergency accommodation contact your local CAB. You can also read our Emergency housing page.