Abigail was ordered to pay $20,000 for damage to her public housing property. She was a victim of family violence and had left the property temporarily.

The department assumed she had caused the damage. We contacted the department and explained the special circumstances.

They waived the $20,000 debt and placed Abigail on a priority housing waiting list.

What was the case?

Abigail was living in public housing. She requested a transfer to another housing property. The department asked her to provide more information but she did not respond.

The department inspected her property and found damage. They assumed she had abandoned the property. They applied to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to evict her. She did not attend the hearing. VCAT issued an order in favour of the department. The tribunal ordered her to pay $20,000 for the property damage.

Abigail’s case worker at the Aboriginal Co-operative contacted us. They told us that the property damage was due to family violence. They said the department was aware of a history of family violence at the property.

They also said:

  • At the time the department issued its notice of intention to evict Abigail, she was grieving. Her child had recently died.
  • She left the property temporarily and when she returned, she found out she had been evicted. Her belongings were gone. She was homeless and had been living on the street and in motels funded by the Cooperative.
  • The department did not know where her belongings, including photos of her child, were.

Our enquiries

The department's treatment of Abigail was not in keeping with its policies. Staff must take into account special circumstances that reduce or remove a tenant’s liability for damage. The presence of family violence is one of the special circumstances.

We contacted the department to explore possible solutions to Abigail's situation.


The department:

  • waived Abigail's $20,000 debt
  • placed her on a priority housing waiting list
  • offered her a 50% reduction in rent for three months. This was compensation for having disposed of her belongings.