About the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS)

The National Rental Affordability Scheme

The National Rental Affordability Scheme (‘NRAS’ or ‘the Scheme’) is an Australian Government affordable housing initiative, delivered in partnership with state and territory governments. Governments, the business sector and community organisations have recognised that housing affordability is an issue of significant community concern. The growing cost of housing is having an impact on the ability of many Australians to meet their financial commitments. The Scheme seeks to address the shortage of affordable rental housing by offering annual financial incentives for up to ten years, to rent dwellings for eligible NRAS tenants at 80 per cent or less of the market value rent.

NRAS issues financial incentives to organisations that provide people on low to moderate incomes with an opportunity to rent homes at a rate that is at least 20 percent below market value rent. NRAS homes are not social housing–they are affordable private rental homes.

Under NRAS, the Australian Government in conjunction with the States and Territories is providing financial incentives to:

  • increase the supply of affordable rental housing
  • reduce the rental costs for low to moderate income households
  • encourage the large-scale investment and innovative delivery of affordable rental housing.

NRAS commenced on 1 July 2008 and there were six open calls for applications for allocations of NRAS incentives. Rounds 1 to 4 and a smaller ‘shovel ready’ round went ahead and successful applicants were granted an entitlement (or ‘allocation’) to receive an annual incentive for 10 years for each approved rental dwelling. In the 2014-15 Budget, the Government announced it would not process with Round 5 and that the Scheme would be capped at 38,000 allocations. The Scheme will conclude in 2026. NRAS is administered under a legislative framework comprising the National Rental Affordability Scheme Act 2008 (NRAS Act) and the National Rental Affordability Scheme Regulations 2008 (NRAS Regulations).

As announced in the 2014-15 Budget, there will be no further funding rounds or new allocations of NRAS incentives beyond those currently allocated in the Scheme and held by approved participants.

Department of Social Services

The Department of Social Services (DSS) is responsible for the administration of NRAS in consultation with the Australian Taxation Office and the Departments of Treasury, and Finance and Deregulation. The Australian Government also works closely with State and Territory governments in the ongoing management of NRAS.

The Department’s responsibilities include:

  • application of the NRAS legislative framework
  • allocation of incentives to approved participants
  • assessment of approved participants’ eligibility to receive the annual NRAS incentive
  • making decisions on the transfer of NRAS dwellings between approved participants or to another rental dwelling
  • publishing and maintaining guidelines for NRAS stakeholders, including guidance on regulatory and administrative requirements

Approved Participants

NRAS aims to encourage medium to large-scale investment in affordable housing (usually 100 or more houses). This means it is not generally available to small-scale, private, individual investors in the rental property market. However, such investors may become involved in NRAS by investing in or purchasing properties from approved participants or as part of a consortium arrangement.

Approved participants are usually property developers, not-for-profit organisations and community housing providers.

The Australian Government assesses applications for NRAS after an open call for applications in accordance with specified criteria, and makes offers of allocations of incentives on that basis. Successful approved participants are eligible to receive annual NRAS incentives if they meet the conditions of allocation each year for ten years from the initial date of allocation.

More information on approved participants can be found at the information sheet for approved participants *UPDATED November 2018*.

NRAS Investors

NRAS investors are third parties that own the rental dwellings. They have a key stake in the Scheme as they can be beneficiaries of the NRAS incentive and may also participate in the Scheme as part of a consortium or trust. NRAS investors and approved participants generally enter into contractual arrangements where the approved participant manages compliance with the NRAS regulatory requirements and passes on all or part of the NRAS incentive to the NRAS investor.

As announced in the 2014-15 Budget, there will be no further funding rounds or new allocations of NRAS incentives beyond those currently allocated in the Scheme and held by approved participants. This means the only dwellings eligible for NRAS incentives are those that have been or are currently being built by approved participants in the Scheme.

Only dwellings eligible for NRAS incentives are those that have been, or are currently being, built by approved participants and applicants in the Scheme. Therefore, if your dwelling does not currently have an NRAS incentive allocated to it, then it is unable to participate in the scheme. However, you may be involved in the Scheme as an investor by investing in or purchasing properties from approved participants as an individual or as part of a consortium arrangement.

The list of approved participants can be found on the National Rental Affordability Scheme - Performance Reporting page.

Amendments to the NRAS Regulations to create protections for Investors

The Australian Government has legal arrangements only with approved participants and these legal arrangements do not extend to dealings that approved participants may enter into with third parties, such as individual investors, tenancy managers or business partners. Investors should undertake their own investigations and seek independent financial, legal and taxation advice to ensure that they are satisfied that investing in NRAS is the right investment for their individual circumstances.

In 17 November 2017, the Department implemented amendments to the NRAS regulations to increase the protections afforded to investors within the Scheme.

The amendments introduced a power for the Secretary of the Department of Social Services (or her Delegate) to transfer an allocation attached to an approved rental dwelling from one approved participant to another, if certain grounds exist. These grounds include, but are not limited to, instances where approved participants are not passing on the NRAS incentive to the NRAS investor (where there is a contractual arrangement to do so) within a reasonable time of receiving the incentive, or where the actions of an approved participant have contravened a consumer protection law in relation to the NRAS allocation. The transfer can be initiated by the Department or at the request of an investor.

In November 2018 the Regulations were further amended to strengthen investor protections within the Scheme and to improve administrative functions of the Department under the Scheme. For example, the Regulation amendments introduce three new grounds for transferring to a new approved participant and improve the Secretary’s information-gathering powers when conducting transfers.

More information on the NRAS Regulation amendments can be found at the information sheets for investors and approved participants.

Approved Participant and Investor Relationship

Prior to the first round of amendments to the NRAS Regulations introduced in November 2018 the NRAS legislative framework did not recognise issues relating to the commercial relationships between approved participants and NRAS investors.

Following the Regulation amendments introduced in January 2018 the Department raised the visibility of NRAS investors within the Scheme.

While the amendments to NRAS Regulations do increase protections for investors within the Scheme the amendments do not extend to interfering in private, contractual arrangements between approved participants and third parties such as investors or property managers.

NRAS Incentive

NRAS homes must be rented to eligible tenants at a rate that is at 80 per cent or less of the market value rent and comply with all conditions of allocation in order to be eligible for the NRAS incentive annually. The NRAS incentive is paid per dwelling, and is indexed each year in line with the Rents component of the Consumer Price Index. The NRAS Incentive is indexed according to movements in the Rents component of the Housing Group Consumer Price Index for the year, December quarter to December quarter as at 1 March, using the weighted average rate of eight capital cities housing component, and is effective from 1 May.

The Scheme offers annual incentives for ten years. The two key elements of the incentive are:

  • an Australian Government incentive per dwelling per year as a tax offset or direct payment
  • State or Territory governments may offer approved participants a contribution per dwelling per year in direct or in-kind financial support.

Generally, the NRAS incentive is provided to the approved participant in the form of a refundable tax offset (RTO). However, a cash payment can be made if the approved participant receiving the NRAS incentive is an endorsed charitable institution. The current incentive payments are available on the NRAS incentive (indexation) page.

NRAS Tenants

NRAS rental homes are available to low and moderate income Australians – people who may find it hard to pay market rental prices. The eligibility of tenants are tested against household income thresholds which differ depending on the household composition.

The Department requires all persons who are tenants of an approved rental dwelling to have their income included as a member of the one household, in accordance with the income limits.

New NRAS dwellings entered the Scheme up to 30 June 2016 and will continue to be rented under the scheme for up to 10 years from the date of commencement. As there is considerable demand for these dwellings the Australian Government is unable to guarantee that any tenant will be able to rent a dwelling developed under the Scheme.

The approved participant or their nominated tenancy managers select tenants. Queensland tenants must also register with the Queensland Government’s One Social Housing Register.

It is a condition of the Scheme that all approved participants ensure their dwellings are rented to eligible tenants in order for them to receive an incentive. To find out whether you are eligible to rent an NRAS property, how to apply to rent an NRAS property and your rights as an NRAS tenant, visit NRAS Tenants.

NRAS Conditions of Allocation

The NRAS Regulations sets out the mandatory requirements, called ‘conditions of allocation’, that must be met each year in order for an approved participant to receive the NRAS incentive.

The Regulations were made in 2008 and have always required that approved participants in the Scheme only receive an incentive where they meet all conditions of allocation in an NRAS year (defined as a period beginning on 1 May of each year). The Regulations requires all conditions of allocation to be met for an incentive to be received.

The following mandatory conditions must be met in order for an approved participant to receive an incentive in respect of an approved rental dwelling:

  • the dwelling must not have been lived in as a residence prior to the dwelling entering the Scheme, or the dwelling was unfit for anyone to live in and since the day it was deemed fit for living in, it has not been lived in as a residence between that day and the day the dwelling enters into the Scheme.
  • The dwelling must be tenanted by a tenant or tenants as prescribed by the Regulations
  • the rent charged must at all times during the year be at least 20% less than the market value rent for the dwelling;
  • the dwelling must not be vacant for longer than 26 weeks in an NRAS year or vacant longer than a continuous period of 26 weeks across two NRAS years;
  • the approved participant must lodge Statements of Compliance for the dwelling with the Department in accordance with Regulations;
  • each dwelling must comply with the landlord, tenancy, building and health and safety laws of the state or territory and local government area in which the dwelling is located;
  • the approved participant must comply with all special conditions;
  • the MRVs must:
    • relate to the market value rent for the dwelling on a date within the permitted valuation period, and
    • specify the date to which the market value rent relates;
  • the approved participant must lodge MRVs for the first, fifth and eighth years of the incentive period which will apply as of the first day of the incentive period, and as of the first day of the fifth and eighth years of the incentive period, within the permitted valuation period; and
  • the permitted valuation period for the MRV begins 13 weeks before and ends 13 weeks after the day when the dwelling is first available for rent, or for the fifth and eighth years of the incentive period, 13 weeks either side of the anniversary of the first available for rent date.

Legislation, Regulations and Guidelines

The legislative framework for the Scheme is provided through the National Rental Affordability Scheme Act 2008; the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 and the NRAS Regulations.

The National Rental Affordability Scheme Policy Guidelines provide policy guidance on the administration of the National Rental Affordability Scheme within the legislative and regulatory framework.

Visit NRAS Legislation, Resources and Reporting for further information about this topic.

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