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Victoria: proposed Social Services Regulation Bill

19 August 2021

There is an important Bill currently tabled in the Victorian Parliament that is considering a new regulator for those who provide social services in Victoria. 

Justice Connect is working closely with the Victorian Council of Social Services (VCOSS), the representative body for Victoria's social and community sector. The Bill is extensive, 288 pages long, and there has been a very short timeframe to review it. VCOSS and Justice Connect have already shared concerns with the Victorian Government, and we are hopeful some elements of the Bill can be amended and improved.

What is the Social Services Regulation Bill?

The Victorian Government says the Social Services Regulation Bill 2021 (Vic) (the Bill) will "streamline and simplify the existing regulation of social services, reducing red tape for the community sector while bolstering enforcement powers to protect people from harm".

The Bill would establish a new Social Services Regulator, replacing the current Human Services Regulator that is based within the Victorian Department of Health (formerly the Department of Health and Human Services).

When is the Bill being considered?

When the Victorian Parliament sits again, this draft legislation will be debated in the lower house (the Legislative Assembly). The current COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne has delayed Parliament sitting.

Who does the Bill apply to?

It is not clear at this stage. The Bill provides for regulations to explain who must register with the new regulator. We have not seen any draft regulations yet but the Government has already committed to extensive consultation on the regulations.

In his speech introducing the Bill, Minister Donnellan has said it will apply to those already required to comply with the Human Service Standards through Victorian Government funding agreements, including: 

  • services provided in the community to support children and families subject to registration under the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005, including out of home care, but excluding maternal and child health services, schooling and early childhood education. 
  • regulatory functions that currently sit with the Disability Services Commissioner. 
  • supported residential services registered under the Supported Residential Services (Private Proprietors) Act 2010, including privately operated businesses that provide Victorians with accommodation and support with everyday activities. 
  • Family violence services that are required to comply with the Human Services Standards, including case management, support and accommodation services provided to people experiencing family violence and services for perpetrators. 
  • Homelessness services that are required to comply with the Human Services Standards, including referral, support and accommodation services. 

It will be based on what services are provided by the organisation, rather than the type of organisation providing them. This means government, private and not-for-profit providers will be covered by the Bill.

What are the positive aspects of the Bill?

  • Once registered, there is no ongoing accreditation cycle to comply with. 
  • It provides greater regulatory independence, rather than the funding department delivering their own services and monitoring others.
  • The guiding principles in the Bill include reducing the regulatory burden by, where appropriate, recognising compliance with other regulatory schemes.
  • If the powers to exempt one or a class of providers from the requirements of the scheme are used wisely, they could help streamline and tailor compliance.
  • It covers all providers, including government-delivered services. 

What are the concerns with the Bill?

There are particular sections that we think need to be improved. At a high level, we note:

  • The Bill is unclear on many points that would need to be clarified in the Regulations, including what types of social services will be covered by the new Regulator. 
  • The Bill establishes a regulator with significant powers, including criminal sanctions.  Its purpose is to ensure the new Social Service Standards are complied with. These standards are high-level, broad and subjective. Details of how to comply will be included in the Regulations, which have yet to be developed.
  • The Bill does not have an express guiding principle about education, and there is no guiding principle about a proportionate approach to enforcement.

Find out more at Justice Connect's Fair Matters Blog.