Changes to the regulation of social services

Some changes are coming for the regulation of social services in Victoria.

Services within the scope of the new regulatory framework include:

  • some services the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (DFFH) delivers, including child protection services and secure welfare services
  • out of home care services for children and young people
  • community-based child and family services including early parenting, intake services, Aboriginal child specialist advice support services and counselling services
  • disability services offered or funded by DFFH, or funded by the Transport Accident Commission or WorkSafe
  • supported residential services
  • family violence services such as case management, support, and accommodation services (for those at risk of or who have experienced family violence) and services for perpetrators
  • sexual assault services such as specialist services for survivors of sexual assault and specialist harmful sexual behaviour services
  • homelessness services such as assessment, case management, support and accommodation services.

The functions of the Disability Services Commissioner will be merged into the Social Services Regulator (the regulator) in mid-2024, subject to legislation being passed by the Victorian Parliament.

The government has also announced that in the longer term, the Victorian Disability Worker Commissioner and Disability Worker Registration Board will also merge into the Regulator.

It is expected that the Victorian Disability Worker Commissioner and Disability Worker Registration Board and a new complaints function will commence with the Regulator during 2026.

The rights of people with disability remain a key priority for the Victorian Government.

These entities play a vital role in resolving complaints about disability workers and services. They will continue to ensure people with disability are protected from harm, abuse and neglect and receive safe and high-quality services.

This means there will be no reduction in protections for disability service users. The new arrangements will:

  • make things more efficient
  • ensure that protections for people with a disability are delivered in a more effective way
  • address gaps in the safeguarding arrangements for Victorians accessing social services.

The Regulator’s priorities in the lead up to 1 July 2024

  • engagement with the sector to understand how the new social services regulatory scheme can best support the delivery of safe and effective social services
  • developing guidance and education materials to support the transition
  • working towards effective and efficient reporting mechanisms, registration processes and information sharing.

What we’ve done

Since the Social Services Regulator started on 5 February 2024, the Regulator has led:

  • more than 30 meetings with key stakeholders, including the Minister for Children and Disability, Department of Families, Fairness and Housing Secretary, Victorian Council of Social Services, Commissioner for Children and Young People, Family Care, Victorian Disability Worker Commission, Disability Services Commissioner, Sexual Assault Services Victoria, Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, Safe and Equal, Anglicare Victoria
  • targeted consultation with the sector on the new six Social Service Standards draft information sheets
  • meetings with service providers and key stakeholders in the regions, including trips to Shepparton, Ballarat, Warrnambool, Geelong, Bendigo, Mildura and Gippsland to understand the important work delivered by these providers across the state.

The new regulatory scheme

Every Victorian deserves to be able to access the social services they need safely.

The government is setting up a new Social Services Regulator to oversee social services with the primary consideration of reducing or preventing harms to social service users. The new system will also streamline registration and reporting requirements for most social service providers so they can focus on frontline service delivery.

Currently, the Disability Act 2006, Supported Residential Services Act (Private Proprietors) Act 2010, and the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005, provide different registration, reporting and regulatory requirements. This means that there are different rules in place for different service providers depending on which Act they are registered under. The differences in each Act also mean that some service providers are subject to overlapping regulatory schemes, resulting in duplication of reporting requirements.

The SSR Act amends existing legislation to streamline registration, reporting and regulation to promote the safe delivery of social services and protect the rights of service users. This will minimise risks of avoidable harm and improve the quality of social services.

Transition timeline

1 July 2024 – Scheme commencement for secure welfare services and services currently required to be registered with the Human Services Regulator. The registrations of these providers will be automatically transferred to the new scheme.

From 1 July 2024 to 30 June 2025 - services not currently required to be registered with the Human Services Regulator will apply for registration with the new Social Services Regulator.

This will be phased according to the various social service sectors via a staggered registration process. This means the Social Services Regulator will invite providers to submit registration applications. The order will be:

  • 1 July to 31 July 2024 – child protection services and forensic disability services provided by DFFH
  • 1 August to 30 September 2024 – family violence services funded by DFFH will apply for registration from
  • 1 October to 31 December 2024 – homelessness services funded by DFFH (excluding community and public housing)
  • 1 January to 31 March 2025 – sexual assault services funded by DFFH
  • 1 April to 30 June 2025 – disability services funded by the Transport Accident Commission or WorkSafe that are not registered under the Disability Act 2006.

The Regulator must assess the provider’s registration application within 60 days of receiving it. It could take longer than 60 days if the Regulator needs more information from the service provider. Providers can continue to operate the service while the Regulator is assessing the application.

The Worker and Carer Exclusion Scheme

The Worker and Carer Exclusion Scheme is designed to address risks posed by individual workers and carers that require additional interventions.

Before engaging with a worker or carer for the first time, service providers will be required to check with the Regulator if the person is on the excluded worker and carer database.

The start of the scheme is being delayed by up to two years until 1 July 2026 to give the out of home care sector time to prepare for the scheme.

Benefits to the sector

The social services sector has reported gaps, inconsistencies in regulation, unnecessary regulatory overlaps and complex requirements.

There are many social service providers that provide services across different areas. They are currently subject to multiple regulatory schemes, leading to regulatory burden. The new changes will provide flexibility for regulatory bodies to work together to maximise safeguards, while at the same time minimising duplication of reporting for most service providers.

Strengthening the regulatory framework for social services providers is an opportunity to promote the safe delivery of social services and protect the rights of service users to minimise the risks of avoidable harm.

Social Services Regulation Taskforce

In April 2022, the Victorian Government established a taskforce to help develop and guide the regulations required to operationalise the new scheme. The taskforce is a key consultation mechanism with the social services sector.

The Taskforce is co-chaired by:

  • Iwan Walters MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Disability
  • Adjunct Professor Ms Susan Pascoe AM.

Ms Pascoe has an extensive background in government and non-government sectors. She represents many boards including the Board of Mercy Health. Ms Pascoe was the first Commissioner for the charity's regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. Ms Pascoe is currently an Adjunct Professor at the University of Western Australia.

The Taskforce is scheduled to conclude its work by 1 July 2024.

On commencement of the new scheme, the Social Services Regulator will establish a consultative committee and a series of reference groups to support the implementation and operation of the new regulatory scheme. The three reference groups will be:

  • First Nations peoples
  • Social services users
  • Social service providers.