Housing Mobility and Conditions methodology

Latest release
Reference period
2019-20 financial year
Next release Unknown
First release

Explanatory notes


This publication presents a summary of the findings from the 2019–20 Survey of Income and Housing (SIH). The survey collected detailed information about the income, wealth and household characteristics of persons aged 15 years and over in private dwellings throughout Australia, excluding very remote areas.

The Survey of Income and Housing, User Guide, Australia referred to as the User Guide, is intended to assist users' ability to understand and utilise results from the SIH.

The SIH was conducted continuously from 1994–95 to 1997–98, and then in 1999–2000, 2000–01 and 2002–03. From 2003–04 the SIH was conducted every two years. The 2019–20 SIH collected information from a sample of 15,011 households over the period July 2019 to June 2020.

Previous surveys of household income were conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in 1979, 1982, 1986 and 1990. These surveys were generally conducted over a two-month period, compared to a twelve-month period for the SIH. The SIH also included improvements to the survey weighting and estimation procedures, changes to the scope and coverage of household income and changes to interviewing methods from 1994–95 onwards.

In 2003–04, 2009–10 and 2015–16 the SIH was integrated with the Household Expenditure Survey (HES). In 2005–06, 2007–08, 2011–12, 2013–14, 2017–18 and 2019–20, the SIH was run as a stand-alone survey.

The ABS collects additional housing information in the SIH every six years. Additional housing topics were last collected in 2013–14, which included housing mobility, housing condition and dwelling characteristics, home purchase for first home buyers, loan financing for owners with a mortgage and rental arrangements. Previously the additional housing content was presented in Housing Mobility and Conditions, 2007–08 (cat. no. 4130.0.55.002). In 2013–14, the content was included as an additional data cube in Housing Occupancy and Costs, 2013–14 (cat. no. 4130.0).

Other household collections conducted by the ABS which cover housing are:

  • Census of Population and Housing.
  • General Social Survey.

Household collections conducted by the ABS which cover housing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are:

Care should be taken when comparing data from the different sources due to the different methodologies used in these collections.

Changes in this issue

Key changes in 2019–20 compared with previous surveys include:

  • collection methodology for 2019–20 included the introduction of an online form (computer assisted web interview, or CAWI), where the respondent could self report (without interviewer assistance). As a result, estimates may not be directly comparable to previous cycles (see data collection section for more information);
  • a general review of the questions, populations and sequencing was undertaken to optimise survey content for online collection;
  • the Household Form was redesigned as part of the Integrated Household Surveys Program to produce common content across various household surveys;
  • cyclical housing content was collected this cycle, including changes in rent payments which was last collected in 2007–08.

Refer to the 'Changes in this issue' section of Household Income and Wealth, Methodology, Australia for details on other changes to the 2019–20 SIH. 


The Census and Statistics Act 1905 authorises the ABS to collect statistical information and requires that information is not published in a way that could identify a particular person or organisation. The ABS must make sure that information about individual respondents cannot be derived from published data.

To minimise the risk of identifying individuals in aggregate statistics, a technique called perturbation is used to randomly adjust cell values. Perturbation involves small random adjustment of the statistics which have a negligible impact on the underlying pattern. This is considered the most satisfactory technique for avoiding the release of identifiable data while maximising the range of information that can be released.

Concepts and definitions

The concepts and definitions relating to the statistics in this publication are described in the following section of this publication. Other definitions are available from the ‘Glossary’ section of this publication.


The household is the basic unit of analysis in this publication. A household consists of one or more persons, at least one of whom is at least 15 years of age, usually resident in the same private dwelling. The persons in a household may or may not be related. They must live wholly within one dwelling. A group of people who make common provision for food and other essentials of living but live in two separate dwellings are in two separate households.

The household is adopted as the basic unit of analysis because it is assumed that sharing of the use of goods and services occurs at this level. If smaller units, say persons, are adopted, then it is difficult to know how to attribute to individual household members the use of shared items such as food, accommodation and household goods. Intra-household transfers, however, are excluded. For example, if one member of the household were to pay board to another member of the same household then this is not considered as an increase in the amount of income or housing costs of the household. If such transfers were to be included there would be double counting.

Income unit

An income unit is a single person or a group of related persons within a household, whose command over income is assumed to be shared. Income sharing is assumed to take place within married (registered or de-facto) couples, and between parents and their dependent children. The income unit is similar, but not identical, to the unit used in determining the eligibility of people for many government pensions and allowances such as Centrelink payments.


Household income consists of all current receipts, whether monetary or in kind, that are received by the household or by individual members of the household, and which are available for, or intended to support, current consumption.

Income includes receipts from:

  • employee income (whether from an employer or own incorporated enterprise), including wages and salaries, salary sacrificed income, non-cash benefits, bonuses and termination payments;
  • government pensions and allowances;
  • profit/loss from own unincorporated business (including partnerships);
  • net investment income (interest, rent, dividends, royalties);
  • private transfers (e.g. superannuation, workers' compensation, income from annuities, child support, and financial support received from family members not living in the same household).

Receipts of Family Tax Benefit are treated as income, regardless of whether they are received fortnightly or as a lump sum. Payments of the Newborn Supplement and Newborn Up-front Payment are received as part of the Family Tax Benefit Part A payments for a period of 13 weeks or with their lump sum. The Paid Parental Leave payment has also been included as income.

The Energy Supplement is included in income from government pensions or allowances. This tax-exempt, indexed payment is paid to pensioners, other income support recipients, families receiving Family Tax Benefit payments and Commonwealth Seniors Health Card holders, provided they meet eligibility requirements. 

Income measures

In 2007–08, the ABS revised its standards for household income statistics following the adoption of new international standards in 2004 and review of aspects of the collection and dissemination of income data. The income estimates from 2007–08 onwards apply the new income standards and are not directly comparable with estimates for previous cycles. The change in income level in 2007–08 is partly due to the change in methods but also partly due to real change in income. To the extent possible, the estimates for 2003–04 and 2005–06 shown in the time series tables also reflect the new treatments.

For more detail on the nature and impact of the changes on the income data see Appendix 4 of Household Income and Income Distribution, Australia, 2007–08.

Gross income

Gross income is the sum of income from all sources before income tax and the Medicare levy have been deducted. 

Disposable income

Disposable income better represents the economic resources available to meet the needs of households. It is derived by deducting estimates of personal income tax and the Medicare levy from gross income. Medicare levy surcharge is also calculated and deducted from gross income while calculating disposable income (as it was for the first time in 2007–08).

Income tax liability is estimated for all households using taxation criteria for the relevant financial year and the income and other characteristics of household members reported in the survey (such as private health insurance fund membership).

Prior to 2005–06 the derivation of disposable income also included the addition of Family Tax Benefit (FTB) paid through the tax system or as a lump sum by Centrelink. For practical reasons it was not included in the gross income estimates. From 2005–06 to 2013–14 FTB amounts were modelled for some households where amounts were not reported by the respondents. These amounts are not included in gross or disposable income from 2015–16. The introduction of a new model in 2015–16 for micro-editing government payments includes modelling of FTB values. These have been utilised where the reported amount was missing, significantly above the maximum eligible amount or where other payments, related to FTB, were reported by survey respondents, such as single parents with children under 8 years who receive Parenting Payment. More information about the effect of this change is available in the Survey of Income and Housing, User Guide, Australia.

Equivalised disposable income

Most analyses in this publication use equivalised disposable household income rather than gross or disposable income. Using an equivalising factor for household income enables the direct comparison of the relative economic well-being of households of different size and composition (for example, lone person households, families and group households of unrelated individuals).

Equivalised disposable household income is calculated by adjusting disposable income by the application of an equivalence scale. The scale is based on the principle that larger households require a higher level of income to achieve the same standard of living as a smaller household. However, there are economies of scale, so each additional person does not equally add to the income needed to support household consumption.

Whereas disposable income includes negative values, these are adjusted to zero for the purpose of equivalised disposable household income.

After household income is adjusted according to an equivalence scale, the equivalised income can be viewed as an indicator of the economic resources available to a standardised household. For a lone person household, it is equal to income received. For a household comprising more than one person, equivalised income is an indicator of the household income that would be required by a lone person household in order to enjoy the same level of economic well-being as the household in question. 

For more information on equivalised income, see the Survey of Income and Housing, User Guide, Australia

Lower income households

Lower income households are generally defined in this publication as those containing the 38% of people with equivalised disposable household income between the 3rd and 40th percentiles, and excluding the 1st and 2nd percentiles. The 1st and 2nd percentiles are excluded as some households in these percentiles exhibit high wealth and expenditure characteristics and income types other than employee income and government pensions and allowances. 

This definition of lower income households differs from that used in the Household Income and Wealth publication in which low income households are defined as households in the lowest income quintile excluding the 1st and 2nd percentiles. For more information on the definition employed in that publication see that publication's Concepts section, specifically 'Lowest income decile'. 

Equivalised income generally provides a useful indicator of economic well-being. However, some households report extremely low and even negative income in the survey. Households may under report their incomes in the survey at all income levels, including low income households. Households may also correctly report low levels of income if they have incurred losses in their unincorporated business or have negative returns from other investments.

Some of the households included in the lowest two income percentiles are unlikely to be suffering extremely low levels of economic well-being. Income distribution analysis may lead to inappropriate conclusions if such households are used as the basis for assessing low levels of economic well-being.

Housing mobility

Housing mobility is one element underlying population change, contributing to how many people live in an area and who moves in and who moves out. Over time this has implications for employment, local culture and urban development. For many Australians housing has involved moving out from a family home, into rental accommodation and on to home ownership. Along the way households will change dwelling for a variety of reasons. Different mobility patterns are found for renters and owners, for households at different stages of family life or age, as well as for other characteristics such as household income. The housing mobility tables presented in this publication focus on the experiences of the household reference person. Other persons present in the household may have led different housing mobility experiences to the reference person e.g., due to changes in the composition of the household over time. 

Condition of dwelling

The condition of a dwelling can have a significant influence on the health and well-being of its inhabitants. It is also significant in determining the value of the dwelling. In this publication the term is used to signify the extent to which the cladding, roofing and fittings of the house have been maintained in their original condition.

Repairs and maintenance refers to work undertaken with the purpose of either preventing deterioration or repairing some aspect of the dwelling back to its original condition. Examples include:

  • replacing a fence with a similar type of fence;
  • repairing broken roof tiles;
  • re-roofing a tile roof with new tiles;
  • repainting.

Alterations and additions change or improve the original condition of the dwelling or its surrounding land. Examples include:

  • changing the position of internal walls in a dwelling;
  • renovating a kitchen or bathroom;
  • installing built in robes;
  • adding an additional room;
  • installing a spa bath;
  • installing a swimming pool;
  • replacing a wooden fence with a metal one;
  • building a garage.

Tenure type and landlord type

The concept of housing tenure is based on the type of legal right of the occupant(s) to occupy the dwelling. Tenure is determined according to whether the unit (household, income unit or person) owns the dwelling outright, owns the dwelling with a mortgage or a loan secured against it, is paying rent to live in the dwelling or has some other arrangement to occupy the dwelling.

In this publication, tenure information is provided at the household level. Person level and income unit level tenure were also enumerated in 2019–20 SIH and are available in the Basic Microdata. Tenure information at household, income unit and person levels enables users to analyse within household tenure arrangements, such as subletting and boarding.

Owners are divided into two categories - owners with mortgages and owners without mortgages. A household's tenure type is owner with a mortgage if there is any outstanding mortgage or loan secured against the dwelling. This mortgage or loan may have been initially obtained primarily for either the purchase or the building of the dwelling, or for undertaking alterations or additions, or for some other purpose such as the purchase of a vehicle or an investment property. However, mortgage payments where the initial purpose of the loan was not primarily for housing are not treated as housing costs. A household's tenure type is owner without a mortgage if there are no loans or mortgages secured against the dwelling.

Renters are occupants who pay money as rent to another person or organisation, referred to as the landlord, in return for being allowed to occupy the dwelling. Renters can be further classified according to type of landlord. The landlord may be a relative or an unrelated person in another dwelling, or can be a real estate agency, a state or territory housing authority, a community organisation, a trust, or an employer.

Survey methodology


The scope of the survey includes:

  • All usual residents in Australia aged 15 years and over living in private dwellings.
  • Both urban and rural areas in all states and territories.

The survey excludes the following:

  • visitors to private dwellings;
  • overseas visitors who have not been working or studying in Australia for 12 months or more, or do not intend to do so;
  • members of non-Australian defence forces stationed in Australia and their dependants;
  • non-Australian diplomats, diplomatic staff and members of their households;
  • people who usually live in non-private dwellings, such as hotels, motels, hostels, hospitals, nursing homes and short-stay caravan parks;
  • households in very remote areas;
  • households in discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The exclusion of very remote areas is unlikely to impact on national estimates and will only have a minor impact on any aggregate estimates that are produced for individual states and territories, except the Northern Territory where the excluded population accounts for around 21% of the population. 

The 2019–20 SIH was carried out from July 2019 to June 2020. During this time, Australians were impacted by bushfires and COVID-19. The data collection design for this survey was optimised to meet operational objectives. As a result, the sample design and collection of 2019–20 SIH does not accurately reflect the household impacts of the bushfires nor COVID-19. 

Data collection

SIH 2019–20 introduced a change in collection methods to allow for online collection. This change gave respondents the option to complete the survey online or face-to-face with an ABS interviewer. Due to COVID-19 restrictions from late March 2020, telephone interviewing replaced face-to-face interviewing.

The survey interview commenced with one adult (aged 18 years and over) who acted as the household's representative and answered questions about the household's financial situation (for example rent, rates, and loan payments) on behalf of the whole household. Each person aged 15 years and over, then completed a personal interview, answering questions about their education, employment, income, and wealth.

Analysis of survey results by enumeration method is not available due to the sample design restricting comparability. However, a post-collection data review found some differences in how a typical online respondent reports information compared to respondents with an interviewer. Online enumeration data provided an insight into concepts that some respondents had difficulties answering. Rigorous data checks were undertaken by the ABS to ensure sample coverage, estimation methods and survey weighting are accurate. However, this fundamental change in collection methodology may impact survey cycle comparability against previous cycles.

Sample design

The sample was designed to produce reliable estimates for broad aggregates for households resident in private dwellings aggregated for Australia, for each state and for the capital cities in each state and territory. More detailed estimates should be used with caution, especially for Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.

For the 2019–20 SIH, dwellings were selected through a stratified, multi-stage cluster design from the private dwelling framework of the ABS Population Survey Master Sample. Selections were distributed across a twelve-month enumeration period so that the survey results are representative of income patterns across the year.

Non-responding households

Of the selected dwellings there were 23,552 households in the scope of the survey. Of this initial sample, 3,458 dwellings (15%) were excluded as no contact was able to be made (e.g. vacant dwelling, holiday homes). A further 4,580 (19%) did not respond at all to the questionnaire or did not respond adequately. Most of these were not able to take part in the survey during the collection period. Other reasons included:

  • households affected by death or illness of a household member;
  • households which did not respond due to communication barriers or because they refused to participate.

A further 68 households were excluded because the main income earners in the household did not adequately respond to questions about income sources and amounts.

Partial response and imputation

Partial imputation is completed for all households with missing data items. Donor records are selected by finding fully responding persons with matching information on various characteristics (such as state, sex, age, labour force status and income). Where possible, the imputed information is used as an appropriate proxy for the missing information.

The final SIH sample includes 2,178 households (15% of households) and 11,421 person records (39% of persons aged 15 years or over) which had at least one imputed value.

Final sample

Of the selected dwellings (19,263) that were contacted and in scope of the survey, 15,011 (78%) households were included as part of the final estimates. 

Responding Sample, by Greater Capital City and Rest of State
Households no.Persons(a) no.Households no.Persons(a) no.Households no.Persons(a) no.

. . not applicable

  1. Number of persons aged 15 years and over
  2. Greater Capital City counts for the ACT relate to total ACT


Weighting is the process of adjusting results from a sample survey to infer results for the total in scope population whether that be persons or households. To do this, a weight is allocated to each sample unit (e.g. a person or a household). The weight is a value which indicates how many population units are represented by the sample unit. The first step in calculating weights for each unit is to assign an initial weight, which is the inverse of the probability of being selected in the survey. For example, if the probability of a household being selected in the survey was 1 in 600, then the household would have an initial weight of 600 (that is, it represents 600 households).

The initial weights are then calibrated to align with independent estimates of the population of interest, referred to as benchmarks. Weights calibrated against population benchmarks ensure that the survey estimates conform to the independently estimated distribution of the population rather than to the distribution within the sample itself.

Most of the independent person and household benchmarks are based on demography estimates of numbers of persons and households in Australia. The benchmarks are adjusted to include persons and households residing in private dwellings only and to exclude persons living in very remote areas, and therefore do not, and are not intended to, match estimates of the Australian resident population published in other ABS publications. The demography estimates of persons (estimated resident population - ERP) and households used in SIH 2019–20 are built up from the 2016 Census.

In the 2019–20 SIH, as previous cycles since 2007–08, all persons in each household were assigned a weight. This differs from the 2005–06 SIH where children aged 0–14 years were not given separate weights, but household counts of the number of children were benchmarked to population totals.

The benchmarks used in the calibration of the final weights for the 2019–20 SIH were categorised into two groups:

Number of persons:

  • by state or territory by age by sex, in five-year age groups up to 80+ years for all states and territories (excluding NT and ACT);
  • in five year age groups up to 70+ years for the ACT;
  • in five year age groups up to 65+ years for the NT;
  • by state or territory by labour force status;
  • 'Employed', 'Unemployed' and 'Not in the labour force') (except NT which does not use labour force status) by 2016 SEIFA Index for Relative Socioeconomic Disadvantage decile of household (state level).

Numbers of households:

  • by household composition (number of adults (1, 2 or 3+) and whether or not the household contains children) (except NT which only uses whether or not the household contains children).


Estimates produced from the survey are usually in the form of averages (e.g. average weekly income of couple households with dependent children), or counts (e.g. total number of households that own their dwelling or total number of persons living in households that own their own dwelling). For counts of households, the estimate was obtained by summing the weights for the responding households in the required group (e.g. those owning their dwelling). For counts of persons, the household weights were multiplied by the number of persons in the household before summing. The SIH collects data on the number of people, including children, in each household but separate records with income and most detailed data were only collected for people 15 years and older.

Average income values are obtained in two different ways, depending on whether mean gross household income or mean equivalised disposable household income is being derived. Estimates of mean gross household income are calculated on a household weighted basis. They are obtained by multiplying the gross income of each household by the weight of the household, summing across all households and then dividing by the estimated number of households. For example, the mean gross household income of couple households with dependent children are the weighted sum of the gross income of each such household divided by the estimated number of those households.

Estimates of mean equivalised disposable household income are calculated on a person weighted basis. They are obtained by multiplying the equivalised disposable income of each household by the number of people in the household (including children) and by the weight of the household, summing across all households and then dividing by the estimated number of people in the population group. The User Guide illustrates the differences between mean gross household income calculated on a household weighted basis and mean equivalised disposable household income calculated on a person weighted basis.

Reliability of estimates

The estimates provided in this publication are subject to two types of error, non-sampling and sampling error. 

Non-sampling error

Non-sampling error can occur in any collection, whether the estimates are derived from a sample or from a complete collection such as a census. Sources of non-sampling error include non-response, errors in reporting by respondents or recording of answers by interviewers and errors in coding and processing the data. 

Non-sampling errors are difficult to quantify in any collection. However, every effort is made to reduce non-sampling error to a minimum by careful design and testing of the questionnaire, training of interviewers and data entry staff and editing and quality control procedures during data processing. 

One of the main sources of non-sampling error is non-response by persons selected in the survey. Non-response occurs when people cannot or will not cooperate or cannot be contacted. Non-response can affect the reliability of results and can introduce a bias. The magnitude of any bias depends upon the level of non-response and the extent of the difference between the characteristics of those people who responded to the survey and those who did not. 

The following methods were adopted to reduce the level and impact of non-response:

  • Primary Approach Letters (PALs) were posted to selected SIH households prior to enumeration;
  • document cards were provided to respondents to suggest having financial statements and similar documents handy at the time of interview to assist with accurate responses;
  • face-to-face interviews with respondents;
  • the use of interviewers who could speak languages other than English, where necessary;
  • proxy Interviews conducted when consent is given, with a responsible person answering on behalf of a respondent incapable of doing so themselves;
  • follow-up of respondents if there was initially no response; 
  • imputation of missing values;
  • ensuring that the weighted data is representative of the population (in terms of demographic characteristics) by aligning the estimates with population benchmarks. 

Sampling error

The estimates are based on a sample of possible observations and are subject to sampling variability. The estimates may therefore differ from the figures that would have been produced if information had been collected for all households. A measure of the sampling error for a given estimate is provided by the standard error, which may be expressed as a percentage of the estimate (relative standard error). In this publication, estimates with an RSE of 25% to 50% are annotated with a cell comment to indicate that the estimate has a high level of sampling error relative to the size of the estimate, and should be used with caution. Estimates with an RSE over 50% are annotated with a cell comment to indicate they are generally considered too unreliable for most purposes. 

Another measure is the Margin of Error (MoE), which are provided for proportions to assist users in assessing the reliability of these data. Estimates of proportions with an MoE more than 10% are annotated to indicate they are subject to high sample variability and particular consideration should be given to the MoE when using these estimates. Depending on how the estimate is to be used, an MoE greater than 10% may be considered too large to inform decisions. In addition, estimates with a corresponding standard 95% confidence interval that includes 0% or 100% are annotated with a cell comment to indicate that they are usually considered unreliable for most purposes. 


ABS publications draw extensively on information provided freely by individuals, businesses, governments and other organisations. Their continued cooperation is very much appreciated: without it, the wide range of statistics published by the ABS would not be available. Information received by the ABS is treated in strict confidence as required by the Census and Statistics Act, 1905

Products and services

Summary results from the SIH are available in spreadsheet form from the Data downloads section in this release.

For users who wish to undertake more detailed analysis you can access SIH microdata products. These include:

  • Detailed file accessible via the DataLab - approved users can access a remote desktop environment for in-depth analysis using a range of statistical software packages;
  • Basic microdata unit record files - allows approved users interactive access in the user’s own computing environment.

Further information about ABS microdata, including conditions of use, and access is available via the Microdata section on the ABS website.

The ABS offers specialist consultancy services to assist data users with more complex statistical information needs. Users may wish to have the unit record data analysed according to their own needs or require tailored tables incorporating data items and populations as requested by them. Tables and other analytical outputs can be made available electronically or in printed form. As the level of detail or disaggregation increases with detailed requests, the number of contributors to data cells decreases. This may result in some requested information not being able to be released due to confidentiality or sampling variability constraints. All specialist consultancy services attract a service charge, and clients will be provided with a quote before information is supplied.

For inquiries about these and related statistics, contact the Customer Assistance Service via the ABS website Contact Us page. The ABS Privacy Policy outlines how the ABS will handle any personal information that you provide to us.

User guide

The Survey of Income and Housing, User Guide, Australia includes information about the purpose of the survey, the concepts and contents, and the methods and procedures used to collect the data and derive the estimates. It also outlines the differences between the 2019–20 survey and earlier SIH surveys. Its purpose is to help users of the data understand the nature of the survey, and its potential to meet user needs.


A glossary is located in the Survey of Income and Housing User Guide, Australia (cat. no. 6553.0). 

Quality declaration

Institutional environment








A list of abbreviations is located in the Survey of Income and Housing User Guide (cat. no. 6553.0).

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