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Blog: Essential tips for writing human rights-based policies

Good policies outline principles, values and outcomes. They provide clarity on roles and responsibilities and assist organisations to be both consistent and efficient. In addition to these functional applications, good policies reflect our workplace culture, setting the tone for office language and influencing the perspectives of our staff. So, as we incorporate the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld) into our policies, let’s think about the purpose of the Act and try to get the tone right first.

When we write, the audience for our document has a huge influence on the words we choose. Our policies are written for three distinctly different audiences. First, we write to guide our staff, providing information and using our unique office language. Second, we write for regulators and contract managers who read our policies to determine our ability to deliver funded services appropriately and safely. Finally, we write for service users and colleagues in other service agencies who want to understand our organisation’s practice and approach.

The Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld) presents a unique challenge: how do we write our polices in a way that puts human rights at the heart of service delivery? The Act asks publicly funded service providers to uphold the dignity and equality of Queenslanders, prompting us to view service users as ‘rights holders’. Our documents need to present centre service users as individuals in positions of authority, with rights, rather than just framing them as homogenous and as charity cases, grateful for our help.

How can we do this in practice? Let’s start with a simple idea: Forget about our audience for a moment and write our policies as if our best friend is ‘the person’ who needs our services. In all the words we choose and all the procedures developed, raise them up, give them an identity and afford them dignity, equality, respect and freedom. If we do this well, our policies will embed our organisation with a human rights language. We will demonstrate to our regulators and contract managers that we intend to meaningfully comply with the Act. We will also reassure our service users that we see and respect them, and we will do our best to provide them with the services they require.

Here are two examples of how traditional housing policies can be reframed to incorporate human rights:

Example 1

‘Org name’ has discretion to refuse such an application for absence but will not do so unreasonably.

Using a human rights tone:

A tenant can represent their request for a long absence from their home. ‘Org name’ will consider the human rights of tenants and other members of the household, balancing them with those waiting for a home when making a decision about long absences.

Example 2

The arrears warning letter is part of the toolkit for proactive and early engagement with                 customers about their rent arrears …

Using a human rights tone:

An arrear reminder letter will inform a tenant of our account records. Providing this information is an appropriate initiation to an arrears conversation.

While reviewing our guiding policies, we must remember not to miss the core purpose. Human rights-based policies can put people at the centre, but it will take more than adding compliant steps into procedures and writing fluffy overarching statements in the policy scope. We will need to use language to uphold the intent of the Act, to give those who access our services the rights that have been written into legislation for them.


QCOSS is delivering a range of engagement activities to support the housing and homelessness sector to act compatibly with the Act and increase human rights literacy through a Human Rights, Housing and Homelessness project. Find out more here.

You can also access Human Rights information and resources right here on Community Door.