ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation


The ACT Council of Social Service Inc. (ACTCOSS) is the peak representative body for people living with low incomes or disadvantage, and not-for-profit community organisations in the Australian Capital Territory.

We work collaboratively with organisations and individuals who support our vision and goals for positive social change.

We advocate to government on social policy, encourage individuals and groups to take action, and provide capacity building services and resources to community organisations. We do all this with the input from our membership.

Our Vision

Our vision is to live in a fair and equitable community that respects and values diversity, human rights and sustainability and promotes justice, equity, reconciliation and social inclusion.


ACTCOSS has three roles. We:

  • Take action to achieve positive social change
  • Influence the social change agenda and decision makers
  • Provide support and guidance to build the social capital of people who are disadvantaged and vulnerable and the capacity of community-managed organisations


We hope to achieve:

  • Standards of living: All people in Canberra can meet minimum standards of living as defined by community norms
  • Human rights: Our laws, institutions and systems enable people to exercise their rights and live free from discrimination
  • Support: All people in Canberra can access the right support at the right time and right intensity and duration
  • Meaning, choice and control: All people can live a life that has meaning to them, in which they have choice and control over the circumstances in which they live
  • Social inclusion: We are a community in which all people can live life with dignity and access the means and opportunity to participate and be included economically and socially
  • Equality and fairness: The prosperity of Canberra is shared fairly, and inequality is reduced

Measures of success

We measure the effectiveness of our work through:

  • Reduced demand for services needed to reduce poverty and inequality, especially crisis and tertiary level services—because people experience less deprivation and exclusion, and there is less unmet demand
  • Evidence of good returns on the human and financial investments made by people, the community and funding bodies to reduce poverty and inequality

Focus areas

ACTCOSS is currently focusing on:

  • Infrastructure: Improved access to basic infrastructure—affordable housing, affordable and accessible transport and affordable utilities
  • Justice and corrections: Improved justice system and reduction in the social determinants of crime
  • Social determinants of health: Improved social determinants of health—with a focus on adequate income, reducing the social gradient in health and education, improving early life experiences and family capacity to support children and young people’s development
  • Reconciliation: Supporting and building capability around reconciliation, to overcome the causes of division and inequality between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians
  • Community development: Supporting citizens affected by poverty and inequality to express their views, influence decisions that affect them, shape the service system and influence the priorities of governments
  • Capacity building: Capacity building of community-managed organisations that exist to serve the needs of people in their local community who are vulnerable, face disadvantage or who require assistance to engage with main stream organisations
  • Improving effectiveness: Improving effectiveness of community-managed organisations through support and guidance to strengthen their consumer engagement, cross and inter-sectoral partnerships, governance, financial systems, organisational strategy and human capital
  • Increasing impact: Increasing the impact of work, efforts and investments in the community sector—including building effective alliances and partnerships and business planning to diversify ACTCOSS income streams
  • Membership services: Exploring membership services that could provide cost savings for organisations

Our Policy & Advocacy Work

Through our policy and advocacy work ACTCOSS promotes equitable social and economic policy and extends community recognition of the rights, entitlements and needs of people living with poverty and disadvantage in the ACT. In doing this work, we also advocate for of a well-resourced and sustainable community sector.

ACTCOSS both engages with government policy processes and initiates policy work in areas of emerging and identified need.

Members of the ACTCOSS policy team undertake various activities including:

  • conducting research
  • convening working groups and networks
  • consulting with members and other interested parties
  • writing submissions, letters and papers
  • meeting public officials and appearing before Parliamentary committees
  • coordinating campaigns and raising social justice issues in the media

Have a look at our policy work.

Our Capability Development Work

One of our key goals is a strong and vibrant ACT community sector with the capacity to respond to the needs of people in a timely and relevant way. The sector achieves this through having effective, agile and pioneering organisations with a proficient and engaged workforce.

To this end, our sector development activities aim to build the capability and strengthen the culture, systems and processes of community managed organisations that exist to serve vulnerable citizens and the community.

We focus on:

  • Improving governance and organisational strategy
  • Facilitating networks and shared learning
  • Supporting a person centred and outcome focused approach
  • Building human capital
  • Fostering innovation
  • Offering training that meets the specific needs of the sector
  • Developing tools, resources and practical guides

We offer a variety of services and resources, such as:

Engaging with Members

As a membership-based organisation, ACTCOSS’ policy and sector development work builds on the activities, priorities and needs of our members.

The objectives of our work with members are:

  • To include in the public debate the lived experience of people living with poverty and disadvantage
  • To facilitate the participation of communities and individuals in policy development and decision making
  • To provide support and guidance to enhance the capacity and capability of community managed organisations

If you are a member and would like to discuss policy advocacy or sector development issues, please contact us and we will connect you with one of our team.

Governing Documents

Check out our governing documents, such as the Constitution, strategic plan and annual reports.


ACTCOSS was formed in 1963 by a group of volunteers who saw the need for a Council of Social Service in the ACT.

With a grant of 10 pounds from the National Council of Women (ACT) and the driving force of a small and determined ACT Social Workers' Group led by Ethel McGuire, a provisional committee was set up to create a constitution. The inaugural ACTCOSS meeting occurred on 30 July 1963. For an annual fee of 2 pounds, community organisations and government departments could become ACTCOSS members.

The Council was established to provide a mechanism through which people in the rapidly growing city of Canberra could come together to lead local service development, promote positive social change, be part of policy debates and contribute to the national network of Councils of Social Service.

Growing from a volunteer committee to a funded peak body, we remember our humble beginnings, pay tribute to the many citizens who led and nurtured ACTCOSS, and honour our commitment to advocating for social justice and effective service delivery for the Canberra community.

ACTCOSS Jubilee Poem

The ACTCOSS Jubilee Poem was composed by local writer Hal Judge for ACTCOSS' 50th birthday in 2013.