Social security and family violence

5.26 This Inquiry is limited by its Terms of Reference to consider whether the social security legislative framework imposes barriers to effectively supporting those adversely affected by family violence and to consider what, if any improvements could be made to protect the safety of those experiencing family violence.[20] This aligns with the administrative principles of social security that include having regard to ‘the special needs of disadvantaged groups in the community’.[21] The ALRC’s proposed reforms are directed towards enhancing the capacity of social security law and policy to achieve this aim for victims of family violence.


5.27 In considering safety, in the context of social security, the ALRC refers both to actual safety from harm but also to financial security and independence through social security payments and entitlements.

5.28 The importance of financial security and independence was noted by participants in a study conducted by the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse (ADFVC), which culminated in a report entitled Seeking Security: Promoting Women’s Economic Wellbeing Following Domestic Violence (Seeking Security):

Having my own financial independence and complete decision making over what I do and what I spend and how I support my children is at the forefront of any decision I make. That’s what financial security is to me.[22]

5.29 Family violence can affect a person’s financial security both directly and indirectly, contributing to ‘poverty, financial risk and financial insecurity … sometimes long after they have left the relationship’.[23]

5.30 A lack of independent financial resources for victims of family violence can mean ‘feeling imprisoned by financial need’, keeping many victims trapped in an abusive relationship.[24] This can also have compounding impacts, including homelessness.[25] In particular,

Economic abuse erodes financial resources and undermines employment and education, resulting in longer term financial insecurity and thereby increases the risk of returning to abusive partners and to a cycle of violence.[26]

5.31 Social security payments and entitlements can be a source of financial security and thereby facilitate the safety of those experiencing family violence. There are existing responses to family violence in the social security system—such as exemptions from activity tests and participation requirements; the availability of special payments such as Crisis Payment; and the option of different payment arrangements, such as weekly payments. Having independent financial resources can enable victims of family violence to leave a violent relationship[27] and seek alternate accommodation.


5.32 Acknowledging the importance of social security payments and entitlements to enhance the financial independence of victims of family violence, there are a number of ‘barriers’ within the social security system that may prevent victims of family violence accessing the financial assistance they need to be safe. Consequently, the ALRC considers reforms to enhance accessibility of the social security system.

5.33 A number of these are administrative barriers—such as knowledge and awareness of entitlements and exemptions for victims of family violence. These are discussed in Chapter 4. Knowledge of the type of information required by Centrelink to verify a claim of family violence where it is relevant to a person’s social security payments and entitlements is also important.

5.34 Access to income support for victims of family violence is affected by qualification requirements. Inflexible requirements to qualify, or to remain qualified, for payments can mean that victims of family violence are unable to access social security payments or are cut off from existing payments. This includes requirements relating to residence, proof of identity, activity tests and participation requirements.

5.35 In addition, specific payments—such as Crisis Payment—have certain qualification requirements, such as claiming periods, which may exclude some victims of family violence.

5.36 Victims of family violence may also face payability barriers, such as how relationships are defined. For example, whether a person is considered to be a ‘member of a couple’, or ‘independent’, can affect the amount of financial assistance a victim of family violence is able to access. This can also create a barrier to qualification for certain payments.

5.37 Another matter of concern in terms of income support for victims of family violence, is the inadequacy of the quantum of social security payments to meet the needs of victims of family violence.

5.38 While the amount of social security payments received by victims of family violence may be relevant to protecting their safety, this aspect of social security—and its budgetary and financial implications—is not a focus of this Inquiry. Reforms to address these issues would be systemic, affecting calculations for different social security payments and, as a result, have an impact on a much broader range of Centrelink customers than only victims of family violence. Such matters are larger than those defined by the Terms of Reference for this Inquiry.

[20] The Terms of Reference are set out at the front of this Discussion Paper and can be found on the ALRC’s website <>.

[21] Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 (Cth) s 8.

[22] R Braaf and I Meyering, Seeking Security: Promoting Women’s Economic Wellbeing Following Domestic Violence (2011).

[23] Ibid, 5.

[24] Ibid.

[25] S Tually and others, Women, Domestic and Family Violence and Homelessness: A Synthesis Report (2008).

[26] Good Shepherd Youth & Family Service, McAuley Community Services for Women and Kildonan Uniting Care, Submission CFV 65, 4 May 2011.

[27] R Braaf and I Meyering, Seeking Security: Promoting Women’s Economic Wellbeing Following Domestic Violence (2011), 5.