Social security and family violence

5.20 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.[16] To the extent that such need also reflects a certain disadvantage, this aligns with the administrative principles of social security that include having regard to ‘the special needs of disadvantaged groups in the community’.[17] The ALRC’s recommendations are directed towards enhancing the capacity of social security law and policy to achieve this aim for victims of family violence.

How does social security help protect safety?

5.21 The importance of financial security and independence for the safety of victims of family violence 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.[18]

5.22 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’.[19]

5.23 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.[20] This can also have compounding impacts, including homelessness.[21] 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.[22]

5.24 Social security payments and entitlements can be a source of financial security and thereby facilitate the safety of those experiencing family violence. This is recognised in the 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 urgent or weekly payments. Having independent financial resources can enable victims of family violence to leave a violent relationship[23] and seek alternate accommodation.

Barriers to accessing social security for victims of family violence

5.25 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 accessing the financial assistance they may need to be safe. Consequently, the ALRC makes a number of recommendations to enhance the accessibility of the social security system.

5.26 A number of these barriers are noted in Chapter 1. Other barriers particular to social security include knowledge on the part of the customer as to how family violence is relevant to a social security payment and knowledge as to the type of information required by Centrelink to verify a claim of family violence.

[16] The Terms of Reference are set out at the front of this Report and can be found on the ALRC website <>.

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

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

[19] Ibid, 5.

[20] Ibid; ADFVC, Submission CFV 71.

[21] S Tually and others, Women, Domestic and Family Violence and Homelessness: A Synthesis Report (2008); Homeless Persons’ Legal Service, Submission CFV 40.

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

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