Urgent payments

9.32 Where a social security recipient is in severe financial hardship due to ‘exceptional and unforeseen circumstances’, an urgent payment of the person’s next fortnightly payment may be made.[37] ‘Exceptional and unforeseen circumstances’ are stated to include removal expenses or bond money, where relocation becomes necessary, such as ‘family breakdown’ and separation.[38] The Guide to Social Security Law does not expressly refer to family violence as an ‘exceptional and unforeseen circumstance’. Urgent payments result in a lower subsequent payment on the recipient’s usual payment delivery day.

9.33 Although family violence may be considered as ‘family breakdown’, there is an overarching concern that victims of family violence may be refused an urgent payment merely because the family violence is ‘foreseen’—‘[p]eople have been denied urgent payments in cases where they could easily foresee the violence occurring’.[39]

9.34 The ALRC considers it would be constructive to amend the Guide to Social Security Law expressly to refer to family violence as a separate example of a circumstance when an urgent payment may be made so that the reference to ‘unforeseen’ is not a consideration in determining whether to make an urgent payment to a person experiencing family violence.

9.35 As an alternative to listing family violence as a separate circumstance, the NWRN suggested that the word ‘unforeseen’ be removed as a requirement.[40] However, such a recommendation is beyond the Terms of Reference, as it would affect all circumstances in which an urgent payment might be available.

9.36 The Commonwealth Ombudsman raised an additional concern that customers experiencing family violence have been advised that they may access only Crisis Payment or an advance or an urgent payment, rather than a combination of these payments. The Ombudsman noted that such advice was not supported by social security law or policy, but seemed ‘to indicate that staff are not considering each customer’s individual circumstances before making a decision about their assistance needs’. Accordingly, the Ombudsman suggested that ‘procedural guidance to staff regarding payments and service for customers affected by family violence be updated to provide discretion to staff to consider all available assistance and to offer any or all payments or services required in the customer’s particular circumstances’.[41]

9.37 In response to such concerns, the ALRC recommends that clearer guidance should be provided in the Guide to Social Security Law to ensure that urgent or advance payments are not refused on the basis that a person is already receiving Crisis Payment.

9.38 These recommendations were supported by most stakeholders who responded to these issues.[42] Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) members however cautioned that there is a ‘big risk’ in urgent payments:

Advancing people’s payment only means that on their normal ‘pay day’ they receive less than usual which instead of helping can exacerbate the problem.[43]

9.39 However, the ALRC considers that the requirement to demonstrate severe financial hardship in addition to family violence should be sufficient to address this concern. In addition, the ALRC notes that persons who disclose family violence would be referred to a Centrelink social worker who would be able to discuss such issues with the customer. The recommendations made in Chapter 4 regarding the provision of information and referral to support services for victims of family violence complements this.

Recommendation 9–4 The Guide to Social Security Law provides that an urgent payment of a person’s social security payment may be made in ‘exceptional and unforeseen’ circumstances. In some circumstances, urgent payments may not be made because the family violence was ‘foreseeable’. The Guide to Social Security Law should refer expressly to family violence as a circumstance when urgent payments may be sought.

Recommendation 9–5 The Guide to Social Security Law should clarify that urgent and advance payments may be made in circumstances of family violence in addition to Crisis Payment.

[37] FaHCSIA, Guide to Social Security Law <www.fahcsia.gov.au/guides_acts/> at 1 November 2011, [].

[38] Ibid, [].

[39] WRC Inc (Qld), Submission CFV 66.

[40] National Welfare Rights Network, Submission CFV 150.

[41] Commonwealth Ombudsman, Submission CFV 62.

[42] National Legal Aid, Submission CFV 164; FaHCSIA, Submission CFV 162; National Welfare Rights Network, Submission CFV 150; AASW (Qld) and WRC Inc (Qld), Submission CFV 136; ADFVC, Submission CFV 105; Homeless Persons’ Legal Service, Submission CFV 95; WEAVE, Submission
CFV 85; ADFVC, Submission CFV 71; WRC (NSW), Submission CFV 70; WRC Inc (Qld), Submission CFV 66; Good Shepherd Youth & Family Service, McAuley Community Services for Women and Kildonan Uniting Care, Submission CFV 65; Commonwealth Ombudsman, Submission CFV 62; WEAVE, Submission CFV 58; National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Submission
CFV 57; Homeless Persons’ Legal Service, Submission CFV 40; P Easteal and D Emerson-Elliott, Submission CFV 05.

[43] CPSU, Submission CFV 147.