22. Family violence may be directly or indirectly relevant to the administration of social security in a number of ways—in particular, in relation to:
- determining whether a person is ‘independent’ or a ‘member of a couple’;
- eligibility for exemptions from activity, participation, residence and administrative requirements;
- eligibility for weekly payments;
- eligibility for certain social security payments; and
- waiver of debt.
23. These matters are considered separately below. Relevant to all, however, is the need for Centrelink staff to:
- be able to identify a customer who is experiencing family violence;
- inform Centrelink customers about eligibility or exemptions available in circumstances of family violence; and
- collect information about family violence where it is claimed by a victim of family violence.
24. Neither the Guide to Social Security Law nor the legislation provides much guidance to Centrelink staff on these matters.
Seeking information about family violence
25. Victims of family violence may not be aware of the eligibility criteria for certain social security payments and exemptions. This makes it important that Centrelink staff be able to identify people who are experiencing family violence so that they can inform them about such eligibility or related exemptions available to them.
26. Centrelink relies on self-disclosure of family violence. Centrelink staff undertake training to assist them to identify whether a person is experiencing family violence.
27. Victims of family violence may be reluctant to identify themselves as such for a number of reasons or may not consider themselves to be a victim due to, for example, traditional notions of ‘domestic violence’. Further, victims may fail to disclose family violence as they may not be aware that such information is relevant to eligibility criteria or to exemptions. Other barriers to disclosure may include structural barriers, such as a lack of privacy at Centrelink offices. It may, therefore, be desirable to inform all Centrelink customers about eligibility criteria and exemptions relevant to people experiencing family violence.
28. Centrelink does not appear to screen routinely for family violence. Claims for social security payments must generally be made in writing by completing the relevant Centrelink form either online or in hardcopy. In some circumstances, claims may be made by telephone or in person. Application and information forms for various social security payments do not appear to include specific information about family violence, such as how family violence may form the basis for an exemption from participation, activity or Employment Pathway Plan requirements, or from providing original proof of identity or tax file numbers.
29. The ALRC is interested in whether Centrelink should screen for family violence, when processing applications or at other stages of the administration of social security payments. For example, it may be desirable to include certain questions about family violence in Centrelink forms (including electronic forms) or for Centrelink staff to ask all Centrelink customers questions about family violence rather than relying on self-disclosure.
30. Centrelink may be the first point of contact a person has with the social welfare system. A person eligible for child support, for example, may contact Centrelink before being referred to the Child Support Agency. People may not differentiate between various government agencies and assume that once they have informed one agency about family violence—such as Centrelink—there is no need to inform another. This confusion may increase in the future due to the federal government’s initiative to house offices of Centrelink, Medicare and the Child Support Agency under one roof.
31. Requiring victims of family violence to repeat their story may have a traumatising effect in ‘re-living’ the experience of family violence.
32. Victims of family violence may be referred to another government agency—such as the Child Support Agency—but assume that they do not need to raise family violence again. As a result, victims of family violence may not be informed about exemptions that may apply for child support purposes.
33. It may be desirable for Centrelink to share the fact that the customer has reported experiencing family violence with certain other government agencies. Alternatively, it may be more appropriate for Centrelink and the Child Support Agency to inform all customers about eligibility criteria and exemptions relevant to people experiencing family violence.
34. ALRC Report 114 recommended the establishment of a national register which should include certain information about protection orders, family law orders and Family Law Act injunctions. The Commissions recommended that the national register:
be available to federal, state and territory police, federal family courts, state and territory courts that hear matters related to family violence and child protection, and child protection agencies.
35. It may be desirable to extend access to this register to Centrelink social workers. On the other hand, this may be too far-reaching and may raise concerns about the protection of privacy.
36. The ALRC is interested in comment about the barriers faced by victims of family violence in disclosing family violence to Centrelink; whether family violence is appropriately identified by Centrelink and whether victims of family violence are notified about eligibility criteria and exemptions by Centrelink staff. The ALRC is also interested in comment on information sharing between Centrelink and the Child Support Agency and/or other agencies such as Job Services Australia.
Question 2 In what circumstances should Centrelink staff be required to inquire about the existence of family violence when dealing with Centrelink customers?
Question 3 Should Centrelink application forms (including electronic forms), correspondence and telephone prompts directly seek information about family violence? For example, should a question about family violence be included on all forms?
Question 4 Where family violence is disclosed or identified, do Centrelink staff notify victims effectively about eligibility criteria for payments and exemptions, including any corresponding exemptions and requirements for child support?
Question 5 In what circumstances, if any, should information about family violence be shared between Centrelink and other government agencies, such as the Child Support Agency?
Collecting information about family violence
37. In order to verify claims about family violence, it is necessary for Centrelink to collect information about family violence when it has been identified.
38. Neither the Guide to Social Security Law nor legislation provides much guidance to Centrelink staff on these matters. Some guidance is provided in relation to collecting information about family violence in certain contexts, such as determining whether to contact a partner or a parent, the use of documentary evidence or independent and third party referees.
39. It is also important that Centrelink customers are aware of how Centrelink collects information about family violence. For example, there may be concerns that victims of family violence may remain members of a couple because they fear that to claim otherwise may lead to retaliation from the person using family violence—especially if they assume that their ‘partner’ will be contacted.
Question 6 How does Centrelink collect information about family violence when it is identified?
Question 7 Are Centrelink staff and social workers able to access information about persons who have identified themselves as a victim of family violence as to whether they have obtained a protection order or similar? Should Centrelink staff and social workers be able to access the national register recommended in Family Violence—A National Legal Response,Report 114 (2010)?
Question 8 In practice, is the possibility of family violence considered by Centrelink staff before deciding to interview a partner or a parent?
Question 9 When contact with a partner or a parent is not appropriate due to the possibility of family violence, on what information should family violence be assessed?
Question 10 Are Centrelink customers aware that Centrelink may decide not to contact partners or parents if the customer is a victim of family violence?
Administration of social security law and family violence
40. There may be concerns about the way in which family violence is taken into consideration by a decision maker. Pre-existing assumptions of different decision makers may lead to different results. For example, the weight placed on the existence of family violence in determining whether people are members of a couple can vary and may lead to different determinations.
Question 11 In practice, do decision makers adequately consider the existence of family violence when making determinations about eligibility criteria or exemptions for certain social security payments?
 Ibid, Ch 18.
Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 (Cth) s 16.
 Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Guide to Social Security Law<http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/guides_acts/> at 4 February 2011, [126.96.36.199] (General Claim Requirements).
 Department of Human Services, More Portfolio Services in One Place, <http://www.dhs.gov.au/> at 7 February 2011.
 Australian Law Reform Commission and New South Wales Law Reform Commission, Family Violence—A National Legal Response, ALRC Report 114; NSWLRC Report 128 (2010), Rec 30–18.
 See, eg, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Guide to Social Security Law<http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/guides_acts/> at 4 February 2011, [188.8.131.52] (Determining a De Facto Relationship); [184.108.40.206] (Determining Separation Under One Roof).