Outline of Issues Paper

9. This Issues Paper, Family Violence—Social Security Law, deals with the treatment of family violence in Commonwealth social security law, including under the:

  • Social Security Act 1991 (Cth);

  • Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 (Cth); and

  • Social Security (International Agreements) Act 1999 (Cth).

10. Social security law is administered by the Department of Human Services through Centrelink. The Guide to Social Security Law provides guidance to decision makers. It is updated monthly to reflect changes in government policy and legislative interpretation. Although not binding in law, it is a relevant consideration for the decision maker and, as such, is considered in this Issues Paper.[2]

11. Lack of independent financial resources for victims of family violence is a major cause of homelessness.[3] Access to independent financial resources, such as those provided under social security law, can provide economic security and independence to facilitate the safety of those experiencing family violence—for example, by enabling victims of family violence to leave a violent relationship, become financially independent or seek alternate accommodation.

12. Access to income support for victims of family violence is affected by eligibility criteria and by exemptions from participation, activity or administrative requirements. Without exemptions, such requirements may be too onerous for a victim of family violence and, as a result, they may have their income support cut off, possibly compromising their safety and ability to leave a violent situation.

13. On the other hand, in certain situations, social security payments may also facilitate economic abuse and duress by family members.

14. The ALRC has identified a number of issues relevant to the safety of victims of family violence in Commonwealth social security law and practice. Family violence has the potential to affect eligibility for, and rates of payment of, a range of social security benefits. In particular, family violence may have implications in relation to:

  • how relationships are defined—for example, whether a person is considered to be a member of a couple, or independent of family support;

  • compliance with various activity, participation and administrative requirements attached to certain social security payments;

  • how social security payments are administered; and

  • whether social security and income management measures can be improved to provide better protection of the interests of victims who have left, or wish to leave, violent relationships.

15. The Terms of Reference provide a limited lens through which the ALRC can propose reforms—that is, to consider improvements to Commonwealth laws to protect the safety of victims of family violence.

16. A matter of concern that is consistently raised, in terms of income support for victims of family violence, is the inadequacy of social security payments. While the amounts 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 just victims of family violence.

[2]Stevens and Secretary, Department of Family and Community Services [2004] AATA 1137.

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