The latest report from the National Social Security Rights Network (NSSRN), ‘How well does Australia’s social security system support victims of family and domestic violence?’ considers the relationship between social security and domestic and family violence, drawing on the casework experience of the NSSRN member network of community legal centres.

For people escaping domestic and family violence, social security is critical. Centrelink support is vital in helping people affected by violence get to safety and start rebuilding their lives. The report draws on the Network’s depth of frontline experience to examine the Australian Social Security system from the point of view of people affected by domestic and family violence, and to offer a roadmap for positive change.

Key findings

The NSSRN research found that:

  • domestic and family violence cuts across all social security payment types. Many clients contacted the centres while experiencing genuine financial distress, with homelessness and risk of homelessness common.
  • significant issues for people experiencing domestic violence relate to the structure and payment of social security payments. These include delays in payment for people in crisis and debts resulting from administrative error and/or opaque Centrelink correspondence regarding reporting obligations.
  • Often women deemed to have been living as a member of a couple are left with large social security debts while their violent partner or ex-partner has no financial liability.
  • The social security system’s expectation that people in relationships will share income and assets ignores gendered power imbalances in many relationships and increases some women’s risk of domestic and family violence.
  • The inability to secure income support forced some women (and their children) to stay in the home where they were subject to violence, with those whose residency status did not meet social security criteria particularly at risk.
  • Many clients reported significant distress in understanding their social security entitlements and dealing with Centrelink and its offices, which are not conducive to disclosure of domestic and family violence. Clients’ access to social workers and social workers’ capacity to support clients and influence Centrelink decisions appears to have been eroded.

(Source: NSSRN | Read the report)

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