DFV and Debt – Needs more than financial hardship response
Some businesses are providing sophisticated responses to customers experiencing domestic and family violence (DFV), but some are too quick to focus solely on financial circumstances rather than the impact of abuse.
A range of reforms over the past 4 years (by businesses, Government, and regulators) have led to better financial outcomes for some victim survivors who are better able to re-establish their lives as a result.
The link between business processes and DFV is better understood, including the misuse of online services for abuse, access to online accounts, and use of customer data by perpetrators to locate or abuse a victim survivor. However, financial counsellors and community lawyers say that when it comes to debt issues, some businesses are too quick to apply their processes for financial hardship, without considering the impact of DFV.
Specialist family violence financial counsellor, Linda Wright, says “Debt is a key weapon for abusers, and often the main barrier to a victim survivor’s recovery.” The more responsive businesses consider the impact of the abuse on how the debt was incurred, or not paid, as well as any financial hardship – but being in financial hardship shouldn’t be a pre-requisite for the business to respond.
Linda says that her clients have good experiences with businesses. “For example, one bank cancelled a credit card debt once they understood there was coercion by the perpetrator to apply for the card, and it hadn’t been used for the benefit of my client. An energy business also cancelled a debt which was in my client’s name but was incurred after she fled the violent relationship. In these cases, my clients’ financial circumstances weren’t relevant to the DFV situation, and the businesses understood that.”
Dacia Abela, economic abuse lawyer at WEstjustice, says where a person has experienced DFV (which usually includes economic abuse) businesses shouldn’t insist on financial statements, but should consider a number of factors in determining an appropriate response including:
- Was the liability incurred as a result of DFV? For example, was their coercion, or was the victim survivor unaware payments were not being made?
- Did the creditor’s conduct or processes contribute in any way? (regardless of whether the creditor was in strict compliance with the law)
- Are there compassionate grounds for restoring the victim-survivor to the position they would have been in without the abusive behaviour, even if the customer isn’t experiencing severe financial hardship?