Since the Victorian Royal Commission into Family violence handed down its recommendations in 2016, there have been significant changes in the way that many businesses, and some sections of government, tailor their services to better respond to customers experiencing family violence.
EARG has had input to most of these reforms, with a focus on financial outcomes for victim survivors and how economic abuse issues are handled by business.
There is still work to do to ensure that these approaches are embedded within businesses, and that there is ongoing training of staff and reviewing of processes to ensure customers benefit.
Banks – The Australian Banking Association has produced, and updated, an industry guideline on responding to domestic and family violence and made reference to DFV in the Banking Code of Practice. The ABA examined some issues arising with joint accounts and DFV, and were successful in having legislation changed, which confirmed that banks could open an account without the required 100 points, where the customer lacked access to that information due to DFV. Individual banks have developed some effective processes and programs to respond to these issues.
Insurance – The Insurance Council of Australia developed a guide to helping affected customers and referred to DFV in the Insurance Code of Practice. Insurers continue to consider how to respond to more complex issues (for example some insurers have recently amended their policies to take into consideration compensating for damage caused by a co-insured in family violence circumstances)
Transurban (which has roads in Eastern States) has introduced a number of measures to respond to customers experiencing DFV including abuse by incurring charges and locking online accounts.
Industry guidance produced and various responses developed by some businesses including transferring accounts in DFV circumstances (where this would not usually be possible because the account is in another person’s name).
Individual businesses – While we tend to focus across industries, we have raised issues with some individual financial services (eg credit providers, debt collectors) which has resulted in improvements in their response to DFV issues.
Energy and Water (Victoria) – The Essential Services Commission (Vic) amended the Energy Code to include obligations on energy retailers to have family violence policies and to meet minimum standards of conduct, including staff training, debt management practices and improved account security. These provisions are enforceable by the regulator, which provided workshops for the businesses and published detailed guidance. The regulator also amended the Water Code to place an obligation on water businesses to develop robust family violence policies.
Energy (National) – The national energy regulator is currently considering introducing rules regarding responding to customers experiencing family violence.
Debt Collection Guidelines – Changes were made to the ASIC/ACCC Debt Collection to take into account some DFV issues. (Dec 2020).
Superannuation – the Commonwealth Government has recently introduced a Bill which would make it easier for parties in Family Law proceedings to obtain information about the other party’s superannuation funds (thereby preventing one avenue of financial abuse).
Fines Victoria – The Victorian Government introduced through legislation a Family Violence Scheme. Victim survivors can apply to Fines Victoria to have fines withdrawn if family violence substantially contributed to the offence and won’t be required to name the person responsible for the offence if it’s not safe to do so.
Tenancy laws – Victoria – The Victorian Government amended residential tenancies laws to enhance protections for tenants experiencing family violence. This included allowing the tribunal to change tenancy agreements excluding the perpetrator, allowing a victim survivor to make reasonable security modifications and preventing negative listings on a tenancy data base against a victim survivor.
VicRoads (Vehicle registration, licensing etc) – have introduced special contact point and processes (including training of staff) to respond to customers experiencing DFV and requiring assistance from VicRoads