Family lawyer? family violence workers? financial counsellor? The following information may help you work with clients experiencing family violence.
If fines are incurred due to family violence, Victorian law contains specific provisions allowing the victim/survivor to seek a review, without admitting the offence or nominating another person as the driver (Fines Reform Act 2014 Part 2B).
While family violence is now a special circumstance for the purposes of internal and enforcement reviews, the family violence scheme is usually a better option for clients.
Fines Victoria have employed family violence specialists, and while it appears clients can get good outcomes, the process can take a long time. Find out more.
Victorian residential tenancy laws have been changed to better protect tenants experiencing family violence. Find out more.
The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) is aware of a range of insurance related family violence issues, and its new Code of Practice will require insurers to respond appropriately to family violence circumstances.
Some issues may be resolved in your client’s favour if the insurer’s internal dispute resolution department is aware of family violence circumstances. Our experience suggests that an insurer might, in some cases, pay the ‘innocent’ insured, even if the co-insured has caused the loss.
Raise any concerns or disputes with Internal Dispute Resolution (IDR) Department at the insurer, and if unsuccessful consider lodging a dispute with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA, previously the Financial Ombudsman Service).
Under the General Insurance Code of Practice, insurers must take into account the financial circumstances (hardship) of the insured (for example if demanding payment of excess) or third parties they are pursuing for payment (Section 8). While a third party can’t raise a dispute with AFCA, a complaint to the Code Governance Committee may be effective in getting a better outcome.
The ICA intends to include a requirement in its revised Code (not yet finalised) that insurers have processes to respond to customers experiencing family violence. Page 81 of this report by the ICA contains the draft Family Violence Guidance
Banks will communicate with one borrower about a joint debt without involvement of the other borrower if necessary due to family violence,
Our experience is that some banks may consider reducing, or waiving, debts which arise due to family violence where significant financial hardship is caused.
Where one co-borrower has received little, or no, benefit from a joint loan, AFCA is likely to determine that that borrower is not liable for the debt (for example see FOS Case 412040).
Contact IDR at the bank (or other financial institution) and if unsuccessful consider lodging a dispute with AFCA.
Victorian water businesses have a legal obligation to have family violence policies to assist customers. Energy companies will have similar obligations from January 2020. While energy company obligations don’t apply yet, if a water or energy business doesn’t respond appropriately it is worth lodging a dispute with Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria which can review the businesses’ response and has the power to make a binding decision if necessary.
The industry has produced a guideline for telcos helping customers experiencing family violence. This guideline may assist if you have a dispute regarding the way a telco has responded to a customer. While not legally binding, it could be taken into account by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman in determining a dispute.
Family Violence Financial Counsellors
Community-based financial counsellors can advise clients on the issues above. They provide independent advice and advocacy for people experiencing financial difficulty, can help access a range of industry hardship programs and may be able to access financial assistance. The Victorian Government has funded 10 specialist family violence financial counselling services.
For telephone advice, or referral to a financial counsellor, call the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007. See ndh.org.au
Checklist to help you identify your client’s financial issues (developed by Westjustice).
Financial counsellors’ checklist – for use by financial counsellors (developed by Westjustice).