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Family lawyer? family violence workers? financial counsellor? The following information may help you work with clients experiencing domestic and family violence (DFV)

The following is a brief outline of some reforms that may assist your clients. It is not legal advice.

Financial services

The Insurance Code of Practice requires insurers to respond appropriately to family violence circumstances. The ICA has also published an industry Guide to Helping Customers Affected by Family Violence.

Some issues may be resolved in your client’s favour if the insurer’s internal dispute resolution department is aware of DFV circumstances. Our experience suggests that an insurer might, in some cases, pay the ‘innocent’ insured, even if the co-insured has caused the loss. Some major insurers have now added a clause to their policies (starting late 2020) stating that they will consider paying compensation in these circumstances).

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 of a Code breach may be effective in achieving an outcome for a non-insured.

The Australian Banking Association has developed an industry guideline on preventing and responding to domestic and family violence (2021)

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.

AFCA have published approach to Joint Facilities and Family Violence.

Where one co-borrower has received little, or no, benefit from a joint loan, AFCA may determine that that borrower is not liable for the debt (for example see FOS Case 412040). Here are a few other relevant AFCA cases involving a joint loan to repay one partner’s debt and removal of a credit default which was incurred as a result of domestic and family violence,

Contact IDR at the bank (or other financial institution) and if unsuccessful consider lodging a dispute with AFCA.

Australia Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) is finalising its approach to disputes where there has been a Family Law property order or settlement, which we expect to be published mid 2022. AFCA says they will enquire about any Family Law property order/settlement and may reject the dispute if it establishes that the person was compensated for the loss by the Family Court. However, AFCA will only exclude a complaint if there are compelling reasons to do so.

This is relevant to a complaint against a financial service where the other account holder has withdrawn funds without authority, or where a debt is incurred as a result of coercion, where the conduct of the financial service may have contributed to the loss.

This guide for financial counsellors and community lawyers “Credit Reporting and Economic Abuse” can help you advocate for clients regarding their credit reports.

The Australian Banking Association have published credit reporting guides, including one for financial counsellors.  Not specifically DFV related, but includes the 1/7/22 reforms.

Utilities

Victorian energy and water businesses have legal obligations (in enforceable industry codes) to have family violence policies to assist customers. If these businesses don’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. While the regulator’s Better Practice Guide is not law, it provides some indication of expectations of businesses.

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. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) published some tips for providers and consumers regarding DFV issues. While none of these is legally binding, the TIO may take these guides into account when determining a dispute.

Some telcos have published their family violence approaches/policies – Telstra, Optus, Vodafone.

Tenancy

Victorian residential tenancy laws have been changed to better protect tenants experiencing family violence.  A tenant who has experienced family violence can:

  • change the locks (to exclude someone from the property if there is an intervention order or safety notice);
  • apply to VCAT to change the lease and determine who is responsible for paying for repairs;
  • request permission to make changes (at the tenant’s expense) to improve security (which the landlord can’t refuse without good reason).

Find out more.

RentAssist Bond Loan guidelines and DFV (Victoria)

DFV victim survivors are exempt from repayment of a RentAssist bond loan where the bond debt arises due to circumstances beyond their control (such as family violence). Having an existing bond debt is no longer a barrier to qualifying for another bond loan.

See guidelines here.

Motor vehicles

Transurban can provide support to manage toll payments or account if the person is in hardship or have experienced DFV.

Transurban can also prevent an additional name being added to an account to prevent monitoring (if registered in the victim survivor’s name). Contact Linkt Assist to make this request. See more about Transurban’s DFV support here.

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.

VicRoads have family violence processes, for example for transfers in family violence circumstances, or for priority licence testing. There is a special number 03 8391 3232 for customers impacted by family violence only.

Financial abuse checklist for family violence workers, social workers etc to help you identify your client’s financial issues (developed by Westjustice).

Financial counsellors’ financial abuse checklist – for use by financial counsellors (developed by Westjustice).

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 funds 21 specialist family violence financial counselling services, while other states also have these specialists.

For telephone advice, or referral to a financial counsellor, call the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007. See ndh.org.au