Financial counsellors, community legal centres and family violence services make positive impact in tackling financial abuse

A joint effort to reduce the financial impact of family violence on victim-survivors has resulted in business and regulators significantly improving the support they provide.

The Economic Abuse Reference Group (EARG) is a network of financial counsellors, community lawyers and family violence workers, representing 53 organisations from around the country. Together, they have worked with banks, energy and water companies, telecommunication and insurance businesses, toll operators, debt collectors, regulators and governments to create change.

Women’s Legal Service Victoria’s Carolyn Bond, who has led the network, says “most victim survivors of family violence have experienced financial abuse, which can prevent them from leaving or rebuilding their lives. Services such as banking, insurance, energy and telecommunications can be used to perpetrate abuse, and those businesses can do something to help.”

 “We can now see that businesses and regulators can make a difference to the lives of victim survivors. This means that banks have processes to stop abusive online banking messages, an insurer will take DFV into account when considering an insurance claim and utility companies have better processes to avoid abusive people locating ex-partners.

An evaluation of the Group’s work details that exact impact, including with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) – the primary avenue for resolving complaints against financial institutions and other financial service providers.

When victim-survivors of family violence were facing challenges in seeking financial redress against financial services that failed to protect their customers, EARG engaged with the complaints handler and helped develop a new dispute resolution process that ensures victim-survivors have fair access to support.

To address the problem of victim survivors having bad credit records caused by abuse, EARG engaged with the industry and regulator about credit reporting rules, to ensure lenders didn’t have to report credit defaults if they arose due to DFV. The revised Credit Reporting Code will contain references to DFV for the first time.

Several major insurance companies now consider making compensation payments in family violence circumstances where the co-insured has caused the loss or damage.

The EARG’s impact on client assistance was also assessed. By providing resources and activities, members were equipped to offer more comprehensive support, leading to improved outcomes for victims of family violence.

Regular meetings allowed for the identification of emerging trends and issues necessitating policy reform, resulting in enhanced decision-making and more effective policy contributions.

Carolyn says the project has served as a transformative platform for collaboration and knowledge sharing across the member organisations.  “Together we have huge reach.  Many of the organisations wouldn’t have the resources to do all the systems advocacy on their own, and say that their involvement with EARG has increased the effectiveness of their policy input on systemic issues”.   

“I’m always inspired by the impact of the community sector, and how working together can make a real difference.      

EARG’s work is ongoing. Some current issues members are currently focused on are vehicle registration and licensing where victim survivors can’t transfer a car out of their name even when someone continues to incur fines in the vehicle, and how regulator ASIC responds to victim survivors who are forced or coerced to be company directors.

As the EARG continues to grow, Redfern Legal Centre will take over leadership of the group.

EARG started in 2016 when four Victorian organisations wanted to collaborate on economic abuse issues following the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence.

Carolyn says the Group is committed to continuing its important work. “We need to ensure positive changes are sustained, and there are still emerging issues which need EARG advocacy, for example the problem of victim survivors being made company directors by family members under fraud or duress (and therefore legally liable).    

“Women’s Legal Service Victoria and Redfern Legal Centre extend their heartfelt gratitude to all those who contributed to the EARG’s success so far and remain committed to creating a safer and more equitable future for all Australians.”

The Economic Abuse Reference Group is funded by Ecstra, a not-for-profit organisation committed to empowering Australians in making sound financial decision and operates under the auspices of Women’s Legal Service Victoria and Redfern Legal Centre.

You can read the evaluation report executive summary here.

Find out more about the EARG here.

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