The ‘other’ family violence 

When Emily* reached out to a family violence centre for support to leave an abusive relationship, she told the counsellor that the abuse had been going on for two years. In fact, it had been going on for a lot longer than that. 

Emily’s partner had been verbally and physically violent towards her for two years, but the financial abuse had been perpetrated since the first year of the relationship. 

It began with what Emily thought was a kind suggestion that she leave paid employment to focus on caring for their newborn daughter, while he worked to support the family. Emily did receive Family Tax Benefit but she was not able to update her family’s income estimate because her partner didn’t share with her how much he earned.  

He began giving Emily an ‘allowance’ and it wasn’t long before the amount she was given shrunk, and then was used as a weapon of control and punishment. 

If Emily prepared a meal he didn’t like, her partner would ‘teach her a lesson’ by withholding money. If she complained about something or made a comment that displeased him, money would also be cut. 

Before long, Emily found herself isolated and housebound, unable to afford to meet up with friends or family or even travel outside the neighborhood. She was also silenced, fearful that her words might result in no money to buy baby formula. 

Yet Emily, like a lot of people, didn’t consider this to be abuse. 

“Economic abuse is a recognised form of violence,” says SSRV Community Lawyer Pamela Taylor-Barnett. “Economic abuse is defined as denying a person reasonable financial autonomy or financial support, and it can be as harmful as any other form of abuse, such as sexual or emotional.” 

Economic abuse, Pamela says, often involves incurring debt on behalf the victim. “The victim survivor might be threatened or coerced into taking out loans that she doesn’t want and that are not for her,” says Pamela. 

“In the case of Centrelink, which requires reporting of partner’s income, it can involve withholding information or lying to a victim.

“Often, we see clients who receive Family Tax Benefit unaware that their partner’s income means they are not eligible for the payment. It might be years later, often when tax returns are finally lodged, that these overpayment debts are raised. The emotional stress of repaying these loans can go on for years after the relationship has ended.” 

Sometimes economic abuse can take the form of the partner pressuring the victim to mislead or lie to Centrelink, saying, for example, that they are a single parent when in fact they are in a relationship, leading to legal issues and the issuing of debt. 

November 26 is International Economic Abuse Awareness Day and the theme for 2022 is Making a Difference – and that’s what SSRV is doing. 

In addition to raising awareness about economic abuse, SSRV supports victim survivors who have had a debt raised by Centrelink, are being denied access to payments, and who need support to leave violent relationships. 

*Emily’s name and some details have been changed for her safety and privacy.

Financial Counselling Victoria conference: working together

After two years of attending the Financial Counselling Victoria conference online via Zoom, it was a great pleasure in September to be able to take part in the conference in person. 

Financial counselling is part of SSRV’s Integrated Service Project, where SSRV’s community lawyers and in-house financial counsellor work together and with financial counsellors employed by other agencies to improve client outcomes.

It’s an important part of SSRV’s work. Our staff regularly engage with clients who are experiencing a multiple, inter-connected and compounding financial difficulties. 

Over 300 people attended the Financial Counselling Victoria conference, including financial counsellors, as well as various Victorian stakeholders including banks, not for profits, staff from ombudsman schemes, debt collectors, utility providers – all essential to the work of our Integrated Services Project. 

The two-day conference took in key speakers, panel discussions and seminars.

The purpose of SSRV attending the conference was to further promote our integrated legal and financial counselling services. We wanted to learn more about the work others are doing in this sector and what supports they may offer, as well as hear about the financial challenges and difficulties that impact members of our community that may not directly relate to Centrelink.

A particular highlight of the conference was the seminar that SSRV Community Lawyer Dermott Williams delivered on the Disability Support Pension (DSP). 

The seminar ran across two days, with Dermott providing information about the eligibility criteria for the DSP, as well as common challenges and hurdles that our service knows applicants face. She finished the seminar by working through some problems posed by audience members. 

The seminar was very well received, with attendees thanking Dermott and SSRV for the information provided.

Another highlight was simply being able to meet financial counsellors and workers in person, many of whom we had previously spoken to over the telephone. Our long-experienced colleague, Peter Horbury, was able to renew old acquaintances, reminding us of the well-established ties between the financial counselling and welfare rights services in the community.

At the conference, SSRV learnt more about the myriad of financial challenges that community members face, which only reinforced for us the importance of having an integrated service that provides holistic care to clients. 

The conference reminded us of the importance of collaboration in the financial counselling sector, and the need to continue sharing knowledge and resources with other stakeholders. 

Our service strives to help build a social security system that is built on respect, empowerment, quality and integrity and it was very motivating to meet others who also share this goal. We are grateful for the opportunity to attend, to have shared our knowledge and learnt from others.

How poverty impacts people with social security issues

Anti-Poverty Week is a time when we shine a light on the causes of and issues arising from poverty in Australia. While the impacts of poverty on families is well documented, less is said about how poverty stands as a barrier to dealing with and resolving social security issues. That’s where we come in. 

Poverty is a growing problem in Australia, with one in eight people, including one in six children, currently living in poverty. 

new report released by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) examined the impact of poverty on families reliant on social security payments. ACOSS surveyed people living on JobSeeker, Youth Allowance and Parenting Payment between July and August 2022 and found:  

  • 62 per cent have had difficulty getting medication or medical care 
  • 62 per cent are eating less or skipping meals, while 71 per cent are cutting back on meat, fresh fruit, and vegetables
  • 96 per cent of people renting privately are in rental stress, paying more than 30 per cent of their income on rent 

For people living in poverty and facing these burdens, an issue arising with or debt raised by Centrelink can be a mental and emotional load simply too great to bear. Often by the time they call us, a Centrelink issue has been left unactioned for some time, not because the recipient has been remiss, but because when your mind is on how you are going to feed your children tomorrow, everything else tends to fall by the wayside. 

For people experiencing poverty, actually working to resolve a Centrelink issue is that much harder. While Centrelink may send some correspondence through the MyGov app, other correspondence is required to be sent by post. People experiencing homelessness or moving from one temporary accommodation to another are at risk of missing important information.  

The social security system itself can exacerbate poverty. Often debt repayments are automatically set to unworkably high fortnightly amounts, and require the recipient to contact Centrelink to negotiate a lower repayment plan. There is often little consideration given to the fact that Centrelink income support payments are already at rates below the poverty line, and fortnightly deductions in addition can cause severe financial distress. 

Some income support payments also carry mutual obligations that the recipient is required to shoulder the financial burden of meeting, such as travelling to appointments with service providers. 

Other payments, such as the Disability Support Pension, have stringent eligibility criteria which rely upon doctor appointments being attended and medical evidence being obtained by the applicant. All these examples add financial burden and entrench circumstances of poverty. 

We want social security recipients to know that help is available. 

If you have been issued with a Centrelink debt that you disagree with, if Centrelink has organised a payment plan causing you financial distress, or if you are having difficulty accessing a Centrelink payment, you can call us today. Most Centrelink decisions can be appealed and repayment plans can be negotiated to be more manageable.

Are you affected by the Victorian floods?

Are you or your loved ones affected by the Victorian floods? Here’s some important information about payments and Centrelink obligations.

Disaster Payments and Allowances are available through Centrelink for specified local government areas affected by the Victorian floods. 

Disaster payments are a one-off lump sum payment, and Disaster Allowances are a temporary income support payment for people who have lost income due to the floods. The payments have specific eligibility requirements, more information can be found here.

Centrelink recipients, or persons eligible to receive Centrelink, who have had to relocate may be able to access the Crisis Payment. More information about eligibility requirements can be found here.

If you are affected by the floods, or expect to be, we recommend securing your identity information and taking it with you if you leave. You will likely need your identity information to apply for payments.

If you currently receive a payment with mutual obligation requirements, you can seek a temporary suspension on meeting the obligations by contacting Centrelink or your service provider and explaining how you are impacted by the floods. 

WorkForce Australia have suspended mutual obligations for specific regions affected by the floods. You should have been notified if this suspension by WorkForce Australia applies to you. Further information, including the regions and dates, can be found here. 

If you haven’t been notified, you may need to make a specific request for suspension of your mutual obligations. We recommend staying in contact with your service provider to ensure you have up-to-date information about your mutual obligations and impacts upon your payments.

If you have any questions about disaster payments administered by Centrelink, you can contact Centrelink’s Emergency Information Line on 180 22 66.

We are here to help if you have any disputes with Centrelink – such as if your Centrelink payment is cancelled, or Centrelink rejects your payment application. 

You can call our Legal Assistance Line on 03 9481 0355 if you would like to speak to us about the legal services we provide.

The Victorian State Government is also providing a range of support, including financial support, to people affected by the floods, with various eligibility requirements. More information can be found here:

Disability Support Pension Webinar

Are you applying for DSP or are you a worker helping someone put together their application? The DSP can be complex and we’re running an education session to give you everything you need to know. 

Who: Anyone looking to apply for DSP or workers helping someone apply for DSP

When: 10 November 2022, 10:00am – 11:30am

Where: Online via Zoom – link will be provided upon registration.

What the webinar will cover:

· The DSP medical eligibility criteria

· What is a Program of Support

· Practical tips when applying for DSP

· Resources available including SSRV and DSP Help

· Appealing a Centrelink decision

Questions? Please call us on 03 9481 0299 or email

To register your attendance, please email, including your name, email and phone number.

SSRV’s Financial Counselling Services

When Sienna contacted the SSRV Legal Assistance Line for advice, she was stressed and overwhelmed. Struggling to find a rental property for herself and her children while existing on social security payments, for two years Sienna had been forced to live in the same house as her violent ex-partner. Now, she had been been informed of a Centrelink debt she said was incorrectly issued and would take her years to repay.

As single mother, Sienna had been receiving Parenting Payment Single despite having been living separated under the same roof with her ex-partner, and the recent Centrelink decision had deemed that for two of the years she had been receiving the payment she had been in a relationship, and she would now have to repay those payments. She had also had her Parenting Payment Single cut and was moved to the Jobseeker payment, at a much lower rate. 

In addition to her Centrelink debt, Sienna also had debts totaling tens of thousands of dollars, that she said she was coerced into accumulating by her ex-partner. 

Yet, when she disclosed her problems with SSRV’s financial counsellor Graeme Parsons, it soon became clear that her debts were the least of her problems. Sienna and her children were about to become homeless. 

“Centrelink issues rarely happen in a vacuum,” says Graeme. “Assisting someone to appeal a Centrelink decision might solve that issue, but not necessarily the overall problem.” 

SSRV staff regularly engage with clients who are experiencing a multiple, inter-connected and compounding difficulties. That is why the organisation sought and was so pleased to be granted funding for the Integrated Service Project, which is now in its fourth year. SSRV’s community lawyers and in-house financial counsellor work together, and with financial counsellors employed by other agencies, to improve client outcomes.

When a person calls SSRV to seek assistance regarding a Centrelink problem, SSRV’s front-line and legal team make an assessment of whether the person may benefit from meeting with the financial counsellor. If so, and the person agrees, they may be offered an appointment with the in-house financial counsellor or referred to the National Debt Help Line.

When Sienna contacted SSRV, the lawyer she spoke to identified that Sienna’s financial problems extended beyond her Centrelink debt, and connected her with Graeme, who worked with Sienna to understand her financial and related problems. 

“Working through the detail of a person’s finances, behaviours and current situation is often the best means of understanding what needs to happen next,” explains Graeme.

Sienna’s immediate need was to find housing. Once that was secured, with SSRV’s support she was able to address how her financial situation and address the Centrelink debt that had resulted from her ex-partner’s abuse, including appealing the Centrelink decision to raise the debt. 

Sienna says that having a lawyer and financial counsellor working together meant that she was able to get her financial state back in order more quickly and painlessly than having to deal with multiple organisations, and without having to relive her trauma by being forced to repeatedly tell her story.

In addition to his work with SSRV clients, Graeme and the Project team works with other financial counselling services to raise awareness of the big picture financial problems facing disadvantaged people and areas where changes to laws or processes, especially those relating to income support payments, could make a real difference.

Speaking about the provision of integrated services, Graeme says “It’s about the lawyers picking up on related issues being experienced by clients and referring them through to a financial counsellor who may help them address these needs. Often that involves working with creditors, and saying in Sienna’s case for example, yes Sienna did take out this loan for a motorcycle – but what does it tell you that she doesn’t have a motorcycle license? She was in an abusive relationship with man who already owns two other motorcycles and who pressured her to do so. Can you take this into consideration?” 

SSRV’s Integrated Service Project, says Graeme, is all about social security lawyers and financial counsellors working together in a person-centred way. 

“We work as an integrated service,” says Graeme. “People who contact SSRV are often already feeling isolated, alone and without allies – when they call us, we don’t insist they isolate their issues.” 

Staff Profile: Eloise Cox, Community Lawyer

I started working for SSRV in August 2022, and I am part of the Integrated Services Project (ISP) team.

ISP is an ongoing partnership between Financial Counselling Victoria and SSRV, which aims to improve client outcomes through financial counsellors and social security lawyers working together more effectively. Our service often engages with clients who are experiencing multiple, inter-connected and compounding financial difficulties. The project aims to provide holistic care to clients.

Prior to joining SSRV, I worked as a community lawyer primarily in family violence, employment law and tenancy. I have also volunteered for several years in the community legal centre sector. I am passionate about using my law degree as a tool to advocate for clients and help them to gain access to our legal system.

Outside of work, I take pottery classes, enjoy cooking and trying new recipes, and hit the slopes with my snowboard in winter. 

Notice of Annual General Meeting

Wednesday 23 November 2022

3rd Floor, Fitzroy Town Hall, corner Moor and Napier Sts, Fitzroy
You can also attend online – see details below


Please RSVP to by 5.00pm Friday 18 November 2022 to advise
that you will be attending the AGM.

Please ensure that you include your email address.

Link to AGM and meeting papers

The online link to the AGM will emailed to all people who have RSVP’d closer to the meeting date. If you do not RSVP, you will not receive the link. The minutes of the previous AGM, annual report and audited financial statements will be emailed to members and others who have advised that they will be attending prior to the AGM.

If you are attending in person

Enter via a blue stone lane off Moor St into a courtyard.
Follow signs to SSRV (and Fitzroy Legal Service), at glass sliding door SSRV staff will meet you and escort you to the 3 rd floor meeting room.

Please call (03) 9481 0299 or email if any assistance is required with RSVPs, online attendance or if you have any access requirements.

Social security as a weapon of economic abuse

People using violence against their partner are adept at weaponising economic products and systems to extend their abuse both during a relationship and after it ends.

Economic abuse is an often-hidden form of family violence in which one person tries to control another by restricting or exploiting their economic resources in a way that threatens their economic security and potential for self-sufficiency.

This could look like one partner controlling all the money, or withholding necessities, sabotaging their partner’s ability to earn an income, or building up debts in the other person’s name.

There are many different tactics of economic abuse but it is usually not the only thing going on. It commonly co-occurs with other forms of abuse, like emotional, psychological, physical, or sexualised violence.

Importantly, when the person using economic abuse is a man and the target of their abuse is a woman, there are structural disadvantages that make the woman more vulnerable to his increased control, and less able to recover, including: the gender pay gap, women’s higher rates of unpaid care, higher rates of part-time and casual work linked partly to the cost and availability of childcare, as well as societal expectations about motherhood.

Conservative estimates suggest 1 in 6 women will experience economic abuse at the hands of a current or former partner. And more than 60 per cent of women in high financial stress have a history of economic abuse.

The link between domestic violence and economic insecurity is well established. We know that:

  • Women experiencing domestic violence have more difficulty paying bills, carry higher average levels of debt, and are more likely to go without food when they are hungry.
  • Women experiencing domestic violence are much more likely to cease paid employment.
  • Domestic and family violence is the primary reason women seek support from homelessness services.

However, the deliberate nature of economic abuse driving this financial precarity is often overlooked.

For instance, preventing a partner from working, redrawing ‘savings’ from a joint mortgage facility, putting joint bills in the other partner’s name only, or being the registered owner of a vehicle their partner relies upon for transport, are just a few examples.

The social security system should be a key support for people experiencing violence from an intimate partner, but it is also manipulated, even while it is already ill-equipped to provide adequate and timely support to victim-survivors of abuse.

Some of the ways the social security system is turned into a weapon by perpetrators include:

  • women being forced by the abusive partner they live with to apply for the single rate of the Jobseeker payment (which is a higher amount than the rate when you are part of a couple), and then threatened with being dobbed in;
  • misleading claims about the percentage of care of children to manipulate Child Support payments; and
  • refusal to lodge tax returns meaning that an incorrect rate of Family Tax Benefit is paid, leading to a future debt for the victim-survivor.

All of this is against a backdrop where even if the abusive partner is not deliberately manipulating Centrelink, the system still falls short in supporting people experiencing domestic and family violence. It assumes couples share income, it doesn’t deal very well with couples who are separated but living under the one roof, and it fails to adequately support people who have assets on paper that are controlled by their partner or ex-partner. The criteria for Centrelink’s Crisis Payment in cases of domestic and family violence is too restrictive and must be claimed within seven days which is a ridiculously short time frame for people in crisis.

This interplay of gendered violence, structural economic barriers, and poorly designed social security undermines women’s economic safety.

This article was written by Rebecca Glenn, Centre for Women’s Economic Safety, Jasmine Opdam, Financial Abuse Service NSW, and Pamela Taylor-Barnett, Social Security Rights Victoria.

This article first appeared in Economic Justice Australia’s publication Social Security Rights Review, August 2022, and was reproduced with permission.

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