In 2009, Lisa was injured in a car accident which left her with serious physical injuries and reduced her ability to communicate. She was awarded a $900,000 lump sum compensation payment.
Lisa used some of her compensation money to purchase a house and a car, paid her legal fees, and kept the remaining funds to live on.
Lisa married in 2012 and had three children. The relationship turned violent, with Lisa experiencing physical, psychological and financial abuse – her partner forced her to give him access to more than $80,000 of her compensation payment which he spent to establish a business on the understanding that he would support the family.
In early 2017, she separated from her husband.
“I was trapped in the domestic violence cycle where he would abuse me, then buy me gifts to try to make up for it. It got so bad that in the end, the police told me to take the children and leave.”
Lisa isn’t able to seek child maintenance from her former husband, who provides no financial support for herself or their children. She has an AVO against him but is still at risk of violence, with police recently seeking an extension of the AVO after she and her family had their cars burnt and received harassing phone calls.
Lisa’s ability to find work is highly restricted given she is now a single parent responsible for three young children, has difficulty communicating, and is receiving counselling for depression, anxiety and complex trauma.
“It can be a lot to manage with young kids, being so busy all the time. It can be overwhelming to keep it all together, but I have to keep going for their sake. My priority is making them happy.”
What remained of Lisa’s compensation money was soon gone and she was forced to borrow money to survive. For over a year after she left her husband, she supported herself and her children using only her Family Tax Benefit payment, food vouchers, free meals from charities and other charity payments subsidising essential bills.
“Dragging the kids around, to the Salvos for dinner, to Vinnies to get food vouchers, getting bread from my friends at church – it wasn’t very easy. A lot of women get embarrassed to go from place to place, asking for help like that.”
Lisa applied for a Centrelink payment, explaining that her circumstances had changed significantly since the ten year preclusion period – which she had been unaware of at the time – from her compensation had begun. She presented Centrelink with medical and legal evidence and supporting statements from three social workers – one of whom was a Centrelink social worker – who advised that Lisa had been unable to exercise financial control in her relationship and that the preclusion period should be waived due to her history of domestic violence.
The Authorised Review Officer who reviewed her case accepted that Lisa had experienced ‘special or unusual circumstances’ as her husband had forced her to spend her compensation under duress but still rejected her appeal.
Lisa had acted responsibly and planned well to live within the means of her compensation payment. Her husband had coerced her into allowing him access to her funds and subsequently failed to use the income generated from those funds to support her and their children. At the time her husband accessed the funds, their separation was not foreseen. Further, Lisa had already served more than 80% of the preclusion period before requesting a waiver of the remaining period.
However Lisa’s claim for Centrelink assistance was rejected not once, but twice. She was finally able to get assistance from Welfare Rights Centre (NSW) to appeal the decision, and her second appeal was successful – but only after over fifteen months of stress and anxiety.
Her interaction with Centrelink took a huge toll on Lisa’s health and wellbeing.
“Telling my story over and over again, dealing with Centrelink staff, having people look at me as a single mother with all the stigma that goes with that, trying to get all the papers together at the same time as the police investigation was going on – it was so upsetting. I felt so alone, and so many times I felt like giving up.”
*Name changed to protect privacy