Debt, Duress and Dob-ins: Centrelink compliance processes and domestic violence

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The prevalence of domestic violence has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, with significantly increased demand for domestic violence services and legal assistance. Domestic violence against women and children is a national crisis demanding a considered and integrated policy response.

Income security is crucial to leaving a violent relationship, and finding safety. Yet social security is often absent from the Government’s domestic violence policy or formal plans. This ongoing failure represents a critical policy disconnect between these two intersecting areas of public policy: social security and the domestic violence response.

EJA’s November 2021 report – DEBT, DURESS AND DOB-INS: Centrelink compliance processes and domestic violence – is the result of its partnership with academic researchers at the University of Wollongong, the University of Sydney and the University of Queensland. The report examines the operation of social security law and Centrelink debt investigation practices for women experiencing family and domestic violence, and identifies a number of key issues and concerns:

  • Women experiencing domestic violence continue to be assessed as being a member of couple under social security law. This can effectively tether a woman with no independent income to her abuser, even where income is not shared between the couple, and expose her to ongoing abuse.
  • Victims/survivors can be unfairly responsible for repaying social security debts incurred as a direct result of the actions of an abuser. These women are effectively being punished by the state as a consequence of violence perpetrated by their abuser.
  • Social security compliance mechanisms, including the Services Australia Fraud Tip-off Line, can be misused by perpetrators as a tool of violence, harassment, abuse, control and revenge.
  • Victims/survivors can struggle to access appropriate assistance and support for appealing Centrelink debt and income support decisions – especially First Nations women and women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds.

DEBT, DURESS AND DOB-INS makes 27 recommendations aimed at addressing these issues, and ensuring that the social security system can play its vital role as a safety net for women to escape domestic violence, and stay safe.

Read the full report


For more information and interview opportunities please contact Leanne Ho, Chief Executive Officer:  Ph: +61 448 007 201