Debts, Duress and Dob-Ins: Social Worker Support Case Studies

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Centrelink social worker resources needed to support victims/survivors of domestic violence

One of the issues examined in EJA’s forthcoming report Debts, Duress and Dob-ins is lack of access to appropriate assistance and support for victims/survivors of domestic violence. The report makes recommendations to enhance access to Centrelink social workers.

Below are two case studies from EJA member centres highlighting this issue.

A preview of this report is available at https://www.ejaustralia.org.au/wp/latest-news/debt-duress-and-dob-ins-report-preview/ and the full report will be available in mid-November.

Nisha

Nisha is illiterate in both her first language and English. Her abusive ex-partner was able to get the Family Tax Benefit (FTB) payments for their child transferred from Nisha to himself by coercing Nisha to sign a form falsely stating that he had had 100% care of their child for some time. He told Nisha that the form was for their daughter to go to a private school. She felt threatened by him so signed. Centrelink proceeded to transfer the FTB payments to Nisha’s then partner, even though there were notes in her Centrelink records regarding the domestic violence, including that she had fled to a refuge. Centrelink also raised FTB and PPS debts against Nisha.

Early referral of Nisha to a social worker for support could have avoided this issue.

Maxine

Maxine is an Aboriginal woman from a rural community. Her partner is a convicted DV perpetrator, with a history of physical, verbal, financial and emotional abuse perpetrated against Maxine and their disabled daughter.

When she contacted the EJA member centre for assistance, Maxine and her partner had been separated for 3+ years, but for complex reasons had not moved. Maxine had been without means of support since the cancellation of her payments four months previously. She had been receiving social work support from a community health clinic, who had referred her to the member centre for help in getting her payments reinstated, and regarding debts raised following income data-matching compliance checks.

The community legal centre attempted to arrange for Maxine to be referred to a Centrelink social worker several times. Centrelink was unable to schedule face-to-face appointments with Maxine, as she had no access to transport independent of her partner, and phoning Centrelink was a risk.

The legal service assisted Maxine complete a Separated Under the Same Roof application. Centrelink accepted that Maxine was in fact separated and she received four months payment in arrears – i.e. back to the date Maxine’s income support payments were cancelled under the partner income test. Appeals against recovery of the debts are yet to be decided.

Maxine was left without any social security support for over four months – despite Centrelink having been made aware, on several occasions, of her ongoing risk of domestic violence, and despite requests for social worker referral. This prolonged Maxine’s and her child’s exposure to their abuser.

Had a Centrelink social worker been offered to Maxine when her payment was first cancelled these dangers could have been avoided.