How well does Australia’s social security system support victims of family and domestic violence?


The National Social Security Rights Network has recently published a research report How well does Australia’s social security system support victims of family and domestic violence?

This research considers the relationship between social security and domestic or family violence, drawing on the casework experience of its member centres. This research was undertaken with a view to providing evidence to inform the design of service provision in the area of income support, to maximise support rather than presenting obstacles for those experiencing such violence.

The research found that domestic and family violence cuts across all social security payment types. Many clients contacted the centres while experiencing genuine financial distress, with homelessness and risk of homeless common.

Significant issues for people experiencing domestic violence relate to the structure and payment of social security payments. These include delays in payment for people in crisis and debts resulting from administrative error and/or opaque Centrelink correspondence regarding reporting obligations. Often women deemed to have been living as a member of a couple are left with large social security debts while their violent partner or ex-partner has no financial liability.

The social security system’s expectation that people in relationships will share income and assets ignores gendered power imbalances in many relationships and increases some women’s risk of domestic and family violence. The inability to secure income support forced some women (and their children) to stay in the home where they were subject to violence, with those whose residency status did not meet social security criteria particularly at risk. In other cases, perpetrators used social security obligations to leverage unfair agreements about care of children.

Many clients reported significant distress in understanding their social security entitlements and dealing with Centrelink and its offices, which are unconducive to disclosure of domestic and family violence. Clients’ access to social workers and social workers’ capacity to support clients and influence Centrelink decisions appears to have been eroded.

The report was authored by Sally Cameron.