Calls for Family Violence Victims to Access Super
19 June 2017 at 4:57 pm
Victims and survivors of family violence should be able to access their superannuation as a “band aid” measure, according to industry superfund HESTA which is calling for “urgent action” to address the issue.
HESTA, along with others in the community sector, is urging the federal government to change superannuation rules, proposing that victims and survivors of family violence be able to access up to $10,000 of their super under compassionate grounds.
Under current arrangements, super fund members can access their super early under severe financial hardship or compassionate grounds. But to qualify for severe financial hardship, a fund member is required to have been receiving 26 weeks of continuous Centrelink payments.
Many victims or survivors of family violence may not meet this eligibility requirement and/or may need to access funds urgently.
HESTA CEO Debby Blakey said urgent action was needed as statistics showed on average, at least one woman a week was killed by a partner or former partner in Australia each year.
“Finances are too often a barrier for women trying to leave a violent relationship and, unfortunately, financial support for survivors of family violence is grossly inadequate,” Blakey said.
“While early access to super is currently possible to stop the bank selling your home, pay for a dependant’s funeral or get medical treatment under compassionate grounds, this is denied in instances of family violence.
“We think it’s entirely appropriate that super regulations extend compassion to victims and survivors of family violence to empower women with the financial means to escape abusive relationships.”
Blakey cautioned that accessing super should be an interim “band-aid” measure with responsibility for improving financial and other family violence support services resting with all levels of government.
“We urgently need a nationally coordinated response to family violence,” she said.
“While it’s encouraging that the Victorian state government now provides financial support of around $7,000, having the financial capacity to leave a violent relationship shouldn’t depend on where you live in Australia.
“Women already retire with almost half the super of men, and they shouldn’t have to use their super for this purpose. But family violence is one of the rare situations in which short-term financial needs are more compelling than the need to preserve superannuation for retirement.”
Financial Counselling Australia CEO, Fiona Guthrie, said financial counsellors knew that family violence and financial hardship “almost always go hand in hand”.
“One of the many reasons women may stay trapped in a situation of family violence is to do with money – lack of access to crisis support and payments, or ongoing control by the other partner of money and economic opportunities (economic abuse),” Guthrie said.
“In the right circumstances, superannuation has an important role to play in helping women affected by family violence get back on their feet. We support this very sensible proposed policy response.”
Under HESTA’s proposed changes to compassionate grounds, a victim or survivor of family violence seeking the early release of their super would need to provide certification from a recognised family violence social worker or organisation attesting they are experiencing a situation of family violence.
Blakey said it was important that early access to super only occurred where it was the most appropriate financial option.
“We are consulting with expert service providers about how best to implement this, as we’re advocating money is only provided in the context of family violence victims and survivors receiving appropriate, specialist financial counselling and support,” Blakey said.
“We want to ensure there are adequate safeguards in place, while allowing for the release of urgently needed money in a timely manner. We also want to make sure any proposed change doesn’t take place undue administrative burdens on already stretched service providers.”
Good Shepherd Microfinance chair, Christine Nixon said they endorses “all efforts to shine a light on the inadequate assistance currently available to women” and any attempts by the superannuation industry to make changes to early release conditions.
She said they saw women “time and time again” who were experiencing family violence and financial abuse.
“Their issues are complex but the common bind is always a real need for financial support to move forward,” Nixon said.
“Women facing financial exclusion are susceptible to predatory behaviour from money lenders, this only continues the spiral of financial abuse and exclusion.”
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au – in an emergency, call 000.