Domestic violence survivors are being forced to choose between homelessness and returning to an abusive partner because Centrelink’s systems are ill-equipped to support them into the rental market.
Women often have “nowhere to go” when trying to leave their abuser and so are often forced back into violent relationships, Anglicare chief executive Kasy Chambers told The New Daily.
Her comments came after the release of a report which found Centrelink had used evidence of domestic abuse as proof of a relationship to reduce or deny payments to survivors.
“Leaving is the dangerous time, and it’s very difficult and can take a protracted time,” Ms Chambers said.
“Private rental gives you the ability to move quickly, and to move to an area of your choosing, but we then run into the problems of rental affordability – there’s so little available.”
Anglicare’s housing affordability snapshot, which surveyed 70,000 properties in a single weekend to assess housing costs nationwide, found that a single mother with two children would only reasonably be able to afford 3.8 per cent of available rentals.
However, that 3.8 per cent applies only to scenarios where one of the two children is under eight years old – the threshold age to receive the Centrelink Parenting Payment.
If neither child is young enough to qualify for those benefits, the amount of affordable properties falls to 0.1 per cent.
Even then, a greater hurdle remains, in that survivors often can’t access the full Newstart payments when leaving their abusers either because they don’t have access to their bank accounts or because Centrelink often assesses benefit payments for couples rather than individuals, Ms Chambers said.
As a result, many are unable to pay a bond or cover rent even on the diminutive number of rentals that would ordinarily be accessible.
“This problem is national too. When we look at our rental affordability snapshot every year there’s no pockets of relief,” she said.
Lack of access forcing survivors back
Georgie Proud, manager of the Women and Money project operated by women’s referral network W.I.R.E, told The New Daily that financial challenges were a key driver in survivors’ decision to stay with or return to an abusive partner.
“You can’t just get up and leave, it takes a lot of planning. It’s a much messier journey than people just deciding to leave, and survivors have typically been isolated socially or economically so they might not have anywhere to go,” she said.
“The real concern is that this could be forcing people back into violent relationships.”
On average, it takes survivors seven individual attempts to leave their partners before they’re finally successful, with the leaving period bringing with it an increased risk of violence or death at the hands of an abuser.
Ms Proud added that even the full Newstart benefit was putting women at risk in its current form.
“Payments are so low, and so easily cut off, and if you’re in a violent relationship and trying to get out, then getting a private rental on Newstart is pretty much impossible,” she said.
“If you’ve managed to leave and your payments are cut off, leaving you with no income support, that might be the impetus for you returning to a violent relationship, so it’s incredibly dangerous.”
Ms Proud and Ms Chambers both supported calls for increased training for Centrelink staff and legislative reform to put greater onus on identifying domestic violence and responding appropriately.
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