Modern Australian

Domestic abuse or genuine relationship? Our welfare system can't tell

  • Written by Lyndal Sleep, Research Fellow, Griffith University
Domestic abuse or genuine relationship? Our welfare system can't tell

In Australia’s social security laws, the “couple rule” is used to determine if a person is in a relationship, tying access to Centrelink payments to the income and assets of their partner.

For victims of domestic violence, it ties a woman’s access to social security payment to the perpetrator.

Recently I analysed Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) couple rule decisions from 1992 to 2016 that involved domestic violence. The full array of violence was represented in my sample of 70 decisions – from rape and enforced marriage to financial abuse.

Read more: Banks are enabling economic abuse. Here's how they could be stopping it

I found that the very tactics perpetrators used to control and intimidate women were often used as evidence for a relationship. For example, financial abuse can be misinterpreted as “sharing finances”, which can indicate a relationship in the criteria of the couple rule.

As a result, women experiencing domestic violence were denied payment, made to repay a social security debt, or both. Some women were also be prosecuted for social security fraud through criminal courts.

And since many domestic violence victims rely on social security payment to become financially independent of the perpetrator, the couple rule must be seriously reviewed to give women a chance to begin a new life free from violence.

Criteria for the couple rule

The couple rule outlines criteria to determine if someone is in a relationship when it’s unclear.

The criteria considers various aspects of a relationship – financial, living arrangements, social, sexual (yes, they do ask), and commitment. A wide array of evidence is gathered to make this decision – from ATM records to children’s school records, and even hospital records.

Read more: Fleeing family violence to another country and taking your child is not 'abduction', but that's how the law sees it

But the criteria rarely make an exception for domestic violence, despite difficulties determining when a violent relationship ends, as women often make multiple attempts to leave.

In the sample, the AAT decided that more than half (49 out of 70) of the women experiencing domestic violence were in a legitimate relationship.

Abuse tactics that indicate a relationship

Centrelink and AAT decision-makers used perpetrator tactics as evidence for a relationship.

For example, refusing to leave the family home when asked, and visiting a woman’s new address if she leaves, are examples of control over living arrangements. But cohabitation and “frequent visiting” could be considered indicators of a continuing relationship.

Read more: The long history of gender violence in Australia, and why it matters today

Perpetrators stealing money and denying finances to meet women’s and children’s basic needs are examples of financial abuse. But “sharing financial resources”, whether consensual or not, can be considered to be an indicator of a relationship.

And controlling information flow was recorded in the sample. In this case, the perpetrator can mould the image that Centrelink sees about the relationship. For instance, preventing a woman from receiving her own mail means he can make her miss important notifications and doesn’t respond to requests for updated relationship information.

Using police and hospital reports

Also concerning was the use of hospital and domestic violence police reports by social security decision-makers as evidence of a continuing relationship.

Centrelink has extensive legislative powers to compel the release of evidence from their customers, a person they believe to be the customer’s partner, and public and private institutions.

More than half of the decisions in the sample, 41 out of 70, used this type of information, and they have a very real impact on domestic violence victims receiving social security payments.

Read more: Four in ten Australians think women lie about being victims of sexual assault

For example, a woman admitted to hospital with injuries from her partner, which included him as next of kin, was considered an indication of a relationship.

Similarly, a woman asking for police support when harassed in her new home by her former partner was also considered evidence because he referred to her as his partner. A women’s opinion of her own relationship is only part of the evidence considered. Alarmingly, a perpetrator can also be asked to give evidence.

Victims can be punished for relationship fraud

The couple rule not only ties women’s access to social security payment to the assets and income of perpetrators, but it also puts them at risk of debt and imprisonment.

Women experiencing domestic violence and found to be in a relationship can be, and often were, asked to repay a Centrelink debt. And they can, and were, also be tried in criminal courts for social security fraud and imprisoned.

In a 2016 study, I found women could be doubly punished by being asked to repay a Centrleink debt through the AAT, and simultaneously tried for criminal prosecution and imprisoned through criminal courts.

Read more: See What You Made Me Do: why it's time to focus on the perpetrator when tackling domestic violence

Essentially, the couple rule in Australian social security law punishes the victims of domestic violence. It needs serious review in both its application, and its legislative basis.

The National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.

Authors: Lyndal Sleep, Research Fellow, Griffith University

Read more http://theconversation.com/domestic-abuse-or-genuine-relationship-our-welfare-system-cant-tell-120223

NEWS

Surge in pre-poll numbers at 2019 federal election changes the relationship between voters and parties

Another issue is that pre-polling gives an advantage to the major parties over the smaller ones, due to the latter having fewer resources.AAP/Bianca de MarchiOn the morning of the last...

why memorising poetry still matters for human connection

Committing poetry to memory is so much more than a rote exercise.Taylor Ann Wright/UnsplashMemorising poetry was once common in classrooms. But it has, for the most part, gone out of...

what exactly does a showrunner do?

Donald Glover is the showrunner on Atlanta, 'perhaps the most curious credit in the history of the small screen'. imdb/FX NetworksWhat do J.J. Abrams, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Shonda Rhimes, David Lynch...

How many people have eating disorders? We don't really know, and that's a worry

Eating disorders disproportionately affect females and young people.From shutterstock.comLast week, federal health minister Greg Hunt announced that more than 60,000 Australians will be asked about their mental health and well-being...

keep in mind the 'bacon and eggs' principle

Morrison describes the “the bacon and eggs principle" where "the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed".AAP/Shutterstock/The ConversationScott Morrison has a sharp lecture for bureaucrats about their KPIs, in...

Frydenberg outlines financial sector reform timetable

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has issued a timetable for the government’s dealing with the recommendations from the royal commission into banking, superannuation and financial services, which aims to have all measures...

For the first time in centuries, we're setting up a generation to be worse off than the one before it

The avocado latte is indeed a thing, but young Australians are spending less on luxuries than they used to, while older Australians are spending more. ShutterstockEach new generation of Australians since...

Michelle Grattan on the Pacific Islands Forum wash-up, media freedom and the public service

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu.AAP/Mick TsikasMichelle Grattan talks to University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Deep Saini about the week...

Pacific Island nations will no longer stand for Australia's inaction on climate change

The Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Tuvalu this week has ended in open division over climate change. Australia ensured its official communique watered down commitments to respond to climate change...

Glamorising violent offenders with 'true crime' shows and podcasts needs to stop

Even in death, the voice of Carl Williams is louder than that of his victims. Intimate prison letters written by the convicted murderer and drug trafficker to his ex-wife, Roberta...

Case in Victoria could set new legal precedent for stealthing, or removing condom during sex

A surgeon has been committed to stand trial next year in a case involving stealthing, believed to be the first of its kind in Australia.ShutterstockIn September 2018, a prominent...

The exquisite blotched butterfly orchid is an airy jewel of the Australian landscape

The butterfly orchid grows beautifully.The Conversation/John DearlarneyThe blotched butterfly orchid (Sarcochilus weinthalii) looks fairly unremarkable when it’s not flowering, generally resembling the far more common orange blossom orchid. But when...

Popular articles from Modern Australian

Splurge or Save: Our tips on what to Spend the Big Money on for your Wedding5 ways to make sure you have a good camping tripMouth Ulcer Treatment – The Easiest It Can GetLaser Treatment For Skin Tag RemovalThe Importance of Mental Health During PregnancyFavourite Pastimes for SeniorsHow to Dress for Work: Chic 9-5 StyleFind out how reading Funeral Poems can bring comfort to your griefWhat Men Like in Women’s FashionDocument you need for a divorce7 Steps Complete Guide to Sustainable Lifestyle5 ways to hydrate your hair and skin while you travelGreat Ways to Stay Fit When You are BusyThe Pros and Cons of Leasing A Car - Should You Do It?Deliveroo announces reusable packaging partnership with Returnr in world-first scheme