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Recognising the financial impacts of domestic and family violence

By Diane Tate, Executive Director - Retail Policy, Australian Bankers' Association

25 November 2016: Domestic and family violence is a serious, all too prevalent, community issue with devastating consequences. Apart from the fact it is a crime, it can have major implications on a person’s finances and their future financial independence.

Banks want to help customers who may be suffering financially as a result of domestic violence.

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse is about power and manipulation, and may or may not be accompanied by physical violence. It can include:

  • Denying a person access to a joint bank account or taking money out without their consent.
  • Forcing a partner to take out a loan or credit card in their name.
  • Using debt as a way to prevent a person leaving an abusive relationship.
  • Preventing a partner from taking part in household spending decisions.
  • Refusing to contribute to paying off a joint loan.

How can banks help?

Banks have policies in place to help detect if a customer is being abused financially. The industry has done a lot of work in this area, working with seniors’ groups and other consumer organisations to help those most at risk in our community.

Banks are now making changes to their policies to recognise the impacts of domestic violence and ensure they can support affected customers, many who will have joint accounts or joint loans with a partner or ex-partner.

Industry guideline

The ABA this week released a new industry guideline to assist banks put in place policies and practices to do this. It outlines the sensitivities for customers who are impacted by domestic violence, including how difficult it might be for them to seek help or report abuse.

If impacted customers do come to the bank, there are a number of simple things banks can do to ease their burden, such as protect the customer’s privacy from an ex-partner who is still on a joint loan, or give them copies of documents they may need for legal purposes free of charge. Or if their customer is experiencing financial difficulty, fast-tracking hardship assistance to help them through this distressing time.

Bank staff should also be aware that domestic violence can impact beyond a customers’ financial situation and know where to direct customers to support services or legal aid centres for more specialised help.

Banks, and the entire corporate sector, as well as communities and governments all have a role to play in responding to the challenges of domestic violence and reducing its impact.

A copy of the industry guideline is available can be accessed here.


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