CFA member The Consumer Utilities Advocacy Centre has launched an insightful new report looking at the intersection between domestic violence and utility debt.

Report coverHelping Not Hindering: Uncovering Domestic Violence & Utility Debt explores the policies and practices of utility providers, and the legal and operational framework as it applies to victims of domestic violence with utility debts, specifically where domestic abuse leads to a breakdown of a household and victims are at a point of crisis. It considers best practice approaches for utility providers to consider to better assist victims of domestic violence in these circumstances, and provides a set of targeted recommendations for achievable reform.

Domestic violence can create unique circumstances of financial hardship where there has been a breakdown of the domestic setting and a victim is at a point of crisis. Often when such a breakdown occurs, victims of domestic violence also suffer economic abuse. Given the effectively mandatory nature of utility bills (both before and after the breakdown of the domestic household), economic abuse in these circumstances can include the imposition of household debts of victims of domestic violence, and in some cases, liability for significant debts that are not properly their own to bear. The economic stress can hinder the ability of victims to free themselves from the abusive setting and contribute to a cycle of violence.

How a case is managed by a utility provider can make the difference between contributing to the economic stress that causes a woman to return to her abusive partner, or enabling a the woman to re-establish herself independently as a paying utility customer.

This report examines the various scenarios that are common to women who are victims of domestic violence who are also experiencing economic abuse as it relates to managing their debts with utility providers.

CUAC intends for this report to guide policy and prompt dialogue within the utility industry, regulators, government, agencies in the community sector and ombudsman schemes in Victoria and other jurisdictions to develop processes that can make an impact on these circumstances.

The report serves as an additional resource to add to the body of information available on domestic violence and economic abuse, and provide valuable information to agencies in the community sector that assist victims of domestic violence.

For any inquiries or to request hard copies of the report please contact Loren Days (loren.days@cuac.org.au).

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