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Government defends strict eligibility requirements for escaping violence payment

(ABC) -- The federal government says it has no plans to allow more people escaping domestic violence to access an emergency payment of US$5,000 despite calls from the sector to do so.
Less than half of those who applied for the government’s escaping violence payment were successful in getting the funding with advocates calling for an urgent expansion of the program.

Less than half of those who applied for the government’s escaping violence payment were successful in getting the funding with advocates calling for an urgent expansion of the programme. (Canva)

But Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth says there are no plans to lower eligibility requirements, despite the payment only applying to people escaping violence by a partner.
“This payment is specifically for leaving an intimate partner relationship, that is not currently looked at as being expanded,” she told the ABC.
“This is an important part of the system, but not the only part of support in the system.”
Ms Rishworth said those escaping sexual, domestic or family violence where perpetrators are not their partner will be directed to other services and support.
“Obviously there are other avenues through Centrelink for crisis payments, so there’s a range of different pathways for people.”
According to a Department of Social Services assessment, just 36 percent of applicants prior to April 1 2023 were found to be eligible to get the US$5,000 payment.
Almost a quarter of applicants were deemed ineligible, with 7 percent still awaiting a ruling and 33 percent of applicants not proceeding with the process.
The payments are part of a trial that has been in place since 2021, with a new but similar Leaving Violence Program set to come into place in mid-2025.
CEO of Domestic Violence NSW Delia Donovan said the payments are a good start but must be expanded.
“Our first thoughts hearing national cabinet’s announcements were utter disappointment to be perfectly honest,” she said.
“Extending the escaping family violence program was essential and we would have assumed would have been part of a package whether or not we were in a national crisis.”
She urged those who are trying to escape a violent situation to take up the payment as soon as they can but said the government must expand eligibility so it can reach those who need it — including those with no fixed address.
“Often when you’re leaving a domestic and family violence situation, you might be in a car sadly, couch-surfing, staying with family.
“We believe that might be one of the reasons that so many people were ineligible.
Ms Donovan said the payment needed to be entirely cash, compared to the current split of cash and controlled spending.
The payment is US$1,500 in cash, and US$3,500 is paid to a caseworker to facilitate services.
“Victim survivors need to know that they can instantaneously get that payment and that the turnaround time to get that payment is fast and that it’s cash.”
Because the payment is limited to those escaping a violent partner, victim survivors trying to flee an abusive family member or carer are not eligible.
The payment will be extended to people on temporary visas, who were not eligible under the pilot.
“We were really pleased to see that eligibility was expanded to temporary visa holders, that was really important but what now needs to happen is that we expand this program for people beyond intimate partner violence.”
The review of the programme pointed to the need to improve equity of access, with those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds along with older Australians and residents in remote areas of the Northern Territory least represented among recipients.
“This likely reflects a combination of the eligibility criteria being limited to intimate partner violence, low awareness and the accessibility of the application process,” the review states.
“It is not clear whether the EVP is reaching people with disabilities and people who identify as LGBTQIA+.”
It recommended considering broadening criteria to ensure these groups can access the payment but also investigating ways to limit demand.
The assessment of the trial program warned that the early implementation of the payments was dogged by major challenges.
“This included the announcement of the trial before the department could consult with the women’s safety sector, and before the provider could undertake an establishment phase, and the trial design (and hence resourcing) not anticipating the high numbers of people who have self-referred.”
But participants who accessed the payment overwhelmingly said it was helpful and relieved financial stress from escaping a violent situation.
While the payment will be indexed from next year in line with inflation, because of the rising cost of living the payment is now worth around US$740 less now than it was when it was first implemented.
But Ms Rishworth wouldn’t be drawn on whether the government would look at raising that baseline figure.
“We’ve made this payment permanent, there was no money in the budget for this payment to continue.
“It was due to end on the 30th of June because the previous government had made it only temporary.”
Opposition spokesperson for Child Protection and Prevention of Family Violence Kerrynne Liddle said the government needs to provide more detail on the specifics of the programme.
“There could be legitimate reasons why people were rejected, but there also could be really simple ones, like the fact that people could not have a joint bank account.
“Now, if you’re in [an] coercive control environment, you’re probably not likely to have your own bank account.
“So how on earth does that then allow you to be eligible under this program?
“I go back to, big announcement, short on detail.
“And I know that the sector — because I’ve already spoken to a few in the sector — are saying we really need to know what’s being proposed here so that we know that it’s responding to the need now.

(Latest Update May 3, 2024)

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