Better practice in responding to family violence
- Principle One: Develop an informed approach that works for the organisation
- Principle Two: Lead from the top and demonstrate accountability
- Principle Three: Prioritise safety and choice for victim-survivors
- Principle Four: Build a culture of awareness, internally and externally
- Principle Five: Acknowledge and address barriers to access
Better practice in responding to family violencePublished 06 August 2019
Avoid requiring evidence of family violence
The circumstances of family violence mean victim-survivors may need to leave their home at short notice, and often live in constant fear. Asking for evidence of family violence can cause additional stress and the documents may be difficult for a victim-survivor to access. Having to provide evidence may be a major barrier to seeking support.
Family violence experts suggest businesses should carefully consider the purpose of seeking evidence from victim-survivors of family violence, and only ask for evidence where absolutely necessary. Where victim-survivors are receiving support from a family violence professional (e.g. a family violence service or financial counsellor) this indicates that their circumstances have been deemed appropriate for specialist support and should ordinarily form sufficient evidence.
Not requiring evidence has benefits for customers and staff. North East Water ‘takes people at their word and works towards supporting customers in a timely manner’. It notes this practice promotes safety as it may not be safe for customers to collect evidence or explain their story multiple times. Staff can provide immediate help for those affected by family violence, eliminating further stress for both customers and staff.
“Customers felt an immediate sense of relief that we were listening to them and were ready to take action to assist where possible.” – North East Water
EnergyAustralia promotes confidentiality for customers, and helps manage the level of vicarious trauma staff may experience by electing not to require evidence of family violence.
“We consider that evidence may contain personal information of other parties other than the account holder, or sensitive information that may not be appropriate for staff to view.” – EnergyAustralia
Optus found that removing the need for evidence meant staff were better able to respond to and support customers at the time of the call.
Case study - Optus
Optus has removed the requirement for supporting documentation in order to make each interaction simpler for staff and customers, with quicker outcomes being reached. It also assesses each case on its own merits based on the information the customer is comfortable to disclose.
Optus found that staff feel rewarded in their roles when they can make decisions on a case by case basis. Each customer’s individual circumstances are taken into account and staff offer a range of solutions to alleviate some pressure for customers.
Yarra Valley Water says that by not requiring evidence, it is able to build trust with customers and contribute to the reputation of the business. It saves time and resources as there is no need to chase up and analyse evidence to determine whether it is sufficient.
Case study – Yarra Valley Water
During a conversation about a high bill, a customer spoke about her suspicions that her ex-partner was returning to her property to turn on the garden tap to increase her bills.
Based on her past experience with her ex-partner she believed he was responsible but couldn’t provide any evidence to support this. Recognising this behaviour as a form of family violence, the high bill consultant transferred this customer to its WaterCare Support team.
The WaterCare Support team asked if the customer was safe and discussed her situation with her in a respectful and empathetic manner to determine whether she needed further support. They referred her to Uniting Kildonan’s CareRing, a centralised point of contact that coordinates a range of support services, to get support with other issues she was facing.
To prevent the issue from continuing Yarra Valley Water sent her a lock for the garden tap to ensure it could not be accessed. Yarra Valley Water was also able to remove the debt caused by the family violence by reducing the bills to what they were before this abuse occurred and the customer was happy to pay that amount.
Yarra Valley Water did not require proof of the situation or that it was her ex-partner responsible. It considers this is a key part of the interaction that ensures Yarra Valley Water is not re-traumatising the victim-survivor or creating any more barriers to disclosure.
Gas and electricity retailers may only seek evidence of family violence when undertaking debt management and recovery or as a means to avoid de-energisation (disconnection) of supply. See 106L of the Energy Retail Code.
Types of evidence
In isolated cases, there may be instances where a business considers a form of evidence will help to achieve the best possible outcome for a customer affected by family violence. In those instances businesses should work with the victim-survivor to determine options that would avoid additional trauma or stress.
“Providing choice as to the source of information enables individuals to exercise a level of control over their personal information and may assist in minimising barriers to disclosure.” - Office of the Australian Information Commissioner in its submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s review on family violence related leave.
In forming a view on the evidence sufficient to establish a customer is affected by family violence, we have reviewed policies and initiatives including the Victorian Public Service Enterprise Agreement 2016, the Fines Victoria Family Violence Scheme and the entitlement to domestic and family violence leave in the National Employment Standards. In consultation with family violence experts, we consider the following types of evidence represent a better practice approach.
Evidence may be in the following formats:
- A signed statutory declaration
- An agreed document issued by:
- the police service
- a court (e.g. a Family Violence Intervention Order or Family Violence Safety Notice)
- a family violence or other support service (e.g. specialist family violence service, financial counsellor, housing or mental health service)
- a registered health practitioner (including Maternal and Child Health nurses)
- a lawyer.
Importantly, the statutory declaration or other agreed document should avoid detailing sensitive information about the nature of the family violence. Evidence of family violence should be limited to the minimum information necessary.