We have reported on the outcomes for customers following the family violence changes to the water customer service codes.
Water code outcomes review 2019: family violence changes
We have released a report on the outcomes for customers following the water customer service code changes that were implemented in April 2017. These code changes came about after recommendations from the Royal Commission into Family Violence and put a responsibility on water businesses to adopt a robust family violence policy.
We interviewed financial counsellors, customer advocates and front-line family violence service providers across Victoria to find out how the code changes have worked in practice for water customers affected by family violence.
This report evaluates the contribution that the family violence policies have made to the well-being and safety of water customers affected by family violence. The report also helps us understand the effectiveness of the implementation of the code changes for our future work.
View the report and other family violence resources
Summary of findings from the review
Customers feel believed and say water business staff respond more sensitively to their needs
On the whole, financial counsellors felt that their clients were treated with dignity and respect. Financial counsellors thought this was due to organisation-wide training in which staff developed greater awareness of the nature of family violence and more sensitivity towards customers affected by family violence.
Accessing assistance is now quicker, easier and less stressful
Many financial counsellors commented that processes for accessing assistance for family violence have become more straightforward since the 2017 code changes. Financial counsellors and customer advocates agreed that not requiring evidence of family violence has greatly benefitted customers. One financial counsellor noted this approach reduces the need for victims/survivors to repeat their story and relive associated trauma.
Customers' financial hardship is better understood and they are provided with effective solutions to manage debt
Since the 2017 code changes, financial counsellors found that water businesses were generally more willing to provide flexible, effective solutions to debt when family violence was identified. Some solutions included waiving debt, assisting with utility relief grants, putting debt on hold, matching payments and other payment arrangements.
Quotes from the interviewees
The following quotes from the interviewees are reflective of the overall positive tone of the report.
"I think the code has gone the next step, whereas previously their assistance was usually fair and reasonable but after the code was adjusted and further policy implemented, the water companies seemed to – they’re just ahead of the game. They make it so much less stressful."
“I think if all utility providers do what [water company] does, it’d make our job easier and clients would probably get the best outcomes… they just seem to have put things in place with their hardship teams that really means that we can negotiate really good outcomes for a client.”
“As soon as I phone them and say this is, calling on behalf of so and so referred from family violence… they seem to produce the options quite freely.”
“They’ve always been pretty good but I do detect that there is more immediate understanding and maybe a bit more sensitivity if you mention family violence. It’s like they put on a gentleness coat.”
“They’re actually looking at the individual and their circumstances and there’s more respect now for clients and a lot of empathy. I think they’ve re-educated their customer support workers and telephone staff.”
Lessons from the water code outcomes review 2019
Customers are not aware of the assistance available to them
Financial counsellors, customer advocates and family violence service providers all agreed that most customers have limited awareness about the assistance available. This is considered one of the main barriers to accessing assistance. Factors affecting a customer's awareness included their ability to speak English, literacy level (including digital literacy), ability to self-report family violence and socioeconomic situation. Financial counsellors found that awareness improved after accessing their services. A number of financial counsellors suggested water businesses could make information about the assistance available more readily accessible on their websites and actively engage with their customers to increase awareness.
Trust in water businesses to keep personal information safe varies
Privacy was raised as an issue for some customers. Victims/survivors living in remote and regional Victoria were especially concerned about the confidentiality of their information. Financial counsellors and customer advocates thought that this is because in smaller communities customers were more likely to personal know water business staff or staff personally know the perpetrator. As a result, victims/survivors were very fearful of their personal information being revealed to the perpetrator.
A broad range of people experience family violence
When asked to describe clients who sought financial counselling due to family violence, financial counsellors reported a broad range of people. Most were female but some male, and represented varied ages, ethnicities, family situations and socioeconomic situations. Financial counsellors, customer advocates and family violence service providers all recognised that people from non-English speaking backgrounds experienced greater barriers to accessing support. Customer advocates noted that members from the LGBTIQ community, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, older people, people experiencing homeless, people with low literacy, people with mental health problems and people with a disability could also face greater barriers to accessing support.