We reviewed the effectiveness of the family violence provisions in our urban and rural water industry standards.
Family violence standards in water review 2022
Review beginsJuly 2022
Stakeholder engagement commencesJuly
Review early findings with Expert Advisory PanelNovember
Findings report released20 July 2023
Our review of the family violence provisions in the Water Industry Standards focused on understanding how the provisions are being implemented by water businesses, and what this means for customers who are affected by family violence.
The review was guided and informed by an Expert Advisory Panel of family violence survivor advocates as well as consultation with water businesses, community organisations, financial counsellors and people with lived experience of family violence.
Our review found that the provisions are working well to support most customers. We also found that there are some variations in business practice that may be negatively impacting some customers, and there are also barriers that are limiting or preventing access to support.
The review findings and identified improvements relate to Victorian water businesses. However, these learnings also have relevance to other sectors that support customers affected by family violence.
Background to the family violence provisions in the Water Industry Standards
Following the Royal Commission into Family Violence in March 2016, the Essential Services Commission was assigned responsibility for implementing recommendation 109, which related to updating the water customer service codes (now Water Industry Standards) and the Energy Retail Code (now the Energy Retail Code of Practice) to include family violence hardship provisions. Since 2016 the commission has worked in collaboration with family violence experts, water businesses and energy retailers on how to provide safe and flexible assistance to customers affected by family violence.
The family violence provisions in the water industry standards were introduced in 2017. In 2019 we reported on the outcomes for customers following the family violence changes. This review was initiated to assess the implementation of the Water Industry Standards family violence provisions five years after they took effect on 1 July 2017, and aligns with our commitment in our Getting to fair strategy to review the effectiveness of the family violence provisions and promote better practice.
You can find out more about the commission's previous work relating to family violence on our family violence resources for businesses page.
Our review findings
1. The provisions are working well to support most customers
- The water sector has a good understanding of family violence.
- The family violence provisions remain appropriate.
2. Variations in business practice are negatively impacting some customers
- Approaches to staff training differ between businesses, which can impact on the customer experience.
- Variations in access to and eligibility for payment support options are contributing to inconsistent customer experiences.
- Customer safety protections are not always appropriately applied.
- Incomplete and inconsistent notifications to the commission of problems or issues faced by businesses in applying protections to customers that may be experiencing family violence limits our ability to address any inconsistent business practice and detect non-compliance.
3. There are barriers limiting or preventing access to support
- Businesses provide limited or no customer safety protections when family violence is not disclosed.
- Not all water businesses are effective in identifying and adapting to the unique needs of customers.
- Low customer awareness limits access to support.
- The administration and design of government supports can create a barrier to access.
Improving implementation of the family violence provisions
The review findings demonstrate that while the provisions are working well for most customers, variations in business practice and barriers to access are limiting customer access to support. In response to the review findings, we identified four areas for improvement. We have identified eight actions the commission will take that respond to the review findings and identified areas for improvement.
Learning and collaboration
Learning and collaboration was identified as an area of focus which would enable the sector to build on existing strengths and learn from each other. The commission will:
- Update the 2019 Better Practice in Responding to Family Violence publication.
- Collaborate to promote better industry practice.
Increasing access to support
Increasing access to support was identified as an area for improvement that will enable greater numbers of customers affected by family violence to access support from their water business. The commission will:
- Deliver a sector workshop to improve customer safety protections when family violence is not disclosed.
- Increase awareness of support available to customers experiencing family violence.
- Advocate for improvements to the administration and design of government grants and concessions.
Setting clear expectations
Setting clear expectations was identified as an area for improvement that will target improved consistency in interpretation of the family violence provisions and water business obligations regarding reporting of non-compliance or potential non-compliance. The commission will:
- Develop guiding materials to support greater consistency across water businesses.
- Develop reporting requirements that strengthen water business obligations to self-report non-compliance or potential non-compliance to the commission.
Understanding impact was identified as an area for improvement that will ensure there is a clear and consistent approach to monitoring and reporting on the family violence provisions. The commission will:
- Review and formalise the commission’s monitoring and reporting on the family violence provisions.
Read our findings report
This report sets out our findings into the review of the family violence provisions in the Water Industry Standards. Accompanying our findings report are two research reports that were commissioned as part of the review.
The Uniting report, ‘People with lived experience of family violence focus groups – final report’, explores the experience of customers affected by family violence and their interactions with their water business.
The Whereto Report, ‘Research with financial counsellors exploring the effectiveness of family violence provisions in the Victorian water customer codes’, explores the experience of financial counsellors supporting clients affected by family violence and their interactions with water businesses.
Our review approach
Our review builds on the consultative approach we’ve taken with all our family violence work. We engaged early to help shape our review approach and ensured the voices of people with lived experience of family violence informed the review. We consulted widely using a variety of methods to develop a broad understanding of how the family violence provisions are being implemented.
During the second half of 2022, we engaged with stakeholders to inform the review. This included:
- project guidance and feedback from the Expert Advisory Panel of family violence survivor advocates
- conversations with water business and community sector representatives
- focus groups with people with lived experience of family violence, conducted by Uniting on our behalf
- interviews with financial counsellors, conducted by Whereto Research on our behalf
- online stakeholder forum.
Findings report and accompanying research reports
This report sets out our findings into the review of the family violence provisions in the Water Industry Standards.
Accompanying our findings report are two research reports that were commissioned as part of the review.