Domestic abuse is a growing issue within Australia. We know that domestic abuse can affect anyone, although it does disproportionately affect women. Domestic abuse can also occur across postcodes and socioeconomic divides.
Domestic abuse can take the form of economic or financial abuse, and it can have serious financial consequences.
Recent research has highlighted that women seeking to escape domestic abuse are often faced between a choice of poverty or violence.
Reaching out for help with your credit health may end up improving your credit situation, but this can be a challenge, as having to also tell someone you’re a victim of abuse can make things even harder.
Where someone is experiencing financial abuse, research undertaken by the Centre for Women’s Economic Safety also tells us that they are more likely to seek help from their bank than they were from a domestic and family violence service.
We understand how complex and challenging it can be for someone who is a victim/ victim-survivor to disentangle their finances from the perpetrator. It can be stressful, time-consuming and costly, and it can feel like an extension of the abuse that has been experienced, or may be ongoing.
Increasingly, the credit industry is recognising that it has an important role to play in helping to make the system work to support victims/ victim-survivors. This means understanding better what financial abuse is and how it impacts credit reporting, how to better support victim/ victim-survivors including providing clear explanations about the impact on credit reports, how this impact can be lessened and how to take control of their credit health.
CreditSmart have put together some tips for navigating the credit system for victims/ victim-survivors:
- Firstly, it is critical to acknowledge that for a victim/ victim-survivor, navigating the credit system is but one small part of dealing with the domestic abuse. We understand how hard it may be for a victim or victim-survivor to recognise that they may be experiencing domestic abuse and even harder still to take steps to protect themselves – whether or not it means leaving the abusive relationship. In all instances, it is recommended to always first seek out proper support from trained professionals.
- We strongly recommend that victims or victim-survivors avoid using a credit repair agent (also known as debt management firms) to help them deal with their situation. Credit repair will charge for services which victims or victim-survivors can access themselves for free. Credit repair may also not put victims or victim-survivors in touch with domestic abuse support services, and so they may not be aware of the wide-range of free support that is available to them.
- Where victims or victim-survivors have concerns about their credit – whether it is credit in their name only but taken out by the perpetrator, or they have joint credit with a perpetrator – they can let their credit provider know about these concerns. Many credit providers have support teams or people who have training and experience in dealing with domestic abuse. What a victim or victim-survivor tells their credit provider should be treated as sensitive information.
Click here for further information which helps to explain how domestic abuse may impact different parts of a credit report, and what options exist to tackling this- such as seeking hardship assistance, or having information corrected or removed.
The National Debt Helpline has also put together additional suggestions for dealing with financial abuse, which includes protecting your money and assets, protecting yourself getting further debt, taking care with joint accounts and seeking advice on existing debts – which may include making a financial hardship arrangement.