Expert Opinion Panel
Jason Bryce – Business & Finance Specialist
Which banks will help me leave my abusive husband?
In a big step forward for women (and men) who are escaping abusive relationships, some banks have now committed to helping victims untangle their finances and free themselves from their abuser
By Jason Bryce | 26 November 2016
Melbourne based single mum, Andy
…had an interesting week this week
Melbourne based single mum, Andy (not her real name), had an interesting week this week. On Tuesday she read that lots of Australia’s banks have now committed to support victims of financial abuse. The banks are recognising, at long last, what single parents already know, that financial abuse is a form of domestic violence and can continue long after the relationship is over.
That was great news, said Andy, who knows all about financial abuse and domestic violence from personal experience.
However, then, on Thursday this week, her old bank that she no longer uses rang to ask her to pay a new overdraft on a joint account she had not used since her marriage broke down, eight years ago.
“I have tried to close that account, signed the forms, and even offered to pay the overdraft that I didn’t create, just to escape,” said Andy.
“But that’s not enough, the other person must also sign to end the account and there is the sticking point.”
Andy’s former partner won’t sign to end the account. If Andy pays the overdraft off, the partner will spend the credit again and the bank will end up, again, chasing Andy.
Andy is a victim of financial abuse. The relationship is over, but the abuser won’t give up. And to Andy the role of the bank has been to effectively support and profit from the financial abuse.
That’s a very different outcome to that promised by this week’s release of new industry guidelines on financial abuse.
Bank customers who experience financial abuse as a result of family and domestic violence will now be better supported by banks, said the Australian Bankers’ Association, thanks to new voluntary industry guidelines.
“Domestic violence is a serious community issue,” said the ABA’s Diane Tate, “Customers affected by domestic violence can experience abuse of their finances and it is important that banks do everything possible to minimise the burden on these customers when they are dealing with their bank.
What is financial abuse?
Financial abuse is a form of family violence that undermines the victim’s efforts to become financially independent. Financial abuse is about power and control and often occurs with other forms of violence. It can continue long after an individual has left an abusive partner.
Women are most likely to suffer financial abuse in relationships said the ABA, based on university research and most have children in their care.
The ABA says financial abuse includes:
- Controlling money, bank accounts, cards, records and/or the ability to work and study.
- Withholding or threatening to withhold reasonable financial support
- Coercing a partner to relinquish control over assets, or take out a loan or credit card, or guarantee a loan.
- Making all the decisions over household expenditure and joint property.
- Using money or debts to prevent a person leaving an abusive relationship.
- Demanding justification for all expenditure.
- Using another person’s details to obtain credit. (Plus that’s fraud).
Many single mums will not be surprised to learn that many ex-partners use banks and the courts to prolong financial abuse. The good news is that the banks now recognise this. They say this ongoing financial abuse of ex-wives (mainly) includes:
- Ex-husbands not paying their fair share of joint debts.
- Dragging out property settlements until joint debts are defaulted upon.
- Causing single mums to declare bankruptcy because of relationship debts.
Diane said common forms of financial abuse include:
- Being forced to take out a credit card or loan in your name
- Having money taken from your account.
How your bank can help you fight financial abuse
If you think you are a victim of financial abuse, you should disclose this to your bank as soon as possible. Don’t be ashamed to admit to the bank what is going on. Bank staff are now supposed to identify financial abuse victims and act to support them.
“It can be very difficult for customers to disclose the abuse,” say the guidelines, so bank staff are expected to be sensitive to the emotional stress of people who may be dealing with financial abuse. And that includes people in current relationships, that may be presenting together at a branch to apply for a loan or other product.
Importantly, you don’t need to provide evidence of the abuse or copies of intervention orders, apprehended violence orders or family court settlements to the bank before they will help you.
Once identified as a possible financial abuse victim, you can expect the bank to:
- Take care of your contact details, including your new address, and not reveal that information to your ex-partner, even if they still hold a joint account with you.
- Providing copies of any documents you need free of charge.
- Help you contact specialist domestic violence support if you need that.
- Offer you fast-tracked and flexible hardship arrangements to help you deal with joint debts.
Which banks have signed up to assist financial abuse victims?
As Andy found out this week, not all banks, credit unions, building societies and other lenders have signed up to the new financial abuse guidelines.
The Australian Banker’s Association says the guidelines are voluntary but have been developed with, and supported by, their member banks.
Banks that are members of the ABA are:
Bank of China (in Australia)
Bank of Queensland
Bank of Sydney
Bendigo and Adelaide Bank
National Australia Bank
Many of Australia’s other big financial institutions are represented by the Customer Owned Banking Association. COBA doesn’t have any guidelines for helping customers who are experiencing or escaping from financial abuse.
A spokesman for COBA told Singlemum.com.au that their member banks and credit unions follow a Code of Practice which “sets high standards for serving customers and their communities.”
“As we say in the code, our service will be tailored to any special circumstances we become aware of, so that we can support customers in times of financial difficulty or great personal distress.”
The COBA code makes no mention of financial abuse specifically beyond a general statement that staff should “try to assist you if you find yourself in financial difficulties.”
The COBA spokesman said: “Beyond the Code, the issue of financial abuse is a very serious matter and the sector is extremely supportive of staff and customers who may be at risk or dealing with financial abuse.”
Business & Finance Journalist
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Jason is a business and finance journalist with 20 years experience, and is also a member of the SingleMum.com.au Expert Opinion Panel. He has a regular weekly column in the Sunday Mail (Brisbane) and writes regularly for the Business Daily section of the Herald Sun in Melbourne and many other newspapers and magazines. Read Jason Bryce’s full profile here
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