Australia’s most comprehensive and innovative financial abuse online training program was launched today by Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, at the 2015 National NILS Conference in Sydney.
Good Shepherd Microfinance’s Women and Money: An Introduction to Financial Abuse will be rolled out to the 1,500 workers and volunteers in the No Interest Loans Scheme (NILS) to help them identify financial abuse among clients and make appropriate referrals to support services.
Financial abuse is a form of family violence that negatively impacts a person financially and undermines their efforts to become economically independent.
“It’s estimated that two million women in Australia have experienced financial abuse, yet awareness of the issue is so low that many women who have experienced financial abuse don’t identify themselves as victims,” said Minister Cash.
“We’re hearing from the community sector, that cases of financial abuse are becoming more and more apparent and it usually indicates there’s other forms of family violence going on,” said Minister Cash.
Chair of Good Shepherd Microfinance, Dr Christine Nixon APM, said the financial conversations NILS workers have with their clients gave them a unique opportunity to identify financial abuse and refer them to family violence support services.
“A borrower is unlikely to identify financial abuse as the reason for their loans, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t – we want our network to know the tell-tale signs of financial abuse and to have the confidence and skills to raise the issue,” said Dr Nixon.
“When victims of financial abuse come in for a loan we have the chance to be the circuit breaker – to address the issue and steer them towards appropriate support services. Importantly, access to affordable credit goes a long way in supporting these women to rebuild their confidence.
“One of the top five reasons women stay with violent partners relates to finance, so by tackling financial abuse we’re also addressing family violence more broadly,” said Dr Nixon.
Good Shepherd Microfinance has plans for the training module beyond its own network of microfinance workers.
“Banks, telcos, and utility companies all have hardship teams dealing with victims of financial abuse every day, whether they know it or not. Training these teams to look out for red flags that signal financial abuse would be a positive step,” Dr Nixon said.
Financial abuse may include, but is not limited to:
- not being allowed to work
- being coerced into signing loan documents
- having household debts being put in your name
- being denied access to a car and being held responsible for loan repayments
- having your name on a contract but being denied access to the service
Women and Money: An Introduction to Financial Abuse was developed by Good Shepherd Microfinance with the support of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and the Office of Women.
“Sue” and “Stephen” were together for five years and had one child together. They combined their individual car loans into one joint loan to reduce their overall repayments. When they separated, Stephen refused to contribute to the repayments, leaving Jennifer to service a debt over $18,000. Jennifer continued making payments in order to protect her credit record. Stephen has been unwilling to sign the car over to Jennifer despite her making all of the repayments. She isn’t even allowed access to this asset.
Although “Sarah” is a stay–at-home Mum, an arrangement she and her husband, a lawyer, agreed upon before having kids, she has stopped asking her husband about their finances because it has become a trigger for his anger. When questioned about his spending or their savings, Sarah’s husband becomes verbally abusive and threatening. He also scrutinises Sarah’s spending and humiliates her over spending choices in front of the children and other family members. He provides her with a very small allowance that barely covers groceries and essential items for the children and refuses to include her on major financial decisions, claiming she wouldn’t understand anyway.