finance

'I work with survivors of financial abuse. They all have 3 things in common.'

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Thanks to our brand partner, CommBank

Financial abuse is one of the most common forms of domestic violence in Australia. 

In fact, up to nine in 10 people who seek help for domestic and family violence are affected by this form of intimate partner abuse. 

Common signs include controlling a partner's spending, controlling bank account access, taking out debt in a partner’s name without their consent, and sabotaging employment opportunities (among many, many more). 

Financial abuse can have a long-term emotional and financial impact on victim-survivors. 

One of the services available to help victim-survivors get back on their feet financially is the Financial Independence Hub — delivered by Good Shepherd and funded by CommBank Next Chapter, a bank-wide commitment to help end financial abuse. 

The Hub was designed in conjunction with people who have experienced this form of abuse first-hand to ensure it delivers the right support in the right way.

Through the Hub, people impacted by financial abuse have access to free and confidential specialist one-on-one financial coaching to help build confidence and capability in managing their own finances, with referrals to support services and, where appropriate, access to financial solutions like interest-free loans. 

Good Shepherd's Emma Buccat is a financial coach who speaks with victim-survivors every day about how to become financially independent again. She says there are three common challenges that victim-survivors of financial abuse have in common:

1. Debt. 

"Our participants are coming to us with a lot of debt from their previous relationship and they are struggling to manage them," Buccat explains. 

"Obviously that causes a lot of stress for them and it can often have them in financial hardship because these are debts they really can't afford.

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"It makes it really hard to focus on the future when you have these debts over your head from the past," the financial coach says, adding many of the debts are loans that were taken out in their name by an ex-partner. 

That's exactly why services like Good Shepherd's Financial Independence Hub exist. Through one-on-one financial coaching and other support, the Hub helps participants to build capability in managing their finances.

2. Confidence. 

Lack of financial confidence is another major challenge for many victim-survivors. One of their biggest hurdles can be around knowing how to manage their money now that they're in control of their own financial decision-making again, Buccat says.

"There's people that haven't paid bills for years. They haven't paid rent or mortgage or general groceries. So that's where, as coaches, we work with our participants to build goals and actions, and work through different tools that are going to build that confidence."

The goal for the Hub is to ensure that participants have the confidence to know how to manage their money independently, how to budget and how to save. 

3. Ongoing legal issues. 

Ongoing legal issues, such as settlement of property, can often be a major long-term challenge for victim-survivors. 

"We find that this is one area where domestic and family violence, and financial abuse can continue for years after separation," Buccat explains. 

"As financial coaches, our focus is to ensure our participants are linked with the correct legal services and continue to follow up and make sure that they're receiving the support that they need.

"That's a really important part of the Hub: we focus on creating that holistic support by linking them with the external services where appropriate."

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So, what can life look like on the other side of financial abuse?

Whilst these challenges are significant, they’re also not insurmountable. 

The Financial Independence Hub is aimed at helping clients get back on their feet, and financial coaches will often refer those with debt onto other support services — like independent financial counsellors — who can advocate for debts to be waived given the context of the individual's situation. 

"We've seen thousands of dollars of debt waived for our participants where loans have been taken out in their name by coercion and they've had no benefit of the loan," Buccat says. 

"This means they are able to focus on the future and the money that's coming in is solely for them – they're not trying to also pay off debt from the past.

"Just not having that stress of having debt that you can't afford makes such a big difference."

Seeing the renewed confidence in victim-survivors has been one of the most rewarding elements of working for the Hub. 

"They leave being able to manage day-to-day finances with confidence. We've had participants save a lot of money and generally have less fear around money and less anxiety around paying a bill or going grocery shopping."

If you have experienced financial abuse and are ready to plan for your future, contact the Financial Independence Hub for free and confidential support on 1300 050 150, Monday to Friday, 7am to 7pm (AEST) excluding public holidays.

In an emergency, or if you're not feeling safe, always call 000. For immediate crisis support relating to domestic violence or sexual abuse, you can call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732.

Feature Image: Getty. 

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CommBank Next Chapter is helping end financial abuse, no matter who you bank with.