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Women seeking financial counselling on the increase
November 26, 2021
Emerge’s financial counselling service has been hard at it over the past year, and now that face to face services have resumed, the rise in the number of women seeking support has taken the organisation aback.
“We have been running our service on line throughout the pandemic but now restrictions have lifted, we have been surprised by the number of women in our accommodation and outreach services who are coming forward with credit concerns,” Paula Westhead, Executive Officer, said.
“It is almost as though a tap has turned on overnight.”
The revelations by Emerge are common to what other services are reporting. Up to 90 per cent of women fleeing family violence also experience economic abuse.
Emerge started its financial counselling service in 2017 after the organisation received money for a financial counsellor following a recommendation after the Royal Commission into Family Violence that women experiencing both economic abuse and family violence needed to be able access financial counselling as quickly as possible.
Headed by financial counsellor Lyn, the service involves women sitting with the counsellor to understand their debt situation. They are then informed about their rights regarding their debts.
“The majority of these women’s cases are complex, requiring advocacy and casework, Paula said.
Most cases are resolved due to the commitment by the Emerge service to advocate to banks for debts to be waived.
“This type of debt is known as coerced debt which is incurred by the perpetrator in the name of a victim of family volence through threat, force or fraud,” Paula said.
“Most women don’t know how much debt they are in until we order their credit report,” she added.
The debt can include car registration, credit cards, loans, contracts that they’ve been forced to sign, infringements, and utility debts.
“When someone experiences economic abuse, they can be financially constrained from leaving a violent relationship. And it may even mean in some circumstances, they end up returning to a violent relationship,” Paula said.
She said that part of the counselling and education run by Emerge was about raising awareness that financial abuse is violence.