HESTA calls for access to super for family violence victims

Industry super fund HESTA is calling on the Federal Government to change the rules and allow family violence victims and survivors access to their superannuation.

The fund, along with others in the community sector including Financial Counselling Australia, is proposing that victims and survivors of family violence be able to access up to $10,000 of their super under compassionate grounds.

HESTA chief executive Debby Blakey said urgent action is needed. In Australia at least one woman a week on average per year is killed by a partner or former partner.

"Finances are too often a barrier for women trying to leave a violent relationship and, unfortunately, financial support for survivors of family violence is grossly inadequate," Blakey said.

"We think it's entirely appropriate that super regulations extend compassion to victims and survivors of family violence to empower women with the financial means to escape abusive relationships."

Blakey added responsibility for improving financial and other family violence support services rests with all levels of government and accessing super should be an interim 'band-aid' measure.

"We urgently need a nationally coordinated response to family violence. While it's encouraging that the Victorian State Government now provides financial support of around $7000, having the financial capacity to leave a violent relationship shouldn't depend on where you live in Australia," Blakey said.

"Women already retire with almost half the super of men, and they shouldn't have to use their super for this purpose. But family violence is one of the rare situations in which short-term financial needs are more compelling than the need to preserve superannuation for retirement."

Early access to superannuation is currently provided to those experiencing severe financial hardship including assisting members with funeral and medical expenses, or preventing a bank from selling a member's home. To qualify, members are required to have been receiving 26 weeks of continuous Centrelink payments.

According to HESTA, many victims or survivors of family violence may not meet this eligibility requirement and/or may need to access funds urgently.

Under HESTA's proposed changes to compassionate grounds, a victim or survivor of family violence seeking the early release of their super would need to provide certification from a recognised family violence social worker or organisation attesting they are experiencing a situation of family violence.

Blakey said that it was important that early access to super only occur where it is the most appropriate financial option.

"We are consulting with expert service providers about how best to implement this, as we're advocating money is only provided in the context of family violence victims and survivors receiving appropriate, specialist financial counselling and support," Blakey said.

"We want to ensure there are adequate safeguards in place, while allowing for the release of urgently needed money in a timely manner. We also want to make sure any proposed change doesn't take place undue administrative burdens on already stretched service providers."

HESTA has over 820,000 members, of which 80% are women, and manages more than $40 billion of members' assets.

Read more: Family ViolenceHESTASuperannuationFederal GovernmentEarly accessDebby BlakeyFinancial Counselling AustraliaCentrelinkFinancial hardshipDomestic Violence
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