Domestic violence grant program plagued by problems
Victim-survivors can access up to $1,500 in cash and the balance in other financial support for goods and services. The government extended the plan for three more years in the March budget and added $40 million to the current fiscal year.
UnitingCare was contracted by the Department of Social Services to administer the program nationwide. Wesley Mission is contracted to facilitate it in NSW and the ACT.
“Demoralizing and paternalistic”
DVNSW conducted a survey of its members in April, in which 89% said they had problems with the process, including receiving vouchers instead of cash, which one service provider described as “demoralizing and paternalistic “.
“A good Kmart is useless. [It] cannot be used online. Customers have the right to choose. Give them an EFTPOS card or a Visa debit card,” says another in the report.
Another response noted that it took three months to receive payment from a customer, due to ongoing communication issues: “The result was that the customer was offered a cash payment of $1,000 and a $500 grocery voucher.”
The report also claims that the DVNSW has received reports of a $1,000 administration fee being charged to a minority of women by Wesley Mission, even though all costs are covered by the government.
“Underlying systemic issues [remain]despite continued feedback and advocacy with UnitingCare, DSS and Minister Ruston,” the report said.
In a statement on behalf of the UnitingCare Network Consortium, Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said the organization is actively responding to feedback from consumers and support agencies.
Pike denied any claims of waiving administration fees and capping payments at $4,000.
“Individual payments may vary, but all customers are eligible to receive the full $5,000,” she said.
“EVP is only one option available and is designed to complement existing programs. This has highlighted the need for a greater choice of support for people leaving abusive relationships.
Seven Day Response Goal
Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said the government was committed to setting a seven-day response target for the continued roll-out of the scheme.
“We established this payment as a trial to undergo independent review because it is something that has never been done before, and we want to ensure that the parameters meet the needs of people fleeing abusive relationships,” a- she declared.
“This includes how we make payments, whether in cash or in kind.”
Tania Whitehouse, director of the Macarthur Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service, said navigating the program had been complex, but she praised the federal government for its initiatives.
Whitehouse said she believed the NSW Network of Courts Defense Services would have been a more suitable operator to administer the scheme.
“Fund the services that are already doing the work. Fund them at the level they should be because we are all drowning in work.
If you or someone you know is affected by sexual assault or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.
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