There is a compelling case for extending existing compassionate provisions to allow victims and survivors of family violence early access to up to $10,000 of their superannuation.
While HESTA shares our industry’s strong commitment to preserving super for retirement, we also believe family violence is one of those rare situations where short-term financial needs are more compelling than longer-term considerations.
That’s why, in June, we called on the federal government to change regulations related to the early release of super on compassionate grounds, to allow victims and survivors of family violence to access up to $10,000 of their super as a last resort.
Family violence is no less compelling a need than existing grounds for early release of super. Superannuation may already be released early under a number of circumstances – including terminal illness – and on a range of compassionate grounds, such as the need to pay for a partner’s funeral, stop the family home from being re-possessed or afford
medical treatment for a chronic or life-threatening condition.
More than 80 per cent of HESTA’s 820,000 members are women who work in the health and community sector. We could not sit back knowing every year, on average, at least one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner. As a society, we need to do more about this and as a superannuation provider we believe we share in this responsibility.
The ‘best interests’ test
For us, it is not enough to limit our action to being a good corporate citizen providing leave and other support for our own people if they experience family violence. Given the statistics, it’s likely that thousands, if not tens of thousands, of our members may be directly affected by family violence.
In addition, many HESTA members are on the frontline, delivering services to victims and survivors of family violence, and see every day the enormous social impact it has on families and individuals.
As trustees, if we’re to act in the ‘best interests’ of members experiencing family violence, we need to consider their short-term need for safety from what could be a potentially life-threatening situation, and their longer-term recovery from this trauma.
We know finances are among the greatest barriers to leaving an abusive relationship. Financial abuse and control are almost always present in situations of family violence, yet current financial support for victims is woefully inadequate.
At HESTA, we strongly believe support for those affected by family violence is the responsibility of all levels of government.
The superannuation industry cannot fill this gap alone. Nor should it be up to individual women, who already retire with only close to half the super of men on average. Urgent action is needed to provide more options for those seeking safety and a life beyond violence and abuse.
A critical last resort
Accessing super should be an interim measure and another tool to stem the tragic loss of life. Super should be accessed only when there are no other appropriate financial options available and in the context of specialist financial advice and counselling.
If access to super can also help a victim or survivor of family violence recover, we think that’s going to be the best outcome for their long-term wellbeing, including their financial health.
We know victims and survivors of family violence have a higher vulnerability to poverty, homelessness, disadvantage and mental illness. For our members, the ability to remain connected to work and earning an income is their greatest asset and will mean they’re contributing to and increasing their super.
Finally, we understand that implementation of these measures requires careful consideration and appropriate safeguards. We are consulting with expert family violence service providers about the best way to achieve and implement change. We think it’s vital to bring together all levels of government, the superannuation industry and family violence and community groups to find the best way forward.
Family violence: If you or someone you know is affected by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.