Family violence: the start of our journey
Energy and water concerns are not front of mind when you think of family violence, but they can exacerbate an already traumatic situation by increasing debt and financial vulnerability.
How EWON and energy and water providers respond to customers experiencing family violence has a very real impact. An empathetic and knowledgeable voice over the phone can alleviate stress and open up a conversation that leads to achievable mutual short-term and sometimes, long term solutions, including referrals to support organisations.
Family violence is a significant customer circumstance which exacerbates vulnerability and can create a nearly impenetrable barrier to engagement with energy and water providers. So when a customer breaks through that barrier, it requires a special approach in order to establish fair and reasonable outcomes.
The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) announced its fourth National Action Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022, and stated that responsibility for the prevention of violence against women must move from being the focus of a small but dedicated specialist sector, to become a core priority for all industries and all areas of government.
Governments, corporations and social service organisations across Australia are now mobilising with new resolve and a vision for generational change to stop domestic and family violence. This response to family violence is relatively new and positively, energy and water companies have expressed a commitment to learn from each other’s experience and share understanding of best practice.
Given our role in resolving disputes between energy and water providers and consumers, it is essential that we contribute to this important societal change. This is why we developed EWON’s approach to dealing with Family Violence. Of note, while the statistics reflect that women and children are most affected, we are also very conscious that men, husbands, brothers, and sons can also be targets of family violence.
Economic abuse in the context of utilities
High debt is often a consequence of economic abuse. Research indicates it is common for an abusive partner to control utilities as a means to manipulate, control or punish their family, including by cutting off energy or water.
Those living in a violent situation may also incur debt because they have limited capacity to contact their energy or water provider. Others who have escaped via relocations may be overwhelmed by being confronted with paying household bills for the first time or are afraid of discovery of their new address. When actually gaining the courage to reach out to their energy or water provider, it is usually at the point of disconnection or debt collection.
Safety and privacy
When dealing with customers who indicate, explicitly or implicitly, that family violence should be considered, we seek to identify:
- the best and safest method for us to communicate
- whether it is safe to phone them or leave a voicemail message
- if it is safe to email.
We also ensure we:
- do not disclose the customer’s contact details
- handle contact information securely
- allocate a dedicated Investigations Officer to minimise the need for customers to repeat information; and
- protect the safety and wellbeing of our staff.
What we’ve achieved so far
We have worked with experts and drawn on the experience of similar organisations to ensure our staff are equipped to assist customers dealing with this complex and challenging issue. In developing our approach, we:
- engaged the specialist family violence trainers, Uniting (formerly Kildonan Uniting Care), to provide training for our Leadership Team and frontline staff
- identified family violence referral agencies
- worked with subject matter experts to support its development
- ran in-house training on our Position Statement
- identified e-learning modules to provide ongoing support for Investigation Officers and new staff
- openly recognise that some of our staff are directly impacted by family violence and have policies and support in place to assist them.
We are committed to monitoring and improving the effectiveness of our response over time – we have only just started this important journey.