The federal Department of Social Security utilises the “couple rule” when determining a domestic and family violence (DFV) survivor’s access to social security payments, thereby tying any payments for which the survivor could potentially be eligible to the income and assets of the perpetrator. Yet, independent social security resources could provide a vital lifeline to survivors attempting to free themselves from violence and abuse. Not only does the research show those who experience DFV are more likely to experience sustained poverty and disability, but in practice the couple rule is used as an intimidation tool for perpetrating economic dependence. Read more.

In this research report for Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), Dr Lydnal Sleep, Griffith University, finds that “it is usual” for a person subject to a couple rule decision by the Administrative Appeal Tribunal (AAT) in the context of DFV to be in a position where they are at risk of intersectional disadvantage, especially by belonging to one or more priority population groups, including culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) women; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women; older women; women with disability; women who are or have been incarcerated; lesbian, bisexual, intersex and transgender women; and women living in rural or remote areas.

Specific priority group experiences included: underrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, perhaps indicating a reluctance to seek a formal appeal of social security decisions; irregular access to interpretation services for CALD women when being interviewed about their relationships; and even that the couple rule has been successfully applied in cases of DFV within forced marriage.

Access the report.