21 April 2020

Small ABC loans are making a huge difference to family violence victims

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Care Financial director Carmel Franklin and Mirjana Wilson, the Domestic Violence Crisis Service CEO, at celebrations marking two years of microfinance loans for domestic and family violence survivors. Photos: Region Media

Sometimes a little well-timed cash can go a long, long way, and nobody knows that better than Assistance Beyond Crisis, which is celebrating two successful years of micro-finance loans for victims of family violence in the ACT.

Managed by Care Financial Counselling Service in collaboration with Service One Alliance Bank, the idea is simple: to provide interest-free loans for people who have experienced and left a domestic or family violence situation.

There are no fees or charges and the loans are aimed at people with moderate incomes who may be ineligible for other assistance.

The maximum amount is $5000, and that often goes towards keeping a vehicle on the road, paying a rental bond, recovering goods in storage or other costs associated with leaving a violent home. There’s a 12 to 36 month repayment period and the loan can’t be used to pay outstanding debts or arrears.

“It’s the cost of a new life,” Carmel Franklin from Care Financial says. “People come to us with very complex life situations, and sometimes they will need financial counselling first. They may be struggling with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, they may need to pay legal fees. This is more than a loans program.”

The Domestic Violence Crisis Service has been part of the initiative since its inception and its CEO Mirjana Wilson says the ABC program recognises that domestic and family violence can affect the whole community.

“There’s a misconception that family violence doesn’t touch everyone – when we absolutely know that it does,” Mirjana says. “You think it happens to other people, not people I know or work with or who live next door.”

There’s a focus on people who earn more than $51,000 per annum and may therefore not meet the criteria for low-income safety nets, but are still struggling to keep a roof above their heads and a safe family. The ABC loans program calls them “the missing middle”.

Georgina Byron from the Snow Foundation, who were founding donors for the ABC Loans program.

Founding steering committee member Georgina Byron from the Snow Foundation says the catalyst for initiating ABC Loans was “compelling and confronting research” showing that the vast majority of people experiencing domestic and family violence in the ACT were also experiencing financial abuse.

A quarter of these victims were also left responsible for debts incurred by their partners, while a substantial number of people became homeless at some time within the first year of leaving a violent domestic situation because of financial pressure.

“Money was a key fact why people feel they have no choice about staying in abusive relationships,” Ms Byron said.

Marcia Williams from the Women’s Centre for Health Matters, ABC loans committee members Colleen McGrory (Service One) and Melissa Cabban (Genfocus), Peta Thomas and Leena Hirani from the Snow Foundation at the two-year celebrations.

The ABC Loans program came from a series of workshops run by the ACT government in consultation with the Domestic Violence Crisis Service and the Women’s Centre for Health Matters. The central notion was that a helping hand at the right time could ensure that victims did not return to violent relationships because they had no other choices.

Business and community leaders came together to give almost $300,000 in loan funding. Ms Byron thanked Service One, Beyond Bank, Deborah and Richard Rolfe, Deloittes, Snow Foundation, Ernst & Young, PWC, KPMG, Independent, Hands Across Canberra, Aspen Medical, Dr Tony Tongs, Communities at Work, and the Funding Network among others for “coming together and owning this issue for our local community”.

Find more about ABC Loans and how you can either apply for a loan or help at the Assistance Beyond Crisis website.


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