Up to 70,000 women may have been forced to withdraw their pensions

However, Minister for Women‘s Pensions and Economic Security, Jane Hume, said the Australian Revenue Service, which ran the scheme, “is not aware of anyone who has access to the early release scheme. under duress”.

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She said the tax office considered compliance and fraud risks for a wide range of scenarios, including how to support victims of financial abuse.

“The ATO also assessed a number of risk factors to identify requests that were potentially not made by the individual. The ATO flagged these requests with super funds, allowing them to do additional checks before any payments were made,” she said.

“Early release was a lifeline for millions of Australians when they needed financial security the most.”

The Financial Rights Legal Centre’s director of case processing, Alexandra Kelly, described the program as “frictionless” as it was easy to access and applications could be made online.

“You can have someone who’s been pushed and forced and there’s no one there who’s seen that, and they can access it relatively easily and quickly. It’s hard to relax afterwards,” he said. she declared.

“One client I had looked at whether or not there would be phone records because she was yelled at while it was happening, but even that is hard to establish.”

Mel Birks, AIST’s chief advocacy officer, said the superannuation had not historically been the target of financial abuse as it was locked in until retirement – unlike bank loans or Centrelink benefits – but the early release program “opened the doors to this kind of abusive behavior”.

She described the situation as a “perfect storm” that would affect women throughout their lives.

Women already have less retirement pensions than men due to pay gaps and time spent caring for children, and those in abusive relationships or victims of coercive control are likely to have them. even less.

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“It really takes them back to where their grandmothers were, which is no pension in their 30s and potentially into their 40s. I think that’s a really concerning result,” Ms Birks said.

Ms Glenn said the forthcoming national plan to reduce violence against women and children currently being drawn up by the government offered an opportunity to review systems such as access to pensions.

Labor superannuation spokesman Stephen Jones acknowledged the early release scheme was “a one-time event where you process literally hundreds of thousands of applications in a week”, but said the guidelines seemed to prioritize speed over safety.

“On an ongoing basis, we need to ensure that there are safety mechanisms and checks in place so that women are not coerced by an abusive partner into handing over their savings,” he said.

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