Australians unaware that perpetrators of family and domestic violence can use insurance policies to cause further harm

25 November 2021

Trigger warning – Potentially disturbing content: If you suspect that you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, call the National Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline at 1800 737 732 or 1800RESPECT.

  • To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Allianz Australia has commissioned new research by YouGov revealing that many Australians do not have a complete understanding of the risks associated with insurance products in situations of family violence (78 per cent).
  • Two in five (41 per cent) Australians surveyed by YouGov are unsure of why they would need to notify their insurer if they were in a family violence situation.
  • This follows Allianz partnering with the Gendered Violence Research Network (GVRN) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) to undertake a study to understand how Allianz can better support victims who are in a family and domestic violence situation.

Family and domestic violence has intensified as a result of the pandemic (Violence against women during covid 19), however Australians are largely unaware that abuse can take the form of their insurance policies being manipulated by perpetrators of family violence. This year’s theme for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is: “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!”. Like in previous years, this year's International Day will mark the launch of 16 days of activism that will conclude on 10 December 2020, which is International Human Rights Day.

To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Allianz Australia has commissioned new research by YouGov (research commissioned between 2 November and 6 November) that reveals more than three quarters (78 per cent) of the Australians surveyed are not aware or are completely unaware of the risks posed to victims when insurance is manipulated to inflict harm.

According to the Champions of Change Coalition (Playing Our Part: A Framework for Workplace Action on Domestic and Family Violence), it takes an average of seven attempts to leave an abusive relationship and costs $18,000, revealing the financial burden victims face when trying to leave a perpetrator. While the Australians surveyed by YouGov are largely aware that home loans and joint banking accounts (85 per cent) or technology (89 per cent) can be used to inflict harm in situations of family violence, there is significantly lower understanding when it comes to insurance (70 per cent).

Despite 3 in 5 (61 per cent) Australians surveyed feeling concerned that perpetrators of family violence may manipulate insurance policies or insurance claims as a form of abuse, 20 per cent of Australians surveyed were unsure how this can occur. Australians surveyed did not realise that insurance can be used to inflict financial and emotional harm by a partner named on the policy demanding half of the claims settlement even after they have moved out (51 per cent), impersonating someone to find out personal information (51 per cent), intentionally damaging someone's property (47 per cent), and cancelling a policy without the other party knowing (44 per cent). To add, 43 per cent are unaware their insurance policy can be changed without their consent if a family member or ex-partner is still listed on the policy.

Sema Musson, General Manager, Conduct and Customer Advocacy from Allianz Australia said, “Victims of family and domestic violence are already dealing with immense vulnerability and pressure, and the pandemic has only intensified this. Our research has shown that some Australians do not understand the risks to their insurance in a family violence situation, and that leaves people who are already vulnerable open to further harm. We want to ensure people feel safe, supported and informed in relation to their insurance, and this needs to start with understanding and then educating others.”

To understand how the insurance industry can better support victims who are experiencing family or domestic violence, Allianz partnered with GVRN at UNSW to examine the current environment in Australia on how insurance may be used to abuse and to strengthen its support for vulnerable customers. The study was commissioned by Allianz and conducted by Professor Jan Breckenridge from the Gendered Violence Research Network (GVRN) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). The research included desktop research of best practice in relation to organisational responses to family violence, quality assurance of de-identified Allianz High Care case files as well as employee interviews and process reviews.

The Understanding Family Violence and Risks of Insurance report (PDF, 1.3 MB) explores the understanding of the risks of insurance and services as means of abuse in family or domestic violence settings. Using these insights, Allianz has created a toolkit for separating from your partner (PDF, 802 KB) detailing the steps for Australians to consider with regards to their insurance when separating from a partner or experiencing family violence.

Professor Jan Breckenridge from GVRN at UNSW, and lead researcher on this project, said, “Over the last decade, domestic and family violence has become more widely recognised not only as a community issue but also as an issue of relevance to organisations, workplaces and customers. This report uncovers how insurance has been used as a form of abuse with the key risks identified for victims.”

“The lack of knowledge and understanding of how insurance can be used to inflict harm can make it confusing for victims and third-parties trying to support those seeking safety from a perpetrator. With these key factors in mind, it is important to educate ourselves on all the risks victims could face, financially, physically and emotionally, and this includes the use of insurance to inflict harm.

Sema Musson added, “A home or a car are often people’s most important financial assets, and we need to ensure there is information and specialist support available to help victims protect these assets so they’re not left financially ruined by perpetrators. As an insurer, we want to take proactive steps to not only make changes in line with the General Insurance Code of Practice, but also to educate people on how to protect their highly valued assets. Between intentionally damaging a property or vehicle or a perpetrator attempting to derive a financial entitlement from a claim – there is a role for Allianz to inform Australians of potential risks as well as how to support victims who find themselves in an insurance abuse situation.”

While the majority of Australians surveyed are largely unaware of how insurance can inflict harm, 95 per cent believe insurers need to do more to help protect those suffering from family violence. Australians surveyed would like to see insurers implement new measures such as creating a toolkit to understand what you can do to protect your insurance in family violence circumstances (44 per cent) and establishing a high care / specialist team to treat every family or domestic violence case with sensitivity and flexibility (38 per cent).

To view the full Understanding Family Violence and Risks of Insurance report and toolkit outlining steps to take in relation to insurance when separating from a partner, visit our family violence support page.

What to do about your insurance in situations of family violence:

  • Contact your insurer and notify us of your situation.
  • If it is safe to do so, discuss how you will separate your policies from your partner/family member.
  • Ask your insurer whether there is any additional support that they are able to provide in relation to your insurance.
  • Seek independent legal advice.
The research was commissioned by Allianz and conducted by YouGov Plc. The survey was conducted online with a nationally representative sample of 1,038 Australians and was carried out between 2 - 6 November. All data was post-weighted by age, gender and region to reflect the latest population estimates.
The Gendered Violence Research Network is a joint initiative of UNSW Arts, Design & Architecture and UNSW Law & Justice. The network unites UNSW’s significant domestic and international research expertise to respond, prevent and end gendered violence in Australia and beyond.
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