Est. read time: 4 min
A lack of financial resources is one of the biggest reasons women return to abusive partners. Whilst you are still living at home collect the documents you need, open a bank account for yourself and securely deposit money. If you can, speak to the bank as soon as possible and ask them to help you do this discreetly.
Although most banks have published policies regarding personal accounts, mortgages and joint accounts, you may wish to speak with a support team member to ensure any changes you make are discreet. All of the major Australian banks now have teams to support people experiencing domestic violence.
Find the hardship support teams for each bank below:
For safety, ask the hardship support team to:
- Redirect contact from the bank to a secure email address or a friend’s address so that your partner cannot monitor your new activity
- Request that your statements are kept only online, or download the bank’s app to receive statements digitally so there is no paper record
- Make sure you change your passwords on your bank accounts and ensure that nobody else has access to your new username and password for your online banking platform.
Having your own bank account will limit your partner’s ability to observe and control your finances. Ask your bank to take extra precautions to make no links to your partners shared accounts. Follow these steps to set up your own bank account:
- Choose a bank.
- If you stay with your current provider, request a new account be set up in your name and to a unique customer account number. Use a new password that your partner can’t guess. If you choose to move banks the new bank will require additional ID and time to set up the profile. Some banks now offer online verification, however, others will let you set the account up online and then you will be required to visit the branch to verify your ID with your original documents. Read ‘what documents do I need’ at Yourtoolkit.com/1E to find out which documents you must provide to verify your identity.
- Choose an account type.
- speak to bank consultants about the best option for you
- Provide 100 points of identification.
- Applying for an account online or at the bank.
- ask for assurance that no communication will be sent to your home address
- use a new email that your partner doesn’t know to receive communications safely
The Good Shepherd Financial Independence Hub can assist you in navigating, opening and managing your own bank account. You can send them an enquiry or call them on 1300 050 150 (Mon – Fri, 9am – 5pm AEST). Interpreter services are available.
If you are opening an account as a new customer, you have to provide 100 points of identification. Different banks have different points guides but generally the following documentation, at least one of which must include your photograph, will help you reach the required 100 points:
- Primary Documents (70 points).
- original birth certificate, passport (current or expired within the previous two years, but not cancelled) or citizenship certificate
- Secondary documents (40-25 points).
- Australian Driver’s licence or learner’s permit, Australian firearms licence, public service ID card, a Commonwealth or state government benefit or concession cards, such as a pension card or social security card, tertiary education institution photo ID, working with Children/teachers registration card
- the first of these will give you 40 points, and any subsequent ones will give you 25 points
- Tertiary documents (25 points).
- Medicare card, union membership card, car registration, power or water bill, council rates notice, proof of age card (government-issued), property lease or rental agreement, record of any financial institution you have been a member of for at least 12 months or library card
You should also take:
- tax file number
- original birth certificate if you have changed your name
You may share a joint bank account with your partner where both parties can withdraw and deposit money. During separation you may wish to freeze (or hold) joint accounts to minimise risk, at this stage the bank will advise your partner so it is recommended that you have left and are safe prior to engaging with the banks. Follow these steps to safely freeze accounts:
- Withdraw money.
- freezing a joint account will suspend all withdrawals and the use of any credit cards linked to the account
- consider opening a private bank account or storing cash before freezing so you can sustain yourself for the immediate future
- Place a hold on the joint account.
- speak directly to the bank provider, and if you feel comfortable let them know the circumstance and that your safety can be jeopardised if they communicate with your partner
- if your account is “two to sign” your partner can’t access finances without your permission, if this is not the case, you will need to ask the bank to freeze the account
- Redirect Debits and Payments.
- cancel any direct debits that come out of the joint account (e.g. mobile phone plan), and where appropriate reinstate them on other accounts
- make sure that any automatic payments (credits) to the joint account made under your name (e.g. Centrelink or salary) are redirected to your new account
A hold may be lifted after the Bank receives a written agreement between you and your partner to do so or, for example, through a Family Court order that specifies what actions are to be taken on the account.
Note that your partner could also seek a hold on the account to prevent you from accessing funds. Make sure you have set up your personal account first. In the longer term, you will need to close the joint account.
Talk to your bank as early as possible to advise them of your situation and to learn about your options.
Longer-term banking matters
Once the separation is finalised, you and your former partner may close joint accounts. This process normally requires all signatories. This may also take some time, as all debts against the account need to be paid first (e.g. credit card debts). The general steps are:
- Both owners need to agree.
- if an agreement cannot be reached, then you may need a court order to settle the matter or simply maintain the hold on the account until an agreement can be reached
- Cancel all direct debits and credits.
- you and your former partner needs to cancel any direct debits and credits to the account
- Zero balance.
- pay off any overdrawn amount and decide how to divide the remaining account balance with your former partner, the balance must be zero before closing the account
- Advise the bank.
- request the account is closed with the bank, they will need to verify both owners’ identities, take note of the date and time you called and the name of the customer service officer you spoke to
- Put it in writing.
- follow up with a letter or email confirming your request, including your joint account details, both signatures, and details of your phone call. Ask for written confirmation that the account has been closed. Keep a copy of your letter
- the bank should confirm the joint account has been closed. This could be a letter or a final statement. If this does not arrive, follow up with the bank
For more information about joint accounts, see MoneySmart – Joint Accounts
For more information about cancelling credit cards, see MoneySmart – Credit Cards
If you hold other joint assets such as mortgages or loans with your former partner, you will need to advise the bank in writing that you are going through a separation and request notification if changes are made against them. In general, your bank will not make any changes including extending loans or changing limits on lines of credit without interviewing you and witnessing your signature to avoid the possibility of a forged signature.
Should there be a situation where you are a co-signatory for an existing credit line with the bank (such as a credit card), then it may be possible to limit your personal liability by talking with the bank and describing your situation.
Limited liability will only apply to commitments made by your ex-partner after the liability limit is put into place.
If your mortgage has a line of credit (that allows extra money to be borrowed against the mortgage) or a redraw facility (which allows money that has already been paid to be redrawn) you need to change the terms of your mortgage to ensure that two signatures are required to draw down against the mortgage.
Contact your bank, financial institution or mortgage broker to change the terms of your mortgage.
Once again, financial institution policies vary, so it is extremely important that you discuss this situation with your bank (or lender) to determine exactly what they can do to help you.
If you have lending products with a bank and are concerned about repayments, ask for a referral to the hardship team. It is important to contact the hardship team as early as possible, when it is safe to do so.
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