When Jane* wanted to leave her abusive relationship along with her four-month-old baby she didn’t know if it would be possible because she had no identification documents and she didn’t have a bank account.
Her partner had burnt all her ID documents, including her birth certificate - and without a bank account she had no access to money in order to leave.
Westpac frontline banker Sandy was referred the case through Women’s Refuge where Jane had sought help for a way out.
Sandy, an Extra Care Specialist at Westpac, helps customers who are victims of family domestic violence and is able to set up bank accounts for them without any identification documents.
“Westpac has been able to open bank accounts for victims without identification documents for almost a year, but so far not many referrals have come through. We would love for more people to be aware of this, so we can help more vulnerable people through our Extra Care Programme,” Sandy said.
Westpac can set up a bank account and allow a certain period of time following that account opening to secure the other documents required. This allows victims to receive Work and Income (WINZ) payments or other income to leave their situation.
“In Jane’s case, we used a letter from Women’s Refuge to confirm her address and communicated with her via her case worker, so her partner couldn’t intercept our communication and find out she was leaving the relationship,” Sandy said.
“Once we opened her bank account, she was able to go into a Westpac branch to pick up her EFTPOS card and receive money from WINZ. This allowed her to leave her partner and the abusive household.”
These accounts are subject to Westpac’s internal compliance procedures to ensure all the appropriate checks have been completed.
The Extra Care Specialist said Jane later requested a new birth certificate that was sent to Women’s Refuge.
Westpac staff helped her with the $55 she needed for a Kiwi Access Card (18+) for ID and also bought her a phone from The Warehouse because her phone was broken.
“She’s now living safely with her baby and has expressed to me over email how happy she is.
“We want to make sure other victims in this situation know there’s a way out and that we can help alongside organisations like Shine and Women’s Refuge to get people on a new path,” Sandy said.
Women’s Refuge Partnership Advisor, Casey Scott, said one of the many barriers for leaving an abusive relationship was perpetrators withholding access to money, cards, bank accounts or identity documents.
“Often when women leave their abusive partner, they leave with nothing but the clothes on their back.
“Packing identity documentation or bank cards are not at top of mind or possible when leaving home quickly.
“With banks such as Westpac making it easier for women to leave violent relationships to have financial independence, it breaks down the obstacles for women wanting to build lives free from violence,” Scott said.
Holly Carrington, from domestic abuse organisation Shine, said they had supported women trying to leave their abusive partners who had never had bank cards. Many had got into their relationships when they were young and their partners had not given them any access to their finances.
"Being able to set up a new bank account in these situations can be the difference between a pathway to safety and independence, versus returning to an abusive partner because there is no other way to feed and house themselves and their children,” she said.
Westpac’s dedicated family and domestic violence workstream started in April 2020, when the first nationwide lockdown created an increase in customers seeking financial support due to family violence.
Westpac’s Extra Care Programme Lead, Louisa, said staff are in a position to pick up on signals where customers are potentially experiencing violence and can work with organisations to help respond.
“We all need to play a bigger role in the community effort needed to end violence. I’ve spoken to customers who have suffered domestic violence who have been connected to organisations like Shine, Good Shephard and Gandhi Nivas to understand how the bank can help. We also help victims who may have a joint account with an ex that is still tying them to the relationship, among other examples of financial abuse.
“And stories like that of Jane show how we can really make a difference. We want anyone else who is suffering to know they have options,” Louisa said.
Other projects under the family and domestic violence initiative have included training Westpac’s customer-facing teams in how to deal with vulnerable customers facing abuse and staff monitoring any abuse that might show up in electronic payments, such as threatening messages that are written alongside transactions.
Westpac’s website also includes an untraceable ‘Shielded Site’ for access to Women’s Refuge through the online tool, that is confidential and leaves no digital footprint on a device.
Westpac has collaborated with Shine to develop an anti-domestic violence policy to help keep their employees safe.
More information about how Westpac can help can be found on their website: Domestic and Family Violence | Westpac NZ.
*Name changed for privacy