New Rule will help Australians fleeing family and domestic violence gain financial independence

Today, AUSTRAC announced a change to the AML/CTF customer ID and verification Rule to help people experiencing family and domestic violence. Under the rule, if a customer cannot produce their driver’s license or birth certificate, or show a different address, banks and other regulated businesses can use alternative ways to verify their customer’s identity.

Financial abuse is a form of family and domestic violence and will be experienced by over 2 million Australians over their life-time, with 63% of women experiencing financial stress having a background of financial abuse. The abuser uses violence and intimidation to restrict access to a person’s bank accounts, prevent them from working or accessing benefits, or withholds living expenses from them or their children.

AUSTRAC CEO, Ms Nicole Rose PSM said having a bank account independent of an abuser is essential for those who are leaving or have left an abusive relationship. This rule supports our regulated businesses to uphold their AML/CTF obligations while adopting a flexible approach to customer identity processes.

AUSTRAC collaborated on the Rule change with the Australian Banking Association (ABA) and the Australian Israel Chamber of Commerce (AICC) NSW who initiated the project and identified the opening of bank accounts as a significant barrier. AUSTRAC consulted with the financial sector and community organisations including family violence services, community legal services and financial counselling services, many of who offer frontline services to people experiencing family violence and financial abuse.

ABA CEO, Ms Anna Bligh said the ABA welcomes this AML/CTF Rule change and guidance that will help and support people and their families being subjected to family violence. These changes will give bank staff the flexibility they need to use alternative methods for verifying a customer’s identity for those experiencing family domestic violence while still maintaining due diligence processes where they suspect a customer is not who they claim to be.”

“When fleeing a violent situation it is often not possible to collect documents, or these are sometimes deliberately withheld by a perpetrator. This can make proving an identity to usual bank standards a very difficult barrier to financial independence.”

Ms Carolyn Bond AO, of the Economic Abuse Reference Group who participated in AUSTRAC’s consultation process said this change will help our members’ clients who escape violent circumstances and are too scared to return for their personal papers.

Reporting entities can find guidance on how they can apply the rule to their customer identification obligations on the AUSTRAC website.

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