Gippsland Water (GW) recognises that family violence poses a substantial risk to the health and wellbeing of our community. We’re committed to recognising and responding appropriately to customers and employees experiencing family violence.
We’ll engage in open, inclusive dialogue with key stakeholders including the Essential Services Commission (ESC), the Department of Families Fairness and Housing (DFFH), Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria (EWOV), financial counsellors and other customer representative bodies to improve mutual understanding of the complex issues of family violence.
Gippsland Water understands the significant impact family violence has on our customers, employees and the community we serve. We’re committed to ensuring customers and employees experiencing family violence have access to support when they need it and in a way that bests meets their individual circumstances.
We recognise the important responsibility we have in working together with government, corporate and the community sector to support those affected by family violence to improve outcomes for customers, employees and the community.
Gippsland Water’s family violence policy outlines our approach to supporting customers and employees experiencing family violence. Recognising the many barriers to disclosure, we take people at their word and commit to providing support and protections for those experiencing family violence, regardless of whether they have disclosed their circumstances to us.
We seek to create a safe and supportive environment by treating our customer’s unique situations with respect, empathy and sensitivity. In line with our Safety First mindset, customers and employee safety and wellbeing will always be our focus.
This policy applies to all Gippsland Water customers and employees experiencing or affected by family violence.
1. Our Commitment
To support customers experiencing family violence, we’re committed to:
- Ensuring customers and employees are aware of and can easily access support through Gippsland Water.
- Protecting the privacy, safety and confidentiality of customer and employee information.
- Providing sensitive and tailored support in consultation with our customers and employees to achieve positive outcomes.
- Empowering customers, with our support to manage the financial impacts associated with family violence.
- Connecting customers and employees with expert support via referral services.
- Increasing awareness of family violence and the impacts on customers, employees and our community.
- Continuing to build internal capacity to support customers and employees through effective and ongoing specialist training.
Family violence - is defined under the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic) as:
(a) behaviour by a person towards a family member of that person if that behaviour;
(i) is physically or sexually abusive; or
(ii) is emotionally or psychologically abusive; or
(iii) is economically abusive; or
(iv) is threatening; or
(v) is coercive; or
(vi) in any other ways controls or dominates the family member and causes that family member to feel fear for the safety or wellbeing of that family member or another person; or
(b) behaviour by a person that causes a child to hear to witness, or otherwise be exposed to the effects of, behaviour referred to in paragraph (a).
Customer experiencing financial difficulty – a residential or small business customer who has the intention to pay their account but does not have the financial capacity to pay within the timeframe set out in our payment terms.
Vulnerability – a residential or small business customer who needs special care, support or protection.
Customer Support Program – a customer support program that aims to provide assistance to customers identified as experiencing financial difficulty or vulnerabilities.
3. Customer Support
3.1 Accessing support at Gippsland Water
Gippsland Water has a specialist Customer Care team dedicated to supporting our customers experiencing family violence, vulnerability and hardship. Our trained team members work with customers to tailor the support options that best meet their unique circumstances.
We appreciate that when experiencing family violence, having to retell your story can be difficult and cause trauma. The complexity of family violence situations also means that it may not always be safe to disclose this information.
Direct line – Customer Care
In respect of these challenges, customers experiencing family violence can contact our Customer Care team directly on 03 5177 5997
A dedicated Case Manager will be assigned, meaning that wherever possible you will speak with the same team member who understands your situation. You will also have access to your Case Managers direct line so you don’t have to re-tell your story.
3.2 Protecting your privacy, safety and confidentiality
We understand that customers experiencing family violence are entrusting Gippsland Water with sensitive information and expect that all steps will be taken to protect your privacy, safety and confidentiality.
We acknowledge the importance of customers having confidence that information they share with Gippsland Water about their situation is not disclosed to perpetrators. Enquiries in relation to your account will only be handled by your Case Manager or our specialised Customer Care team.
Gippsland Water have put in place additional measures to meet these objectives.
Immediate safety support
If there is an immediate safety risk or concern for customers, their children or our employees, we will contact local police or call triple zero (000) for assistance.
Application of a safety flag
Once your account is transitioned to the Customer Care Team, a flag will be applied alerting our teams that all enquiries which relate to your account are to be transferred through to our Customer Care team.
Any requests for information will also be directed to your Case Manager or if your Case Manager is unavailable, another Customer Care team member who is trained to effectively manage perpetrator interactions ensuring the privacy, safety and confidentiality of customers experiencing family violence are protected.
The flag will also disable access to the creation of an online account via Gippsland Water online services portal to prevent perpetrators, particularly in the case of joint accounts from accessing information. If you already have an online services account and you advise us that you would like to retain access to your online account and that your information is safe we can arrange for you to maintain access to your online services account.
Additional identification checks
We understand that for joint accounts, perpetrators can have access to personal information that allows them to pass routine verification and identification checks. With this in mind, our additional identification check process can be activated on your account to ensure your information and safety is protected. Additional, identification checks may include a password.
3.3 Sensitive and tailored support options
Gippsland Water recognises that the complex nature of family violence situations. This means that customers may benefit from a variety of support options. Your dedicated Case Manager will work with you to understand your needs and challenges and tailor a support plan that best suits your individual circumstances.
Whilst our Customer Care team is unable to provide professional counselling support, they can:
- Actively listen with empathy and without judgement
- Acknowledge your disclosure and check that you are not in immediate harm
- Apply extra account protections to further protect your privacy, safety and confidentiality
- Assist by working with you to develop a suitable support plan
- Refer you to other external support agencies for further assistance
3.4 Debt management
We understand that family violence includes financial abuse with perpetrators often avoiding responsibility for debt, leaving their current or former partners with significant financial liabilities. This is especially problematic for debts attached to accounts held jointly with the perpetrator.
If you identify that you are affected by family violence, we will register your account within our Customer Support program which will immediately pause all debt collection activity on your account (including no additional debt collection costs, charging of interest and/or payment dishonour fees) and we will ensure that your water supply is not restricted because of the debt.
Your dedicated Case Manager will work with you to understand your needs and challenges and tailor an approach to managing your debt that takes into account your circumstances and capacity to pay.
Debt assistance options may include:
- Affordable and flexible payment plans
- More time to pay payment arrangements
- Facilitating access to government grants and assistance programs (like the Utility Relief Grant Scheme) through referrals and application assistance
- Referrals to external support services including financial counselling
- Debt relief
Additional support options are available to customers experiencing family violence to manage debt owed to Gippsland Water. Once a customer identifies as being impacted by family violence, Gippsland Water may waive or suspend all or part of your debt based on a number of factors, including:
- The amount of the debt
- The circumstances in which the debt was incurred (including if it was incurred as a result of financial abuse)
- Whether the debt should have been raised
- What payment assistance options have been (or could be) effective
- The customer’s personal circumstances and capacity to pay the debt.
If your circumstances change, your Case Manager will work with you to ensure that the debt assistance applied to your account adapts accordingly.
We understand that customers on joint accounts may face additional barriers to accessing debt assistance, particularly if the other person on the account is the perpetrator. This may include not having access to financial information, being unaware of a debt and being apprehensive about the prospect of coming into contact with the perpetrator.
Even if only one account holder is affected by family violence, we will immediately pause all collection activity on joint accounts (including no additional debt collection costs, interest or payment dishonour fees) and ensure that your water supply is not restricted because of the debt.
To remove barriers and ensure that customers on joint accounts are able to conveniently access the same debt assistance pathways as other customers affected by family violence our Customer Care team will:
- Take steps to ensure your confidentiality is protected from other persons on the account
- Ensure that you can access support without having any contact with the perpetrator
- Take the same tailored approach to managing joint debts as it does for individual accounts
3.5 Payment support
We recognise that family violence can cause payment difficulties. If you are affected by family violence you are eligible for payment support under Gippsland Water’s Customer Support Policy. The Customer Support policy describes the full range of payment assistance options to customers experiencing payment difficulty.
Our Customer Care team will work with you to adopt an approach to managing payments that suits your circumstances and your capacity to pay. The following payment support options are available to customers affected by family violence.
- Ensuring you receive any concession discounts you’re entitled to
- Setting up an affordable and flexible payment plan you can manage
- Helping you apply for an government grants that you may be entitled to like the Utility Relief Grant
- Providing our own payment matching, grants and other financial incentives
- Access to government funded programs for plumbing assistance, where eligible
- Providing advice on how to save water and reduce the cost of your bills
- Recommending financial counsellors and community services support where needed
- Checking in with you regularly to see if the support we’re providing is right
4. Employee Support
4.1 Accessing support
We understand that employees may find it difficult to disclose their experience with family violence to their colleagues. For this reason, we provide a range of avenues for employees to seek support. Employees can speak with:
- their immediate people leader or manager, any member of the Executive Leadership Team or a trusted colleague who can liaise with the relevant manager.
- a member of the HR Team, Manager Organisational Development, Manager Safety and Wellbeing and Senior HR Business Partner.
- a trained professionals in specialist family violence support through our Employee Assistance Provider 1300 687 327
- Mental Health First Aiders
- Any specialised family violence support services included at item 7.
4.2 Protecting your privacy, safety and confidentiality
Employees are empowered to determine who they feel comfortable with sharing their story. Gippsland Water will maintain their confidentiality by ensuring their circumstances are not discussed with any individual other than those they have nominated.
Additional measures can be put in place to further protect your privacy, safety and confidentiality which can be discussed and agreed in consultation with you.
4.3 Support options
We recognise that experiences of family violence may affect your ability to work. Gippsland Water is committed to supporting employees experiencing family violence by understanding individual circumstances and working with them to determine support options that best meet their needs. Support options may include;
- Changes to their work conditions such as hours, start and finish times and location or nature of work performed
- A change to their telephone number or email address to avoid harassing contact
- Access to additional flexible work arrangements
- Implementing additional safety precautions such as restricting/screening any external phone calls, screening members of the public requesting to meet with you and establishing alternate arrangements to safety enter and exit Gippsland Water’s work locations.
In addition to the above support options, employees may access the following leave provision:
- Paid family violence leave for medical appointments, counselling, legal proceedings and other related activities. Paid family violence leave will be in addition to existing leave entitlements.
4.4 Awareness and Training
At Gippsland Water we recognise that creating awareness and building capability within the organisation is the foundation to supporting customers experiencing family violence.
Our employees receive training to build awareness and understanding of issues relating to family violence, including the different types of family violence, barriers to disclosure, learning from those with lived experience and identifying indicators of people who may be experiencing family violence.
Ongoing training is provided to employees to support the continued application of this policy and related policies and procedures in relation to customers experiencing family violence.
Our customer facing teams receive additional specialist training to assist with effectively handling customer disclosures, providing support and empathy. Specific technical training related to Gippsland Water’s processes ensures we continue to build knowledge and capability across our customer facing teams to best support our customers.
5. Expert support services
Gippsland Water is committed to connecting customers experiencing family violence with specialist family violence services who can provide expert support and advice. We acknowledge the complex nature of family violence situations and are able to provide a range of referral pathways to help you access the assistance you require.
Customers can be referred to external support networks and resources including:
1800RESPECT is the national domestic, family and sexual violence counselling information and support service.
1800 737 732
Providing specialist support services for anyone in Victoria who is experiencing or afraid of family violence
1800 015 188
Family Violence Law Help
An Australian Government website providing information regarding family violence and the law in Australia
1800 737 732
Beyond Blue provide support to people affected by depression, anxiety and suicide.
1300 22 4636
webchat and email (email response provided within 24 hours)
Kids Help Line
Counsellors are available to take to children confidentially about any issues that is affecting or worrying them.
1800 551 800
Information on domestic abuse and family violence and 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services
13 11 14
6. Continuous improvement
This policy and its associated programs will be reviewed on an ongoing basis to ensure these adequately meet and reflect the changing needs of our customers and employees.
This approach is to ensure our support remains flexible and can adjust to meet the needs of the community. Recognising that customers and employees may need a variety of support
and information, Gippsland Water is committed to diversifying its approach on a continuous basis.
In this respect, we’ll work closely with peak bodies and customer committees to develop appropriate customer focused support for customers and employees experiencing family violence.
Policy review and approval
It is recognised that, from time to time, circumstances may change leading to the need for minor administrative changes to this document. Where an update does not materially alter this document, such a change may be made administratively without requiring approval of the approving body. Examples include only a change to the template, name of a position or department, or a minor update to legislation which does not have a material impact.
Manager Customer Services
Annually or more frequently as required
Executive Leadership Team
Gippsland Water Customer Charter
Gippsland Water Customer Support Policy
Water Industry Standard - Urban Customer Service – March 2023
Water Industry Act 1994 (Vic)
Water Act 1989 (Vic)
Privacy & Data Protection Act 2014 (Vic)
Health Records Act 2001 (Vic)
Gender Equity Act 2018 (Vic)
Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth)
Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic)
Personal Safety Intervention Orders Act 2010 (Vic)
Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth)
Gippsland Water Employee Enterprise Agreement