DSS Funding for Temporary Visa Holders

Confidential: Do not share this information outside of CLCs or FVPLs.
It has been prepared as an internal sector briefing only.


We’d like to thank everyone who provided us with information. Sometimes the smallest bit was the most valuable as it set us on the right path. One of the strengths of our sector is this ability to share information and collaborate.

New pilot announced

DSS recently announced that funding had been allocated for a new pilot for temporary visa holders experiencing violence. There is $10 million in total for 12 months with :

  • $6.5 million going to the Australian Red Cross; and
  • $3.5 million going to 9 legal assistance services.

The funding is for 12 months and DSS expect the services to come online by end April 2021.

The Australian Red Cross

DSS have provided the funding to the Australian Red Cross to deliver targeted support to women on temporary visas who may be unable to access social services and welfare payments due to their visa status.

The Australian Red Cross will be provided up to $3,000 to eligible women on temporary visas, to help them cover expenses such as accommodation and medical care when leaving a violent relationship.

It is expected this trial program will assist around 1225 women on temporary visas over the 12-month trial period

The Australian Red Cross was chosen in part because of its:

  • national accessibility
  • ability to access the Australian government’s free Telephone Interpreter Service (TIS).

The legal assistance services

The legal assistance services:

  • were pre-selected by DSS from those who are funded to provide Domestic Violence Units (DVUs) under the Women’s Safety Package
  • are located in the 8 capital cities plus Townsville (relying on the fact that Census data shows the majority of temporary visa holders are student visa holders in larger cities, while people in regional and remote locations will still be able to access this program remotely)
  • were prioritised for funding offers by DSS using the following criteria:
    • Legal service providers with expertise in domestic and family violence (DFV) and trauma-informed practice 
  • are expected to have 15 specialist migration lawyers between them
  • include CLCs but we can’t confirm who they are (see below)
  • are likely to include some Legal Aid Commissions. For example, as all the DVU funding in NSW went to LegalAid NSW, we can assume they have been made an offer,
  • were each offered a specific amount of funding to which they had to submit an application by 14 April.
  • were offered funding to provide access to legal assistance and migration support to eligible women on temporary visas experiencing violence. The legal services will be available for family court and custody issues, and will include representation in court
  • will be expected to provide services to temporary visa holders in locations where there are specialist lawyers (ie RRR locations)
  • will be expected to receive referrals from DFV services and the Australian Red Cross on verification of the woman’s temporary visa status.


As well as providing the funded services, one of the stated intentions of the pilot is to create an evidence base to help shape future support for women on temporary visas experiencing violence.

We welcome the opportunities that this provides for women on temporary visas experiencing violence and the community legal centres that have been chosen to deliver them services. At the same time we have concerns about the decision making process and the timelines provided, what it means for Centres who were made an offer and what it means for Centres who weren’t even considered.

Please note: We have not been able to locate a media release from Minister Ruston on this issue. If you know where it is, please email policy@clcs.org.au.

What we know

Since we became aware of this funding on 8 April we have been following up with our contacts in both AGD and DSS to find out as much as we can.

The Centres who have been offered the funding are bound by confidentiality and we must respect that it is difficult for them to come forward and share information at this stage in the process.

This funding is being led and administered by DSS, not by AGD who are our main points of contact in the Commonwealth. There had been some contact between DSS and AGD on this issue late last year but funding factors (relatively small pool, short timeframes for delivery and limited to 12 months) did not favour rolling the DSS funding into the National Legal Assistance Partnership (NLAP).

We understand that:

  • the funding for this pilot is not “new” but is part of a much larger pool.
  • DSS identified an underspend last year and was looking for ways to utilise it before 30 June 2021

From speaking with the DSS contact it appears that they are moving at a cracking pace and little can be done to slow them down. They are determined that the services need to commence as soon as possible.

Our concerns

We have a number of concerns in relation to this funding. We have set them out in short format here to save time:

  • lack of co-design principles
  • lack of consultation with the sector
  • a missed opportunity to harness the strength of our sector ie making the most of the variety of CLCs, their relevant specialisms and geographical locations
  • extremely short timeframes:
    • we assume that the offer was made to legal assistance services as late as 8 April
    • with a tender due date of 14 April
    • with a service commencement date of April/ May
  • lack of expertise in immigration law – an area of law with increased complexity due to the number of legislative instruments that are the frequently subject to Judicial Review as well as amended by the Minister and/ or Parliament
  • lack of support for (what is likely to be) a sole immigration lawyer
  • insistence on service targets

At this stage, we are unable to comment on the quantum of funding that was offered to each Centre, but if we assume that each of the 9 services was offered the same amount of money (unlikely), the average offer would be about $389 000.

We can only assume this is an attempted quick fix solution as the government realises it faces increasing political difficulties due to its lack of action on domestic and sexual violence.

Where to from here

We remain in discussion with both AGD and DSS about what is possible in terms of improving the implementation of the current funding and being involved in future funding decisions.

Our advocacy for the last few years has been that NLAP (and the NPA before it) ought to be the primary mechanism for the delivery of Commonwealth funding for legal assistance. Our relationships with the part of AGD that administer NLAP (the Legal Assistance Branch) are strong, and we have developed relationships across the AGD portfolio. However occasions like this DSS funding will likely arise and it’s important for us to keep developing relationships focused on a whole of government approach so that opportunities aren’t missed.

We would offer to facilitate a strategic conversation but don’t think this will make a difference in the current circumstances and will exclude Centres that have been offered funding. This is something we can consider doing after the legal service providers have been announced.

For those who wish to change the course we appear to be on, our recommendation is to meet with Minister Ruston as soon as possible

Think we’ve missed something? Please contact policy@clcs.org.au.