An Aboriginal domestic violence victim grieving the death of her child was evicted by the Victorian government and her belongings were discarded before she was slapped with a $20,000 bill, an ombudsman's report says.
A paper tabled by Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass in state parliament on Wednesday highlights the need for public authorities to use discretion to fairly apply the law.
In the case of Aboriginal woman, 'Abigail', the ombudsman encourages the need for awareness of a person's circumstances rather than rigidly applying a standard procedure.
Abigail had requested a transfer from her public housing property and the Department of Health and Human Services' had asked her for more information so it could consider the request.
When Abigail did not provide information, the department inspected her home and found her absent and the property damaged.
The department assumed Abigail had abandoned the premises so applied to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to evict her and throw away her belongings.
Abigail did not attend the hearing and in her absence the tribunal found in favour of the department, serving her with a $20,000 property damage bill.
Her social worker contacted the ombudsman's office saying that at the time of the eviction notice, her child had just died in the property and she was grieving.
Norma's eviction story:
The social worker said the damage had been caused by Abigail's abuser and the department was aware she was a victim of domestic violence at the address.
Abigail had left the property temporarily and returned to find it emptied of her belongings.
She was subsequently homeless, living on the street and in motels funded by the social worker's organisation.
When Abigail inquired about her possessions, including photos of her dead child, the department could not help.
The ombudsman contacted the department to explore how the case could be resolved.
Within two weeks the department placed Abigail on a priority housing list, waived her $20,000 debt in line with its domestic violence policy and offered a 50 per cent reduction in rent for three months as compensation for disposing of her things.
The report cited several cases and urges public authorities to assess each on its merits.
"When applied inflexibly, these policies and procedures can lead to a loss of judgment in circumstances where discretion should be exercised," the report reads.
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