Select Committee on Home Affairs Sixth Report

7  Longer-term resettlement and post-separation support

"The damage caused is long term and far reaching - support must be made available long term"

- eConsultation respondent

235. In this section we consider the needs of victims after the point of separation, whether from an abusive partner or other family members. The support required by survivors to rebuild their lives includes longer-term housing, physical and mental health services, financial support, and outreach services.

Victims require long-term support

236. Many support services are focused on the point of separation for victims of domestic violence and forced marriage. Yet the post-separation period—once the victim has left the abusive relationship—has been identified as one of particular danger and vulnerability for victims. Research has shown that 76% of domestic violence victims suffer post-separation violence,[240] and most family-murder suicides (where the abuser kills their family and then themselves) occur post-separation.[241]

237. The risk to forced marriage victims is also elevated after they leave their family. Director of the Crown Prosecution Service London West, Nazir Afzal, told us:

The moment they [victims of "honour"-based violence] engage the authorities, their risk is escalated substantially. Undoubtedly they will require support, and perhaps protection for the rest of their lives.[242]

Contributors to our eConsultation discussed the support they needed after escaping the abusive relationship, particularly focussing on victims of "honour"-based violence and forced marriage:

"Nothing can protect you from the psychological fear that is drilled home to you regarding what happens when you dishonour the family" - kka38

  "[Women go to] great lengths to escape forced marriage - they had to keep away from their community, lie about their origins and create a new identity" - Northampton Women

There are inadequate services for BME victims

238. Some minority ethnic women experiencing domestic violence often face a different set of pressures to their white British counterparts. English may not be their first language, they may be completely financially dependent on their husband or family and they may have had little contact with the world outside their own close-knit community. As a result they can be particularly vulnerable and may find it harder to access services.

239. We took evidence on the need for specialist services for BME women. Kiranjit Ahluwalia is a survivor of domestic violence whose case introduced to British law the precedent of 'slow-burning' provocation as a defence. She was initially given a life sentence for the murder of her husband, but was later freed on appeal. At Ms Ahluwalia's first trial she could not understand proceedings or communicate through her solicitor, and the role of "honour" in the violence she suffered at the hands of her husband was not explained to the court. She told us:

Because I was so depressed and I could not speak good English, half the time I did not know what was happening in court and I did not give my evidence. At my trial there were 50 pages of evidence by my solicitor and I did not know anything of what was happening around.[243]

240. At her retrial she was supported by a BME women's campaign and support organisation, Southall Black Sisters. She described the importance of such a specialist service, particularly in terms of advocacy:

They took my statement and they translated my story and instead of 50 pages there were 500 pages. They found a good solicitor who understood the Hindi language as well. They visited me in prison...they did explain family honour through my solicitor   properly and I felt totally different at my trial.[244]

241. Kiranjit Ahluwalia's case vividly illustrates the necessity of linguistic- and culturally- specific services for black and minority ethnic women. Without support from such a service, she was unable to understand the proceedings against her, unable to communicate the vital role that the notion of "honour" played in the abuse her husband inflicted, and therefore unable to gain access to a fair trial.

Victims have long-term physical and mental health needs

242. The British Medical Association (BMA) stated that "there is growing evidence to confirm that [domestic violence] has serious and long-lasting consequences on the health and wellbeing of the victim and their family members".[245] The BMA described some of the long-term health impacts for victims, including: chronic pain, arthritis, hearing or sight deficits, seizures or frequent headaches, stress, stomach ulcers, and hypertension.[246] Respondents to our eConsultation described a wide range of long-term health impacts arising from their abuse:

"When the court date arrived I was so stressed I was on anti-depressants and having treatment for debilitating anxiety attacks" - Reflective

  "My mental health deteriorated and I started to have conversations with myself" - billo786

  "Before [experiencing domestic violence] I was a strong, bubbly, outgoing girl...I did suffer from panic attacks as a direct result and received treatment for this periodically throughout the relationship" - Reflective

  "I suffered post traumatic stress syndrome after that night" - louie

  "I already have chronic fatigue syndrome after my ordeals" - parijata

243. Statistics indicate that women experiencing domestic violence are up to fifteen times more likely to misuse alcohol and nine times more likely to misuse other drugs than women generally.[247] The Stella Project, a London-based project working to develop services for people affected by drugs, alcohol and domestic violence, stated:

Survivors of DV are over-represented in drug/alcohol treatment: one recent British study found 40-67% of women had suffered violence and abuse in the last 5 years. A UK study of 60 women using crack cocaine found that 40% reported being regularly physically assaulted by a current partner and 75% being physically assaulted by a current or past partner.[248]

One contributor to the eConsultation mentioned substance misuse:

"[For some victims] substance misuse has developed as a way of coping with the abuse, or as a result of the perpetrator influencing and even forcing the woman to use alcohol or drugs" - Front line

244. Abused women are five times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population, and a third of all female suicide attempts can be attributed to experience of domestic violence.[249] Asian women are two to three times more likely to commit suicide. Jasvinder Sanghera, Director of Derby-based organisation Karma Nirvana, told us that "the majority of young people we see in the age group between 16 to 24 who have issues pertaining to honour-based crimes or forced marriage, have tendencies towards self-harming, very high rates of depression".[250] Nazir Afzal, Director of the Crown Prosecution Service London West, told us "just in the line between Slough and Southall 80 women killed themselves in the last year, and you can work out for yourselves, perhaps, the ethnicity of those individuals".[251]

245. The Government told us that "between 2002 and 2008, the Department of Health has provided 20 streams of funding totalling over 1.95m to 12 mental health voluntary and community sector organisations providing therapeutic services for victims of abuse".[252] Over six years, this amounts to 27,083 per organisation per year.

246. Many victims of domestic violence suffer long-term physical and mental ill health following abuse, including substance misuse, self harm and suicide. Whilst the Department of Health is funding some therapeutic services for victims of abuse, it is hard to believe that what amounts to 27,083 a year per organisation is anywhere near enough. We urge the Department of Health to increase its funding of mental health and other therapeutic services for victims.

Longer-term housing

247. Access to permanent housing for women and children who have left their homes because of domestic violence is key to recovery. Refuges—while offering crucial support in the immediate aftermath of abuse—are not intended as long-term accommodation, and most domestic violence survivors are not in a position to own their own homes. Many will be hoping for an offer of accommodation from their local council or housing association.

248. Two thirds of respondents to the Women's Aid special survey for the Committee reported that women were now waiting longer to be re-housed than they were two years ago. The proportion who had been re-housed in private rental accommodation had apparently risen in the past year. The survey responses showed the importance of continued availability of 'social' and other non-private ownership housing options for victims. The proportions of women moving on from refuges to different kinds of housing provision were as follows: [253]

Table 4: Proportion of women moving on to different kinds of housing provision

Council owned accommodation


Housing association provision


Private rental accommodation


Owner occupied housing




Social housing is often inaccessible to victims of domestic violence

249. For the local authority to have a duty to re-house someone, they must show that they:

are habitually resident in the UK and are eligible for "recourse to public funds" under immigration law;

are statutorily homeless or threatened with homelessness;

are in priority need;

are not intentionally homeless; and

have a local connection.[255]

250. Certain groups of people are considered to have automatic priority need. These include people with dependent children, pregnant women, 16 and 17 year olds and some care leavers. Others must show that they are vulnerable due to one of the particular circumstances listed in the Housing Act 1996 or the Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation)(England) Order 2002. In particular, this includes 'a person who is vulnerable as a result of ceasing to occupy accommodation by reason of violence from another person or threats of violence from another person which are likely to be carried out'.

251. Domestic violence and homelessness charities have identified significant problems with the current test for priority need as regards victims of domestic violence. In particular, due to the secretive nature of the abuse, victims often find it hard to show evidence of violence, meaning that they are superceded by others in the priority list for social housing. These victims are then faced with the stark choice of remaining with their abuser or becoming street homeless.

252. Respondents to the Women's Aid survey complained about the availability of permanent housing:

The waiting times for families moving on from first and second stage into temporary housing is too long. It takes between 18mths and 2yrs to reach permanent housing for families during which time they may have settled into properties and feel reluctant to have to move their family once again. Hostel accommodation is still being used for families despite this being bad practice.[256]

Sandra Horley of Refuge told us that lack of social housing stock was blocking bed spaces at refuges:

There is not enough social housing, and as a consequence refuge bed spaces become blocked with women and children having to stay for longer periods of time in refuges. ...In some London boroughs we are seeing the available stock go down year after year. The local authority in Hounslow has only 72 properties available for homelessness applications, so when women do get accepted as being homeless and in priority need for housing, it is often the case that they have to wait a long time for suitable housing, sometimes several years.[257]

253. Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the DCLG, Iain Wright MP, acknowledged the shortage of appropriate social housing as a problem. He told us that "the wider and more fundamental issue of housing supply is something that we need to address".[258] He suggested that the intention of Government policy in this area was not reflected in practice, stating "I am keen to go in and make sure that the vision of the department and the Government, in terms of accommodation which is appropriate for the victims of domestic violence, matches the reality on the ground".[259] The Minister noted that this issue had recently been raised by way of a proposed amendment to the Housing and Regeneration Bill, currently going through Parliament. The amendment would include a new section 189 (1)(e) in the Housing Act 1996, that 'a person without dependent children who has been subject to domestic violence or is at risk of such violence, or if he or she returns home is at risk of domestic violence' [is in priority need].The Minister undertook to report back to us on progress at the report stage of that bill.[260]

254. We recommend that the opportunity presented by the Housing and Regeneration Bill be used to ensure that domestic violence victims, both with and without dependent children, and with or without an additional vulnerability, are given priority need for appropriate social housing. This is not only of huge benefit to victims, but will also save the Government and the domestic violence sector money in refuge provision, since victims will not be blocking bed spaces in refuges. In line with his suggestion, we recommend that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government undertakes to report back to us on progress at report stage of the Bill.

Private rental accommodation is inaccessible

255. Private rental accommodation is often prohibitively expensive for victims. Director of Refuge, Sandra Horley, told us that "local authorities are increasingly referring women to private accommodation. The trouble is that some of our residents have been asked for a six-month deposit despite the fact that they are on welfare benefits".[261]

256. We urge the Department for Communities and Local Government and local authorities to consider what action is available to them in making private rental accommodation more accessible to victims of domestic violence.

Victims require financial support

257. Victim Support identified financial hardship as a key reason that victims remain trapped in abusive relationships: "the cost of relocation for victims is often prohibitive, as is the cost of applying for non molestation orders".[262] We discuss further the high cost of obtaining civil injunctions, as well as of court fees, in paragraphs 284 to 285.

258. Respondents to the eConsultation described the same experience:

"My only source of income was his income...he got his friend [and] employer to make him redundant to avoid the CSA [Child Support Agency] and gain legal I was working [by this time] and not eligible for legal aid I had to represent myself at court and could not afford the money for a non molestation order" - anonymous

It is common practice for victims to be deliberately housed outside their local authority area in order to put them at a distance from the perpetrator, but this can make accessing financial support harder. The Citizens' Advice Bureau (CAB) stated that many victims find it hard to claim benefits when they have to move accommodation frequently. It gave the following case study:[263]

Financial difficulties: case study

A CAB in Wiltshire reported that a woman with two young children had to move five times over a period of five months to escape a violent partner. She hadn't filled in income support claim forms for each address and had therefore lost her entitlement. She was now living in private rented accommodation and needed a further social fund loan. She already had one crisis loan, and could not get a community care grant until her income support claim had been sorted out. She was overwhelmed with filling in forms and not getting anywhere, and in the meantime her and her family were living on around 97 per week. The DWP were unable to be flexible in accepting her claim due to her frequent changes of address, even when she was only somewhere for a couple of days. The CAB felt there should be more discretion on this.

259. It is important that victims are able to access financial support quickly and easily, to prevent them from being trapped in a cycle of abuse. The Government and local authorities should consider introducing some form of support for victims of domestic violence—perhaps in the form of an interest-free loan—to assist in their resettlement.

260. Since many victims require financial support, and may find it difficult to access benefits, particularly when in emergency accommodation, it is important that the Benefits Agency is fully engaged in domestic violence fora, both at the local and national levels.

The value of survivors' networks

261. Survivors told us of the value of support networks of other survivors, in rebuilding their lives. Karma Nirvana, which has recently launched a 'survivor's network' for victims of forced marriage, stated:

When you leave a forced marriage or honour related crime and find the courage to leave, inevitably you become disowned. Our survivors tell us how it is your friends that become your family. We currently have an increasing database of 92 UK survivors that have been estranged by their families and many share their accounts of managing their risks, emotions and the need to tap into the network that reduces their isolation.[264]

262. An online consultation with domestic violence victims run by Women's Aid and the Hansard Society in 2000, found that "a majority of women (60%) found that the consultation helped them deal with their own experiences of domestic violence and almost a quarter of women put this down to the fact that they could share experiences with other women and listen to other women's experiences".[265] The report noted that "several women called for the site to be a permanent arrangement or for a longer-term initiative to be set up".[266]

263. Some contributors to our eConsultation told us that the experience of hearing from other victims and survivors, and being able to contribute their own experiences and views, was an important element of support:

 "There needs to be more centres [where] women can access advice and support and where women can go and talk to other women that have experienced it" - Women centre

Several survivors used our eConsultation to express messages of sympathy and support for one another.

264. The evidence suggests that online fora, where victims and survivors can share their experiences and offer one another support and advice, provide a very important support mechanism. We therefore recommend that the Government should consider setting up a permanent, anonymous, online forum for victims and survivors of domestic and "honour"-based violence and forced marriage.


240   Humphreys & Thiara (2002), cited by Women's Aid Federation, Statistics: Domestic Violence, Back

241   Metropolitan Police Service, Findings from the Multi-Agency Domestic Violence Murder Reviews in London. Back

242   Q 143 Back

243   Q 267 Back

244   Q 268 Back

245   Ev 96 Back

246   Ev 97 Back

247  Stark, E. & Flitcraft, A. (1996) Women at Risk: Domestic Violence and Women's Health, London; Sage; Mullender, A. (1996) Re-thinking Domestic Violence: The Social Work and Probation Response, London: Routledge; GLDVP (2005) Draft Report on Round Table Mental Health and Domestic Violence; Humphreys, C (2003) Mental health and domestic violence: a research overview. Conference presentation for Making Research Count, Coventry Back

248   Ev 196-197 Back

249   Stark, E. & Flitcraft, A. (1996) Women at Risk: Domestic Violence and Women's Health, London; Sage; Mullender, A. (1996) Re-thinking Domestic Violence: The Social Work and Probation Response, London: Routledge; GLDVP (2005) Draft Report on Round Table Mental Health and Domestic Violence; Humphreys, C (2003) Mental health and domestic violence: a research overview. Conference presentation for Making Research Count, Coventry Back

250   Q 191 Back

251   Q 131 Back

252   Ev 334 Back

253   Ev 219 Back

254   This figure is a rough average of all the responses to this question. Back

255   Housing Act 1996, Part VII ss175-196 Back

256   Ev 219 Back

257   Q 157 Back

258   Q 339 Back

259   Q 341 Back

260   Q 340 Back

261   Q 164 Back

262   Ev 287 Back

263   Ev 322 Back

264   Ev 239 Back

265   Womenspeak: Domestic violence consultation report, Women's Aid Federation, Hansard Society and Office of Margaret Moran MP (2000), p 41 Back

266   Ibid., p 17 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 13 June 2008