Domestic Abuse Contents

2Protecting and supporting victims

Refuges and safe accommodation

53.Many individuals fleeing domestic abuse rely on the provision of emergency refuge accommodation. The charity Refuge described their refuges as safe houses for women and children escaping domestic violence, which also offer residents support with a range of other needs including housing, education, accessing benefits, employment, immigration or health and wellbeing.74

54.Local authorities are responsible for commissioning refuges and other safe accommodation in their area and are also subject to the duty to provide accommodation for victims of domestic abuse facing homelessness. The Government also provides some central funding for core support of refuges. It stated in its consultation paper that it had committed £100 million through to 2020 to combat violence against women and girls, including a two-year £20 million fund from MHCLG to local authorities for refuges and accommodation-based services.75

55.Despite this, witnesses said that there was a severe lack of funding for core support services. Pragna Patel told us that austerity had forced many local authorities to close services, while other services had been transferred from specialists to larger corporate providers:

Localism has led to local authorities using their discretion as to which services to keep and which to let go of. What we are finding is that the more corporatised generic service operators are taking over functions that were once performed by more skilled, more specialist organisations. Those corporatised responses are very timebound and target-driven. A woman going into a refuge run by a housing association, for example, is seen as a homelessness unit rather than a whole person needing a range of interventions and support from counselling to advocacy to other support services and so on. Instead, she is just seen as homeless. What we are finding is that most services, even domestic violence services in local areas, are now providing support for only high-risk cases of domestic violence and for only six weeks. After six weeks, they are just left back on the street.76

56.Councillor Simon Blackburn told us that it was important to see the potential of localism as a force separate from austerity which “had arrived upon us at the same time”. He said that he was “a passionate believer in the power of localism”, and that “decisions made locally and services commissioned from knowledgeable local providers are inevitably better than the sort of huge corporate organisations that seek to invade that territory”. However, cuts to local authority funding had resulted in cuts to all council services.77 The LGA said that any legislative changes in the Bill must be matched with adequate resources and funding, because local government was facing “unprecedented levels of demand, with an overall funding gap of £7.8 billion by 2025”. It explained that councils were increasingly being forced to prioritise spending for those at immediate risk of harm, rather than on earlier support services to address harmful behaviours, including in areas such as domestic abuse.78

57.Witnesses told us that the current provision of refuge spaces does not meet the level of demand. London Councils said that although 22% of refuge bed spaces are in London demand continues to outstrip capacity, and around 64% of referrals to London refuges are unsuccessful.79 Women’s Aid runs a database called Routes to Support, which is funded by MHCLG, to provide a central source of daily information about the availability of bed spaces across the country. Sian Hawkins told us that around 60% of referrals to refuges were being turned away because of lack of bed spaces, representing “about 94 children and 90 women every day being turned away from services at their point of need, when they are desperate to flee abuse”.80 Women’s Aid stated that the current funding approach is not working:

A range of Government departments devolve short-term funding pots to local authorities and Police and Crime Commissioners, to then commission in line with the non-statutory National Statement of Expectations (NSE) for VAWG services. There is no accountability mechanism for ensuring that local areas meet the NSE. Service provision therefore differs significantly across the country, resulting in a ‘postcode lottery’ of support.81

58.In October 2017 MHCLG published a proposed new housing costs model to fund emergency and short-term supported housing in England. If implemented, housing benefit payments from residents to refuge providers would have been replaced with grant funding, which would have been devolved to local authorities to administer. Women’s Aid told us that over half of refuges responding to its survey said that they would be forced to reduce bed spaces or close the refuge entirely were those plans to be implemented. Women’s Aid explained that, at present, a significant part of the funding required to run a refuge building, and cover rent and service charges, comes from housing benefit payments. This provides more secure funding for the individual housing costs of eligible women and children in refuges because, unlike the proposed support funding, it is not subject to local discretion.82 After listening to service providers, stakeholders and local authorities, the Government announced on 9 August 2018 that housing benefit would remain in place to fund supported housing, It also committed to work with service providers, local authorities and others to develop an oversight regime for local authority provision of supported housing.83 In September 2018, Women’s Aid published a report setting out initial proposals for an alternative funding model, the methodology and rationale behind it, and the next steps to progress this work.84

59.Refuges are just one option for providing emergency accommodation. The National Housing and Domestic Abuse Policy and Practice Group described the wider range of housing provision which is needed to meet the different needs of domestic abuse victims, and the support services and resources required to help victims stay either in their own privately owned or privately rented accommodation, or to stay in supported housing or hostels which help with their other needs. It pointed to the need for support agencies to work together and to look at the long-term security of survivors of abuse as well as managing short term crises.85 London Councils described the wider pressures on housing supply:

Pressures on housing supply present a significant challenge for London local authorities in responding to domestic abuse. With an enduring housing crisis, there is scarce availability of social housing stock and affordable housing; this creates deep challenges for a local authority to source safe and appropriate temporary and move-on accommodation. The Homelessness Reduction Act and new Code of Guidance is a good opportunity to improve responses to victims of domestic abuse, but there remains concern that the New Burdens86 funding will not be sufficient to meet the costs of implementation.87

60.Women’s Aid calls for the legislation to be “underpinned by sufficient resourcing and a sustainable future for domestic abuse services” and says that services “are currently operating in a climate of uncertain funding, insufficient resources to meet demand, damaging commissioning practices, and cuts in public sector spending”. Refuge agreed, saying that:

Refuge strongly welcomes new legislation but is concerned about the potential impact of increasing demand for services when there is a deficit of services available and those that do exist are overstretched and financially fragile. Refuge believes that it is crucial that the forthcoming legislation is met with sustainable investment in the specialist services upon which survivors rely.88

61.The Equality and Human Rights Commission pointed out that Article 23 of the Istanbul Convention requires states to provide sufficient, safe and easily accessible shelters for victims, especially women and their children. It recommended that the number of refuge places in England and Wales should meet the minimum levels recommended by the Council of Europe.89

62.We heard evidence that there is insufficient bed-space in safe accommodation for victims of domestic abuse and that the funding streams for existing services are short-term and unpredictable. It is unacceptable that women fleeing violence and other forms of abuse are often unable to access any form of emergency accommodation.

63.Funding is required now to fill the large gap in capacity so starkly put to us by Women’s Aid. It is shocking that, at present, this deficit represents about 94 children and 90 women at the point of crisis being turned away from refuge every day. This urgent problem should be addressed by placing a statutory obligation upon local authorities in England and Wales to provide emergency refuge places and associated specialist services. This can be done immediately through the draft bill.

64.It is right that domestic abuse provision is subject to local decision-making. However, given the interdependency of network provision, we recommend that the Government analyses the operation of refuges as a national network. This would ensure that there is an evidence-based understanding of the total demand for refuge places. A sustainable model for the long-term funding of refuge services is also urgently required. The Government’s central funding support for local authority-led domestic abuse projects and services is welcome, but it is not clear whether it is being focused in the right areas, what is being achieved and how much more funding would be required to provide an adequate level of support for all victims of abuse. A new statutory obligation upon local authorities to provide sufficient safe and easily accessible emergency shelter for victims must be supported by adequate ring-fenced funding from central Government to local authorities, ensuring the capacity gap is closed and providing long-term certainty about the sustainability of refuge places. In order to determine the level and allocation of funding required for these services, we recommend that the Government facilitates a comprehensive review of funding across all aspects of support for survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence, to be carried out by the proposed new Commissioner. This review should take place within the first year following establishment of the Commissioner’s office, and the report should be laid by the Commissioner before Parliament. The Government should commit to the introduction of a new national funding mechanism, informed by the outcomes of the comprehensive review, to provide sufficient and sustainable funding for all necessary support services. This new mechanism should be operational within two years following publication of the Commissioner’s review. The Government has said that it will work with providers, local authorities, membership bodies and residents’ representatives to develop a robust oversight regime, and the review could feed into this new mechanism.

Specialist support services

65.Some victims of domestic abuse experience additional barriers when seeking support, and benefit from specialist targeted services such as those for disabled people, older people, male and LGBT victims. Others need services to help address additional needs such as debt, uncertain immigration status, mental health needs and drug and alcohol dependency. The Association of Directors of Public Health explained that:

People with complex needs are often dealing with childhood or early adulthood trauma and therefore simply offering services is not enough. They require persistent, gendered, trauma informed support including for mental health and substance misuse. Although this approach may be expensive initially, it will reduce demand on public services in the longer term.90

66.Witnesses told us that there was an inadequate provision of specialist services and that generic providers did not always have the capacity or the expertise to provide the required support. Women’s Aid explained that:

Funding insecurity and lack of national oversight are compounded by damaging local commissioning practices. Specialist services such as women’s refuges face major challenges within a competitive commissioning landscape where: expertise in domestic abuse and VAWG is lacking; open tendering procedures favour larger, generic organisations; and short-term commissioning of gender-neutral services negatively impacts their provision.91

67.Independent Domestic Violence Advisers (IDVAs) are specialist workers who support victims of domestic abuse who are assessed as being at high risk of harm. They receive specialist accredited training and hold a nationally recognised qualification. They normally work with their clients from the point of crisis to assess the level of risk, discuss the range of suitable options and develop safety plans. The IDVA role is embedded in the Government’s VAWG strategy which included a commitment to provide Government funding for “core services” including IDVAs.92 We heard evidence that more IDVAs are needed to ensure that all high risk victims receive the support they need. For example, the SafeLives’ 2017 survey of domestic abuse practitioners identified significant gaps in all services including IDVAs.93 SafeLives told us that “We only have 75% of the IDVAs needed and there are still nine police forces which have less than 50% of the recommended IDVA coverage, three of whom have only 33% or less”.94

68.The Institute for Alcohol Studies said that many refuges refuse women with alcohol use problems. It referred to research which indicated that 61% of London boroughs only sometimes accept women who use alcohol or drugs into their refuges, while two boroughs actively exclude them.95 The End Violence Against Women coalition said that “women with complex needs, including homelessness, mental health problems, addictions and women who have been in prison, face severe difficulties getting help.96 Pragna Patel told us that women’s services and services for the vulnerable, disabled, mentally ill, and those who are dependent on drugs and alcohol “are just decimated”, and that there had been a trend of more corporate, generic service operators taking over functions that were once performed by more skilled, more specialist organisations.97 DCC Rolfe, National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for domestic abuse, said that there were insufficient resources and services available to meet the increasing number of people with complex needs including drug and alcohol abuse and mental health needs, and that the multiagency process for managing high risk cases of domestic abuse could “feel futile” if the necessary support services were not available.98

69.Trent Chambers described how cultural factors can mean that Asian and other BAME victims of domestic abuse in the UK have different and specific needs to other victims of abuse. Helping these victims may require an understanding of cultural issues relating to honour-based violence and dowry-related violence. It pointed out that abuse in BAME communities can include collusion of extended family members and that seeking help, and talking confidentially, can be particularly difficult for BAME victims because of their close-knit cultural communities.99

70.Southall Black Sisters operates a specialist advocacy centre for BAME women fleeing gender-based violence. Pragna Patel stressed the need for culturally specific services for BAME women, for example for young women who were escaping forced marriage or other culturally specific forms of harm.100 Jane Gordon endorsed this view, saying that BAME specialist services provided a critical access point, particularly for women with language barriers or other freedom of movement restrictions, but said that these specialist services had been reduced by around 45% in the last five years.101 She added that another factor for BAME victims of abuse was the number of cases where children were asked to act as interpreters for their mothers who were reporting violence.102

71.Southall Black Sisters also highlighted specific issues for women who have an insecure immigration status, saying that “immigration status is a potent weapon of coercive control in the hands of perpetrators, who exploit women’s fears of deportation, destitution and imprisonment, to continue their abuse and prevent women from exiting abuse”.103 In particular, it identified the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) status, which means that many migrant women of insecure immigration status are not entitled to state financial assistance; and transnational marriage abandonment, where foreign national wives are deliberately abandoned by their British national husbands in their countries of origin. Southall Black Sisters also stated that there are “considerable flaws in the government’s proposed approach to extra-territorial jurisdiction”, saying that there remains “a gap in protection and legal redress for women harmed abroad”.104

72.Witnesses told us that the provision of specialist domestic abuse services is inadequate and that generic providers do not have the capacity or the expertise to provide the required specialist support to protected, vulnerable or minority groups, or to people with additional needs such as debts or drug or alcohol dependency. The 2017 review of domestic abuse practitioners, carried out by SafeLives, found that only 75% of the required number of specially trained independent domestic violence advisors (IDVAs) are in post, despite this role being a key part of the Government’s VAWG strategy. We recommend that the new Commissioner assess the extent of coverage by IDVAs (Independent Domestic Violence Advisers) across the country and makes recommendations to the Government about how to increase provision.

73.We are particularly concerned about the reported decrease in specialist services for BAME victims of abuse. Some BAME women are more vulnerable to culturally specific types of abuse and can find it particularly difficult to seek help because of close-knit family and communities, and because of language difficulties. Witnesses provided evidence about a range of specific problems for some BAME women, including financial difficulties for those with No Recourse to Public Funds, transnational marriage abandonment, honour-based violence and extra-territorial jurisdiction for victims who are removed from the UK in order to be harmed. We believe that specialist ‘by and for’ BAME domestic abuse services are necessary to win the confidence of BAME victims of abuse, to understand the issues they face and to have the skills and experience to provide the necessary support.

74.We recommend that the Government’s review of refuge and other domestic abuse support services should document and report what specialist provision is currently available, and where there are gaps. This should specifically identify the services available to, and required by, BAME victims of abuse.

Impact on children

75.Domestic abuse within a family can have a devastating effect on children and young people. Hestia Housing and Support estimated that 25% of young people in England and Wales have witnessed at least one episode of domestic violence and abuse by the age of 18, and said that 950,000 children across the UK are affected by domestic abuse each year, either directly as victims of violence, or indirectly in terms of witnessing violence.105

76.Action for Children explained that children’s lives are often destabilised by domestic abuse: children may not be able to develop an understanding of healthy relationships and may later become abusive themselves; and infants who are exposed to violence in the home can undergo so much added stress that it can negatively affect brain development and impact on cognitive and sensory growth.106 Professor Jane Callaghan told us that children experience direct harm as a consequence of exposure to domestic abuse and that they are at greater risk of a broad range of other harms. These include mental health difficulties, educational difficulties, socioeconomic problems as a consequence of educational dropout, as well as exposure to a higher risk of child sexual exploitation and involvement in criminal gangs.107

77.Witnesses suggested that children affected by domestic abuse are not properly recognised in the Government’s proposals. Barnardo’s said that the prospective bill “fails to recognise the full picture of risks and vulnerabilities that children affected by domestic abuse experience”.108 The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) recommended that children, and the impact on them of domestic abuse, be given a stronger representation in the bill. Action for Children stated that the Government’s recent consultation did not put forward any meaningful measures to address the needs of children. It called for more support services for children to help them recover from their experiences, and more central Government funding for these services.

78.Refuge called for the Government to set out a clear strategy for protecting children and enabling them to recover from the harms caused by domestic abuse. It said that this must include sustainable funding for specialist services for children of all ages. It explained that:

Many local authorities do not fund any services for children in domestic violence services, despite children making up around half of the residents in refuges at any one time. Organisations, like Refuge, are instead required to rely on donations and voluntary sources of funding to provide services and support to children.109

79.The flight to emergency accommodation may be particularly difficult for families. The End Violence Against Women coalition found that the percentage of women who were forced to ‘sofa surf’ while seeking access to a refuge increased from 39.9% in 2016–17 to 45.8% in 2017–18 , and that more than half those women had children. Less than one in five vacancies posted to Routes to Support in 2016–17 could accommodate a woman with three children.110 Leaving the abuser can also often mean that children have to leave their school and friends, for example, if the refuge place is out of area or if there is a fear that the perpetrator will seek to make contact with the family during drop-off or pick-up at the school. Children may have to change school more than once, as they are moved from one place of refuge or temporary accommodation to another.

80.Children may find it difficult to integrate into a new community, especially if they have to move several times or become in need of a new school place outside the normal school admissions cycle. A Women’s Aid survey of refuge services in 2013–14 found that 42% of responding services reported difficulties in placing children living in refuges in schools and 44% had encountered problems in accessing mental health services for children and young people.111 We have heard anecdotally that, in some instances, the additional complexity such challenges represent to families escaping abuse has caused the victim to return to their abuser, putting themselves at risk through trying to secure a wider support network for a child.

81.Hestia Housing and Support explained that these young people may need support in dealing with trauma and issues arising from moving home, suddenly changing schools and coping with the loss of relationships with other family members. It called for children who have experienced domestic abuse to be given protected status on NHS waiting lists, saying that:

Children who have experienced domestic abuse need to be given a special waiting list status (protected status) for all NHS services including child and adult mental health services (CAMHS). The current system for accessing NHS services including CAMHS services differs from one primary care trust (PCT) to the next. Children who experience domestic abuse move on average three times in the first year that their parent accesses specialist domestic abuse support such as a refuge. Each time a child moves they could be faced with having to be re-assessed or re-referred to NHS services such as CAMHS. This delays and at times prevents access to vital services.112

82.Professor Callaghan told us that “the problem is too little legislation and too little direct recognition of their status as victims”. Professor Callaghan recommended that the Bill explicitly recognise that, where other members of the family are present, they are also considered as direct victims of abuse.113 She proposed broader guidance for public bodies and for staff, including police officers, to be trained to respond to children and young people effectively and appropriately,114 and statutory obligations on local authorities in relation to the protection of children experiencing domestic abuse.115 Professor Callaghan also described a model, Safe and Together, being used by local authorities in Scotland and led by Edinburgh Council. This model aims to offer an alternative approach to the current practice of expecting domestic abuse victims to protect their children rather than requiring the perpetrator to cease being abusive. The Scottish model adopts a multiagency response, with the aim of keeping children with their caregivers and making sure that the perpetrator remains visible in the system, which enables a better focus on children’s safety.116

83.Operation Encompass is a reporting scheme where police notify schools before the start of a school day about a domestic abuse incident that a child or young person has been involved in, or exposed to, the previous evening, so that the school can provide appropriate support. The aim is to ensure that schools support children and parents at the earliest possible point. Women’s Aid suggested that the forthcoming bill was an opportunity to provide a statutory underpinning to Operation Encompass, and to deliver a consistent national implementation.117 DCC Rolfe told us that every police force was keen to participate, and that 33 forces were doing so when HMICFRS carried out its most recent inspection. However, not all schools were signed up to the scheme, and some areas required education authorities to act as an intermediary which was less effective.118

84.Children who have experienced domestic abuse risk suffering a range of long term negative consequences as a result of their experiences and must be able to access the necessary support and health services to help them recover. Children in refuge and other temporary accommodation, and those who have moved home repeatedly to flee domestic abuse, are particularly vulnerable and risk becoming invisible to professionals in the education, health and social care sectors.

85.We recommend that the devastating effect of domestic abuse on children is explicitly recognised in the legislation and that the Government develops a clear strategy to ensure that children experiencing domestic abuse are protected and given the support necessary to help them recover. Under this strategy, children must be given special waiting list status (protected status) for all NHS services including child and adult mental health services (CAMHS), and statutory service providers should be required to have regard to the wellbeing of the child, including the benefits deriving from stability in their education, when making decisions about the welfare of the family in refuge. In cases where the wellbeing of the child requires a change of school, and a change is requested by the family in refuge, local authorities should be given the same statutory obligation as they have for looked-after children on an emergency placement, to provide a new school place, within twenty school days.119 The Government must consider what further reform of education law and guidance is necessary to remove any obligation upon schools to share information with a non-resident parent when a child is in refuge. It is essential that this strategy is supported with adequate funding for all the relevant specialist services.

Probation Services

86.Victims of domestic abuse, and their families, may rely on probation services to protect them from individuals who have been convicted of offences relating to that domestic abuse. A recent thematic inspection report from HM Inspectorate of Probation noted that probation services “can and should play an important role in reducing domestic abuse and protecting victims and children” but expressed “grave concern” about some of the probation work which is intended to protect victims of domestic abuse, and especially children.120

87.Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) are independent organisations, owned by private companies on contract and held accountable by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). CRCs manage cases assessed at sentence as posing a low or medium risk of harm to others. According to the Inspectorate’s report, most of the perpetrators of domestic abuse who have been convicted of offences such as public order or criminal damage, and many who are serving sentences for assault, will have been assessed as posing a low or medium risk of harm. These cases will be managed by CRCs and constitute a substantial part of their business. The Inspectorate’s report identified a number of concerns about CRC services in these cases and suggested that in many cases they failed to provide proper protection for victims and their children:

It was hard to see the victim’s voice in plans to manage risk of harm. In the majority of cases, it was important to make plans to keep victims safe; planning took enough account of victims in just over half of these. There was a need to protect children in three-quarters of the cases we looked at; this had been given enough consideration in 37 per cent of these.121

88.In June 2018 the Justice Committee expressed doubt that the delivery model of Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) could “ever deliver an effective or viable probation service” and called upon the Government to initiate a review of the long-term future and sustainability of delivering probation services under this model.122 While the Government subsequently initiated a review, this is more restricted in scope than the Justice Committee recommended.123 The thematic inspection on the work of CRCs in relation to domestic abuse, from HM Inspectorate of Probation, provides further cause for urgent action by the Government to address the failings of the CRC model.

89.We support HM Inspectorate of Probation’s recommendation that the Ministry of Justice must, as part of the probation systems review, consider how to compel Community Rehabilitation Companies to focus on the quality of work with perpetrators and victims of domestic abuse, and to ensure that their approach prioritises the need to protect victims and children.

75 HM Government, Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse: Government Consultation, 8 March 2018, p7

80 Q7

82 Women’s Aid, SOS: Save Refuges, Save Lives Campaign: Briefing on Supported Housing Reforms, November 2017

83 HM Government, ‘All supported housing funding to be retained in welfare system’, 9 August 2018: (accessed on 17 October 2018)

84 Women’s Aid, Funding a national network of refuges, September 2018: available at (accessed on 29 September 2018)

86 The Government has stated that it will provide £72.7 million to local authorities to meet the new burdens costs associated with the additional duties contained within the Homelessness Reduction Act over the course of the Spending Review; HM Government, ‘Homelessness Reduction Act: new burdens funding’, 16 October 2017

92 HM Government, Ending Violence against Women and Girls: Strategy 2016–2020, March 2016, p54: p54

93 SafeLives, SafeLives’ 2017 survey of domestic abuse practitioners in England and Wales, January 2018:

110 Women’s Aid, Nowhere to turn, 2018: Findings from the second year of the No Woman Turned Away project, 26 June 2018: (accessed on 18 October 2018)

111 Women’s Aid, Annual Survey: A year in the life of children and young people’s services, 1 April 2013–31 March 2014:

119 Department for Education, Promoting the education of looked-after children and previously looked-after children: Statutory guidance for local authorities, February 2018:

120 HM Inspectorate of Probation, Domestic abuse: the work undertaken by Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), September 2018, p9: p9

121 P30

122 Justice Committee, Ninth Report of Session 2017–19, Transforming Rehabilitation, HC 482, 22 June 2018, para 200,

Published: 22 October 2018