Domestic Abuse Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Promoting awareness

1.The aims of the proposed domestic abuse bill include furthering both the Government’s domestic abuse strategy and its Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy. The Government must ensure that it meets both of these objectives. The Bill should provide measures which will help all victims of domestic abuse including women and men, and victims within LGBT and wider family relationships. But it is also essential that future domestic abuse strategy and services should continue to include focus on women who, because of broader inequality issues, are more likely to be victims of abuse and to suffer disproportionately as a result of abuse. (Paragraph 21)

2.The Government says that it has developed its response to tackling domestic abuse within the context of its wider Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy: this needs to be on the face of the draft bill. We recommend that the Government publishes a Violence Against Women and Girls and Domestic Abuse Bill. We believe that this will facilitate a more effective, joined-up and cross-Government strategy to tackle both domestic abuse and VAWG and will better demonstrate the UK’s commitment to comply with international VAWG conventions. (Paragraph 22)

3.We recommend that the bill explicitly recognises the gender inequality underlying domestic abuse, and the need to reflect this inequality in education programmes, funding, service provision, criminal justice and other statutory responses to domestic abuse. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has recommended that the new statutory definition of domestic abuse should apply to both sexes, but that the disproportionate impact of domestic abuse on women and girls is explicitly highlighted in the text of the bill and the statutory guidance. We support this recommendation. (Paragraph 23)

4.Stalking is a serious crime which can have a devastating impact on the lives of victims. Victims of stalking often endure years of abuse before the crime is taken seriously. We were told that existing criminal justice responses were often ineffective in stopping perpetrators. We recommend that a national register of serial stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators, as recommended by Paladin, is introduced as a matter of urgency and that individuals placed on the register should, like registered sex offenders, be managed through multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA). We believe that a more integrated VAWG and domestic abuse strategy would support a better statutory response to stalking, and a more joined-up approach to supporting victims and managing the behaviour of perpetrators. (Paragraph 29)

5.We welcome the Government’s recognition that domestic abuse can take different forms of coercive or controlling behaviour, and that it can be displayed not only through a single act of serious abuse, but also through a series of incidents. Economic abuse is associated with an increased risk of homicide because victims tend to stay with abusive partners for longer when they do not have the financial means to leave. The inclusion of economic abuse in the Government’s proposed statutory definition is a positive step, both in terms of allowing it to be included as part of a wider pattern of abuse and as criminally abusive in its own right, even in relationships where no violent abuse is involved. In light of the Lords Select Committee on Financial Exclusion’s recommendation that there should be a statutory duty of care for financial service providers, we recommend that the Government look at options for strengthening the current voluntary code of practice on financial abuse, to include the possibility of introducing a duty of care to protect victims of financial abuse. We note that New Zealand has recently passed legislation granting paid leave for victims of domestic abuse, in order to help victims keep their jobs and maintain their economic independence whilst escaping abuse. We believe this has the potential to save lives. The Government should analyse the potential impact of domestic abuse leave and consult on options for introducing domestic abuse leave in the UK. (Paragraph 39)

6.That no payments under Universal Credit are made to the main carer by default, after decades in which the importance of independent resource for the main carer has been recognised, appears to be a particularly retrograde and damaging step. (Paragraph 42)

7.Witnesses suggested that the Government’s welfare reform policies were making it even more difficult for victims to leave their abusers and establish financial independence. We heard that the default single household payment for Universal Credit can reduce the autonomy of some women, make them more vulnerable to abuse and more likely to stay with an abuser. We recommend that the UK Government should make split payments standard for all couples in England and Wales, in line with the approach taken in Scotland. (Paragraph 43)

8.We strongly support the introduction of further measures to prevent domestic abuse, to improve the identification and response to domestic abuse by organisations and to educate young people about healthy relationships. More training, central guidance and national oversight is required to ensure that public sector staff dealing with members of the public can identify signs of domestic abuse, respond appropriately and know how to help victims of domestic abuse access whatever specialist support they may need. (Paragraph 50)

9.Relationship education in schools is an important part of the awareness programme. It is regrettable that the establishment of compulsory relationship and sex education has now been delayed until 2020. This should be a meaningful part of building awareness. However other initiatives will also be required to challenge representations of abusive behaviour in the media, on social media and in marketing messages. The Government must allocate sufficient funding for these programmes to be effective and establish a mechanism for determining priorities and evaluating the impact of different initiatives. (Paragraph 51)

10.We recommend that the Government ensures that its awareness raising and training programmes address the objectives of its VAWG strategy as well as its domestic abuse strategy, and that it develops a coordinated approach to challenging all forms of abusive behaviour towards women and girls. The proposed Commissioner should be given powers to investigate the availability and effectiveness of prevention programmes, training for public service staff and awareness campaigns, and to make recommendations for their improvement. (Paragraph 52)

Protecting and supporting victims

11.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. (Paragraph 62)

12.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. (Paragraph 63)

13.It is right that domestic violence 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. (Paragraph 64)

14.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. (Paragraph 72)

15.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. (Paragraph 73)

16.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. (Paragraph 74)

17.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. (Paragraph 84)

18.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. 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. (Paragraph 85)

19.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. While the Government subsequently initiated a review, this is more restricted in scope than the Justice Committee recommended. 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. (Paragraph 88)

20.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. (Paragraph 89)

Pursuing and deterring perpetrators

21.Evidence indicates that the police response to victims of domestic abuse is improving, but that there are instances where victims’ claims of abuse are not taken seriously, where they do not receive an appropriate police response and where police forces do not follow national guidance on recording or responding to reports of domestic abuse incidents. These failings can have catastrophic consequences for victims of abuse. (Paragraph 101)

22.We were particularly concerned to hear evidence that many police forces share details of victims with the Home Office for the purposes of immigration control. Immigration status itself is used by perpetrators of domestic abuse as a means to coerce and control. Victims of abuse with uncertain immigration status are particularly vulnerable because they can have difficulties in accessing financial support and refuge and other support services, so they have few options for escaping from abuse. (Paragraph 102)

23.Insecure immigration status must not bar victims of abuse from protection and access to justice. The Government states that its immediate priority is to ensure that all vulnerable migrants, including those in the UK illegally, receive the support and assistance they need regardless of their immigration status. It must ensure that the police service conforms with this objective. (Paragraph 103)

24.We heard evidence that there is a lack of consistency in the way in which criminal and family courts treat the seriousness and impact of domestic abuse, with family courts tending to prioritise contact with both parents even when there has been a criminal conviction for violence, or a history of other domestic abuse. (Paragraph 115)

25.Restorative justice is not appropriate for crimes involving coercion and control of victims, because it provides perpetrators with a further opportunity to continue their abusive behaviour. The Government must update its Restorative Justice Action Plan so as to provide clear direction that restorative justice is not an option for stalking and domestic abuse cases given the clear risks of restorative justice for these types of offence. (Paragraph 116)

26.Witnesses described family court proceedings for victims of domestic abuse as traumatising and harrowing. It is unacceptable that navigating the justice system can be as distressing for some victims as the abusive behaviour which they are seeking to escape, and that children may be placed in danger because of a lack of coherence between different parts of the justice system. We are very concerned about the evidence of safeguarding gaps in the family courts, highlighted by the evidence of Professor Shazia Choudhry. We urge the President of the Family Division to consider what further steps are necessary to ensure practice in the family courts fully recognises the paramount importance of the welfare of the child as set out in section 1(1) of the Children Act 1989, and the safeguards to protect children from any harm that might arise through parental contact which are set out in section 1(6) of the Act, as amended by the Children and Families Act 2014. (Paragraph 117)

27.Improvements would include better sharing of information, and training. We recommend that all judges, magistrates and professionals involved in child contact cases in the family court receive specialist training on domestic abuse, coercive control and on the provisions of Practice Direction 12J. (Paragraph 118)

28.We have particular concerns about the impact on children of court proceedings, and the lack of co-ordinated support for them. There is a need for more specialist children’s workers who are trained to recognise the impact of domestic abuse on children, and to ensure that the relevant statutory organisations respond to their needs. We recommend that the new Commissioner should have, as a priority in the first year of office, to review the impact upon children of the interaction between the family courts, children’s services, CAFCASS and the police, with particular reference to contact arrangements in domestic violence cases. (Paragraph 119)

29.On 6 March 2018 the then Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Dr Philip Lee MP, advised the House that the draft domestic abuse bill would address the unacceptable “abuse and coercion of females, invariably by males, through the court process”. The bill must prohibit the cross-examination of a victim by an alleged perpetrator of domestic abuse in the family court. (Paragraph 120)

Improving performance

30.We welcome the proposal for a new Commissioner, however, the creation of a Commissioner will not in itself improve delivery of the Government’s domestic abuse strategy if the new post is largely a figurehead with limited powers. (Paragraph 127)

31.We believe that a key function for the new Commissioner must be to establish a robust accountability mechanism to ensure that services are delivered where they are required. Given the broad remit of the domestic abuse strategy, the Commissioner will also need to have sufficient authority to investigate and comment on the impact of mainstream Government services on victims of domestic abuse, such as access to justice, health, housing and welfare benefits, as well as on specifically tailored domestic abuse services. Recognising the challenges highlighted by the first holder of the role of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, we support the creation of a new Commissioner to support delivery of the domestic abuse strategy, provided that they are given adequate powers and resources to be effective. We recommend that the Government review its proposals with a view to strengthening the remit and increasing the resources of the proposed Commissioner. It is essential that the Commissioner is fully independent: to this end, we also recommend that the Commissioner is accountable, and reports directly, to Parliament rather than to Government, and is independently accommodated and resourced. (Paragraph 128)

32.Confining the scope of the new Commissioner to domestic abuse would fail to recognise the gendered nature of domestic abuse, and its links to other forms of gender-based abuse in the lives of many women and girls. We therefore recommend this new post is established as a Violence Against Women and Girls and Domestic Abuse Commissioner. The remit of the new Commissioner should reflect the scope of both the domestic abuse and the VAWG strategies. (Paragraph 129)

Published: 22 October 2018