Home Office preparedness for Covid-19 (Coronavirus): domestic abuse and risks of harm within the home Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Domestic abuse and risks of harm within the home

1.We strongly welcome the Government’s public information campaign encouraging people to seek help and making clear that help is available. The Home Secretary’s personal leadership of the information campaign is very welcome and has enhanced its visibility and encouraged police forces and others to run similar campaigns. We encourage the Government to ensure these messages are also integrated into the main Covid-19 information campaigns so that it is made clear to the public that, as the Home Secretary has said, domestic abuse or the risk of abuse constitutes a reasonable excuse to leave home while lockdown measures are in place. (Paragraph 20)

2.The messages should be communicated widely and inclusively, in multiple languages and formats including easy read and British Sign Language. The campaign should also include a child facing element and we would welcome further awareness-raising elements on child abuse. (Paragraph 21)

3.The Home Office should consider development of links between helplines and services, to ensure that every victim gets a timely and safe response. (Paragraph 22)

4.We welcome the Government’s announcement of additional funding for charities which could potentially benefit organisations that provide support services to tackle domestic abuse and child abuse. We strongly support the clear commitment from Martin Hewitt and police forces that responding to domestic abuse is a high priority during the current crisis. The Government, the police and other organisations have all stressed how vital it is to tackle domestic abuse during the Covid-19 crisis and we welcome their recognition of the seriousness and importance of this issue. (Paragraph 23)

5.Whilst the public information programme is welcome, the Government now needs to go much further and set out a full Covid-19 cross-Government strategy on domestic abuse to cover both the period of lockdown and the period immediately after lockdown, when need for support is also likely to be acute. National leadership and coordination from central Government are important. We agree with the Commissioners that a formal cross-Government working group must be established, tasked with the production and implementation of a co-ordinated cross-Government action plan which is integrated into the wider Government planning through the emergency COBR committee. This group should be led by the Home Secretary and include relevant Ministers across Government as well as the Domestic Abuse, Victims and Children’s Commissioners and should operate in consultation with frontline providers. (Paragraph 29)

6.The strategy should include steps on ensuring access to information and support; outreach and prevention; funding for support services, including specialist and BAME services; provision of housing and refuge accommodation; and a criminal justice response. This national strategy should be backed up by action plans produced by all local authorities, as part of their emergency Covid-19 planning, to prevent and address domestic abuse during and after the lockdown. (Paragraph 30)

7.While lockdown and strict social distancing measures are in place, new strategies are needed to ensure victims can access forms of urgent help and support that take account of the fact that it might be harder to phone from home, or to talk privately to a GP, friend or neighbour. We welcome the progress which has already been made towards a Safe Spaces model to offer help through pharmacies. The Government should sponsor a scheme enabling victims of abuse to contact support services through supermarkets and other retailers too. We agree with witnesses that it is essential to act creatively, both nationally and locally, to find new ways to offer access to support during lockdown and to share, encourage and spread effective initiatives. (Paragraph 37)

8.Local authorities, as part of their action plans on domestic abuse, should ensure that local services are pursuing proactive outreach during lockdown, visiting families and households where there have been domestic abuse incidents in the past or where there are vulnerable children. (Paragraph 38)

9.In circumstances where many victims of abuse may have their access to phones and devices controlled by their abuser, neighbours, employers and friends can also play a vital role by recognising the signs of domestic or child abuse, and raising concerns. (Paragraph 39)

10.Domestic abuse needs to be a priority for the entire criminal justice system. The police, Crown Prosecution Service and Courts need to work together to ensure that Domestic Violence Protection Order cases are heard swiftly. Local authorities need to ensure that their domestic abuse action plans include provision for alternative temporary accommodation for perpetrators if that is needed to apply DVPOs and keep victims safe. (Paragraph 43)

11.The Government should ensure that legal aid is granted automatically to domestic abuse victims in respect of any application for protection during the lockdown. (Paragraph 44)

12.We support the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s call for the time limit for proceedings on domestic abuse-related summary offences to be extended following the lockdown. The Government should legislate to extend the time limit set by s127 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980. (Paragraph 46)

13.Support services for domestic abuse and vulnerable children need urgent and direct funding support: without it, desperate victims will be put at far greater risk of harm. Immediate and targeted assistance is needed to maintain services and to address the wider needs of victims of abuse including refuge, food security, culturally-specific support and services addressing additional needs such as debt, insecure immigration status, mental health needs and drug and alcohol dependency. (Paragraph 52)

14.The Government should provide an emergency funding package that recognises the needs of, and is accessible to, both generic providers and those small, specialist, targeted services which are best equipped to help individuals from protected, vulnerable or minority groups, and people with additional needs. We would encourage the Government to consider whether the Tampon Tax might contribute to this support in the short term. (Paragraph 53)

15.The Government should provide a ring-fenced allocation within the promised £750m fund for charities to cover organisations supporting people at risk of abuse, including children. It should also confirm the arrangements for timely, fair and equitable distribution of this fund. We call on the Government to guarantee that all services will be able to apply for funding, regardless of size and whether or not they have an existing relationship with the Government, a local authority or PCC; that the application process will be simple; and that decisions will be made quickly. (Paragraph 54)

16.We recommend that priority need for settled accommodation is extended to survivors of domestic abuse. (Paragraph 60)

17.We welcome the Government’s commitment on 11 April to look at alternative accommodation to support refuges. There is huge pressure on refuges in the meantime and, while referrals are still being accepted, requests for accommodation for women and children at risk of harm are rising. This cannot wait. (Paragraph 61)

18.The Government must prioritise working with local authorities, providers and other stakeholders to increase the availability of refuge and move-on accommodation. Clear Government leadership should be brought to the task of securing hotel and hostel accommodation for victims in all parts of the country, as national coordination is needed to meet the scale and urgency of the challenge, and so that anyone needing to leave their home during lockdown because of abuse can be guaranteed a safe place to stay. The Government must also ensure that the existing network of refuges remains sustainable for the long term by providing ring-fenced support for the additional costs, and loss of income, incurred by these services as a result of coronavirus. (Paragraph 62)

19.Government funding for support services and refuge accommodation must include specialist provision and must ensure that BME services can continue and expand to meet any increased need. (Paragraph 64)

20.It is vital that BME and specialist services get the funding they need at this time, and any individual with No Recourse to Public Funds status should, following referral from a domestic abuse service, be entitled to access state support during the coronavirus crisis, regardless of their immigration status. We will look further at issues relating to NRPF status in our future work. (Paragraph 70)

21.We agree with the Children’s Commissioner and our other witnesses that children’s direct experience of domestic abuse should be recognised in the definition of domestic abuse in the Domestic Abuse Bill. (Paragraph 74)

22.Children’s support services need to be maintained during the Covid-19 crisis. We welcome the fact that helplines like Childline and other services such as CAMHS services, are still open for children who need help. They too need to be sustained by direct Government funding where there are shortfalls because of falling charitable donations. (Paragraph 75)

23.Domestic violence and child abuse remain closely linked. In order to safeguard the most vulnerable children, face to face contact remains the most effective approach. The coronavirus crisis has created new challenges in doing that and therefore we would urge local authorities, schools, police and other professionals involved in child welfare to work collaboratively, to find smarter ways to enable face to face contact to happen and to make sure these children remain firmly on their radar. We are concerned about the numbers of vulnerable children who would be eligible for school places who have not taken up places. Contact should be made to assess whether additional support is needed at home and whether vulnerable children not in school are safe at home. Funding, additional staff and PPE should be supplied to these services to facilitate swift progress with home visits. Leadership is also required from Government to continue the development and clarification of guidance for local authorities and social services on contact with families in crisis outside school. (Paragraph 82)

24.Without strong action to tackle domestic abuse and support victims during the Covid-19 pandemic, society will be dealing with the devastating consequences for a generation. (Paragraph 83)

Published: 27 April 2020