Draft Domestic Abuse Bill Contents

4Refuges and support services

Housing and support services

197.As previously noted, the draft Domestic Abuse Bill is only part of a package of proposals intended to strengthen the response across government to domestic abuse. It is welcome that the Government has recognised the need to improve the provision of refuge services to meet the ambition behind its domestic abuse strategy.262 Its announcement on 13 May 2019 set out the Government’s plans to place a legal duty on local authorities to deliver support to survivors of domestic abuse in accommodation-based services in England, backed by funding to place services on a sustainable footing. The proposals will form part of the Domestic Abuse Bill, when it is introduced.

198.Several Articles of the Istanbul Convention—which the Government has declared it intends to ratify—place obligations on signatories to provide a wide-ranging package of protection and support to victims, including access to specialist support services and refuges. Article 23 of the Convention says: “Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to provide for the setting-up of appropriate, easily accessible shelters in sufficient numbers to provide safe accommodation for and to reach out pro-actively to victims, especially women and their children.” In this area, we urge the Government to take into consideration the additional information on the provision of refuges in the Explanatory Report to the Convention. Article 8 requires parties to allocate appropriate financial and human resources for the work carried out by non-governmental organisations, and Article 9 requires them to recognise, support and establish effective cooperation with them.263

199.The draft Bill contains one clause relating to housing (Clause 54), which deals with the granting of secure tenancies in cases of domestic abuse. This would require local housing authorities to grant a secure tenancy to victims being rehoused as a result of domestic abuse who previously held a secure or an assured tenancy (other than a shorthold tenancy) with a private registered provider of social housing or a housing trust. We were told that this change was likely to affect 1,000 people per year.264 This provision elicited very few comments from our witnesses. What mainly exercised them was the overall provision of accommodation for survivors of abuse.

200.A variety of accommodation is provided for those who have to leave their homes because of domestic abuse, including move-on, properties with Sanctuary Schemes or other enhanced security measures, and emergency accommodation, but our witnesses focused in particular on the availability of refuge places. Emergency refuges provide temporary safe houses for women and children fleeing domestic abuse and can also offer them support with a range of other needs including longer-term housing, education, accessing benefits, employment, immigration or health and wellbeing. 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.

201.In 2015, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) commissioned Women’s Aid to provide additional support to women facing difficulties accessing a refuge space and to conduct a detailed study of their needs. Women’s Aid set up the No Woman Turned Away (NWTA) project to deliver this work. The most recent NWTA project report was published in June 2018 and concluded that some survivors of domestic abuse and their children were being forced to sleep rough because some local authority housing teams were failing in their statutory duty to assist those in priority need who are vulnerable due to fleeing domestic abuse.265

202.Many of our witnesses argued that the existing level of provision was unlikely to be compliant with the requirements of the Istanbul Convention.266 Women’s Aid said that in 2018 there was a shortfall of 1,715 bed spaces in refuges in England, far short of the recommended one family space per 10,000 head of population.267 We were told that on one day 94 women and 90 children were turned away from refuges as a result of lack of spaces.268

203.Currently, refuges are primarily financed through two key funding streams. The rent and related service charges are funded through housing benefit, which makes up about half of a refuge’s income, and the support costs funding which is usually commissioned at local authority level and supplemented by trusts and foundations and other statutory funding sources, as a result of fundraising efforts by a refuge in its local community.269 In evidence to the Home Affairs Committee in 2018, Councillor Simon Blackburn pointed to the benefits that could be delivered through locally commissioned services and strongly endorsed a funding model based on localism, but said that any legislative changes in the Bill must be matched with adequate resources and funding, given that local government was facing “unprecedented levels of demand, with an overall funding gap of £7.8 billion by 2025”.270

204.Lucy Hadley of Women’s Aid told us that the existing fully devolved model of funding for refuges and support services was not working. She pointed out that 21,000 referrals to refuges were declined in 2017–18 and added that the Government had not conducted an assessment of the impact of the Bill on demand for specialist services, even though this number was likely to increase because of the Government’s domestic abuse strategy.271

205.Refuge stated that, without a secure funding model to underpin the specialist services, including refuges, needed by survivors, the provisions in the Bill would be undermined by the “increasingly precarious financial position” of the specialist domestic abuse sector. It explained that:

Specialist services are the lynchpin of an effective response to domestic abuse. They not only provide quality services to keep survivors safe and help them recover and rebuild their lives, but are also essential for prevention and early intervention work through their role in multi-agency partnerships and challenging the structures and attitudes which underpin gender-based violence. As such, it is vital that the Domestic Abuse Bill is accompanied by a serious long-term commitment to funding the specialist services survivors need. This should include specialist Independent Domestic Violence Advocates (IDVAs), Independent Sexual Violence Advisers, outreach services, refuges, psychological support and a range of similar services for children.272

206.The Government’s recent proposals would place a new, statutory duty on Tier 1 local authorities to convene a Local Partnership Board for domestic abuse accommodation and support services, including representation from various stakeholders. The Board would be required to assess need for domestic abuse services, develop and publish domestic abuse strategies, decide what support services are required and commission these accordingly and report progress back to MHCLG. Tier 2 authorities would be subject to a statutory duty to cooperate with the Local Partnership Board. National oversight would be provided through a National Steering Group chaired by an MHCLG Minister, and composed of representatives from various interested organisations, including the Domestic Abuse Commissioner. The proposals cover the funding of support services only, on the basis that the costs of rent and eligible services charges would continue to be met through welfare benefits.273

207.The Government has estimated that around £90 million would be required to support the new duty. The final figure would be informed by the consultation and included in the Spending Review, to ensure the right level of support.274

208.Providers of refuge services welcomed the Government’s announcement but pointed to some issues which would need to be resolved. Women’s Aid said that the new legal framework was a significant step in the right direction which should help to ensure consistent refuge provision across the country and end the postcode lottery that survivors currently faced when seeking safety. However, more work was required on safeguards to ensure: local provision of refuge services, not generic ‘accommodation-based’ provision; an effective national network of refuges that would operate without imposing local connection restrictions; and specific protection for the highly specialised services, including those led by and for black and minority ethnic women, disabled women and LGBT survivors.275 It is also recognised that for women with complex needs, such as severe mental health issues, substance abuse, homelessness, refuge accommodation is often not available or indeed suitable.276 Other locally supported housing provision such as ‘Housing First’ needs to be a priority.

209.Ellie Butt of Refuge expressed some concerns about how demand would be managed if there were a statutory duty for local authorities to commission accommodation. She explained that:

We are worried that if we had a statutory duty, access might be rationed by a “high risk” assessment, as it is with multi-agency support at the moment. … Also, in the current system, where this is not adequately resourced to meet current demand, you could have a race to the bottom in terms of services and service quality. We strongly believe that holistic, gender-specific services that are also independent from the state is often really important to the women we support. There could therefore be an unintended consequence of a statutory duty, encouraging local authorities to bring services in house, deliver them cheaply and require survivors to disclose to local authorities in order to access support.277

210.Councillor Blackburn said that placing a duty only on local authorities was potentially problematic given that they would have to work with many different partners from the police, the health services, the housing agencies and others to achieve the best possible outcomes.278

211.Hannah Gousy of Crisis pointed out that the new legal duty would not require local authorities to provide a safe and settled home for people who were fleeing domestic abuse. She said that in England only 2% of people accorded priority need for settled housing in 2017 were fleeing domestic abuse, compared to 11% in Wales. She thought the difference was because those fleeing domestic abuse in Wales were automatically entitled to settled housing. She recommended that there should be equivalent legislation for England.279 Councillor Blackburn said that many local authorities just did not have sufficient accommodation in which to house those in need.280

212.Heather Wheeler, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, confirmed that the new duty would apply to a range of safe accommodation, that it would require local authorities to base their local strategies on robust needs assessments for all victims, and that local authorities would be appropriately funded to deliver the requirements of the duty.281

213.Currently there are too few places in refuges or supported housing and access to specialist services is limited. We welcome the Government’s announcement that it plans to introduce a statutory requirement in the Bill for accommodation support services in England to be provided for survivors of domestic abuse, and its commitment to provide an adequate level of additional funding to local authorities to enable them to comply with the new duty.

214.Further work is required to clarify the precise details of this duty, but this welcome step will make a significant difference to the support received by survivors of domestic abuse across the country. We encourage the Government to work closely with refuge providers, local authorities and other stakeholders to ensure that future service provision meets anticipated needs including the inter-relationships between local accommodation-based systems, so that they form a national network. This will assist in ensuring full compatibility with the requirements of the Istanbul Convention in this regard.

Specialist support services

215.The MHCLG funding proposal takes a broad definition of accommodation-based domestic abuse services which goes beyond refuges and includes other forms of accommodation, but it does not cover all of the services needed by victims and their children, including community-based services such as advocacy, IDVA and outreach services; dedicated children’s services; and open access services offering one-off advice and information, counselling and helplines.

216.Witnesses said there was a need for specific safeguards to protect and fund these other services, especially the highly specialised ones which had lost out most under localism. These services deliver tailored support to victims of abuse who face multiple forms of discrimination. Some of these services operate on a national basis, supporting victims from many different local authority areas. Liberty recommended that the Bill should “provide meaningful long-term and sustainable funding to domestic abuse services, which meet the basic needs of all survivors and grounded in minimum human rights standards—particularly for migrant women, BME women, LGBT+, disabled and older victims of abuse”.282

217.We heard evidence from witnesses about some of the more specialist types of support required by victims of abuse which would not necessarily be commissioned at a local level.

BME and migrant women

218.Women’s Aid argued that dedicated ‘by and for’ BME women’s services were vital for meeting BME women’s needs, including language specialism and expertise on immigration, discrimination, racism and culturally-specific forms of abuse. However, it said these services faced severe challenges within the current devolved funding model, and in 2018 there were just 30 refuge services run specifically for BME women.283 Jane Gordon, of Sisters for Change, explained:

there have been massive local authority budget cuts, which has led to a drive towards generic lower-cost service provision for domestic abuse and violence against women services generally. Those are often delivered through larger consortia or housing organisations that do not have any specialist knowledge. Both of those core impacts have resulted in discrimination against smaller, specialist BME-violence-against service providers. The statistics, certainly in our report and in Imkaan’s report of December 2018, mirror that. While in 2014 perhaps around 30% of local authority funding went to BME specialist buy-in for organisations, by 2016 that was close to zero per cent. At the moment, the Big Lottery Fund is effectively providing the support for the BME specialist sector. That is not sustainable, because it is in a three-year funding cycle.284

219.Southall Black Sisters drew attention to the problem of funding for specialist services to support migrant women with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) status who were experiencing domestic abuse. It argued that the Government’s proposal to provide £500,000 for crisis support for migrant women and £300,000 to build the capacity of and strengthen specialist BME organisations did not meet the needs of migrant women with NRPF. It called for the development of a comprehensive strategy that focused on protection for all abused migrant women similar to the Violence Against Women and Girls strategy.285


220.We heard evidence of the devasting impact that domestic abuse can have on children and young people, resulting in emotional, social, psychological and behavioural difficulties with short and long-term implications. Lyndsey Dearlove, of Hestia, said that recent research indicated that children who experience domestic abuse are 50% more likely to go on to endure domestic abuse in their own intimate partner relationships, and that, if the right sort of tailored support were not provided now to those children in need, another cycle of domestic abuse would be created.286 A number of leading children’s charities told us that the current proposals were too narrow in scope to adequately safeguard and respond to children experiencing domestic abuse. Witnesses highlighted in particular the lack of tailored, specialist services for children and young people.

221.Emily Frith, Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England, said that research indicated that 1.62 million children lived in a household with an adult who had experienced domestic abuse. Not all these children would be in receipt of children-in-need plans or child protection plans, and so wider support was needed for them. However, there was currently a wide variation across the country in terms of the support available.287 Eleanor Briggs, Action for Children, said that there had been a reduction in the services for children which can decrease the impact of domestic abuse and improve child safety and health outcomes.288

222.Moving to emergency accommodation can be particularly difficult for children. They may have to uproot and change school more than once, as they are moved from one place of refuge or temporary accommodation to another. 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.289 Lyndsey Dearlove of Hestia said that one of the key factors in breaking the cycle of repeated abuse was ensuring that children had access to the specialist support they needed.290 Practical measures that could benefit children who had experienced domestic abuse included protected status on NHS waiting lists, to ensure that they had timely access to the mental and physical health services that they needed, and measures to ensure that children had access to school places when they moved to refuges or other temporary accommodation. Children who experience domestic abuse move on average between three and four times in the first year of fleeing, which disrupts their education. She suggested that children should be in a new school within 20 working days, as in the model for looked-after children.291

223.The Minister emphasised the Government’s commitment to protecting children.292 She suggested that it would be for the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to help local commissioners to understand the impact that domestic abuse had on children and she summarised the ways in which the Government was seeking through non-legislative measures to support children who had experienced domestic abuse.293


224.Dr Jasna Magić, from Galop, the LGBT+ anti-violence charity, said that relatively low numbers of LGBT cases were recorded within the criminal justice system, and that many LGBT survivors would never come into contact with the police or courts. She also pointed out that the criminal justice system did not have sufficient mechanisms to record LGBT domestic abuse and that only one police force, Greater Manchester, had a specialist code to enable it to monitor LGBT experiences of domestic abuse.294

225.Dr Magić told us that specialist services for LGBT survivors of domestic abuse currently existed in only five cities across England and Wales; everywhere else, survivors would be referred to the generic domestic abuse service. Moreover, there were no LGBT-specific refuge services in England, and only two refuges provided specialist support to LGBT survivors.295 She said that the specialist LGBT provision was inconsistent, patchy and often lacking in sustainability due to funding or short-term commissioning, at both local and national levels. She recommended that the Government consider how to encourage local authority areas to work together at the regional level to develop specialist LGBT provision.296

Disabled victims of abuse

226.We heard evidence from Ruth Bashall, CEO of Stay Safe East, a London-based organisation run by disabled people which works with disabled victims of domestic abuse, about some of the barriers faced by their clients in accessing specialist support. These ranged from difficulties in paying for transport to courts, to not being believed because of having mental health issues and not having access to an intermediary or IDVA service, through to refuges turning disabled women away because they were considered to be a health and safety risk. However, she said that the real issue was a complete lack of sufficient knowledge and understanding to work with disabled victims of abuse. In addition, Government funding for specialist support services for disabled victims was very limited, and there was no adequate system for recording and monitoring incidents of abuse against disabled victims. She added that disabled mothers faced particular challenges, including the risk that they would be seen as unable to care for their children alone if they took action against the perpetrator of abuse.297


227.We heard evidence that men who are victims of domestic abuse face different problems and need separate, tailored types of support services to help them deal with that abuse. Jo Todd said that in her experience of running Respect’s Home Office-funded helpline for male victims of abuse, men tended to have different support needs from women. They were, for example, less likely to need crisis refuge provision, but they often had to deal with barriers in accessing support such as dealing with society’s expectations about male behaviours.298 The ManKind Initiative, which provides a helpline for male victims of abuse, supported the current approach of commissioning services, suggesting that any change which placed “the sole or overwhelming focus on female victims” would lead to diminished access to professionally-led support services.299

228.The Government recognises that men and boys are also victims of domestic abuse and that they may face barriers when reporting these crimes and accessing appropriate support services. In March 2019 it published a Male Victims’ Position Statement to recognise the needs of male victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence and forced marriage, and to clarify the government’s position, and has stated that it will provide £500,000 of funding to improve support to male victims of domestic abuse.300

229.Victoria Atkins, the Home Office Minister, told us that she accepted that the current provision of support services was unsatisfactory, “particularly for cohorts of victims who have particular sensitivities … for example, migrant women, male victims and LGBT victims”. She said that part of the reason for the MHCLG consultation was to look at how services were provided nationally, and that the Government wants “to ensure that there are specific, tailored, bespoke services for people and that they are not inadvertently facing difficulties because of their particular circumstances”.301 She also said that Government had made it clear that local authorities should respond to the needs of all domestic abuse victims, including from isolated and marginalised communities, and that the MHCLG consultation would play an important part in considering how that should be achieved.302 Mrs Wheeler said that for some specialist services such as those for BME and LGBT survivors, the Government “would be looking for cross-county, cross-city co-operation, and therefore cross-funding, to meet those needs”.303

230.The Government needs to provide clarity on how non- accommodation based support services such as community-based advocacy and IDVA services and open access advice, helpline and counselling support services will be provided and funded under the new statutory duty proposed by MHCLG and what arrangements will be made for the national provision of highly specialist services. We recommend that the Government works closely with refuge providers, local authorities and other stakeholders to ensure that these essential services are included in future service commissioning plans in order to ensure full compliance with the Istanbul Convention in this regard.

231.We also note the key role in supporting survivors that other parts of the public service, especially in the areas of health and education, need to play. The Government must ensure that survivors of domestic abuse and their children have full access to health and other essential public services and do not suffer any detriment when they are forced to move to new accommodation in a different area. Finding school places and ensuring that survivors of domestic abuse experience no disadvantage in quickly accessing physical and mental health services are vital. Those leaving their homes and communities to escape abuse are sorely in need of such support and should be treated on a par with other vulnerable groups, such as looked after children.

262 Home Office, Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse: Consultation Response and Draft Bill (January 2019), p 21

265 Women’s Aid, ‘Nowhere to Turn 2018’, accessed 4 June 2019

266 See, for example. Joint written submission submitted by Amnesty International, End Violence Against Women, Imkaan, Latin American Women’s Rights Service, Liberty and Sisters for Change (DAB0522).

267 Women’s Aid Federation of England (DAB0404). The recommendation of one space per 10,000 head derives from a resolution of the European Parliament in 1986: European Parliament, Resolution on violence against women, Doc A2–44/86, OJ C 176, 14 July 1986, p 77, para 26(a)

270 Home Affairs Select Committee, Ninth Report of Session 2017–19, Domestic Abuse, HC 1015

272 Refuge (DAB0453)

274 HC Deb, 13 May 2019, col 37 [Commons Chamber]

276 AVA (Against Violence and Abuse) (DAB0437)

282 Liberty (DAB0216)

283 Women’s Aid Federation of England (DAB0404)

285 Southall Black Sisters (DAB0508)

295 Qq142 and 154

299 The ManKind Initiative (DAB0382)

300 Home Office, Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse: Consultation Response and Draft Bill (January 2019), pp 46–47

Published: 14 June 2019