The Domestic Abuse Bill received Royal Assent on the 29 May becoming an Act of Parliament and bringing in important new laws in England and Wales, which will be implemented later this year.
We are proud to have been part of a sector that worked tirelessly and with enormous patience and persistence to make huge improvements to the legislation over those four years and as it made its passage through parliament.
We recognise and are grateful to the survivors, campaigners, charities, MPs and Peers who have worked to improve the legislation, and pay particular thanks to Latin American Women’s Rights and Southall Black Sisters for their incredible work to get recognition of the gaps for migrant women. We will continue to work with and back our sisters to address the gaps that remain for migrant women.
We welcome measures in the Bill to:
- Define domestic abuse in law for the first time, recognising emotional and economic abuse and coercive control as forms of domestic abuse, and extending the offence of coercive control to cover post-separation abuse, reflecting the experiences of our services users and giving hope that statutory services and other agencies’ responses to survivors and perpetrators of domestic abuse will improve as a result.
- Recognise children as victims if they see, hear or otherwise experience the effects of abuse. We have always prioritised family support and therapeutic support for children in our services because we see first-hand the impact on them. This recognition in law must lead to specific funding to support children and the services they engage with.
- Enshrine the role of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner as an independent voice to for the first time gather information and data on the national picture of need and provision for survivors of domestic abuse, and to provide challenge and support to organisations that work with and for survivors including violence against women and girls (VAWG) providers, public services and the Government.
- Place a duty on tier one authorities including the Greater London Authority (GLA) to assess need and provide safe accommodation for survivors and their children; give automatic priority need to people made homeless by domestic abuse; and ensure that survivors with lifetime or assured tenancies do not lose them if they need to move as a result of abuse.
We look forward to working with the GLA and our partners to ensure safe accommodation is high quality and provided by specialist services including those run by and for the communities they support, and to make sure that priority need translates into safe, suitable and affordable homes for survivors and their children.
- Introduce or improve legislation to address specific forms of harm including:
- The new offence of non-fatal strangulation and bringing onto the statute clarity that no one can consent to serious harm or being killed;
- Extending the ‘revenge porn’ offence to cover the threat to disclose intimate images with the intention to cause distress;
- Placing the guidance supporting the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (“Clare’s law”) on a statutory footing
- Address some of the barriers to justice for survivors through:
- Clarifying in law that survivors of domestic abuse are eligible for special measures in the criminal, civil and family courts;
- Measures to address vexatious family court proceedings where perpetrators use the family court to abuse survivors;
- prohibiting perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining survivors in person in family and civil courts in England and Wales;
- Prohibiting GPs and other health professionals from charging a victim of domestic abuse for a letter to support an application for legal aid.
- Require the Government to introduce a national perpetrator strategy as part of their cross-Government domestic abuse strategy, and introduce a new protection notice and protection order with the potential to improve courts’ and police forces’ management of perpetrators.
Risks and Gaps
In our report on housing and homelessness we set out some of the key risks to the successful implementation of the Act, which we will work to address through Government consultation on statutory guidance and through working with the GLA, councils and partners on implementation of the measures in the Act.
1. Support for migrant women -
The Government rejected key amendments to the legislation that would have extended its measures to migrant women. Migrant women with insecure immigration status and women with no recourse to public funds are some of the most vulnerable women because their immigration status can be deliberately exploited by perpetrators and their access to support is limited.
The Home Office is due to respond to the findings of a super complaint made by Southall Black Sisters and Liberty UK in June. In response to the super complaint, an investigation was undertaken jointly by the College of Policing, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). Their recommendations included that the Home Office should establish safe reporting mechanisms for all migrant victims and witnesses, including those with insecure immigration status, in accessing the police service.
The Government has awarded Southall Black Sisters funding to run a pilot scheme for migrant survivors to provide access to safe accommodation and specialist services for women with insecure migration status or who have no recourse to public funds. They have committed to act on the findings of that pilot and doing so resolve one of the key outstanding barriers to the UK signing the Istanbul Convention.
In the emergency Covid-19 refuge set up and run by Solace in partnership with Southall Black Sisters, half of all referrals that were turned away between May and November 2020 were due to lack of provision for women with no recourse to public funds. We will continue to work with and support our sisters to ensure a firewall between public services including the police and enforcement services so all survivors can report abuse, and to end the discriminatory practice of refusing public services to women subjected to abuse and exploitation.
2. Support for specialist violence against women and girls services in the community -
By omitting community services from the new duty in part 4 of the Act, the legislation risks a two tier system where safe accommodation is funded at the expense of community-based services.
Our advice, advocacy and support teams worked with over 10,000 survivors in 2020. We support survivors with creating safety plans while living with abusers; with advice and guidance on immigration, housing and welfare support; with implementing a sanctuary scheme to make it safe to stay home where wanted and possible, with accessing legal aid and guidance through child custody arrangements; and with accessing therapeutic support so they can begin to recover from trauma and rebuild their lives. These services are a lifeline and should also have been made statutory.
3. Creating a register for serial perpetrators -
We were also disappointed that the Government failed to listen to survivors and campaigners and missed the opportunity to create a register for serial perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking, despite making promising remarks in the wake of the tragic murder of Sarah Everard. Their watered down commitment to strengthen guidance means the patterns of dangerous and violent offenders will most likely continue to be overlooked and opportunities to prevent homicides missed.
4. Responding to the needs of housing needs for women from the pandemic -
Finally, this legislation was never designed to address the impact of the pandemic on VAWG and the unparalleled number of survivors reaching crisis point and becoming unsafe in their homes in the last year. Without addressing the medium and long-term housing needs of survivors of VAWG, the combined impact of lockdown on VAWG and the short-term accommodation provided by the Bill risks creating a logjam of need and incentivising further gatekeeping by local authorities in an already unforgiving housing landscape, harming survivors and increasing costs.