1. Improve the system for survivors of domestic abuse

It is essential that survivors of domestic abuse have access to the legal, civil and economic support they need to enable them to recover and rebuild their lives. But right now, many survivors of domestic abuse are unable to access that support.

There is dwindling confidence and trust in the police and the criminal and family courts to deliver protection and justice. Survivors of domestic abuse often tell Refuge when they report abuse that they experience minimisation and victim-blaming from police officers. This is paired with an overstretched criminal justice system, with survivors waiting for extended periods, sometimes years, for their case to go to trial due to overwhelming court backlogs. Survivors are re-traumatised by the family court process. There continue to be serious structural issues in the ways that domestic abuse
is responded to within the family courts, causing a serious risk of harm to survivors, including children, due to a pro-contact culture and presumption of contact with both parents, even in cases of domestic abuse. This leads to dangerous child contact arrangements with perpetrators, for both the survivor-parent and children.

For survivors of domestic abuse, ‘home’ is not a place of safety and security, but one of fear. Inaccessible housing and a welfare system often weaponised by perpetrators means that survivors are often forced to remain living with a dangerous abuser. This is paired with structural issues such as local authority gatekeeping practices where they are not correctly applying legislation, forcing survivors to make difficult decisions between taking up unsuitable offers or facing prolonged periods of stay in refuges, returning to dangerous perpetrators or becoming at risk of street
homelessness. In addition, Perpetrators of domestic abuse are using aspects of the welfare system to facilitate and exacerbate abuse, particularly economic abuse, on survivors.

Black and minoritised women, migrant women, D/deaf and disabled women and members of the LGBTQI+ community continue to experience discrimination and additional barriers to accessing support. Major reform is needed to ensure that minoritised and migrant women are supported equally and without discrimination.

If we do not tackle structural issues in the response to domestic abuse across the system, the safety of survivors of domestic abuse will continue to be put at risk. Political leaders must make this a priority moving forward.

When you find the courage to leave it’s not easy and it’s so frustrating when the system lets you down.

Louise*

We are calling on political parties to:

Improve the criminal justice system by:

  • Introducing a statutory duty for all police and criminal justice practitioners who come into contact with survivors of VAWG to undertake mandatory domestic abuse and VAWG training. This training should be culturally competent and reflect the barriers and experiences of minoritised women. It should be developed in collaboration with specialist VAWG services, and delivered by VAWG specialists.
  • Fast-track, prioritise and guarantee fixtures of VAWG court trials to ensure cases proceed in a timely manner and the time between charge and trial is reduced.
  • Improving the police response to domestic abuse, by responding to and acting on breaches of protective orders, improving the assessment of risk at the scene of a domestic abuse offence, and improving the investigation of domestic abuse offences and support to survivors during the investigation.

Reform the family courts by:

  • Expanding access to legal aid for all survivors of domestic abuse by exempting them from the means test for legal aid.
  • Taking meaningful steps to prevent perpetrators from weaponising family court proceedings as a further tool of abuse by tackling the use of unregulated ‘experts,’ so-called parental alienation arguments, and litigation abuse.
  • Reversing the presumption in favour of parental involvement in cases involving domestic abuse where there is either a criminal conviction or a finding of fact in a civil court.
  • Implementing mandatory trauma-informed training on domestic abuse and VAWG for family court practitioners, which is developed in collaboration with the specialist VAWG sector.

Improve survivors’ access to housing by:

  • Introducing new regulations that require local authorities to exempt survivors of domestic abuse from any local housing connection or residency requirements as part of their qualification criteria for applicants of social housing.
  • Introducing a simplified, legal mechanism for the transfer of tenancy in the family court if a survivor of domestic abuse shares a joint secured or assured social tenancy with the perpetrator.
  • Providing local authorities with the resources and training they need to ensure all survivors can access their housing rights. In addition, introducing strong mechanisms for holding local authorities to account when these duties are not upheld.

Commit to welfare reform by:

  • Separating Universal Credit payments by default.
  • Exempting survivors of domestic abuse from repaying benefit advances.
  • Exempting survivors of domestic abuse from the benefit cap to enable them to meet basic living costs.
  • Reforming the Child Maintenance Service to ensure the system does not serve as a further tool of abuse and that survivors receive sufficient and timely maintenance payments.
  • Introducing an adequate, sustainable fund for survivors to receive direct payments to enable them to flee dangerous perpetrators.

Support migrant survivors of domestic abuse by:

  • Scrapping the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ condition to enable all survivors of domestic abuse and VAWG to access lifesaving support and services, eliminating the existing two-tiered system.
  • Expanding the scope of the MVDAC and DVILR schemes to include all survivors, regardless of immigration status, and extending the timeframe of the MVDAC from 3 to 6 months.
  • Implementing a data-sharing firewall between immigration enforcement and public services so that migrant survivors can report abuse without fear of being treated as an offender themselves.