Domestic Abuse Bill receives Royal Assent

 
Refuge is delighted that the Domestic Abuse Bill has today received Royal Assent and been signed into law, becoming the Domestic Abuse Act. The Act is the product of many years of work across the women’s sector and is designed to transform the response to domestic abuse.
  • Domestic Abuse Bill signed into law, concluding many years work across the women’s sector and becoming the Domestic Abuse Act
  • Refuge delighted by progressive provisions in the Act but disappointed by key omissions – failure to protect migrant women and amend aspects of the Universal Credit system that facilitates and exacerbates economic abuse.
  • Refuge calls on government to move swiftly to rectify key omissions and ensure all women are protected

As the largest single provider of specialist domestic abuse services, Refuge has played a pivotal role in the development of this primary legislation, successfully campaigning for the Act to make threatening to share intimate images a crime. Until now, only the sharing of intimate images has been illegal – leaving millions of women vulnerable to coercive and controlling behaviour from abusers who threaten to share their intimate images or films. Women were facing huge obstacles when trying to report such threats – police and prosecutors can only protect women where the law allows them to. This vital change in the law, secured by Refuge and survivors of domestic abuse, will protect millions of women from image-based abuse.

Refuge also commends the government for ensuring the Act explicitly recognises economic abuse as a form of domestic abuse, for criminalising non-fatal strangulation and abolishing the ‘rough sex’ defence. Equally, Refuge is delighted that provisions in the Act mean that women who flee their abusive partners and need emergency housing no longer need to prove an ‘additional vulnerability’. This will mean women no longer have to make the impossible choice of remaining with an abuser or facing homelessness.

The Act also cements the government’s commitment to a legal duty to fund emergency accommodation refuges. This has the potential to make available many more emergency beds – but this commitment must be met with adequate funding. The £125 million pledged falls way short of the estimated £174 million pounds needed to ensure funding matches need.

But while the Act is a positive piece of legislation which will protect millions of women, Refuge is concerned by two major omissions. The government’s failure to adopt the amendment which would provide protection to migrant survivors means that the Bill will not protect all women. Insecure immigration status should never be a barrier to accessing support, and Refuge is concerned about the message this send to women who have ‘no recourse to public funds’ or insecure immigration status. Are their lives not as valuable and their experiences less valid? Refuge urges the government to right this wrong and move quickly to abolish the no recourse to public funds condition and ensure that all migrant survivors can apply for indefinite leave to remain independently of their perpetrator.

Refuge is also disappointed that the government did not use the Domestic Abuse Bill as an opportunity to make vital reforms to the way it pays Universal Credit. Currently paid by default into one account, Universal Credit risks giving perpetrators total control over the entire household income overnight, thereby facilitating economic abuse. Refuge calls on the government to overturn this position and pay Universal Credit separately by default when it is claimed jointly with a partner. Universal Credit advances must also be paid as grants rather than loans to survivors of domestic abuse. Failure to do this means that women who flee abusive partners face being thrown into abject poverty when they flee.

Ruth Davison, Refuge chief executive said:

‘Refuge is delighted that the Domestic Abuse Bill has completed the parliamentary process and has been signed into law with royal assent.

The now Domestic Abuse Act is the product of many years work across the women’s sector and will provide increased protection to millions of women across England and Wales, including by criminalising threats to share intimate images – a product of Refuge’s successful The Naked Threat campaign.

However, Refuge is concerned that the Act fails to ensure protection and support is available for all migrant women and address the aspects of the Universal Credit system that facilitates and exacerbates economic abuse, namely the single household payment and five-week delay.

This is a missed opportunity to ensure all woman experiencing abuse are protected and we hope the government will move swiftly to rectify this. Refuge stands ready to work with the government both in ensuring all aspects of the Act are implemented effectively and without delay as well as implement these other vital changes, to ensure all women are protected and able to access support.

Refuge also calls on the government to ensure that the legal duty to fund refuges is met with adequate ring-fenced funding, which matches need. Only then will frontline services be able to step away from the funding cliff edge they so often find themselves on, and ensure no woman or child is turned away from accessing specialist support.’

ENDS

For more information contact press@refuge.org.uk.

About Refuge:

Refuge supports more than 7,000 women and children on any given day, and runs the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, which is the gateway to accessing specialist support across the country. More than one in four women in England and Wales experiences domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime, and two women a week are killed by a current or former partner.

Please signpost to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247, available 24 hours a day 7 days a week for free, confidential specialist support. Or visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk to fill in a webform and request a safe time to be contacted or to access live chat (live chat available 3pm-10pm, Monday to Friday). For real time automated guidance on how to secure your personal devices Refuge also has a Tech Safety Tool.