The measures in the Domestic Abuse Act seek to raise awareness of domestic abuse, including by legislating for the first time for a statutory definition of domestic abuse. The Act also includes a new statutory duty on local authorities to deliver accommodation-based support to victims of domestic abuse (Tier one to deliver services, Tier two to collaborate).
It aims to protect and support victims by introducing a new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Order (DAPO), as well as seeking to transform the justice response by, for example, preventing the cross-examination of victims in family court proceedings by the abuser.
The Act also creates the Domestic Abuse Commissioner role to help drive consistency and better performance in the response to domestic abuse across all local areas and agencies.
The role of the LGA and local government in influencing the legislation
We worked with our Local Government Association (LGA) Vice-Presidents, ministers, parliamentarians, and civil servants, as well as councils and domestic abuse services, as the Bill made its way through Parliament to provide background information on the proposals, commentary on amendments to the legislation, and ideas for enhancing the approach as we sought to influence decision-making. We also gave evidence to the Public Bill Committee to ensure Parliamentarians were fully briefed on the local government perspective on the Bill.
Our advocacy on behalf of local government was developed with the support from and input of councils across the country. Key highlights include:
- We welcomed the Spending Review 2020 announcement of £125 million funding to help enable local authorities to deliver the new duty to support domestic abuse victims and their children in safe accommodation. We are continuing to work with councils and government on this so that we can ensure the successful implementation of the policies. We are also working hard to ensure this new funding meets any increases in demand for services, and any additional burdens identified by local needs assessments.
- The Government recognised the calls of the LGA and charities for a a domestic abuse perpetrator strategy. Throughout the Bill’s passage, we highlighted the importance of preventing domestic abuse from occurring in the first place and the need to take co-ordinated and urgent action against the perpetrators of abuse. It is therefore welcome Government has committed to bringing forward a new statutory domestic abuse perpetrator strategy as part of the domestic abuse strategy.
- We also highlighted the need for sustained investment for quality assured perpetrator interventions that address the whole range of perpetrators. It is welcome the Government listened to this and announced £15 million of additional funding for perpetrator interventions in the 2021 Budget.
- Throughout the Bill’s passage through Parliament we emphasised our support for the creation of a statutory definition of domestic abuse, and the inclusion of economic abuse within this. We welcomed the Government’s decision to strengthen legislation around controlling or coercive behaviour, including the decision to no longer make it a requirement for abusers and victims to live together.
- We expressed concern that the learning from Domestic Homicide Reviews was not being shared at a national level or part of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s remit. We were pleased the Government amended the legislation to require a person or body carrying out a domestic homicide review in England and Wales to send a copy of the report of the review to the Domestic Abuse Commissioner.
- We campaigned for greater investment in community-based support services, which provide vital support for domestic abuse victims. The legislation has now been amended so that the Domestic Abuse Commissioner is able to publish a report, under her new powers in the Act, on the provision of and need for community-based services. Local authorities will also be able to assess the impact of the safe accommodation duty on the provision of community-based support in their area.
- Throughout the passage of the Act, we called for the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to be able to operate with full independence, and for there to be sufficient parliamentary time to consider the reports submitted by the Commissioner. When providing the Secretary of State with the Commissioner’s report, a copy of any report must now be laid before Parliament.
A note of thanks
As this Act was scrutinised by Parliament we worked closely with our President, Vice-Presidents, as well as other MPs and Peers, briefing them ahead of debates and suggesting amendments. On behalf of local government, we are grateful to all those parliamentarians who supported us and championed the concerns and arguments of the sector.