The Domestic Abuse Act – A Guide For Employers

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which became law in April, marks significant steps forward to providing further protections to the millions of people who are subjected to Domestic Abuse.  During 2019 to 2020 2.3m people in England and Wales were affected by Domestic Abuse and Violence.  The bill has taken four years of hard work by various organisations and will also strengthen measures to tackle perpetrators.  

The bill has four main objectives relating to Domestic Abuse:

  • To promote awareness.
  • To protect and support victims.
  • To transform the justice process.
  • To improve performance of the justice system.​

So what does the Act mean to businesses and survivors of Domestic Abuse?  There are 7 key parts: ​

Part One  – Creating a statutory definition of Domestic Abuse​

The new Act will for the first time have a wide-ranging legal definition of Domestic Abuse.  Many incidences of Domestic Abuse as not physical violence which is often the assumption by many – Domestic Abuse includes emotional, coercive or controlling behaviour, and economic abuse, which the Act now recognises in law.  See The Haven’s January newsletter for possible indicators of Domestic Abuse in the workplace.

To fall within the definition, both the victim and perpetrator must be ‘personally connected’. This will mean that different types of relationships are captured, including ex-partners and family members.  Often it is not recognised that other members of a family may be perpetrators – such as children with older victims. Read more information about this via Age UK.

The definition is gender neutral to ensure that all victims and all types of Domestic Abuse are sufficiently captured, and no victim is excluded from protection or access to services.  The definition of Domestic Abuse does not extend to paid and unpaid carers, unless they are also personally connected such as a family member.

The act also recognises post-separation abuse through coercive and controlling behaviour.  It no longer makes it a requirement for abusers and victims to either still be in a relationship or to still live together.  There is significant research which shows that those who leave abusive ex-partners can often face sustained or increased controlling or coercive behaviour post-separation.  As a consequence, we know that victims are at a heightened risk of homicide during the period immediately following separation.  This is worth knowing and supporting if someone discloses to you in the workplace.

See The Haven’s March training newsletter on coercive control.

The Domestic Abuse Act has also recognised Children as victims of domestic abuse. This is the first time that a child who sees or hears, or experiences the effects of Domestic Abuse, and is related to the person being abused or the perpetrator, is also to be regarded as a victim of Domestic Abuse in their own right.

Part Two – Domestic Abuse Commissioner

The act has established in law the Domestic Abuse Commissioner as a statutory office holder​ and gives the role specific powers that will help to improve the response to Domestic Abuse. 

The new role will help drive consistency and better performance in the response to Domestic Abuse across all local areas, and hold both government and agencies to account.

The commissioners name is Nicole Jacobs and there will be regional leads.

“My successors and I will be expected to publish reports and lay them before Parliament and the role is also tasked with driving up the response to Domestic Abuse and addressing the so-called ‘postcode lottery’ for victims and survivors.”

Part Three – Powers for dealing with Domestic Abuse 

The Bill introduces a new civil Domestic Abuse Protection Notice (DAPN) and a new civil Domestic Abuse Protection Order (DAPO).  These are alternative application routes to consolidate the existing array of protection orders relating to Domestic Abuse, such as Domestic Violence Protection Orders and non-molestation orders.

These are ways of to protect victims can be used by the police and courts.  DAPOS will bring together the strongest elements of these schemes which will allow courts will be able to hand out new Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to help prevent offending by forcing perpetrators to take steps to change their behaviour, including seeking mental health support or drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

The Haven and other external agencies help victims with these and work together to ensure protection.

Part Four – Local Authority Support

The Bill will place a statutory duty on tier one local authorities to provide support to victims of Domestic Abuse and their children within refuges and other safe accommodation.​  The types of safe accommodation that will be covered are refuge accommodation, specialist safe accommodation,   dispersed accommodation, sanctuary schemes and move-on or second stage accommodation.  

Support includes counselling, financial, resettlement, community and internal programmes – see here for more examples.

Part Five – Protection for victims and witnesses in court 

Abusers will no longer be allowed to directly cross-examine their victims in the family and civil courts.  Victims will also be given better access to special measures in the courtroom to help prevent intimidation – such as protective screens, giving evidence via video link, separate entrances and exits and waiting rooms.  

Consider your Domestic Abuse policy – does it have a provision for time off work for court appearances?

Part Six – Offences involving violent or abusive behaviour

There are various aspects to part six:

  • It restates in statute law that a person may not consent to the infliction of serious harm and, therefore, is unable to consent to their own death.​
  • The Bill will extend the jurisdiction of the UK courts so that, where appropriate, UK nationals and residents who commit certain violent and sexual offences outside the UK may be brought to trial in the UK​.
  • It makes non-fatal strangulation a specific crime, creating a new offence of non-fatal strangulation.  Strangulation has long been minimised by criminal justice agencies, particularly because there are often no or few physical marks.  Sometimes it is not prosecuted at all, and when it is prosecuted it is often charged as common assault, the equivalent of a slap.
  • The new non-fatal strangulation offence will be a far more serious crime that can go to the Crown Court and has a maximum sentence of five years.  There is no time limit for instituting charges, unlike common assault which cannot be prosecuted after six months.  
  • Rough sex gone wrong has been outlawed – the claim that a dead woman consented to violence has been made in 60 UK homicides so far.  In 45% of these, the ‘rough sex’ claim worked leading to a lighter sentence, a lesser charge, or in some cases the death not investigated as a crime at all.  By using this claim, offenders have been getting away with little to no punishment for terrifying acts of violence. The accused have been admitting to causing death and yet getting away with murder.  

Part Seven – Polygraph testing and Clare’s Law

The Bill enables Domestic Abuse offenders to be subject to polygraph testing as a condition of their licence following their release from custody.​

The act also puts the guidance supporting the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (Clare’s Law) on a statutory footing for the first time.​ The scheme allows the police to disclose information about individuals with a history of abusive or violent behaviour which would protect a potential victim from harm.

There are two avenues for disclosure under Clare’s Law: the ‘right to ask’, and the ‘right to know’.

‘Right to ask’ – a person can apply for a disclosure if they are concerned about whether a partner or potential partner has a history of abusive behaviour. Third parties can also seek a disclosure if they are worried that a someone is at risk.  When such an application is made, the police have to decide whether or not to disclose any history of violent or abusive behaviour on the basis of whether it could prevent further harm.

‘Right to know’ – this allows the police to make a proactive disclosure to a potential victim on their own initiative if they believe it could protect that person. The ‘right to know’ could arise following information received from a criminal investigation, or through a statutory or third sector agency.

These are the parts of the new Domestic Abuse Act 2021 – the act also provides that all eligible homeless victims of Domestic Abuse automatically have ‘priority need’ for homelessness assistance.​  It ensures that where a local authority, for reasons connected with Domestic Abuse, grants a new secure tenancy to a social tenant who had or has a secure lifetime or assured tenancy this must be a secure lifetime tenancy.​

Omissions from the Domestic Abuse Act

Unfortunately, there are some omissions in the Bill as follows:

  • The Government’s failure to protect all migrant woman by providing access to Domestic Abuse support services will leave some of the most vulnerable survivors at risk.  Insecure immigration status should never be a barrier to accessing support. The Haven’s support for women with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) includes:
  • Dedicated units of accommodation.
  • In-house immigration support with leave to remain applications and through partnerships with other local organisations and solicitors.
  • Whilst not all women we support with NRPF are from a BAME background, those who are can access specialist support from our BAME IDVA.
  • Translation and interpretation support in-house and via external systems.
  • Counselling services delivered in multiple languages (currently Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi, Pashto (Afghan), Arabic, Somali, Miburi, Swahili, Italian and Turkish).
  • The Bill has also not recognised the Universal Credit system.  Currently, Universal Credit is paid by default into one account, which gives perpetrators total control over the entire household income and enabling economic abuse.  Campaigners are calling on the Government to change Universal Credit so advances are paid as grants rather than loans to survivors of Domestic Abuse.

Other sources:

Domestic Abuse Bill: factsheets

Domestic Abuse Act 2021: overarching factsheet

Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme Pilot Guidance

Domestic Abuse policies and training provided by The Haven Training. Visit here to find out more. Or contact us to discuss – training@havenrefuge.org.uk

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