0808 2000 247 Free phone 24 hr National Domestic Violence Helpline Run in partnership between Women’s Aid & Refuge

Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry on Domestic Violence: evidence of Chief Executive Nicola Harwin 03.04.08

Supplementary Memoranda of evidence given by Ms Nicola Harwin. 



Q. 166: How could funding for specialist provision (especially within the voluntary sector) be protected when, as you have indicated, services are being mainstreamed into the statutory sector?

Women’s Aid began the domestic violence movement in the 1970s, opening refuges in recognition of the need for safe, separate spaces for women and children experiencing domestic violence. Today the specialist domestic violence sector has transformed into professional voluntary sector service providers, and remain the experts on domestic violence and meeting the needs of domestic violence survivors. Across the UK a wide range of specialist domestic and sexual violence services providing advocacy and support have been developed to meet a range of needs and now include refuge, outreach (including IDVAs, floating support and resettlement services), helplines, children’s services and survivor support groups.


Increasingly, however, we are witnessing 2 strands of policy development which give concern: the focus on high-risk criminal justice initiatives where local outreach services are being replaced by IDVA services for ‘high-risk’ only victims, because that is the only funding stream available; and  a move towards the commissioning of generic service providers to deliver specialist or generic support services, where independent voluntary sector organisations are being decommissioned and replaced with non-specialist services, sometimes directly managed by the local authority.

These changes are a result of:

  • under-representation of women’s organisation at local decision-making fora (1) 
  • a lack of understanding about the specialist knowledge and skills specialist service providers have, and which are required to meet the needs of domestic violence survivors
  • local authority procurement practices which disadvantage specialist voluntary sector service providers. Local authorities are choosing to put contracts for existing domestic violence services out to competitive tender, under the premise of needing to evidence value for money. Smaller specialist domestic violence organisations are comparatively disadvantaged in the tendering process, which is resource-intensive and highly bureaucratic. Smaller specialist service providers are unable to complete, and are losing contracts to larger, generic service providers who may achieve marginally lower unit costs but have no experience of supporting domestic violence survivors.


Women’s Aid is also particularly concerned by the proposed removal of ring-fencing around Supporting People funding. This change in policy is likely to result in:

  • funding being redirected towards Criminal Justice responses to domestic violence, and away from the range of support services such as refuge accommodation and support services, and outreach services, which are currently funded by Supporting People
  • funding be diverted towards services for groups to whom local authorities have a statutory duty, for example older people and people with disabilities.

Thirteen local authorities in England have been chosen to trial this policy during 2008/9. Women’s Aid shares concerns with the majority of supported housing providers that a one year trial will be insufficient to monitor the full impact of this policy.


In order to protect funding for specialist service provision, Women’s Aid recommends:

  • Development of a Government-endorsed framework for the commissioning of support services for women who have experienced domestic or sexual violence; this framework should be developed in consultation with Women’s Aid, based on indicators linked to the National Service Standards for Domestic and Sexual Violence (developed by Women’s Aid with our national network of services and other voluntary organisations)
  • Formal evaluation of all the different types of specialist domestic violence service to assess their effectiveness in delivering effective outcomes for victims and preventing domestic violence (past research shows survivor feedback is consistently positive and rates these services higher than any other)
  • Funding to support the roll-out of all accredited training for all domestic violence service providers using Women’s Aid national accredited training programme
  • Publication of guidance by the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure women’s voluntary sector organisation are equally represented on local-decision making bodies, as part of the Gender Equality Duty
  • Independent review of the impact of procurement on voluntary sector service providers
  • Extending the trial of removing the ring-fencing around Supporting People funding to at least two years, with a final decision being made in time for the next Comprehensive Spending Review in 2011.

Q. 185: Please expand on what is needed in terms of specialist services, in particular outreach services: what outreach services are available, what are current levels of provision, what would be most effective? Please include comments on services for 16-18 year old victims.

In recent years the Government has spent millions of pounds rolling-out Independent Domestic Violence Advocates (IDVAs) and Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARACs) as the ‘solution’ to tackling domestic violence. Women’s Aid fully welcomes both IDVAs and MARACs. We are concerned, however, that they are being seen as the panacea for domestic violence and will become the sole form of support for survivors of domestic violence.


Women who experience domestic violence have a variety of short- and long-term support needs (2). Practical and emotional support to enable survivors to re-build their lives can best be given by a range of specialist independent domestic violence services within the voluntary sector. This includes refuge accommodation, outreach and floating support services, advice and advocacy projects, IDVAs hosted by specialist independent domestic violence service providers, and services for children and young people. 


Women’s Aid annual survey of domestic violence services in 2005/6 found that:

  • 78% of our member organisations provide both refuge-based services and also community-based support in the form of outreach, floating support and advocacy services
  • an estimated 36,325 women and children were accommodated and supported in refuges in 2005/6
  • approximately 114, 430 women and 7, 660 children were directly supported by outreach, advocacy and floating support services, and a further 68, 850 children were indirectly supported through the support given to their mothers.


In areas which have IDVA services, Women’s Aid local organisation continue to support hundreds of women each year. For example, in one London borough which employs three IDVAs, in 2006/7, the local Women’s Aid organisation also provided accommodation, support and advice to 384 women:

  • refuge services = 110 women
  • advice service = 173 women
  • legal service = 55 women
  • floating support service = 49 women
  • women were also supported through an in-house counselling service and parenting service.


There are six key concerns in relation to the provision of specialist domestic violence services:

1. A lack of specialist service provision for domestic violence survivors. One in three local authorities have no specialist services for victims of domestic violence (3). Specialist services include refuge- and community-based services and perpetrator programmes with attached women’s support services.  In total 510 services were identified.

2. Existing services are consequently over-stretched:

  • hundreds of women are turned from refuges on a daily basis (4)  because there is no space
  • outreach and floating support services have established waiting lists because they are limited to the number of women they can support at any one time (5)
  • IDVAs, on average, have a caseload of 140 annually (6), which is higher than the recommended 80-100 cases per annum.

NB The level of support given across different types of service provision also varies to meet types of service provision and demand. E.g. much more intensive support is often given in refuge-based services, to mothers and children, where for IDVAs, CAADA training recommends no more than 3 telephone contacts with high risk victims (however Women’s Aid - run IDVAs often extend this).


Changes in commissioning policy and practice are leading to a further decline in specialist service provision. As already noted, in a bid to curb spending, local authorities are increasingly commissioning one generic service provider to deliver non-specialist support to a range of vulnerable groups, including domestic violence survivors. Services for Black, Asian, Minority Ethnicity and Refugee women are under particular threat from current commissioning strategies.


3. Women-only services are under threat. Local authorities are requiring services to open their doors to women and men. This is despite research that shows over 90% women support a woman’s right to access women-only services and professionals if reporting domestic or sexual violence (7). Joint services for women and men may deter women from accessing support. It may also put women at risk: heterosexual men who access men’s services were actually more likely to be a perpetrator (either the main abuser or involved in ‘common couple violence’, meaning he and his female partner were abusive to one another) than a survivor (8).

4. Continued lack of services for children and young people who experience domestic violence. Supporting people has never funded support services for children and young people, leaving service providers reliant on grants from local authorities and grant-making trusts. Furthermore, young women aged 16-18 are unable to access refuge accommodation because of Housing Benefit regulations. 

5. The Government focus on the Criminal Justice response to domestic violence. The new National Indicators for domestic violence, namely on repeat victimisation (RV) and domestic violence murders, will encourage local authorities to divert funding towards initiatives which provide evidence for these indicators, i.e. IDVAs and MARACs. Equally the measure of effectiveness for these indicators is too narrow for 2 reasons (i) women may well be re-victimised after a year (many women are threatened, injured or killed after several years) (ii) women may be unwilling to report again (iii) evidence for these RV indicators is restricted to MARAC s and does not acknowledge other preventative and protective services for high medium and low risk victims e.g. refuge and other outreach services. In one local WA organisation, many women helped by their IDVA service, also then went on to use their outreach services for the next year. There is no incentive to support other much needed services with the loss of BVPI 225.


Women’s Aid recommends:

  • the establishment of a secure funding framework for the provision of specialist independent domestic violence services in all localities, for all adult and child survivors of domestic violence
  • the framework must include provision for women-only services, and specialist services for Black, Asian, Minority Ethnicity and Refugee (BAMER) women
  • all localities must provide a range of services for domestic violence survivors, including access to refuge accommodation, community-based support, advice and IDVAs, support services for children and young people
  • mechanisms for counting reduction in repeat victimisation that are wider that current requirements for National Indicators
  • National Indicators gathering evidence from a wider range of DV services
  • secure funding for a domestic violence co-ordinator and a multi-agency domestic violence forum in each local authority.


Q. 187: Please expand on sentencing for domestic violence perpetrators, to include: what are the most common forms of sentencing, and are they sufficient? Is training needed for magistrates and judges, and if so what form would this take?


Sentencing for domestic violence-related incidents is a key concern for Women’s Aid and our members (9). Sentences handed down for domestic violence-related incidents are routinely inappropriate; that the most common sentences for domestic violence perpetrators are bindovers and fines is highly problematic.


Women’s Aid supports the views of survivors of domestic violence, who most frequently request attendance at a perpetrator programme as part of the sentence. Attendance at a perpetrator programme may be helpful in encouraging some men to change their abusive behaviour.  Court-mandated attendance on a perpetrator programme is only effective if sentences are long enough to cover both the waiting period and attendance on the full programme (10). For perpetrators who receive no sentence – custodial or community – but only a fine, there is even less incentive to attend.


As outlined in the new Public Service Agreements, the Government is committed to increasing public confidence in the Criminal Justice System (11). When survivors see perpetrators receiving a fine, or a short community sentence (and no accompanying perpetrator programme), they may wonder whether the effort and stress of the court process was worthwhile.


Many survivors, however, are only discouraged from engaging with the Criminal Justice System because of inappropriate sentences, but due to extremely low conviction rates. Currently only 23% of women report incidents of domestic violence to the police. Of those reported incidents, only approximately 3.5% end in a conviction. This is significantly lower than conviction rates for rape, which currently stands at around 5%.


The reasons for the high attrition rates are multiple. In 32% of reported cases, the police take no action. Furthermore, in only 20% of cases is the perpetrator arrested (12). Another study (13) found that only 25% of arrested perpetrators – and therefore only 5% of those reported - are charged.


Due to the Crown Prosecution Service’s proactive domestic violence strategy, the rate of successful outcomes, i.e. convictions, in domestic violence cases has risen from 59/7% in 2005/6 to 68.3% in quarter 2 of 2007/8. However, this still only equates to 3.4% of all reported incidents of domestic violence ending with a conviction.


According to the Crown Prosecution Service, a key reason for unsuccessful prosecutions is victim/witness behaviour, either because the witness withdraws her statements or does not willing attend court.


Further action needs to be taken at each stage of the Criminal Justice System, from police attending a domestic violence incident to sentencing.

Women’s Aid recommends:

  • Mandatory domestic violence training for all police officers. Officers must be trained to collect a range of evidence in cases of domestic violence, not relying on a witness statement which is retracted at a later date and leads to an unsuccessful prosecution.
  • Pro-arrest policies are adopted to improve rates of arrest in domestic violence cases
  • Further research is conducted into the low levels of charging in domestic violence cases, and a strategy developed to address this issue
  • Domestic violence training is made mandatory for all judges and magistrates
  • Evidence from Specialist Domestic Violence Courts shows that training for all personnel – CENTREX-trained police, prosecutors, magistrates, legal advisors and probation staff – significantly improved the rate of successful prosecutions. Domestic violence training must become mandatory, and where possible must contribute towards Continuing Professional Development, e.g. for prosecutors and barristers.

Q.196: Please expand on inappropriate MARAC cases which you mentioned.

MARACs do not always recognise and respect the victim’s self determination and autonomy and agencies working in them can be paternalistic. This has been noted as a concern by some of our members as there is a danger that victims are now not allowed to be active in their own safety planning. (Here an anecdote was related of  poor agency practice within a MARAC situation, related to blaming the victim).
In the light of this and other anecdotes, and based on evidence from the recent review of Specialist Domestic Violence Courts, it is paramount that IDVAs are located in ‘an agency where their independence and focus on client safety is demonstrable to both victims and other agencies’ (14). Independence from the Criminal Justice System and other statutory agencies is key to ensuring women have confidence in the service and will improve levels of engagement.  IDVAs must be accountable to the independent agency, not to statutory agencies or their committees.


Q.209: Without advocating a blanket change to immigration rules, what could be dome to close the gaps for No Recourse victims? What is the average time it takes to get a decision on applications for leave to remain in these cases? Would you support a waiver to benefit regulations for women with No Recourse? What assessment measures could be put in place to prevent abuse of such a waiver? How do you get around the No Recourse rule to help these women?


Supporting women with ‘no recourse to public funds’ who experience domestic violence is a continuing problem for local authorities and domestic violence services. Currently, women with no recourse to public funds are not eligible for assistance under housing legislation. The Home Office recently announced funding for women who successfully apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) under the Domestic Violence Rule. This will allow organisations housing women with no recourse to public funds to apply for backdated payments for accommodation and subsistence costs from the date the woman submitted her claim for ILR to the date the claim is decided in favour of the applicant.


Whilst this is a step in the right direction, this will not cover the cost of housing women up to the time when they make the application. Women with no recourse to public funds can rarely starts legal proceedings until they have left the family home, and it can take several weeks to find a solicitor who will take the case, and even longer to collect all the evidence to submit with the application. Women’s Aid is aware of a case in Lambeth where a woman lived in the refuge with her child for seven months before an application for ILR was submitted simply because the police and social services took so long to provide the required evidence. 


Furthermore, this does not cover the cost of housing women with no recourse whose application for ILR is unsuccessful, or women who are not eligible to apply for ILR under the Domestic Violence Rule. The latter group includes women who are legally in the U.K., for example students or women newly arrived from E.U. accession countries who need immediate safe accommodation and support before they can arrange to return to their home country, if it is safe to do so. As a result, refuge organisations will have to continue accommodating and supporting women with no recourse to public funds from their own reserves and at a financial loss. In 2006/7, Women’s Aid member organisations provided a total of 400 women (and at least 355 accompanying children) with refuge accommodation and subsistence support. This was largely without any financial support from local authorities.


To improve access to safe accommodation for women with no recourse, Women’s Aid recommends exempting women fleeing violence from the no recourse to public funds requirement. Housing providers, including local authorities and refuge organisations, should be allowed to apply for both Housing Benefit and Income Support for women fleeing domestic violence. This would cover accommodation and subsistence costs. Refuge organisations and local authorities are already responsible for assessing whether women should be allocated space in a refuge or in other temporary accommodation. Currently, the reason women with no recourse are not accommodated is not that they are making false claims of domestic violence, but because of funding restrictions. It follows that the same organisations should be able to apply for welfare benefits on behalf of women with no recourse.


The Last Resort Fund must be reinstated to provide immediate interim funding for refuge organisations.


In addition to improving access to safe accommodation, emphasis must also be put on:

  • fast-tracking applications for Indefinite Leave to Remain under the Domestic Violence Rule. Evidence from our members shows that applications take varying amounts of time to be processed
  • improving access to legal aid immigration solicitors for women with more complicated immigration situations
  • extending the Domestic Violence Rule to include all victims of domestic violence with an insecure immigration status, not only those who are in the U.K. on a spouse or partner visa, and introducing similar protection for trafficked women subjected to sexual and economic abuse and to overseas workers experiencing violence from their employers.


Additional question asked by the Committee: Should visa sponsors be allowed to make confidential statement about the reasons for a visa application? How could statements given in confidence be used as evidence? Should the person sponsoring a visa be interviewed as well as the person being sponsored?


Women’s Aid welcomes the opportunity for individuals who are sponsoring a visa, or are being sponsored, to make a confidential statement. However, we have concerns about what action will be taken where cases of forced marriage are disclosed. Victims of forced marriage, like those of domestic violence, are at greatest risk of violence after they leave, or attempt to leave, the situation. The officials taking the statement must be trained to deal with disclosures and know what action to take.


Furthermore, identified victims need access to support services who specialise in working with Black, Asian, Minority Ethnicity and Refugee (BAMER) women. As already mentioned, we are currently witnessing a move away from funding of specialist services for BAMER groups and towards contracts for larger, generic services. As the Committee Chairman, Mr Keith Vaz, himself explained, ethnic minority women tended to want to go to agencies with cater specifically for ethnic minority women. If specialist services do not exist, and thus appropriate safety and support can be offered, victims of forced marriage will be discouraged from disclosing.


Finally, in relation to forced marriage, Women’s Aid supports Refuge, Southall Black Sisters and Imkaan, in opposing the proposal to raise the age of consent for sponsors. From countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands where the age has already been raise, there is little evidence of a correlation between raising the age and a reduction in forced marriage. Instead, this proposal will unfairly discriminate against minority groups.



View Women's Aid's response to the HASC Inquiry

View summary of last session on the HASC Inquiry


1. Whilst women’s organisations represent around 7% of the total voluntary sector, there are severely under-represented on Local Strategic Partnerships, comprising only 1.8% of voluntary sector representatives. Gudnadottir, E., Smith, S., Robson, S. and Corry, D. (2007) Where are the women in LSPs? See Women’s representation in Local Strategic Partnerships (London: Oxfam/Urban Forum/Women’s Resource Centre)
2. See Abrahams, H (2007) Supporting women after domestic violence: Loss, trauma and recovery (London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers); Humphreys, C. and Thiara, R. (2002) Routes to safety: Protection issues facing abused women and children and the role of outreach services (Bristol: Women’s Aid); Bossy, J. and Coleman, S (2000) Womenspeak: Parliamentary domestic violence internet consultation (Bristol: Women’s Aid Federation of England); Parmer, A., Sampson, A. and Diamond, A. (2005) Tackling domestic violence: Providing advocacy and support to survivors of domestic violence (London: Home Office Development and Practice Report 34).
3. Coy, M., Kelly, L. and Foord, J. (2007) Map of Gaps: The Postcode Lottery of Violence Against Women Support Services (London: End Violence Against Women)
4. Women’s Aid annual survey in 2006/7 found that on one day, November 2nd 2006, 485 women were turned away from refuges ; 64% of whom were turned away because of lack of space. Evidence from one member organisation in the North East showed that 1,191 women were referred to their refuge service in 2006/7, but only 253 women and 319 children could be accommodated.
5. The same organisation in the North received 362 referrals to their outreach service, but due to capacity only 278 could access the service in 2006/7.
6. HMCS/HO/CPS (2008) Justice with Safety: Specialist Domestic Violence Courts Review 2007-8
7. Women’s Resource Centre (2007) Why women-only? (London:WRC)
8. Robinson, A. and Rowlands, M. (2006) The Dyn Project: Supporting Men Experiencing Domestic Abuse (Cardiff:Cardiff University)
9. Women’s Aid conducted a survey of our member organisations and individual supporters for the purposes of the Home Affairs Select Committee. The survey found 63% of respondents had concerns about sentencing for domestic violence perpetrators.
10. Perpetrator programmes have increasingly long waiting lists due to problems in the probation service, lack of funding and consequent under-investment.
11. Within Public Service Agreement 24: Deliver a more effective, transparent and responsive Criminal Justice System for victims and the public, indicator 2 is ‘Public confidence in the fairness and effectiveness of the CJS. 
12. Povey, D. (Ed.), Coleman, K., Kaiza, P., Hoare, J. and Jansson, K. (2008) Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2006/7: Supplementary Volume 2 to Crime in England and Wales 2006/7 (London: Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate)
13. Hester, M. (2006) ‘Making It Through the Criminal Justice System: Attrition and Domestic Violence’, Social Policy and Society, 5:1, pp.79-90
14. HMCS/HO/CPS (2008) Justice with Safety: Specialist Domestic Violence Courts Review 2007-8