Domestic Abuse Act 2021
Four years after the domestic abuse bill was first promised in the Queen’s Speech, it finally became law on 30th April 2021.
Women’s Aid pays tribute to the many survivors, campaigners and domestic abuse organisations who have made this new law possible.
Campaigning by survivors, activists and Women’s Aid secured many vital changes to the Act – it now goes beyond criminal justice reforms alone, to cover the family courts, housing, and health. These are the key changes the new Act will deliver:
- A legal definition of domestic abuse which recognises children as victims in their own right;
- A Domestic Abuse Commissioner to stand up for survivors and life-saving domestic abuse services;
- A legal duty on councils to fund support for survivors in ‘safe accommodation’
- New protections in the family and civil courts for survivors – including a ban on abusers from cross-examining their victims, and a guarantee that survivors can access special measures (including separate waiting rooms, entrances and exits and screens);
- New criminal offences – including post-separation coercive control, non-fatal strangulation, threats to disclose private sexual images;
- A ban on abusers using a defence of ‘rough sex’;
- A guarantee that all survivors will be in priority need for housing, and will keep a secure tenancy in social housing if they need to escape an abuser;
- A ban on GPs for charging for medical evidence of domestic abuse, including for legal aid;
- A duty on the government to issue a code of practice on how data is shared between the public services survivors report to (such as the police) and immigration enforcement.
However, the new Act has significant gaps, and not all women will be protected by the new law. Despite the tireless campaigning of Southall Black Sisters, the Step Up Migrant Women campaign led by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service and the End Violence Against Women Coalition, the government has failed to deliver equal protection and support for migrant women through the new law.
All survivors must have the right to seek support and safety, and live a life free from abuse. We will continue to campaign for the law to protect all women and children from domestic abuse, and provide safety from abusers regardless of immigration status.
There are further omissions in the Act. Despite having a statutory duty on local authorities to fund support in ‘accommodation based’ services, the law does not use the word “refuge” at all. It is crucial that the guidance and regulations underpinning this duty to make crystal clear that local authorities must fund specialist women’s refuges, which deliver expert support to survivors and their children.
Royal Assent of the Domestic Abuse Act was an important moment, but rather than being the end of Women’s Aid’s work, this provides us with a beginning. We will be working with our member services and statutory agencies to ensure the legislation translates to action. It is vital that it is delivered with training for professionals, resources and a clear implementation plan to provide the changes that survivors need to see.
For more information:
- See the legislation in full.
- Our press release regarding royal assent of the domestic abuse bill.
- Sign our petition calling for local authorities to fund specific domestic abuse services for women.
- See our response to the government’s consultation on the bill.
- Read a joint briefing on key elements for a quality response to children’s domestic abuse-related needs.