Written Evidence from Victim Support
- Victim Support (VS) is an independent charity. We are dedicated to supporting people affected by crime and traumatic incidents in England and Wales, and we put them at the heart of our organisation. Our support and work are informed and shaped by their voices and experiences.
- Our services help people affected by all types of crime and we provide free confidential support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for people affected by crime and traumatic events — regardless of whether they have reported the crime to the police or when it occurred and for as long as it is needed. Last year we provided specialist support to 183,000 victims and survivors.
- Most of our services are delivered locally through skilled staff and volunteers who are deeply rooted in their communities. We adapt our services to meet local need and pride ourselves on being responsive to local demands. These services are closely linked into the National Homicide Service providing a dedicated, comprehensive service for those bereaved by murder and manslaughter and our national Supportline.
- We welcome the opportunity to respond to this call for evidence. Victim Support has long called for a Victims’ Law, and this response is evidence based, drawing on a decade of research with victims and specialist staff. In particular, we have drawn on research with 400 victims and 200 members of staff published in our Victim of the System report, which was an evaluation of victims’ rights, the Victims’ Code and victims’ journey through the criminal justice system, as well as our experience in setting up a monitoring regime for the Victims’ Code in Cumbria. Over the past six months we have also held a series of workshops with victims of domestic abuse, hate crime, anti-social behaviour, assault and children and young people impacted by crime; as well as workshops with specialist VS staff including IDVAs and ISVAs.
- We welcome many of the measures in the draft Victims’ Bill and accompanying non-legislative measures, including enshrining the Victims’ Code in law, strengthening scrutiny of criminal justice agencies for the level of service they provide to victims and placing a duty on prosecutors to meet with victims in certain cases.
- We believe that the Bill should ensure that all victims have access to support services that are independent of the police and statutory services.
- We further believe that the Bill should be strengthened by increasing access to support for victims of persistent non-criminal anti-social behaviour, victims of which are currently excluded from the Victims’ Code and some support despite often experiencing serious impacts.
- The Bill also presents an opportunity to address the problems with court ordered compensation, which is causing victims unnecessary distress and frustration due to compensation often being paid in small instalments over a long period of time or not at all. In order to ensure that victims get the compensation they are due in a timely manner, we believe that the government should take responsibility for paying compensation up front and in full to victims.
The Government’s proposal to put the overarching principles of the Victims’ Code in primary legislation and set out key entitlements in secondary legislation, consulting on changes to the Code once the Bill is in force.
- There is a substantial body of evidence that shows that the Victims’ Code is not routinely monitored and enforced. Victim Support’s 2017 Victim of the System report found that as many as six in ten victims do not receive their rights under the Code. We found that 45% of victims did not receive a written acknowledgement of the crime, 52% did not have the opportunity to make a Victim Personal Statement and 44% were not offered or given pre-trial preparation. Similar pieces of research conducted by VS in subsequent years produced similar results, and research conducted by the Victims’ Commissioner and London Victims’ Commissioner has also found a lack of compliance with the Code. 
- We welcome the government’s proposals to strengthen the Victims’ Code by placing its overarching principles in the Victims’ Bill, and which can lead to a cultural and practical shift in the way victims’ rights are viewed across the criminal justice process. It is also positive that monitoring of the Victims’ Code has been strengthened; in spite of improvements in recent years, compliance with the Victims’ Code has not been effectively monitored.
The key changes the Government should consider making to the Victims’ Code, including consideration of those already proposed by the Government in its response to the consultation.
- We welcome many of the changes proposed to the Victims’ Code, in particular the duty to require the CPS prosecutor to meet the victim in certain cases, should the victim choose. Our Out of the Shadows research report found that many victims express frustration about lack of communication with prosecutors. No contact can heighten victims’ feelings of marginalisation within the criminal justice process. Victims also often misunderstand the role of the prosecution. This proposed change to the Victims’ Code is a step in the right direction.
- One additional change that government should consider making to the Victims’ Code relates to the Coroners Service – which we believe should come under the remit of the Victims’ Code, in order to set out rights and entitlements for families bereaved by homicide. Currently coroner services are not mentioned in the Victims’ Code, in spite of the existence of a separate document Guide to Coroner Services for Bereaved People which provides clear information for bereaved families on what to expect.
- Additionally, we would welcome clarity on the provision in the draft Bill that permits the Secretary of State to make “minor changes, such as clarifications or corrections” without consultation. The Victims’ Code is a fundamentally important document to victims of crime, clearly setting out the level of service they must receive. It is also a vital document for criminal justice agencies and organisations that work with victims. Potential changes, no matter how minor, in the absence of consultation with victims, agencies or service providers affected could have major unintended consequences. This provision may cause concern if it means changes that impact victims or service providers are made without meaningful consultation. We recommend that any changes, no matter how minor, are made in consultation with victims and any relevant organisations that may be impacted by the changes.
The Government’s proposals to amend the role of the Victims’ Commissioner.
- The role of the Victims’ Commissioner (VC) is a vital one; it is the statutory post that champions the interests of victims. However, the role lacks powers, and is less powerful than other similar Commissioner positions, such as the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, the Children’s Commissioner and the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
- It is welcome that the Bill strengthens the role of the Victims’ Commissioner by requiring criminal justice agencies and government departments to respond to any recommendations made to them. This aligns the post more closely with that of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner.
- However, one way the post can be further strengthened is to provide the Victims’ Commissioner with the powers necessary to review how and whether police and other criminal justice agencies are meeting the rights of victims nationally, and to take on a greater role in monitoring the national operation of the Victims’ Law and Victims’ Code. We understand why PCCs have been given the powers to oversee the Victims’ Code in their local areas, however the VC could still undertake a national role; this could include publishing to Parliament a national overview of the operation of the Code, setting out an overview of compliance, key learnings and recommendations, and mapping trends and progress.
The Government proposals to place a duty on the relevant criminal justice agencies (the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, HM Courts & Tribunals Service, Youth Offending Teams and HM Prison and Probation Service) to collect data and keep under review their delivery of the Code.
- We welcome these proposals. With regards to data collection, we understand that the lack of data collected on Victims’ Code delivery has been a key barrier to effective monitoring and implementation. This is well documented in our 2017 report Getting it right, the publication of a quality assessment framework to monitor compliance with the Victims’ Code in Cumbria, commissioned by Safer Cumbria and the Cumbria PCC. We found data collection lacking in many areas, for example of the 21 entitlements in the then Victims’ Code relating to cross-agency collaboration, six in ten could not be monitored. We understand that some of these obligations are automatically completed through computer networks and processes, such as sending updates to other agencies.
- We also understand that in some cases, criminal justice agencies lack capacity to monitor. The current system for the monitoring and enforcement of the Victims’ Code relies on agencies being encouraged to collect data rather than being required, so placing an obligation on agencies to collect data is a welcome step forward.
- Section 5 (5) states that the Secretary of State must consult appropriate persons on regulations covering this function. We strongly recommend that this consultation include victim organisations and the voluntary and community sector as well as criminal justice agencies, in order to ensure that the data collection is robust and to avoid agencies effectively setting and marking their own homework.
The Government’s proposals on the role of the inspectorates, including an improved focus on victims, and a new power for the Government to direct aspects of their work.
- We believe that the government’s proposals represent an improvement. Criminal justice inspectorates have undoubtedly driven positive change and improvements for victims; however, focuses have often been piecemeal and have not looked at the operation of the Victims’ Code or victims’ rights more generally.
- We recommend that these joint inspections on “victims’ experiences and treatment” focus on the operation of the Victims’ Code and Victims’ Law, and that there be clear means of consultation between victims, survivors and the victims’ sector on other victim-related issues that are to be considered for these inspections.
Whether the legislative steps proposed by the Government will lead to an improvement in the commissioning of support services?
- Greater join up in the commissioning of support services is important. Currently, there are a number of areas where commissioners work well together in ensuring the delivery of community based services for victims. The benefits of greater join up are that different commissioners are brought together to commission services that are more consistent across a PCC area, eliminating both the postcode lottery of services as well as any duplication.
- One area for improvement that is not addressed in the Bill or the government’s consultation response is ensuring that victims have access to independent services. It is imperative that victim services are available that are independent of the police and statutory services. However, victim support services are increasingly being taken out of the hands of specialist independent providers and are instead being insourced by PCCs or police forces.
- Insourcing is when a PCC creates service provision from within its own resources, rather than commissioning external providers. We are seeing two main models nationally. Firstly, the insourcing of the initial victim contact function. This is often absorbed into police control rooms or contact centres with referrals for support being made to a commissioned community victim service. Secondly, the insourcing of the complete service in most cases to the police or PCC’s office.
- Victim Support has a number of evidence-based concerns with victims’ services being insourced by the police or PCCs.
- Firstly, not all victims want to engage with the police. Where a service has been insourced, VS is concerned that victims may refrain from seeking support if they choose not to involve the police. Only 42% of crimes are reported to the police. Joint VS research with the mental health charity Mind found that less than half of victims of crime with a mental health problem report to the police. Additionally, some minoritised communities (especially young adults within these communities) show significantly lower levels of confidence in the police due to perceptions that the police cannot be relied on to help and treat them with respect.
- The public prefer victim services to be independent from the police. A YouGov poll of just under 2,000 adults found that 71% of adults in England and Wales said it was important for victims of crime to receive help and support from a victim service that is separate and independent from the police, with 41% saying it was very important. The YouGov poll also showed that of victims who had experienced DA and/or SV, 87% believed it was important for victims of crime to receive help and support from a victim service that is independent of the police.
- There is substantial evidence that victims of serious offences, such as domestic abuse and sexual violence, are even less likely to reach out to the police than victims of other offences. Only 15% of victims of serious sexual offences ever report to the police, as do only a small number of domestic abuse victims. The most commonly cited barriers to reporting domestic abuse include fear that they will not be taken seriously by the police, distrust of the police and poor previous experience of the police.
- While these victims may wish to forgo police involvement, many still require access to a support service that can provide support and advice on issues. Support for victims should not be predicated on access to justice, and many victims who chose not to pursue criminal justice pathways should receive support. This may include information and advice on how to safely leave their partner, support for their children and help finding alternative accommodation. However, they may decide not to access this lifesaving support if they associate it with the police or statutory services. Fugate et. Al (2005) found that 18% of victims of domestic abuse were prevented from seeking help due to concerns relating to other authorities such as child protection services and police being notified.
- Many domestic abuse victims fear involvement of statutory services because they worry it may lead to the breakup of their family, the loss of their children or the loss of the family home. In these cases, independent support becomes invaluable.
- Additionally, while many police officers and staff provide an exemplary service to victims, too often the service provided by the police falls short of what victims deserve or expect. We often see insourcing undertaken as a means to increase victim satisfaction with the police or to improve police culture. These are fundamentally different outcomes and should not be combined. We know that victims’ experiences of the police is often negative, in particular in the case of victims of serious crimes such as domestic abuse and sexual assault and for the most vulnerable victims, such as those with disabilities, or minority groups or communities. While the police perform an important service to victims in investigating their crime, victims need access to independent support services.
- We are concerned that insourcing dramatically decreases the number of referrals made to services and the offer of ongoing support. VS explored the number of referrals received from three different models during 2017/18: where the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner were the triage agency, where the police were the triage agency and where VS were the triage agency. Our analysis suggested that victims were between 5-7 times more likely to receive ongoing support when an independent victim-specific service provider were the initial contact and assessment.
- Insourced services compromise the competitive and public procurement element of contracts, which is a key driver of quality and value of victim services. VS actively and publicly welcomes competition for PCC services and believes that a vibrant market of providers is in the best interests of victims. However, where insourcing is undertaken in the absence of:
- meaningful consultation with victims;
- a robust, evidenced business case setting out the benefits of this route;
- monitoring of the outcome of this change;
- and ongoing public accountability and scrutiny of the service
we are concerned that this may not deliver a quality service for victims. The risk of failure to those victims who are desperately in need of support is too great. The duties to collaborate in the provision of victim support services imply that these services are commissioned; however when they are delivered in-house they are often taken out of scope for competitive commissioning.
- Insourcing is having a detrimental impact on the landscape of victims’ services, stifling the ability of victims to receive support and is alienating victims who do not want to have contact with statutory services. We strongly urge action by government to ensure victims are able to access services that are independent of the police and statutory services.
- We believe one step that can be taken is to amend Section 143 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to remove the power for local policing bodies to “provide” services to “help victims or witnesses of, or other persons affected by, offences and anti-social behaviour” and instead simply require them to “commission” such services.
- Finally, we believe that there is a need for the role of PCCs in commissioning services responding to major incidents to be given greater clarity. PCCs are responsible for commissioning support services for victims and survivors of ‘crimed’ major incidents, such as terror attacks. However the Civil Contingencies Act (CCA) 2004 sets out provisions for major incidents, predates the introduction of PCCs and their statutory duties to commission support services for victims of crime in their local area. The CCA and accompanying statutory guidance must be updated to reflect the role of PCCs and support arrangements for these major crimed incidents.
- In doing so, Schedule 1 of the Act should be amended to include PCCs as Category 1 responders, specifying their duty to provide support services for victims of major crimed incident.
Whether the steps outlined by the Government will lead to increased awareness and effectiveness of the ISVAs and IDVAs?
- While the role of an IDVA is relatively new, it is widely recognised across the criminal justice system and its processes. It is a defined role with national accreditation and a formal training programme. Alongside other existing structures such as MARAC, this means that a framework is already in place which is recognised across the CJS, resulting in the perception of IDVAs as valuable partners by other agencies.
- However, in our experience the ISVA role is not as well recognised as that of the IDVA. Our ISVAs frequently report that many agencies within and outside the criminal justice system do not understand the role, including police and CPS staff. One ISVA highlighted that they had encountered SARC staff who were not aware of the role. A lack of awareness of the ISVA role impacts ISVA access; in some courts they are unable to accompany their clients into the courtroom.
- Defining the roles and key functions might further strengthen the role and further raise its awareness. It may also provide greater consistency in services and their delivery across the country. At present, different services may have undertaken different training and there is little oversight of whether services meet certain standards or accreditation. We hope that the government steps outlined address this.
- Government work in this area must safeguard the independence of ISVAs and IDVAs. Victims and survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence, as with victims of all crimes, must have access to an advocate who is independent of the police, and it must be made clear that the IDVA and ISVA role is independent of statutory services. Greater definition of these roles must not come at the expense of the role’s independence.
- It is also important to be aware that IDVAs are not the only role providing specialist support to victims of domestic abuse. In many areas domestic abuse IVAs, caseworkers or practitioners, also provide support. This is particularly the case for standard and medium-risk victims (IDVAs services often provide support to high-risk victims of domestic abuse). The majority of domestic abuse referrals to VS are for standard and medium risk – in 2020/21 70% of referrals were for standard risk, 22% for medium and 8% for high. For cases supported, 67% were standard risk, 17% medium and 17% high.
- A further way the role can be strengthened is by ensuring IDVAs and ISVAs are able to accompany victims in court. At present, there is a lack of consistency on this process. IDVAs and ISVAs are largely able to accompany victims, but they do experience issues across a number of courts. In some Crown Courts, ISVAs are not permitted in the video link room or the courtroom. This needs to be addressed either through the Bill or through accompanying guidance.
What implementation, resourcing and accountability challenges exist with respect to the Victims Bill?
- From our perspective an accountability challenge exists regarding the requirement on relevant authorities to collaborate on the provision of victim support services, and prepare and implement a joint local strategy “to set out the aims and approach for commissioning relevant services, as well as setting out how local areas are meeting the duty requirements”.
- It is not clear how the relevant authorities will be held accountable for not meeting these requirements, such as the requirements to consult on the strategy, or for delivering on their aims and approach to commissioning relevant services. As set out in paragraphs above, many relevant services are not ‘commissioned’ at all and are instead delivered in-house; it is not clear what accountability exists for the relevant authorities in these circumstances given that they are out of scope of competitive tendering.
- Finally, there are clearly resourcing challenges for criminal justice agencies to effectively deliver, collect data on and monitor the Victims’ Code. It is important that these challenges are met in full, so that criminal justice agencies can effectively deliver their obligations under the Bill and the Victims’ Code and drive improvements in the treatment of victims. It is also imperative that any resource implications are met, particularly for PCCs who will be taking a convening role in monitoring compliance, so that the costs are not taken from other existing budgets for victims’ services. The same goes for any costs related to the duty to collaborate.
Whether there should be any further measures included in the Bill?
- While we welcome a many of the measures set out in the Bill, there are a number of areas where we feel the Bill needs to be strengthened.
- We believe there needs to be reforms to the current system of court ordered compensation, which is currently failing to adequately compensate victims following convictions.
- VS is concerned that the system of payment and enforcement of court ordered compensation is adding unnecessary distress and frustration to victims. Payment is often delivered in instalments that are too small, over a long period of time, or not enforced in full. At present, if a court orders compensation to be paid by an offender to their victim, the money must first be recovered from the offender by HMCTS before it is passed on to the victim. The offender can ask to pay in instalments –which can mean that victims get regular amounts too small to make any real difference to their lives, but are compelled to have prolonged contact with the person who committed a crime against them.
- Court statistics reveal that only a quarter (25%) of compensation orders are paid within three months, just over a third (36%) are paid within six months, and 43% remain outstanding after 18 months.
- The piecemeal nature of payments can serve as a constant reminder to the victim of the crime. This point was recognised by the Ministry of Justice in a 2014 publication which stated that “the current scheme of receiving compensation can be distressing for victims because it prolongs their relationship with the offender and can prevent them from moving on from the experience”.
- Not only can failure to enforce payment of compensation orders cause frustration and distress to victims, it also has the potential to undermine confidence in the courts and Criminal Justice System. A report into victims’ views on courts and sentencing found that “the appreciation of compensation as a sentence can be severely diminished where it is not completed or enforced”.
- Steps need to be taken to prevent court ordered compensation resulting in an on-going relationship between the victim and offender, and the victim suffering the financial consequence of HMCTS’s failure to retrieve payment. We therefore recommend the government takes responsibility for paying all compensation owed to victims up front in a single payment shortly after sentencing, and then recover the funds from the offender through the effective use of existing powers.
- The Ministry of Justice in 2014 committed to “Develop plans for paying compensation to victims up front, rather than victims having to wait for their money”. We believe that the Victims Bill is the right vehicle to bring measures into force to improve the current scheme.
- We would also like to see measures in the Bill to improve support for victims of anti-social behaviour (ASB). Many victims of ASB are not covered by the Victims’ Code, which means they do not have access to support and information found within it. In particular this means that they do not have the right to be referred to support services, and that PCCs face spending restrictions on victims’ funds for support services for ASB victims, and we know that in many areas support services are not in place for these victims.
- ASB can have a range of devastating impacts on victims. Our Understanding Victims of Crime (2017) report found that ASB can have a profound impact on victims’ sense of safety and ability to participate in their day-to-day lives. This can result in changes in behaviour, lifestyle and even place of living. Many victims end up needing to move because of what they experienced, and many are impacted financially. The need to change residence because of ASB can also have wider impacts on personal relationships and employment, as many victims move a considerable distance from their place of work, family and support networks. One participant in our research told us that they had not seen their son in three months, and saw less of their friends, because of what they experienced. Another spoke of how they went from seeing their grandchildren three times a week to not seeing them for over six weeks, because of her moving home as a result of the ASB. We recommend that victims of persistent ASB should be entitled to the rights set out in the Victims’ Code and Victims’ Bill.
Are there any relevant international examples the Committee should consider?
- Regarding the issue of court-ordered compensation, we believe that the Netherlands provides an example of international best practice. The government of the Netherlands introduced the ‘advance compensation scheme’ in 2011. Our understanding is that under the scheme the state pays the victim the full amount, up to a certain maximum, of compensation if awarded by the court if the offender fails to pay within a certain time period.
 ONS Crime Survey for England and Wales
 Cabinet Office. (2017) Race Disparity Audit. London: Cabinet Office
 YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,934 adults from England and Wales. Fieldwork was undertaken between 6-7 February 2018. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted to GB adults, filtered by adults in England and Wales (aged 18+).
 Fugate, M., Landis, L., Riodan, K., Naureckas, S., & Engel, B. (2005). Barriers to Domestic Abuse Help Seeking, Violence Against Women, 11(3), 290-310.