Written evidence from Women’s Aid Federation of England
Women’s Aid Federation of England (Women’s Aid) is the national charity working to end domestic abuse against women and children. We are a federation of nearly 170 organisations which provide just under 300 local lifesaving services to women and children across the country. Over the past 47 years, Women’s Aid has been at the forefront of shaping and coordinating responses to domestic abuse through practice, research and policy. We empower survivors by keeping their voices at the heart of our work, working with and for women and children by listening to them and responding to their needs.
Our support services, which include our Live Chat Helpline, the Survivors’ Forum, the No Woman Turned Away Project, the Survivor’s Handbook, Love Respect (our dedicated website for young people in their first relationships), the national Domestic Abuse Directory and our advocacy projects, help thousands of women and children every year.
Women’s Aid welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Justice Select Committee’s call for written evidence as part of its pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Victims’ Bill. Women’s Aid previously submitted a response to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation on its proposals for the Victims’ Bill, and facilitated a focus group for the Ministry of Justice with survivors of domestic abuse on these proposals. We would welcome the opportunity to give oral evidence to the committee to give more context to this submission.
Whilst the draft Victims’ Bill covers victims of all crime, the sole focus of our response is on victims of domestic abuse and violence against women and girls (VAWG) due to our area of expertise. We have kept our response focused to the questions most relevant to the work we and our member services do. This response draws from our initial consultation response, which was developed following direct engagement with victims and our frontline member services, through focus groups, surveys and one-on-one engagement.
We would also like to note that whilst we have used the term ‘victim’ in our response, in our wider work we use the term ‘survivor’. Women’s Aid’s primary focus is women survivors and their children, as domestic abuse is a gendered crime. Between the year ending March 2018 and March 2020, 76% of victims of domestic homicide were female and data supplied from 26 police forces showed the victim was female in 73% of domestic abuse-related crimes recorded by the police in the year ending March 2021. Domestic abuse is deeply rooted in the societal inequality between women and men and it takes place ‘because she is a woman and happens disproportionately to women’. The UK Government is also signatory to a range of international treaties and conventions that define domestic abuse as a form of gender-based violence.
We also want to be clear that many victims will never report their experiences of domestic abuse to the police and will therefore not engage with the criminal justice system; the Office of National Statistics highlight that only 18% of victims (less than one in five) report to the police. Victims are falling through the gaps between our criminal and family courts, and sectors such as housing, health and child protection, which have differing and often poor responses to domestic abuse. A criminal justice focus alone will not transform the response to victims; we need reform across all parts of the public sector and wider society to deliver a cultural change in the national response to domestic abuse.
A cross-government approach is vital to addressing the issues facing victims and the specialist services that support them. It is therefore important to highlight that we see the aims of the Victims’ Bill at risk of being undermined by the work and policies of other government departments, including, for example, the lack of accessible legal aid and the failure of the family courts to keep women and children safe. Migrant victims of domestic abuse in particular are at risk of further abuse due to the ’hostile environment’ and the lack of safe reporting mechanisms for migrant victims to report domestic abuse to the police without the fear of being targeted by law enforcement. In the absence of a firewall on data-sharing, this can be used by perpetrators to further inflict abuse on migrant victims.
Putting the overarching principles of the Victims’ Code in primary legislation
We strongly welcome proposals to put the overarching principles of the Victims’ Code in primary legislation. During the consultation phase of the Victims’ Bill, Women’s Aid ran a focus group for the Ministry of Justice with victims of domestic abuse and found a complete lack of awareness of the existence of the Code, the principles within it and the rights victims were owed as part of it amongst victims of domestic abuse. Putting the Code in primary legislation is the first step to addressing this problem and improving the experience of victims in the criminal justice system. It must be made clear that it is the responsibility of criminal justice agencies and statutory services to ensure victims understand their rights under the Victims’ Code.
Significant work needs to be undertaken by the Government to ensure that every victim is made aware of the Code – the onus should never be on victims to have to seek out their own rights. It is crucial for government and agencies listed in the Code to first acknowledge that victims of domestic abuse face insurmountable barriers to securing safety and justice, particularly Black and minoritised victims, Deaf and disabled victims, LGBT+ victims and older victims. For the victims that do report, they still lack confidence that the criminal justice system will protect them and feel unsupported during the process. We welcome the commitment to run a communications campaign to better publicise the Code and improve awareness of it. We are clear that best practice would result in a victim having the same point of contact throughout their whole journey through the criminal justice system, to ensure they feel supported, can build a relationship based on trust, and do not have to continually share their experience which can be traumatic and re-triggering.
All frontline professionals should be made aware of what is required of them under the Code and should undergo continuous professional development training, developed in partnership with specialist domestic abuse services, to ensure that these requirements are always delivered in a safe and appropriate way for the victim they are engaging with.
We would recommend the Ministry of Justice consider:
- Making clear that criminal justice agencies have a responsibility to ensure victims understand their rights under the Victims’ Code;
- How to provide victims with the same point of contact throughout their journey through the criminal justice system; and
- Requiring all frontline professionals to be aware of what is required of them under the Code and undertake continuous professional development training on supporting victims, developed in partnership with specialist domestic abuse organisations, such as Women’s Aid.
Changes to consider to the Victims’ Code
We strongly supported the second principle set out by the Ministry of Justice in its consultation on the Bill, which stipulated that “victims do not have to report a crime to access support”. The majority of victims of domestic abuse do not report their abuse to the police or seek outcomes through the criminal justice system – for a myriad of reasons – but it remains crucial that they are still able to access the support they need and that they do not feel pressured to seek criminal justice outcomes. We would welcome this principle being included in the legislation and associated guidance alongside a reference to ‘all victims without discrimination’ to ensure it is in line with Article 4 (3) of the Istanbul Convention.
In addition to improving awareness of the Code more generally, improvements need to be made to its accessibility and we would welcome efforts to consider the needs of Deaf, disabled and blind victims, whose needs are often overlooked, neglected or addressed inadequately. The Government should also look at ways to tackle language barriers to improve accessibility of the Code. These considerations should also be made in any communications campaigns planned around promoting the Victims’ Code to ensure the information reaches the widest possible audience, and certain demographics are not excluded.
Alongside responsibilities set out in the Code, frontline staff should be required to signpost victims to advocacy support to help them attend court, provide practical safety planning, and support to build their confidence. We recommend victims are signposted to a full range of practical support and information, and that this is outlined in the accompanying guidance. Women’s Aid’s Survivor’s Handbook provides a clear example of what should be included, including specialist support for Black and minoritised women, Deaf and disabled women and LGBT+ victims. It includes information about how to help their children and about support for a victim’s physical and mental health. It also contains useful links to other information and organisations that victims might need. Victims should be made aware of the range of relevant helplines and online support, including Women’s Aid’s Live Chat Helpline, and other relevant domestic abuse and VAWG services.
We would also recommend changes to information about the Victims’ Right to Review Scheme, including how this right is upheld and frontline professionals’ understanding about their requirement to make victims aware of the Scheme. We are aware of anecdotal evidence from victims and frontline services which indicates that the police are not informing victims of the Right to Review Scheme. However, we also know that sector organisations have highlighted examples of where this right has been exercised but the consequential information received did not address the victim’s concerns and ultimately did not impact the decision:
“Charlotte exercised her Victims’ Right to Review, and just ten days later the CPS wrote back upholding their original decision. This letter cited the original prosecutor’s consideration of medical evidence that showed Charlotte to have sustained injuries to her mouth that were consistent with allegation of rape, but continued to say that the messages undermined the case.”
We therefore would support, in addition to changes to information about the Scheme, an independent review into the effectiveness of the Victims’ Right to Review Scheme, which includes data disaggregated across all the protected characteristics, to address these and further issues.
Women’s Aid recommends the Ministry of Justice:
- Includes the principle of victims being able to access support without reporting a crime within the Bill and associated guidance;
- Improves the accessibility of the Victims’ Code by considering the needs of Deaf and disabled survivors and the language barriers in place to understanding the Code;
- Requires frontline staff to signpost victims to a full range of practical advocacy support and information, including helplines and online support;
- Changes the information about the Victims’ Right to Review Scheme to ensure more survivors understand this right; and
- Commission an independent review into the effectiveness of the Victims’ Right to Review Scheme.
Duty on criminal justice agencies to collect data and review delivery of the Code
We support the measures in the draft Bill for a duty on relevant criminal justice agencies to collect data and keep under review their compliance with the Victims’ Code and to take into account feedback from victims about their experiences. These metrics should include data on who the victims are, including age and ethnicity, in order to thoroughly assess the delivery of the Code to different demographics.
We also support the duty on Police and Crime Commissioners to take a convening role in monitoring compliance locally. Whilst the Bill also places a duty on each of the relevant criminal justice bodies to share the data obtained with one another and with Police and Crime Commissioners to support them in their duties to review compliance, we would support this being expanded to require criminal justice bodies to make this data publicly available in order to encourage co-operation and provision of data. This would increase the importance placed on this data and understanding about why it is collected, and as a result ensure that local-level metrics are collected to a high standard. We would welcome consideration of a national oversight mechanism to support this, similar to the National Expert Steering Group set up by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to oversee the delivery of Part 4 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. This could help to ensure accountability and consistency across Police and Crime Commissioners who are monitoring compliance locally. Any body established to oversee this should include representation from specialist victim support services, including those focused on domestic abuse and VAWG.
This section of the Bill also creates a duty on the relevant criminal justice bodies and Police and Crime Commissioners to ensure they consider the experiences of victims to contextualise and add to the Code compliance data. A vital part of this is engagement with local specialist domestic abuse and VAWG services to ensure that the voices of victims are heard, particularly women experiencing structural barriers. Any guidance accompanying this duty should explicitly state the need to engage and collaborate with specialist services, including those led ‘by and for’ Black and minoritised women, not only charities and other voluntary organisations that work with victims of domestic abuse.
On collecting data and reviewing the delivery of the Code, we recommend the Ministry of Justice:
- Ensures relevant criminal justice agencies collect granular demographic data on victims supported by the Victims’ Code;
- Requires criminal justice bodies to make the data on their compliance with the Code publicly available;
- Considers the creation of a national oversight mechanism to support accountability and consistency in monitoring compliance against the Code with representation from specialist domestic abuse and VAWG services on any oversight body; and
- Obliges relevant criminal justice bodies and Police and Crime Commissioners to engage with local specialist domestic abuse and VAWG services when considering the experiences of victims.
Improving the commissioning of support services
Duty to collaborate
We welcome the statutory duty introduced in the draft Bill on Police and Crime Commissioners, local authorities and health bodies to collaborate when commissioning support services to help ensure these services are much more effective in meeting victims’ needs. It is imperative that this duty is underpinned by sustainable, multi-year funding for community-based services, as detailed in the next section on ‘Sustainable funding’. We would welcome this being expanded to encourage cross-boundary collaboration. Victims are often forced to cross local authority areas to be safe, and research has consistently found that most women accessing services are from a different local authority area. Furthermore, in many areas, particularly those with rapidly changing demographics, Black and minoritised victims will often not be able to access the specialist provision required to recover from their abuse, or the support needed to access the justice system, so cross-boundary collaboration is essential to ensure victims are able to access the type of support that would best help them.
It is important, however, that collaborative working should not lead to poor commissioning practices which do not have victims’ needs at the centre. We are aware that agreements between neighbouring authorities to facilitate pooled funding have led to the diversion of statutory funding away from specialist services. It is critical that commissioners ensure any joint approaches do not compete with smaller specialist services and contribute to the uneven playing field in tendering processes.
To work effectively, the new duty to collaborate must be underpinned by appropriate funding. During the consultation phase of the draft Bill, many organisations in the sector, including Women’s Aid, supported a call for a statutory duty on all relevant public bodies to ensure sustainable, multi-year funding for specialist domestic abuse support for all victims and to ensure funding for specialist led ‘by and for’ Black and minoritised victims is ringfenced. This could comprise an extension of the new duty to collaborate, ensuring commissioners could come together with suitable funding pots to commission the services that are needed within the local area based on extensive needs assessments, providing the right services with suitable capacity to support all victims as needed. We were disappointed to not see any statutory commitment to multi-year funding included as part of the duty to collaborate in the draft Bill, despite the widespread support for this from the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Victims’ Commissioner and domestic abuse and VAWG sector, and would recommend it is included in the Bill as a matter of priority.
It is important to ensure this duty is developed having reflected on the lessons learned from the implementation of the statutory duty set out in Part 4 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 to provide accommodation-based support to victims of domestic abuse to ensure consistent and sustainable commissioning. We would recommend building in from the start strong accountability and monitoring mechanisms to ensure funding is resulting in more specialist support for victims that is identified as being needed in the local area. This would support the Government’s ambition of ensuring that all victims receive the support they need, giving victims the choice to receive support within the community and outside of accommodation if this is what they prefer. This ambition demands a strong national network of support provided by specialist services, which requires sustainable, multi-year funding settlements.
This duty, alongside the duty in Part 4 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 outlined above, would reduce the risk of domestic abuse victims slipping through the net. With an estimated 124,044 women and 148,852 children receiving specialist community-based support from the 222 service providers in England in 2020-21, ensuring these services are routinely commissioned and sustainably funded is imperative. Unfortunately, this is not currently the case: 42.9% of respondents to Women’s Aid’s Annual Survey in 2021 confirmed they were running their community-based domestic abuse services without dedicated funding, and the huge demand for services demonstrates that many providers do not have the capacity or resources to meet this.
Ensuring ringfenced funding for specialist ‘by and for’ services is critical, as Black and minoritised women experiencing structural forms of inequality face the biggest barriers to accessing support. Of the 166 women supported by Women’s Aid’s No Woman Turned Away project in 2020, 37% were Black and minoritised women, 20% had no recourse to public funds due to their immigration status, 21% had one or more disability and 51% had mental health support needs. Ongoing funding challenges for the national network of services, which acutely affect specialist services led ‘by and for’ Black and minoritised women, continues to limit the provision of the expert support that women experiencing structural barriers and inequalities need. A duty to fund services sustainably and with multi-year settlements, alongside ringfenced funding for ‘by and for’ services, would go a long way in addressing this and ensuring that victims are not turned away from accessing support due to a lack of capacity.
Victim-centred commissioning processes
In addition to improving the way specialist domestic abuse services are funded, improvements are needed to the commissioning process. Women’s Aid is clear that current best practice for commissioning domestic abuse services is underpinned by victim outcomes, based on the core principles for commissioning VAWG services set out by Women’s Aid and Imkaan. Victims should be central to the commissioning process and relevant agencies at the local level should ensure they are consulting victims, including those from Black and minoritised groups, on how services can best meet their needs. Best practice includes establishing a victim advisory board and having clear processes through which victims can advise any local groups or multi-agency working groups to ensure their expertise is embedded in the commissioning process.
In one case study explored in the Home Office’s VAWG commissioning toolkit, the Imkaan and Women’s Aid Capacity Building Partnership supported London Councils to establish a consultation process with victims and service providers, to map the current provision and projected spend. Ensuring that the expertise of domestic abuse victims informed the service specification proved to be an important factor in improving a coordinated response and better services for victims.
Commissioning of support services for victims works best when commissioners have an accurate understanding of need. This requires commissioners to ensure that there are robust mechanisms in place to support with the collection of data and needs assessments. In conducting needs assessments, commissioners should demonstrate an understanding of the ecology of domestic abuse services. Critically, this requires local authorities to engage with both commissioned and non-commissioned services. This ensures that victims who face increased barriers to seeking support are represented in the assessment of need, and ultimately, increases access to support for all victims. Commissioning should not be done in silos. Local authorities that draw on insights from available data in other commissioning functions, such as mental health, housing and substance misuse, are more likely to deliver services that meet the needs of victims in the area.
Competitive tendering processes
We would welcome the Government using measures in the Victims’ Bill to seek to stop competitive tendering processes which have an acute impact for ‘by and for’ service providers. These services provide vital, tailored support to victims of domestic abuse experiencing structural barriers and inequalities, have extremely limited and precarious budgets and are often taking the strain off other public services with the help they provide victims. These specialist providers are often small organisations that are unable to bid for large contracts over wide geographical areas, reduce the costs that larger generic providers may be able to absorb within their overall budgets, and often do not have the resources to challenge poor commissioning decisions.
Over a decade ago, R (Kaur & Shah) v London Borough of Ealing concluded that the (then) race equality duty “may only be met by specialist services from a specialist source”, yet local authorities continue to fail to uphold their obligations under the Public Sector Equality Duty in respect of competitive tendering processes for specialist services.
When a previous decision by Newham Council to decommission London Black Women’s Project is examined, it demonstrates the failure of competitive tendering processes to prioritise investment in the expertise of ‘by and for’ led services. The detrimental impact on victims of losing a local team of Black and minoritised staff with detailed community knowledge and relationships, in a very diverse borough, was not assessed or considered in the tendering process. There is currently no mechanism for external intervention to protect this nationally significant resource being lost to the severely depleted national network of specialist services for Black and minoritised women. This process also failed to acknowledge that investment in such a specialist service would provide good value for money, as a result of the cost-savings made by other statutory agencies.
Similar to the national oversight mechanism proposed above in this submission with regard to the duty on Police and Crime Commissioners to take a convening role in monitoring compliance against the Victims’ Code locally, we would encourage the Ministry of Justice to consider a similar oversight mechanism to monitor the commissioning of ‘by and for’ services. Such a mechanism should have powers to intervene and would help the Ministry of Justice to ensure its ambitions for the legislation and rights within the Victims’ Code can be met. This mechanism should also deliver an enforcement and monitoring of Equality Impact Assessments for commissioning and procurement processes, and national ring-fenced funding for ‘by and for’ led Black and minoritised services and others with protected characteristics.
Mental health provision
It is essential that the national response to supporting victims of domestic abuse demands stronger mechanisms to deliver quality services that address victims’ mental health needs. A significant number of victims are unable to access specialist help or are delayed in doing so for long periods of time. The Royal College of Psychiatrists cites an estimated figure of 1.6 million people waiting for treatment from mental health services (and the actual number is likely to be greater). It is estimated that 60-70% of women accessing mental health services have experienced domestic abuse, with 45.6% of women in refuge services in 2020-21 having reported feeling depressed or having suicidal thoughts as a direct result of the domestic abuse they had experienced.
The trauma caused by domestic abuse can have devastating and long-term consequences on survivors’ physical and mental health, with the Government estimating domestic abuse costing the health service in 2016-17 £2.3 billion.Victims face a range of barriers in accessing mental health support, not least due to the huge waiting times for treatment, but also because the generic support that is available is not appropriate, does not recognise the links between domestic abuse and trauma, and can cause re-traumatisation.
Specialist domestic abuse services are well placed to meet many of the mental health needs of victims due to their ability to build trusting and empowering relationships as they are rooted in the community, and have experience and expertise in delivering trauma-informed support. Unfortunately, these important services are not adequately funded and are often omitted from health budgeting. As a consequence, and separate to the demand on services, only 14.5% of refuges able to provide a specialist mental health support worker. Commissioners should therefore ensure that greater emphasis is placed on the mental health needs of victims in the delivery of support services. In addition, this new duty should encourage local commissioners to come together from wider sectors, including those from health and local authorities.
Quality of service provision
The role of commissioning goes beyond just funding services – commissioners should monitor and hold to account the provision of local services. It is critical that there are robust national oversight mechanisms in place to hold services to account for the quality of their provision. This includes ensuring that all commissioned services meet one of the quality standards recognised by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), including Women’s Aid’s National Quality Standards and Imkaan’s Accredited Quality Standards.
It is also important to note that local commissioning is strengthened and improved when there is clear and explicit guidance at a national level. Women’s Aid has been closely monitoring the implementation of the statutory duty introduced in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 to commission support in accommodation-based services through close engagement with local authorities and commissioners, as well as through insights from our data and monitoring. There is a concerning variation in the way that local authorities are interpreting the regulations and guidance in the statutory duty. It is therefore important that the Government monitors how commissioners are delivering new duties and provide explicit guidance where necessary. For instance, to ensure victims receive support which meets their needs, it is important to have a clear directive which prohibits the diversion of funds away from local specialist services. Investing in locally-run, specialist services embedded in the communities they serve is not only beneficial for survivors, but also supports local investment and employment opportunities, contributing to this Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.
To improve the commissioning of support services, Women’s Aid recommends the Ministry of Justice:
- Expands the statutory duty on Police and Crime Commissioners, local authorities and health bodies to collaborate when commissioning support services to encourage cross-boundary collaboration;
- Creates a statutory duty on all relevant public bodies to ensure sustainable, multi-year funding for specialist domestic abuse support for all victims and to ensure funding for specialist led ‘by and for’ Black and minoritised victims is ringfenced;
- Reflects on the lessons learned from the implementation of the statutory duty set out in Part 4 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 when considering a statutory duty to ensure sustainable funding for specialist domestic abuse support;
- Considers improvements to the commissioning process by making victims central to the commissioning process and ensuring commissioners are consulting victims on how services can best meet their needs;
- Encourages commissioners to engage with both commissioned and non-commissioned services when conducting needs assessments;
- Looks at creating an oversight mechanism to monitor the commissioning of ‘by and for’ services with powers to intervene;
- Supports commissioners to ensure a greater emphasis is placed on the mental health needs of victims in the delivery of support services;
- Ensures all commissioned services meet one of the quality standards recognised by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, including Women’s Aid’s National Quality Standards and Imkaan’s Accredited Quality Standards; and
- Introduces clear and explicit national guidance on commissioning quality services and monitoring the provision of services for local commissioners.
Increasing awareness and effectiveness of IDVAs
It is vital that the role of IDVAs and the impact IDVAs can have on victims is understood and recognised by statutory agencies. IDVAs provide emotional and practical advice, guidance and support to victims, and seek ways to empower victims and help them to rebuild their lives. IDVAs represent a victim’s voice at a Multi-agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC), as well as helping them to navigate the criminal justice process and working with the different statutory agencies to provide wraparound support. Routes to Support highlighted that in May 2021, there were 142 services that provided IDVA support.
IDVAs are one of many services that specialist domestic abuse services provide, alongside outreach support, floating support, formal counselling, support groups and prevention work which are all essential in supporting victims. Specialist services are able to mitigate against the often traumatising and disempowering impacts of the criminal justice system, allowing victims to make an informed choice in whether to access it, and offering specialist counselling and advocacy services regardless of this choice.
Victims value and need access to wraparound, holistic support and intersectional advocacy through ‘by and for’ Black and minoritised VAWG organisations and those providing specialist advocacy to Deaf and disabled, LBGT+ and young victims. Having someone who is understanding, supportive and can advocate for victims in the criminal justice system, whilst ‘cushioning’ the victim from racism and other forms of discrimination through this, has been highlighted to be crucial to women’s sense of safety and support. This support can remove much anxiety for victims. Support and intersectional advocacy from Black and minoritised organisations can lead to qualitatively different experiences for women and sometimes more positive and proactive responses from the police and other agencies.
In family courts, IDVAs or support workers provided by specialist ‘by and for’ services are there to provide emotional and practical support to victims of domestic abuse going through the family courts. They understand the family court process, help explain this to victims, and build relationships with court staff so that they can liaise with them, request special measures or interpreters where needed and feed into risk assessments being made by Cafcass and Children’s Social Care professionals. Their job is to help victims feel safe and confident at court, so that they can give their best evidence and feel better able to navigate proceedings. The role is also to help keep victims physically safe. It is particularly important for victims with protected characteristics or migrant status to have access to a specialist worker who understands their needs, provided by a specialist ‘by and for’ organisation, to help mitigate the trauma caused by the family courts process.
The role of IDVA or a specialist by and for support worker is particularly important because many victims do not have access to a lawyer due to high legal aid thresholds, and, even when they do, many lawyers do not yet have a good understanding of domestic abuse. IDVAs do not replace legal advice but can at least help victims feel supported.
The IDVA model is not the only effective means of providing ongoing support to a victim through the criminal justice process, and many women are supported by specialist advocacy and wraparound specialist services tailored to their needs. This work is seldom resourced or understood by commissioners, but plays an essential role in supporting victims, without being under the formal IDVA title.
The damaging effects of a ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ to commissioning can already be seen through the systemic defunding of the led ‘by and for’ sector for Black and minoritised women and girls, a sector which is already managing a large funding deficit. In many areas of the country, Black and minoritised victims are unable to access dedicated support because of a lack of equitable access to resources within the existing frameworks for funding VAWG provision. Added to this there are also significant gaps in provision for specific populations across the protected characteristics and intersecting needs.
We therefore believe that further defining and formalising the IDVA role, as the draft Victims’ Bill seeks to do, would risk having a negative impact on these wider specialist advocates and services as it would fail to recognise their roles, create barriers to accessing funding and risk commissioners diverting funding from wider specialist advocates to IDVAs, which would reduce the tailored support many victims require. We would welcome a roundtable discussion with the Ministry of Justice and specialist ‘by and for’ services delivering wider advocacy services to explore how best to ensure the broader advocacy services they provide are captured within this definition or the accompanying guidance, for example by including a formal recognition in the Bill alongside the IDVA definition of other specialist advocacy services that support survivors.
Women’s Aid recommends the Ministry of Justice:
- Considers how to mitigate against defining and formalising the IDVA role having a negative impact on wider specialist advocates and services; and
- Convenes a roundtable discussion with specialist ‘by and for’ domestic abuse services as part of deliberations to formalise the definition of an IDVA.
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