Select Committee on Home Affairs Sixth Report



6  Emergency interventions

"Victims often minimise abuse or are too scared to do anything about it, so a lot of input is needed to help them"

- eConsultation respondent

179. This section considers some of the kinds of emergency assistance and support available to victims and the agencies which can offer it. These include advice help lines, the Police, and refuge and housing services. We also consider the case of victims who are unable to access emergency support due to their immigration status.

Helplines provide a lifeline in emergencies

180. Refuge and Women's Aid, in partnership, run the National Domestic Violence Helpline. The line is free phone and operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on one national telephone number. The helpline is staffed by fully trained workers and volunteers, and helps women to access refuge places, provides practical advice on a range of issues including safety planning, housing and legal rights, immigration procedures, and emotional support. It receives funding from a number of sources, including London Councils, the Home Office and Comic Relief.

181. We visited the Refuge headquarters of the helpline to watch it in operation. We were told that, in total, there are 21 paid staff and around 42 volunteers. At any one time there is a maximum of 9 staff operating the phones. Sandra Horley told us that, in 2007, the helpline received 950,000 in funding, of which 500,000 came from the Home Office. It received 175,000 calls, of which approximately 65% were able to be answered.

182. Refuge told us that the helpline is facing a crisis in funding, with a projected budget deficit in 2008-09 of 260,000. Ms Horley explained that if it was unable to raise funds to cover the shortfall, the help line would have to reduce the number of its helpline staff, or stop its night service. We raised the issue of the help line's resource situation with the Home Office. The Minister, Vernon Coaker, told us "I will look at the issue of the helpline again. We give 500,000 from the Home Office, but of course if it is in difficulty we will look at it".[185]

183. On 11 April 2008 Karma Nirvana, in partnership with the FMU, launched a national helpline for survivors of "honour"-based violence and forced marriage. The line will be staffed by survivors offering practical and emotional support.

184. The National Domestic Violence Helpline provides a vital lifeline to victims of abuse. However, the helpline is very under-resourced, facing a budget deficit of 260,000 in 2008-09. It is currently able to respond to only 65% of the calls it receives. It is essential that the Helpline is properly resourced, not only to maintain its current level of service provision, but to increase its services to meet increasing demand. This step will be crucial if, as we recommend, public awareness-raising campaigns on domestic violence are to be run.

185. The Home Office must undertake to review its resourcing of the Helpline and increase the funding it provides to ensure that the Helpline can maintain its vital services, including 24-hour coverage. Investment in this service is likely to be amply offset by the savings, not only to human life, but in police call-outs, health and support services and legal proceedings.

186. We welcome the launch in April 2008 of the 'Honour Network' helpline for survivors of "honour"-based violence and forced marriage, and urge the Government to ensure that it is fully resourced to be able to operate effectively.

The police response

187. We considered aspects of the police response to domestic violence, including risk assessments, victims' experience of contacting the police, and protection for "honour"-based violence victims. In paragraphs 402 to 405 we consider the implementation of new powers for police introduced by the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act.

188. Every minute in the UK, the police receive a call from the public for assistance for domestic violence. The police receive an estimated 1,300 calls each day, or 570,000 each year.[186] However, only a minority of incidents of domestic violence are reported to the police, with estimates varying between 23%[187] and 35%.[188] Typically only 26% of incidents result in arrest and 7% of incidents result in charge.[189] In many cases, the police are the first contact point for victims in an emergency and it is crucial that they respond appropriately.

Police risk assessment tools

189. The police have been criticised for having inadequate risk assessment tools for dealing with domestic violence, and in particular with "honour"-based violence and forced marriage. A report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) in July 2007 came to some disturbing conclusions with regard to failings in a number of domestic homicide cases, identifying systematic problems including:

Lack of awareness of the circumstances likely to trigger domestic violence and failure to recognise factors in perpetrator's history that showed a need for intelligence in order to assess risk

No risk assessment/risk assessment informal or based on partial evidence/no review on escalation of violence.[190]

The IPCC gave a number of case studies illustrating such failings, including that in the box below.[191]

IPCC Case Study: Investigating Properly

A woman suffered over a year of terror and harassment after ending a relationship. She alerted the police to her fears on several occasions, reporting (among other things) assault, damage to her car, threatening calls, an attack during a robbery (which she believed her ex-partner was behind) and finally threats to kill her. At no stage did the police identify her as vulnerable or categorise her case as high risk.

There was no meaningful investigation of the robbery. Statements were not taken from key witnesses who had seen two men near the scene at the time, forensic tests were not carried out on a Mars bar wrapping found in the telephone box from which the robbers had called her first, the descriptions of the robbers were not circulated and her ex-partner was not interviewed though there were strong grounds for suspecting he was behind the robbery. No risk assessment was made in relation to the victim's safety.

Her ex-partner shot her dead. He was subsequently tried and convicted of the robbery as well as her murder. Although he used an unlicensed firearm to kill her he had a valid firearms licence at the time. The last renewal was after he had been bound over in relation to the allegation of assault and while he was still under suspicion for the robbery. The firearms licensing officer renewing the certificate looked only at bind over and did not consider the whole of the man's record.

190. Police representatives told us that risk assessment procedures were improving. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) stated that "there is no single risk 'tool' available to guide all the agencies which have a part to play in keeping people safe from domestic abuse", but that it is currently working with partners to identify a common tool to identify critical risk factors.[192] Chief Constable Brian Moore, Domestic Abuse lead for ACPO, told us that "the single factor that would improve overall consistency of all agencies, not just the police, would be a consistent risk management regime across and between agencies".[193] Commander Steve Allen told us that there were specific questions and factors to identify "honour"-based violence included in the police domestic violence risk assessment tool under development. He added that ACPO was trying to ensure that other agencies adopt this risk model so that a consistent approach is being taken.[194]

191. Failure by the police adequately to assess the risk of harm to victims has, in a number of cases, resulted in homicides which might have been prevented. The police must ensure that work under way to implement consistent risk assessment across all forces, in partnership with other agencies, puts right these failings.

The police response to victims has varied

192. We heard from survivors of domestic violence who were critical of an inadequate police response. Some said that response times were too long:

"My sister was told what she could expect a response within ten minutes and that even a silent 999 call would bring the police. The actual response time was 6 hours and 42 minutes measured as the time from the start of the 999 call to when the police entered the house to find my sister dead" - tiscali

  "I called the police in the early hours scared for my life after being beaten and having something thrown at my head. I waited an hour cold, shivering and petrified of my ex-partner fearing he would break through the door I had shut myself behind to try to kill me. No police officer arrived...so again I dialled 999 and requested police assistance. I was then left to wait another 45 minutes before the police finally arrived by which time I could literally have been dead...my home was already listed on the local DVU's [police domestic violence unit] 'fast response' list" - claire-health

Respondents bore out some of the IPCC criticisms with regard to police co-ordination, especially the following up of incidents:

"I found the police very helpful at the beginning, when I first called them, but the follow up support was severely lacking. I was told a DV policewoman would call in the next couple of days, but it took over two weeks for her to call me. She asked if there was anything I needed help with, I asked what kind of help she could offer, she said I obviously didn't need her then, and hung up, I couldn't believe I had waited so long for so little" - Happynow

  "A couple of times I tried to phone the DV department at the local police station - as I had been warmly invited to do by officers on several occasions - but on both occasions I met with an irritable WPC who the first time said the police weren't interested, I just had a 'messy divorce'. The second occasion the reason given was that it had just been a 'domestic argument'. I felt very depressed and humiliated after this, but have since heard other women say they have received the same treatment as me" - parijata

Others spoke of prejudicial responses from individual officers:

"I called the police after my ex-husband tried to strangle me, [he] had been threatening and verbally abusive all night and said he would put me through days of sleep deprivation. The officer who I spoke to asked me if I really wanted flashing blue lights outside my house with all the neighbours watching and told me to call him back in the morning when things had calmed down! I never rang them again. That was 10 years ago. I hope the police has improved since then" - marigold123

193. Community organisation Karma Nirvana told us that forced marriage victims reported receiving sceptical responses from the police:

On the day [victims] find the courage to leave they are very often faced with agencies who do not understand the risk posed to them and common responses to our clients are 'stop overreacting', 'do not be so dramatic' or 'wait for something to happen' and more importantly it is not a police matter.[195]

194. Chief Constable Brian Moore, ACPO lead for domestic violence, told us that in recent years there has been a cultural change in the way the police service deals with domestic violence.[196] Seventy five per cent of respondents to a Women's Aid special survey agreed that police responses to domestic violence had improved over the last two to three years, but that performance was inconsistent. One said "often it depends on individual senior officer's commitment in terms of the response or service the victim receives".[197] Southall Black Sisters also thought that "the problem lies not with senior ranking officers, many of whom have considerable awareness of the issues but with rank and file officers, many of whom continue to view domestic violence as a 'waste of time'".[198]

195. We also heard of some positive responses from the police from eConsultation respondents:

"The police treated me really well, listened to me , I felt understood and believed" - andiecraft

  "The police who came out to rescue me were very kind, sympathetic and supportive and when my husband refused to agree to cease harassing me - but would leave to live with his parents - they escorted him from the house...they subsequently checked up to see if I was okay at intervals on the phone" - parijata

196. The police service response to "honour"-based violence has been strengthened by the formulation of the ACPO Honour-based Violence Working Group (HBVWG). HBVWG is a multi-agency group merged in 2005 from the ACPO Forced Marriage Working Group and the ACPO Honour Killings Gold Group, with membership drawn from police services across the UK, central government and the criminal and civil justice systems. The group is developing a national police strategy and supporting action plan specifically for responding to incidents of "honour"-based violence. The draft strategy was published for consultation in August 2007 and promised that the strategy and action plan would be published in November 2007. However, the strategy has not yet been published. Commander Steve Allen, ACPO lead for Honour-Based Violence, told us that he had delayed ratification of the draft strategy to take into account lessons from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) report into the "honour" killing of Banaz Mahmood.[199] The IPCC report was published on 2 April 2008.

197. The head of the HBVWG, Commander Steve Allen, told us that the key challenge for police in responding to "honour"-based violence was ensuring a consistent response from individual officers:

The key challenge is that we have in excess of 100,000 people around the country who may be the first person to whom a victim reports, and the ambition has to be to have the confidence that every one of those 100,000-plus people, every single time they come into contact with a victim, gets it right. I cannot sit here and say to you that I believe on every single occasion we do get it right, because I know that on far too frequent a basis we still do not.[200]

198. We took evidence on the specific "honour" killing case of Sergit Athwal. Sergit's brother, Jagdeesh Singh, described the difference that having an informed and engaged police officer assigned to his case had made to him:

It was not until many years into the investigation and with the introduction of new officers we saw this massive turnaround in the speed and thoroughness of the case. It demonstrated very cruelly and very vividly that attitudes amongst officers can have such a fundamental effect on whether a case is taken forward or a line is drawn on the case to say 'No more enquiries'.[201]

More consistent training is required for front-line police officers

199. The Government has set a National Delivery Plan Target for the Association of Chief Police Officers to train all frontline officers in domestic violence by 2008.[202] Chief Constable Brian Moore told us:

Every person who joined the police force is receiving training and has been trained to the Centrex standard. That training covers not only front line officers but those who receive the 999 call. We have to go back and do remedial training in respect of those who entered the Police service earlier than three or four years ago. There is a mixed picture across the Police service about remedial and follow-up training, and I and the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary are working through that programme with the forces.[203]

200. ACPO noted the need for specialist guidance and training for all agencies, including the police, stating in particular that:

With the enactment of the Forced Marriage (Civil Bill) and the placing of guidelines on a statutory footing it is essential that forced marriage guidelines for all agencies are revised as a matter of urgency. The revision and implementation of guidelines is essential if front-line service delivery is to be sensitive and appropriate to victims' needs. This will require additional resources.[204]

However, evidence from our eConsultation suggested that many police officers still lack understanding of the issues. This suggests that training has not yet been consistently and fully implemented.

201. Most of our witnesses agreed that there has been progress in terms of the police response, in moving away from a culture of diffidence towards domestic violence over the last ten years or so. The top level of the police service, aided by the relevant ACPO working groups, appears to have made a commitment further to improve the police response to victims. However, the evidence we heard suggests that the experience of individual victims remains varied, and depends to a great degree on the commitment and knowledge of the individual officer. Police representatives agreed that it remains difficult to ensure that every front line officer is trained and that the response is consistent every time.

202. We therefore recommend that the police service renews its efforts to ensure that every police officer is trained to respond to domestic and "honour"-based violence and forced marriage. Comprehensive, accredited training must be implemented swiftly. HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) should ensure that, as part of its inspection regime, it assesses whether, and to what standard, forces have implemented training.

203. We note that ACPO has not yet published its strategy and action plan on "honour"-based violence, and urge it to do so.

A police protection programme should be made available to victims of extreme "honour"-based violence

204. Cases of "honour"-based violence and forced marriage can involve a group of perpetrators and an organised conspiracy. We heard that in a number of cases families went to great lengths to track down the young person, including hiring private investigators, sending family members undercover or using other mechanisms such as MPs or national insurance records to locate the person. The Iranian and Kurdish Women's Right Organisation (IKWRO) stated:

Immigrant communities are tightly-knit; immigrant families are large, and will often collaborate in bringing about the murder. Potential victims, the majority of whom are young women who have led sheltered lives, need no less protection than those threatened by organized crime gangs; and this must include police protection and new identities. Domestic violence provisions are often inadequate and inappropriate for this purpose.[205]

IKWRO gave the following case study:[206]

"Honour"-based violence case study: SS

SS was only nine years old when her family decided she should be married to her cousin who was fifteen years older than she was. SS fell in love with her boyfriend SF (now her husband) in 2002. Her family became suspicious. She was not allowed to make calls and was under constant surveillance. Her family arranged for her cousin to come over to the UK for a wedding ceremony. On the day of her wedding she took an overdose and so the wedding did not take place. She decided to leave home.

The entire family: brothers, uncles and other cousins came looking for her and her partner. They feel SS has disgraced the family by marrying for love and not the partner they chose for her so they resolved to kill her. We learnt that they paid a bounty hunter/hit man to kill SS and SF. SS went to police in London, but police refused to provide any protection and sent them to the local council where they were told there were neither refuges for couples, nor for men. They were put in touch with IKWRO through one of the police station that SS contacted. We arranged meetings with the police to ensure their safety and to gain a referral to the council where they were eventually provided with safe accommodation.

205. In such circumstances, elevated levels of protection are essential. Yet currently the only high level protection programme is police witness protection, to qualify for which the individual has to be giving evidence as a witness. This is often not the case with victims of "honour"-based violence, and yet they face similar danger. Several witnesses argued for the creation of a protection programme for victims or potential victims, along the lines of the witness protection programme. Jasvinder Sanghera cited a Metropolitan Police initiative launched by Commander Sawyer to provide protection to gang members as a good model. This initiative offers gang members refuge in a national network of safe houses, together with education and jobs.[207] Commander Allen told us that ACPO "would also support an extension of the use of the Witness Mobility Scheme and Witness Protection schemes for victims and those at risk of honour based violence where appropriate".[208] He said that ACPO has begun work on such a scheme.[209]

206. We consider that in some cases of extreme "honour"-based violence, victims face a particular danger from organised conspiracies. We therefore recommend that the police develop a victim protection programme, along the lines of those offered to court witnesses or gang members, for such cases. Entry onto a programme must not be dependent on giving testimony in court.

Emergency housing

207. A critical need for victims of domestic violence is safe housing, away from the perpetrator. In the short term this can mean refuge accommodation. Whilst this might seem obvious, we identified a lack of planning and a shortage of funds to meet the housing needs of domestic violence victims.

There is a shortage of refuge space across the UK

208. There are currently 450 women's refuges in the UK. Last year there were 17,406 women and 25,384 children staying in refuge accommodation.[210] However, the Men's Advice Line told us that only 15% of women fleeing violence are able to access a refuge place.[211] In London alone, during 2006-07, 21 refuge providers turned away over 2,300 requests for support from women, overwhelmingly because refuges were full.[212] We visited two refuges during the course of our inquiry. The Haven in Wolverhampton told us that staff must turn away just over one third of referrals due to a lack of capacity. The National Domestic Violence Helpline receives an average of 20 requests a day for refuge.

209. The Department for Communities and Local Government told us that it had invested in refuge provision, including funding UK Refuges Online (UKROL):

In this financial year we have been able to move away from the insecurity of year on year funding for UKROL and have provided three year indicative funding of 400,000 from 2008/09 to 2010/11....We, together with the Housing Corporation, provided 34 million between 2003/06 under the Women Fleeing Domestic Violence programme to build and refurbish 511 units. Since then in the Housing Corporation's Affordable Housing Programme for 2006-08 over 17 million was allocated for accommodation for women at risk of domestic violence. This funding will provide 153 units of housing.[213]

210. However, the joint End Violence Against Women and Equalities and Human Rights Commission's Map of Gaps report in 2007 noted that "one in three local authorities (37.8%) do not have a women's refuge".[214]

The inconsistency of provision was also highlighted by respondents to our eConsultation:

"Refuge provision differs dramatically from one area to the next. I live in an area with 150,000 residents but we only have 7 refuge beds, whereas 20 miles away in a neighbouring authority they have 15. We also need provision to be more flexible, ours only accepts women and will not accept teenage boys over the age of 13" - Cllr Davison

211. The communities Minister, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the DCLG, Iain Wright MP, undertook to "look at the provision of refuge places across the country. This will help establish how many bed spaces are available for those fleeing domestic abuse".[215]

There is little specialist refuge provision for minority ethnic women, including forced marriage victims

212. Nationally only 30 refuge providers specifically support Asian women, and only 6% of local authority areas have specialist refuges.[216] Data from 6 BME refuges supplied by Imkaan shows that in a 2-year period, 537 women and children were unable to access emergency housing and support from 12 services.[217] There are currently only 8 bed spaces specifically for female victims of "honour"-based violence or forced marriage aged from 16 years.[218] These are at the Ashiana Project in East London. However, "honour"-based violence and forced marriage victims can also access mainstream refuge provision.

213. Despite the shortage of provision for Asian victims, the situation is even worse for non-Asian minority ethnic victims of forced marriage or "honour"-based violence. There is not a single refuge in the UK specifically for Chinese victims, nor for Middle Eastern or Eastern European victims.

There are few refuge places for male victims

214. There are no refuges specifically for heterosexual male victims. Approximately 12 rooms are available for heterosexual men in women's hostels,[219] there is some dedicated bed space for male victims in North Somerset and there are 400 'generic' bed spaces. There is one refuge for gay male victims.[220] Mankind Initiative, a Taunton-based charity supporting male victims of domestic violence, stated that "of the referrals [to refuges] that the charity has made since 1st January 2007, refuges accepted the placement on only 11 occasions, on six occasions the referral was refused and on four occasions no place was found".[221]

215. We heard conflicting views on the need for male-only refuges. The Mankind Initiative told us that "Government and local authorities have a duty to offer specialist support including refuge spaces for male victims of domestic violence".[222] However, others referred to research carried out by the Cardiff-based Dyn Project, which suggested that most male victims do not want or require refuge services.[223] The Men's Advice Line agreed, stating:

We have yet to be convinced that there is a significant need for additional beds for male victims of intimate partner violence. Most men, even if they are victimised do not face the same levels of fear as women and most will want to remain where they are due to employment and family commitments. ... We also submit that again the issue of men's refuges has been somewhat misrepresented by some for political reasons that have more to do with misogyny than concern for genuine individuals.[224]

216. Male victims of forced marriage who gave evidence to us strongly recommended a male refuge for forced marriage victims. Imran, a survivor and case worker with Karma Nirvana, said:

My suggestion is a male refuge for men, which is highly needed. Due to my caseload I have 44 Asian male victims of domestic violence and forced marriages and honour-based violence and at the moment there is nowhere for them to go, just hostels and YMCAs. A lot of males phone me saying, "where am I supposed to go?" and when I say YMCAs and hostels, they just do not want to leave.[225]

217. One homelessness charity which supports young homeless people, might provide an alternative to the refuge model for men fleeing domestic violence or forced marriage. The Albert Kennedy Trust supports homeless Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) individuals made homeless because their families have rejected them due to their sexuality. The Trust arranges foster care and lodgings with trained LGBT carers.[226]

218. We welcome the extra investment in units of housing for domestic violence victims provided by the Government. However, despite this investment, there remains a desperate shortage of refuge spaces. Those who flee domestic violence give up their homes, their possessions and move away from family, friends, jobs and possessions. Refuges represent the very last resort for these victims and those who access such services do so in desperation. The Government must not fail in its duty to support these vulnerable people.

219. The Department for Communities and Local Government must urgently investigate the scale of the shortfall in refuge spaces and work with local authorities to ensure that refuge space is sufficient to meet demand across every local authority area. Once it has quantified the scale of the shortfall, it should produce a timetable for delivering the additional refuge places required, and report back regularly on progress against this timetable.

220. On the question of male refuges, it is clear that there is a need for some emergency housing, perhaps particularly for victims of forced marriage, who can be younger and more isolated. However, it would seem that the need for bed spaces for men is not of the same order of magnitude as for women. We recommend that the Government consider whether or not alternative support might be appropriate for male victims, such as a means-tested grant for accommodation. For male victims of "honour"-based violence or forced marriage, consideration might also be given to using the forced marriage survivor network, launched on April 11, to facilitate short term accommodation of victims with survivors. A possible model for this could be the Albert Kennedy charity, which supports homeless LGBT individuals through facilitating lodgings with LGBT carers. Clearly due care would need to be given to the acute vulnerability of forced marriage victims.

Sanctuary Schemes allow victims to remain in their own homes

221. Sanctuary Schemes allow victims to remain in their own home, by installing safety measures, such as extra locks on doors, window or door alarms, anti-arson letter boxes, external solar lights or a 'safe room' within the victim's home. The Department for Communities and Local Government told us that, in 2007, 171 local authorities had introduced Sanctuary Schemes, and a further 90 were planning to introduce them.[227] Sanctuary Schemes are available to both male and female victims.

222. The implementation of Sanctuary Schemes across the country has been variable and as such, the schemes have received a luke warm response. On the one hand they have been welcomed for empowering the victim to remain in their home, but on the other hand they have been criticised for being, in some cases, a 'box-ticking' exercise, or 'cheap way out' for local authorities. For example, one respondent to a special survey by Women's Aid highlighted shortcomings:

Our police fund things like shutters and bars for doors etc, but not CCTV or panic rooms. There is no perpetrators' support programme and there is no housing available which could be used for single male perpetrators in a supported tenancy scheme linked to Sanctuary. I think making a house more secure, without the other provision to keep the perpetrator supported and away from the victim, just leaves the woman a prisoner in her own home.[228]

223. Nicola Harwin of Women's Aid told us of anecdotal evidence from a local provider in the South West: "the local authority said 'we have got a supply of locks and various things in a cupboard somewhere and that will do.' Honestly, that was literally what someone said".[229] Sandra Horley told us that the schemes "are often used by local authorities to stop giving women the right of choice of alternative housing".[230]

224. In Barnet during 2004/05 Sanctuary Schemes resulted in a 40% reduction in families fleeing violence having to go into temporary accommodation. This saved a total of 601,299 in aborted temporary accommodation costs.[231] Feedback from those participating in the schemes was generally positive. For example, in Newcastle under Lyme, 90% of respondents said they felt more secure in their properties following the work.[232] The Minister, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the DCLG, Iain Wright MP, told us that he intended to carry out a comprehensive evaluation of the scheme.[233]

225. Although we heard some accounts of poor implementation of Sanctuary Schemes, evidence suggests that the schemes have great potential to allow women and children to remain in their own homes, thus minimising disruption to their lives. The schemes are also available to male victims, and may better suit the needs of male victims than refuge space.

226. We heard evidence, however, that some local authorities are using the schemes as 'cheap' alternatives to emergency housing, simply providing a spare lock or bolt. It is vital that Sanctuary Schemes are only employed when this can be done safely and when associated support and protection measures are in place. Where schemes are implemented properly—with victim safety the paramount concern—local authorities must ensure that any savings made in temporary accommodation costs through the scheme are reinvested in domestic violence services.

227. We urge the Minister to carry out a national evaluation of Sanctuary Schemes, as he proposed, and publish the findings. Guided by the evidence we heard, this evaluation should explicitly consider: whether schemes are providing adequate security, or being used as a 'cheap' option; whether local authorities are offering women any choice, or whether women refusing the scheme are classed as 'intentionally homeless'; and how any costs saved in temporary accommodation can be ring-fenced for investment in other domestic violence services.

Victims with insecure immigration status are acutely vulnerable

228. Witnesses told us that the most desperately vulnerable group of victims are those who, due to their insecure immigration status, are not able to access public funds for emergency accommodation or support. We took evidence from one such victim, Anita, who was abused by her husband but who was forced to remain with him since she could not access refuge provision owing to her immigration status:

Gwyn Prosser MP: So you were forced to go back?

Anita: Yes, because I did not have any choice. Where would I go? I went to many organisations at that time but everyone said there is no recourse to public funds; that is why we cannot help you.[234]

Advocacy group Rights for Non-British Spouses provided us with several case studies detailing the plight of such women. Respondents to our eConsultation agreed that this group is overlooked:

"Those who have no recourse to public funds often face the starkest choice: either return to the perpetrator or face destitution. There have been cases where women have had their children taken into care because they have no financial resources and can claim nothing. This is nothing short of disgraceful" - nadine

  "Most of the time such women have very little education, no independent means and no experience whatsoever of how to live in this country. They are completely at the mercy of their in-laws. Whilst they are on probationary leave their status in this country, in practice, is also very much at the whim of their in-laws as well. I would say that this is one of the most vulnerable if not the most vulnerable group. However, in my view because they are immigrants, I think this is one of the groups that receives the least sympathy and attention - such women are in fact invisible" - concerned

229. A recent report by Amnesty International and Southall Black Sisters condemned the Government for failing to change the situation of "women in desperate need of safety [who] cannot access basic levels of protection and support, simply because of their immigration status".[235] In 2002 the Government introduced a Domestic Violence Rule into the immigration rules.[236] Under the rule, a woman who is a spouse or long-term partner of a British national or someone who is settled in the UK can apply for indefinite leave to remain, so long as they can provide evidence that the relationship broke down before the end of their period of limited leave because of domestic violence. However, while this application is pending their existing immigration status precludes access to housing provision.

230. The length of time taken by the Home Office to determine an application for ILR under the 'domestic violence' rule has been criticised. A survey carried out by Southall Black Sisters found that on average it takes six to 24 months for a woman's immigration application to be determined.[237] In response to a recent parliamentary question, the Home Office stated that:

The average time for determination of applications for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) on the grounds of domestic violence (DV), decided between 18 December 2002 and 30 September 2007, was sixty-one days.[238]

One respondent to our eConsultation described difficulties with applying under the Domestic Violence rule:

"The Home Office still insists on a level of evidence that is virtually impossible for the...victim to obtain. Such applications seem to take a very long time to process and victims often have to go to the courts to reverse the Home Office decision...In my view this is a regrettable instance of the Home Office playing politics on a vulnerable group. They need to be seen as tough on all immigrants generally, so they leave it to the courts to reverse the legally 'dodgy' decisions" - concerned

231. During the course of our inquiry the Home Office announced the enactment of measures to support women with 'no recourse'. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, Vernon Coaker MP, told us:

I can tell the Committee that we have listened to representations. Although final details are to be worked out, in the very near future we will put together a system to ensure that where people do receive a positive determination with respect to their ILR status they will actually be able to apply for and receive housing and living costs for that period up to the determination of their ILR.[239]

232. The Government announcement was broadly welcomed by the domestic violence sector. It will enable more refuges to accept women with insecure immigration status since, if they receive a positive ILR decision, the refuge can claim back their costs to the date of application. However, there remain significant problems for women with 'no recourse', including the length of time taken by immigration agencies to determine their application for ILR, which is compounded by confusion over requirements for supporting evidence to accompany the application, and the number of cases which are refused ILR.

233. We are very pleased that, during the course of our inquiry, the Government announced that it would introduce measures to help those acutely vulnerable victims of domestic violence who have insecure immigration status and therefore 'no recourse to public funds'. This should ease the heavy financial burden of supporting these women on the refuge sector.

234. There seems, however, to remain a problem with the speed of processing applications for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). We heard that applications can take between 2 and 24 months. This is too long to expect women to live in destitution. We recommend that the process could be speeded up by simplifying the application process and related paperwork. This could be achieved, for example, by reviewing forms to ensure that they are in plain English, and by developing an internet system through which claims could be tracked. The small claims court system could provide a model.

 


185   Q 440 Back

186   Stanko (2000), cited by Women's Aid Federation Statistics: Domestic Violence, http://www.womensaid.org.uk/core/core_picker/download.asp?id=1602 Back

187   Walby and Allen, Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking: Findings from the British Crime Survey, Home Office Research Study 276 (2004), x Back

188   Home Office (2002) Back

189   Hester, M., Social Policy and Society 5 (1) (2006), p 81 Back

190   Ev 112 (IPCC Learning the Lessons Bulletin 1 June 2007) Back

191   Ev 114-115 Back

192   Ev 181 (ACPO Domestic Abuse portfolio) Back

193   Q 8 Back

194   Q 140 Back

195   Ev 239 Back

196   Q 1 Back

197   Ev 214 Back

198   Ev 303 Back

199   Q 127 Back

200   Q 126 Back

201   Q 265 Back

202   Ev 248 (Home Office) Back

203   Q 10 Back

204   Ev 176 Back

205   Ev 289 Back

206   Ev 289 Back

207   For a description of the scheme, see Met moves gang members to 'safe houses', Evening Standard, 7 February 2008 Back

208   Ev 176 Back

209   Q 152 Back

210   Q162 (Nicola Harwin, Women's Aid) Back

211   Ev 310 (Men's Advice Line) Back

212   Women's Resource Centre, Funding to London Women's Refuges: Report to London Councils 2007 Back

213   Ev 403 Back

214   Map of Gaps 2007, p 25. The Map of Gaps report only assessed third sector specialist domestic violence services, thereby excluding all statutory services. It therefore does not reflect all available domestic violence services. Back

215   Ev 404 Back

216   Ev 234 (The Fawcett Society), citing Shaw, S., Domestic Violence and Black and Minority Communities Back

217   Ev 172 (Imkaan) Back

218   Ev 176 (ACPO Honour-Based Violence Working Group) Back

219   Ev 132 (The Mankind Initiative) Back

220   Ibid. Back

221   Ev 133 Back

222   Ibid. Back

223   The Dyn Project: Supporting men experiencing abuse, Robinson & Rowlands, Cardiff University (2006) Back

224   Ev 309-310 Back

225   Q 275 Back

226   For further information on the Albert Kennedy Trust, see http://www.akt.org.uk/  Back

227   Ev 403 Back

228   Ev 220 Back

229   Q 159 Back

230   Ibid. Back

231   Ev 405. The cost of those 40 cases for a year in temporary accommodation would have totalled 669,760. The saving figure of 601,299 is arrived at by taking away the total costs for the project for the year (68,461) from the cost of temporary accommodation. Back

232   Ev 406 Back

233   Ev 404 Back

234   Q 270 Back

235   Amnesty International and Southall Black Sisters, No Recourse, No Safety, ( March 2008), p 3 Back

236   Paragraph 298A Back

237   Southall Black Sisters submission to the Home Affairs Committee inquiry into Immigration Controls, March 2006 Back

238   Parliamentary Question tabled by Margaret Moran MP (Luton South, Labour). Back

239   Q 443 Back

 
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