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A warm hello from the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s Office!

I wanted to get in touch to provide you with some updates from our Office, as well as highlight some current and forthcoming stakeholder engagement opportunities with Central Government on DA and VAWG. Hopefully some of these opportunities will also reach you already via other channels, but I thought it might be helpful to summarise in one place.

Domestic Abuse Commissioner Updates

At the forefront of our minds is the current second national lockdown in England and the recent national firebreak in Wales in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the implications of this for those experiencing domestic abuse, as well as those working to support them. We were particularly concerned to hear of the significant drop in domestic abuse reporting to the police during the Welsh firebreak. Nicole has therefore written, alongside the Victims’ Commissioner Dame Vera Baird, to the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to highlight her concerns and recommendations. These are detailed in the policy document attached. This is a live document and we are working closely with the domestic abuse sector to respond to the situation as it unfolds – our recommendations will evolve accordingly.

Whilst the Domestic Abuse Bill has experienced some delays to its second reading in the House of Lords, Nicole continues to engage with Peers on her priorities for the Bill, in order to ensure it is as comprehensive and robust as possible in tackling domestic abuse in all its forms. The attached briefing document highlights the key outstanding issues Nicole and our Office are focusing on.

I am sure that many of you are busy making (virtual) plans for the upcoming 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, and we look forward to seeing these come together at the end of the month. Our Office will be taking the opportunity to spotlight examples of innovation and best practice over the 16-day period, so do keep an eye out for these on Twitter.

By way of staffing update from our Office, I’m very happy to advise that offers have been made to candidates for the Regional Leads positions within the Practice and Partnerships team and we hope they will be in post early next year. I’ll be in touch with more details as soon as possible to introduce you to your respective Leads. The Policy Advisors within our Policy Team should also be joining us at similar time and will be taking on thematic leads for various policy issues on domestic abuse; we look forward to introducing them to you too very soon. And I am delighted to share that Amber Henshaw recently started with us as our Head of Communications. We will be working together to ensure we keep in touch with you and keep you informed in the most effective way possible!

We also wanted to provide some brief updates on three mapping exercises being carried out by our Office currently:

1. A pilot exercise to assess the feasibility of mapping the national provision of accommodation-based and community-based services for victims / survivors of domestic abuse. This is being delivered by social research firm, NatCen, on behalf of our Office. The work will explore what services are available within four pilot regions (Devon, Blackpool, Warwickshire, and Southwark), their funding streams, and the extent to which demand is being met. Data will primarily be collected through practitioner and user surveys, and desk-based research. The study will be completed in early 2021, and will inform a future national mapping exercise across England and Wales (likely to take place over next financial year – timings will be informed by outcome of feasibility study). Any questions to: Simon Corkery

2. A project to map the provision of community-based behaviour change programmes for perpetrators of domestic abuse across England and Wales. The study will capture differences in the availability of programmes between geographic areas, the types of interventions used, and funding streams. We will be contacting PCCs directly for support in identifying perpetrator programmes in their area. We will then survey programme providers in each PCC area. We are undertaking an initial pilot later this month, surveying programme providers in three PCC areas (PCCs in pilot areas will be contacted by our Office shortly). The full mapping exercise is due to be completed within this financial year, and we intend to publicise our findings. Any questions to: Simon Corkery

3. A mapping exercise of domestic abuse and sexual violence support and advocacy services in criminal and family courts across England and Wales. This mapping exercise aims to understand the provision, nature and current capacity of these services, as well as their capacity to manage any future surge in demand, including any plans in place to manage court backlogs resulting from Covid-19 restrictions. This work has recently been awarded to SafeLives for completion on behalf of our Office. It is currently in the initial preparation stage with a timescale for completion in early 2021. Any questions to: Georgina Hagan

Central Government Updates

In terms of work going on across Central Government, you will likely have seen that the Home Office published a draft version of the Domestic Abuse Statutory Guidance Framework in July, available here. This will accompany the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill and is still open for feedback, please get in touch with Arooj Razvi (Home Office DA Policy Team) at arooj.razvi@homeoffice.gov.uk with any comments on the draft. The Home Office recently began running a series of thematic sub-groups with relevant specialist partners on specific issues within the draft, however these are now on pause in light of the current pressures on the DA sector during the national lockdown.

The Home Office will also shortly be putting out a Call for Evidence in relation to its new VAWG Strategy, with opportunities to feed in via both written submission and focus groups. More details will be available soon.

The Ministry of Justice is progressing work with the IDVA/ISVA Functions Review as proposed following the Prime Minister’s Hidden Harms Summit (p.13) earlier this year. They were intending to commence formal stakeholder engagement this month, however in response to concerns from the sector they are reconsidering timings due to the impact of the second national lockdown. Engagement opportunities for Local Authorities are likely to be coordinated by the LGA, with contact from the MoJ directly through their own channels for PCCs. They will be providing an update shortly as to when engagement is likely to take place, but would welcome any contact regarding the Functions Review in the meantime to Rachel Ferrari (MoJ Victim and Witness Policy Team) at Rachel.Ferrari1@justice.gov.uk

From the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, a reminder that today (13th November) is the last day for responding to the consultation on the funding allocation methodology for a new duty on local authorities to provide support to victims and their children within safe accommodation.

Additionally, we thought it might be helpful to highlight the Covid regulations exemptions for victims and victim services, summarised below.

Exception 2: work, voluntary services, education and training etc:

(4) Exception 2 is that it is reasonably necessary for the person concerned (“P”) to leave or be outside P’s home—

(a) for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for P to work, or to provide those services, from home;

(e) to fulfil a legal obligation, including attending court or satisfying bail conditions, or to participate in legal proceedings;

(f) to access critical public services, including—

(iii) services provided to victims (including victims of crime);

(g) to access services provided by voluntary or charitable services, including food banks

Exception 4: medical need etc:

(6) Exception 4 is that it is reasonably necessary for P to leave or be outside P’s home—

(c) to avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm.

Counselling is covered by the exemption to leave home to attend a support group:

“Support group” means a group or one to one support which is organised by a business, a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution or a public body to provide mutual aid, therapy or any other form of support to its members or those who attend its meetings, for example those providing support – (a) to victims of crime (including domestic abuse).

In these challenging times it is especially important that our work is informed by your expertise and insights, so we be looking to increase our proactive engagement and consult with local domestic abuse and VAWG leads on a variety of issues in due course. Please do keep an eye out for further details. As ever, don’t hesitate to get in touch with any questions, feedback or comments.

Finally, I know that many of you have recently responded to Standing Together’s online survey, which will inform their “In Search of Excellence” guide to embedding a coordinated community response to domestic abuse. Standing Together will be sharing some of the results of the survey with our Office to support our work, so thank you to all who took the time to respond.

Best wishes
Georgie

Georgina Hagan
Head of Partnerships and Practice, Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s Office
Tel: 07471 724706