Domestic Abuse Bill, Report Stage House of Lords 8,10 & 15 March 2021

The Bill introduces important measures which will help to raise awareness of domestic abuse and will go some way to providing additional support to domestic abuse victims, whilst also helping to challenge perpetrator’s behaviour.


Key messages

  • The Domestic Abuse Bill introduces important measures which will help to raise awareness of domestic abuse and will go some way to providing additional support to domestic abuse victims, whilst also helping to challenge perpetrator’s behaviour. It is a positive step in the right direction.
  • We support the creation of a statutory definition of domestic abuse, and the inclusion of economic abuse within this. We particularly welcome the Government’s recent commitment to strengthen legislation around controlling or coercive behaviour – no longer making it a requirement for abusers and victims to live together.
  • Alongside the Bill’s focus on crisis interventions and criminal justice, tackling domestic abuse requires a cross-government response incorporating health, housing and education. We need an equal focus on, and funding for, prevention and early intervention measures that aim to prevent domestic abuse happening in the first place.
  • The Government has proposed an amendment to require local authorities to monitor any impact of the new duty on the provision of community-based support in their area. If successful, the statutory guidance will urgently need to provide clarity on the scope of the reviews councils are expected to undertake.  
  • Whilst there have been one-off, extraordinary funding pots made available to frontline support services and Police and Crime Commissioners during the COVID-19 pandemic, these short-term grants cannot replace long-term, sustained investment in community-based support services.
  • It was positive the Government recognised the call to action for a National Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Strategy, which the LGA has long supported. Government has committed to bringing forward a new strategy to tackle domestic abuse, which will take into consideration the response to perpetrators. Sustained investment is needed for quality assured perpetrator interventions that address the whole range of perpetrators. The announcement in the 2021 Budget of £15 million additional funding for perpetrator interventions is a positive step in the right direction.
  • It has been acknowledged there is room for improvement in the way Domestic Homicide Reviews (DHRs) are conducted and the lessons applied. The key learning and best practice from DHRs should be shared on a national level and be routinely collected in a centralised place upon completion. Some consideration should also be given to the resources available for DHRs.
  • This legislation comes at a time when, even prior to the eventual long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, local government’s services, particularly children’s services, were already facing unprecedented demand.  
  • The Spending Review announcement of £125 million funding to help enable local authorities to deliver the proposed new duty to support domestic abuse victims and their children in safe accommodation is welcome. However, this £125 million only provides for the first year of funding for the new statutory duty – it does not provide any reassurance from the Government on future years funding amounts, putting councils in the difficult position of being unable to commission longer-term, sustainable services.
  • Future years funding will need to fully account for any increases in demand for services, and any additional burdens identified by local needs assessments when the duty comes into force.  In addition, there must be realistic timetables outlined for councils to implement the new statutory duty, as setting up new governance arrangements, conducting needs assessments and changing current commissioning and procurement processes will take time.

Amendment statements

Amendment 10, tabled by Baroness Lister of Burtersett, Baroness Meacher, Baroness Hodgson of Abinger and Baroness Burt of Solihull, would place a legal duty on the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to investigate the payment of Universal Credit separately to members of a couple and to lay a report to Parliament.

We would welcome an investigation into whether the payment of Universal Credit separately to members of a couple would have an impact on domestic abuse. However, with the limited resources and capacity of the Commissioner’s office, we do not feel this should be a statutory duty placed on the Commissioner’s office to produce this report. We would suggest a Parliamentary inquiry looks into this issue, working alongside the Commissioner’s office.

New Clause 14, tabled by Baroness Williams of Trafford, requires a person or body carrying out a domestic homicide review in England and Wales to send a copy of the report of the review to the Domestic Abuse Commissioner.

The LGA supports this amendment as we have repeatedly called for the learning from Domestic Homicide Reviews to be shared at a national level and for this to be part of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s remit.

It would be useful if Domestic Homicide Reviews were routinely collected in a centralised place upon completion, and we hope this new clause will help to ensure the learning from these reviews is made more accessible to relevant partners. Further resource, beyond what is currently available for the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s office, may be needed to be collect these review findings.

In addition to this, we would welcome any update to the Home Office’s key DHR findings published in 2016, which identifies common themes and trends in domestic homicide and recommends how local areas can use this information to prevent domestic abuse.

Some consideration should also be given to the resources available for conducting Domestic Homicide Reviews, as we understand the costs of conducting these reviews often fall disproportionately on some partners in the community safety partnership, with little to no contribution from other partners.

We would like to see a cross-Government approach taken to distributing the key learning from these reviews, which will require Government departments beyond the Home Office to be involved in this process.

New Clause 15, tabled by Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top and Baroness Burt of Solihull, on duties of public authorities in relation to training.

Tackling domestic abuse is everybody’s business. Raising awareness of domestic abuse and educating people about how to identify the signs of domestic abuse and provide support and guidance, is crucial to help prevent it from occurring in the first place. Training frontline professionals in all industries is an important part of tackling domestic abuse and promoting wider societal change. Any additional investment from the Government in domestic abuse training would be welcome.

Within a council, it is possible there will be a large number of staff who would require training on domestic abuse. It is important that institutions that provide professional training to council staff (for example social work courses or teacher training courses) also provide training on domestic abuse and wider safeguarding issues, within initial professional training and through continuing professional development. This helps to embed thinking about domestic abuse as an issue from the start of a social workers or teachers’ professional career. This training often covers a range of issues, including modern slavery, child sexual exploitation and abuse, and wider safeguarding issues – which can help equip frontline professionals with the awareness and understanding to better support and protect vulnerable people.

The Business Minister’s letter to employers (Jan 2021) outlines some practical and welcome steps to support staff who may be experiencing domestic abuse. The Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse website provides resources to support employers including an employers’ toolkit. Meanwhile SafeLives provides guidance and support to professionals and those working in the domestic abuse sector, as well as additional advice for employers on supporting employees working from home. The LGA also provides guidance on our workforce pages.

New Clause 16, tabled by Baroness Burt of Solihull, Baroness Wilcox of Newport and Lord Russell of Liverpool, seeks to place a duty on public authorities who carry out reviews and investigations into deaths where domestic abuse has been identified as a contributory factor to notify the Home Office and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner upon completion and to provide them with a copy of their findings.

The LGA has called for the learning from Domestic Homicide Reviews to be shared at a national level and for this to be part of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s remit. Currently, Domestic Homicide Reviews are submitted to the Home Office, but there has been little learning made available at a national level. The sharing of Domestic Homicide Reviews and relevant investigatory reports with the Secretary of State and Domestic Abuse Commissioner is therefore a welcome step.

Domestic Homicide Reviews are conducted in such a way that the process is seen as a learning exercise and not as a way of apportioning blame. It would be helpful if the purpose of Domestic Homicide Reviews was recognised at a national level, and reviews helped to improve learning and understanding and as a tool to share best practice.

The amendment suggests a copy of the review or investigation is expected to be sent to the Commissioner and Secretary of State within 28 days of its completion. Whilst it may be useful to set expectations on timescales of receiving these reports, some consideration should also be given to the publication of the report and how this may impact the victim’s family. There would need to be some assurance about how the information from the Domestic Homicide Reviews would be used and which aspects would be made publicly available, in order to provide support for the victim’s friends and family. Consideration should also be given in guidance, as to whether ‘completion of review’ would mean after publication or sign-off by the relevant partnership or panel, as the publication can often be several weeks after the report is completed.

It would be useful if Domestic Homicide Reviews were routinely collected in a centralised place upon completion, and we hope this new clause will help to ensure the learning from these reviews is made more accessible to relevant partners. Further resource, beyond what is currently available for the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s office, may be needed to be collect these review findings.

In addition to this, we would welcome any update to the Home Office’s key findings published in 2016, which identifies common themes and trends in domestic homicide and recommends how local areas can use this information to prevent domestic abuse.

Some consideration should also be given to the resources available for conducting Domestic Homicide Reviews, as we understand the costs of conducting these reviews often fall disproportionately on some partners in the community safety partnership, with little to no contribution from other partners.

The amendment refers to Serious Case Reviews and it is important to highlight these have become child safeguarding practice reviews. In addition, Safeguarding Adult Reviews hold enquiries rather than investigations, so this wording may need to be amended.

In respect of Safeguarding Adult Reviews and Child Safeguarding Practice Reviews, it may be useful to share these findings with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, if domestic abuse is considered a contributory factor.  In some cases, there is also a possibility to do joint reviews with local agreement in some circumstances to avoid duplication.

The amendment specifically focuses on deaths where domestic abuse is a factor. However, Serious Adult Reviews and Child Safeguarding Practice Reviews also consider when serious harm has occurred. There could be some wider trends and learning to ascertain from cases of serious harm, as well as deaths.

The Analysis of Safeguarding Adult Reviews (April 2017 - March 2019) identifies that domestic abuse is featured highly across Safeguarding Adult Reviews. In our report, we highlight that consideration should be given to the dissemination of briefings on good practice regarding all forms of abuse and neglect but especially those newly highlighted by the Care Act 2014 within adult safeguarding, such as domestic abuse, modern slavery and discriminatory abuse (hate and mate crime).

The accompanying Government guidance will need to clarify what is understood to be a “contributory factor” to ensure there is a clear understanding of which reports should be referred to the Commissioner’s office and there is consistency across all areas. One way of ensuring greater consistency could be for the National Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel to share all relevant reviews with the Secretary of State and Domestic Abuse Commissioner although, this would only cover serious incidents involving children.

Many reports will be anonymised; however, the Independent Office of Police Conduct and Coroners reports may name victims so consideration will need to be given as to whether personal information is shared.

There would need to be sufficient resource to review all of these various reports and reviews, in order to ascertain key trends and learning. This task should not fall disproportionately on the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s office, and there should be additional resource available for this work. Some consideration should also be given as to whether there will be additional pressures on children and adult services as a result of this change.

We would like to see a cross-Government approach taken to distributing the key learning from these reviews, which will require Government departments beyond the Home Office to be involved in this process.

New Clause 17, tabled by Baroness Williams of Trafford, requires the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to prepare and publish a report on the need for certain domestic abuse services in England and the provision of such services. The report must be published no later than 12 months after this new Clause comes into force.

We have called for greater investment in early intervention and prevention initiatives to tackle domestic abuse, and sustained investment in wider community-based support. Whilst a report on the need for domestic abuse services may be helpful, it’s important to state that greater investment in these services is needed now.

Whilst the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s office should have adequate time to prepare and publish the report, it is disappointing this process could not have taken place as the Bill entered Parliament, rather than 12 months after its commencement.

During the consultation on the new statutory duty for domestic abuse accommodation support and services, the LGA outlined the importance of investing in wider support services and early intervention and prevention programmes, and considering the full range of support services holistically. It would have been helpful if wider domestic abuse services could have been considered alongside that consultation so that vital investment could be made available now.

This New Clause could be strengthened by outlining how the Commissioner’s report will be used and include a commitment from the Government to formally respond. It would be disappointing for the Commissioner’s office to prepare this report, without any commitment from the Government to consider and act on the recommendations.

Amendment 24, by Baroness Williams of Trafford, would require a relevant local authority that publishes a strategy under Clause 55 to keep under review the effect of that strategy on the provision by the local authority of domestic abuse support to people in the community as opposed to those residing in relevant accommodation

As noted above, during the Government’s consultation on the new statutory duty (July 2019), the LGA and many partners highlighted the need for a coordinated and comprehensive approach taken across the whole of Government and through the Domestic Abuse Bill, with a key focus on prevention and early intervention services, rather than a piecemeal approach focusing on specific aspects of the response to domestic abuse.

To date, the Bill has continued to focus on accommodation support and has not taken into consideration any wider community-based support services. We have outlined concerns that the proposed legal duty could come at the expense of other domestic abuse initiatives or create a perverse incentive to enter accommodation-based services if that was the main route to accessing support, and that focusing effort and resources solely towards the crisis-end of domestic abuse services will not prevent domestic abuse in the long-term. 

It is welcome that through this amendment the Government is now recognizing the importance of understanding how the Bill will impact the full range of domestic abuse support. However, whilst this amendment may go some way to monitoring the effect of the new statutory duty on community-based services, it does nothing to provide long-term or sustained investment in these services which is sorely needed.

The statutory guidance will urgently need to provide clarity on how local authorities will be expected to review the effect of the domestic abuse strategy on the provision of community-based domestic abuse support. There are different ways in which this could be tracked, and the Government should seek to provide guidance that enables a consistent and proportionate approach that can be slotted into councils’ existing commissioning work without creating additional burdens. 

We are concerned that this amendment is being introduced into the Bill in March 2021, when the statutory duty is due to be implemented in April 2021. This leaves little time for any local authority to prepare for this additional requirement, without any guidance on how to conduct the review or collect the necessary information. Local authorities are still awaiting the needs assessment template to be published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and we are concerned that they are being expected to implement the new statutory duty in unrealistic timescales given the need to consult with local partners on the steps to be taken to implement the Bill. Without clear statutory guidance that articulates the Government’s expectations for the statutory duties set out in the Bill, and a realistic timetable to implement them, local authorities will not be able to adequately prepare or implement the duty effectively.

New Clause 31, tabled by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, Baroness Goudie and Baroness Finlay of Llanduff, seeks to extend the scope of the functions of local authorities under Part 4 of the Bill, to include provision of community services.

It is our view that imposing a statutory duty on local authorities, which is overly prescriptive and does not allow for local flexibility, is not the best way of improving services. We support an improvement-led approach to providing local domestic abuse services.

There should be a whole-systems approach to tackling domestic abuse, which does not just focus on criminal justice issues or crisis response, but includes partners in housing, health and education. Effectively tackling domestic abuse will require comprehensive approaches that all partners are funded to implement. There must also be flexibility to ensure services can be tailored to the needs of different areas.

We would not want to see an extension in the remit of the statutory duty to include community-based services, unless it was confirmed this could be fully supported financially by the Government. A statutory duty to deliver community-based services and specialist services will not be effective without a clear commitment from Government to provide adequate and sufficient funding.

Currently, there is a variety of different funding streams for domestic abuse specialist services, often these are one-off, short term grants that do not allow for long-term planning or consistency in service. In order to transform the response to domestic abuse, there needs to be a broad range of support packages available to supporting victims of domestic abuse and intervene with perpetrators to change and prevent their behaviour.

We have called for wider investment in prevention and early intervention services, community-based support and perpetrator interventions. It is disappointing these services were not considered at the consultation stage, when the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government conducted its review of emergency accommodation.

There needs to be a cross-Government approach, with all departments taking account of how to tackle domestic abuse rather than taking a siloed approach. There should be a clear Ministerial lead for tackling domestic abuse, rather than individual departments making different funding announcements and publishing separate guidance.

New Clause 45, tabled by Baroness Lister of Burtersett, Baroness Williams of Trafford, Baroness Bertin and Baroness Sanderson of Welton, seeks to align the definition of “personally connected” in section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 with that in Clause 2 of the Bill. The result is that the offence under that section of engaging in controlling or coercive behaviour would apply in relation to members of the same family, or people who have been in an intimate relationship, whether or not they live together.

We welcome this amendment which seeks to strengthen legislation around controlling or coercive behaviour – no longer making it a requirement for abusers and victims to live together. This is an important amendment that we support, which will lead to post-separation abuse (including often hidden economic abuse) becoming a criminal offence.

As Surviving Economic Abuse outlines, economic abuse does not require physical proximity, it can continue, escalate or even start after separation, creating a significant barrier for victims seeking to rebuild their lives. This amendment is needed because abusers often continue to use coercive control after separation and victims are at a heightened risk of homicide in this period. Lack of access to economic resources can result in a victim staying with an abusive partner for longer and experiencing more harm as a result.

For further information, please see the Domestic Abuse Bill briefing by Surviving Economic Abuse.

New Clause 69, tabled by Baroness Lister of Burtersett, Baroness Meacher and Baroness Burt of Solihull, seeks to amend The Social Security (Payments on Account of Benefit) Regulations 2013 to exempt domestic abuse survivors from having to repay any benefit advance.

Any additional support which can be provided to domestic abuse victims, to help them re-build their lives and be free of their abuser, is welcome.

Amendment 72, tabled by Lord Best, Baroness Lister of Burtersett and the Lord Bishop of Manchester, provides for the benefit cap to be dis-applied for 12 months for a person (B) making a new universal credit claim in her own name where she has separated from a partner (A) who has subjected her to domestic abuse.

As above, we welcome any additional support which can be provided to domestic abuse victims, to help them re-build their lives and be free of their abuser.

Amendment 76, tabled by Baroness Burt of Solihull and Baroness Meacher, would extend the duty on local authorities to provide school places for “looked after children” to children who are forced to change schools as a result of domestic abuse.

It would be helpful to clarify how many children and families this proposed change would bring into the scope for council support. Domestic abuse is unfortunately a common factor with children in need or those involved in child protection plans, so councils will be providing some support at this stage. An indication of the number of children who have changed schools as a result of domestic abuse, but are not currently receiving council support, would be helpful to assess the impact of this amendment.

It is important to highlight that academies and free schools have more powers to refuse to admit a pupil than maintained schools. Councils would need to have additional powers to direct these schools to admit a child to the most appropriate school, irrespective of status.

Amendment 81, tabled by Lord Strasburger, seeks to require the Government to provide a comprehensive perpetrator strategy for domestic abuse, within one year of the Act being passed.

It was positive the Government recognised the call to action for a National Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Strategy, which the LGA has long supported, and committed to bringing forward a new strategy to tackle domestic abuse, which will take into consideration the response to perpetrators. The announcement in the 2021 Budget of £15 million additional funding for perpetrator interventions is also welcome.

To transform the response to domestic abuse, there needs to be a broad range of support packages available to supporting victims of domestic abuse and intervene with perpetrators to change and prevent their behaviour. The right interventions at the right time can stop abuse from occurring, recurring, or escalating.

One in four perpetrators are repeat offenders. Some have as many as six different victims. According to Respect, there are approximately 400,000 perpetrators causing high (including murder) and medium levels of harm across England and Wales, and yet only a small percentage of these – fewer than one per cent – gets a specialist intervention that might prevent future abusive behaviour.

Therefore, we support this New Clause which calls for a national perpetrator strategy to help improve the identification and assessment of perpetrators, increase the number of rehabilitation programmes, and increase specialist work to tackle abusive attitudes and behaviour.

The strategy should also focus on community level initiatives and communications campaigns, to ensure those who are seeking help know where to access it and that perpetrator interventions are responsive to the cultural context in which they are delivered.

Programmes for children and young people are also needed, to ensure they are appropriately educated about domestic abuse and that prevention starts at the earliest stage. These programmes should also be available for those excluded from mainstream school.

Some consideration should also be given to accommodation options for perpetrators. This is an important aspect of helping the domestic abuse victim to remain in their own home (if it is safe to do so) and ensuring the perpetrator leaves.

This will require a cross-Government approach and we look forward to working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office on this important issue. 

Amendment 91, tabled by Baroness Lister of Burtersett and the Lord Bishop of Gloucester, seeks to ensure that statutory guidance issued alongside the Domestic Abuse Bill takes into account any violence against women and girls (VAWG) strategy adopted by the Government, so that efforts to prevent and address domestic abuse are linked to integrated and coordinated responses to tackle VAWG.

The LGA submitted a response to the Government’s consultation on the development of the next Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy (VAWG), highlighting the need for this to align with other strategies and legislation, including the Domestic Abuse Bill, in order to prevent and address domestic abuse and wider VAWG issues in an integrated and co-ordinated way.

We hope that the Strategy will consider the systemic barriers facing Black and minoritized women, migrant women, deaf and disabled women and LGBTQIA+ survivors, as these groups are disproportionately affected.

We would welcome any further guidance which addresses the issue of teenage relationship abuse. This should also be accompanied with resources and provision of support for those experiencing abuse in their own teenage relationships, in order to intervene at any earlier point and prevent domestic abuse from escalating and occurring in the first place.