Transforming the response to domestic abuse

Closes 31 May 2018

Improving support services for all victims of domestic abuse and their children

The government is clear that having the right tools, resources, services and powers to protect and support victims of domestic abuse will make individuals and families safe, sooner.

We recognise that there are different types of support that may be needed at different times and we are working on ways to improve these – including through the services provided to families by children’s social care.

As set out in the introduction, over the last ten years we have supported a variety of voluntary sector-led support services, including helplines, advocacy and accommodation-based services. 

Refuges and safe accommodation

We know how important it is that victims of domestic abuse have a range of options for safe accommodation, so that they can move to safety and rebuild their lives. Safe accommodation can be provided in a refuge, as well as through sanctuary schemes [1] and dispersed housing [2], both with floating support. [3]

Dispersed housing and sanctuary schemes can help those victims who prefer to remain in or near their homes with the right support services. Local authorities are responsible for commissioning refuges and other safe accommodation in their areas, recognising the diverse needs of victims and their children.

Local authorities are also subject to the duty to provide accommodation for victims of domestic abuse facing homelessness.

The government believes that local authorities, working in partnership with agencies such as the police and health bodies and specialist domestic abuse service providers, are best placed to assess and meet the need for safe accommodation for victims from both within and outside their local area. 

The government’s Priorities for Domestic Abuse Services, published in November 2016, are clear that local authorities should make provision for victims of domestic abuse from outside their local area, in recognition that many victims need to move to another area to stay safe.

Local authorities are also expected to collaborate with each other to allow victims easy movement from one area to another while ensuring their safety. 

Since 2014 we have provided £33.5 million in direct grant funding to local areas for refuges, other specialist accommodation-based services and local service reform.

Service reform could include better service commissioning, improving victims’ pathways to accessing support by tailoring provision to their needs, partnership working both within and across local authority boundaries, and the strengthening governance arrangements.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is funding 80 projects around the country, covering 258 local authorities, which will provide support to over 19,000 victims.

The projects are providing safe accommodation in refuges, dispersed housing and through sanctuary schemes, as well as other support services for victims of domestic abuse and their children.

For example, a project led by Newcastle City Council has partnered with a wide range of agencies including neighbouring councils, specialist domestic abuse services, health partnerships and housing providers.

Together they are looking to improve and strengthen the availability of and access to refuges alongside other specialist accommodation, including self-contained flats.

This is matched with improved support visits and dedicated care for victims with complex needs, such as problematic drug use. By working across councils and the relevant agencies the project aims to identify victims’ needs at a much earlier stage.

‘The Hampshire Making Safe Scheme’ is led by Hart District Council and covers 11 local authorities in Hampshire. It aims to fund three approaches to supporting victims of domestic abuse.

The first is safe houses across the area as an alternative to refuge accommodation. The second is the provision of enhanced security measures and support within client’s own homes to enable them to remain safe and avoid the need for refuge accommodation.

The third is support to deliver effective pathways out of safe house/refuge accommodation. This supports individuals to move on when appropriate, which in turn allows assistance to be provided to more individuals. This is particularly targeted at those from BAME communities or those with complex needs.

The Suffolk Satellite Accommodation and Support Concept is a partnership between Suffolk County Council, Ipswich Borough Council and seven district councils, with support from the Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner, Phoebe, Anglia Care Trust and local refuges.

This project aims to provide more accommodation for victims of domestic abuse who do not meet the criteria to be supported in refuge accommodation. Extra housing will be sourced through the local authority, registered social landlords and the private rented sector.

Working closely with existing refuges, the aim is to create a flexible alternative that also offers specialist support to victims with complex needs.

Review of funding for domestic abuse services, including refuges

In our Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy, we were clear we wanted to work with local commissioners to deliver a secure future for refuge. While bed-spaces have increased since 2010.

The government is committed to reviewing funding for domestic abuse services, including refuge, particularly the critical care and support costs. To inform our review, we have commissioned an independent, external audit of domestic abuse services.

This will give us a complete picture of provision for all victims across England, enabling us to assess what impact services are having and identify any gaps in provision. The audit will report in spring 2018, and the review will be completed by summer 2018.

We are committed to working closely with the sector and local authorities on the audit and overall review, drawing on their expertise and knowledge, to ensure we have a robust evidence base on which to take future decisions about the funding of these vital services.

Our review will complement wider work on the funding of short-term supported housing, which includes refuge. We have recently held a consultation on the design of a new housing costs model to fund emergency and short-term supported housing in England. Read the Policy Statement and Consultation.

The consultation closed on 23 January 2017. The Supported Housing reforms will be implemented in April 2020 and we are consulting and closely engaging with the sector to help us shape the detail of the funding model. We are clear that no options are off the table in terms of delivering on our aims to ensure no-one is turned away from the support that they need.

Access to social housing for victims of domestic abuse

We also know that it is critical to ensure that victims of domestic abuse who are ready to leave refuge and other safe accommodation with support are not disadvantaged when they apply for social housing.

In November 2017, MHCLG launched a consultation on proposals for new statutory guidance for local authorities, designed to help victims of domestic abuse who are currently living in a refuge or other form of safe temporary accommodation to move on into social housing.

The new guidance would build on existing statutory social housing allocations guidance to improve access to social housing for victims of domestic abuse by:

  • making it clear that local authorities are expected to disapply any residency tests for those victims who have fled to another district
  • setting out how local authorities can give appropriate priority to this group

We are also proposing that the guidance should advise local authorities on how they can use their existing powers to support tenants who are victims of domestic abuse to remain safely in their homes if they choose to do so, for example, by evicting the perpetrator and granting a sole tenancy to the victim.

The consultation ended on 5 January 2018 and we expect to issue the new guidance in spring 2018.

On 19 December 2017, MHCLG introduced the Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill. The bill will require local authorities in England, when re-housing an existing lifetime tenant who needs to move or has recently moved from their social home to escape domestic abuse, to grant such tenant a lifetime tenancy in their new home.

The measures in this bill will provide the security these victims need to leave an abusive situation. The bill applies to lifetime tenants of local authorities and Private Registered Providers of social housing (housing associations).

The Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill delivers on a commitment made during passage of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 (‘the 2016 Act’). The 2016 Act reforms local authority secure tenancies so that, when in force, most tenants will be granted a fixed term tenancy, rather than a lifetime tenancy as now.

At Lords Report stage of the 2016 Act the government gave a commitment to ensure that local authorities would grant victims of domestic abuse, who had a lifetime tenancy, a further such tenancy if it was unsafe for them to remain in their current home.

Independent Domestic Violence Advisors

Independent domestic violence advisors (IDVAs) address the safety of victims and survivors at high risk of harm from intimate partners, ex-partners or family members to secure their safety and the safety of their children. IDVAs act as a victim’s primary point of contact and normally work with them from the point of crisis.

IDVAs assess the level of risk posed by the perpetrator and to discuss the range of suitable options. This includes developing and implementing safety plans, discussing possible injunctions and sanctions available through the courts, housing options and support services.

Data from SafeLives shows that there are a total of 815 full time equivalent IDVAs working across England and Wales. Evidence shows that following support and interventions from an IDVA service, victims experience significant reductions in abuse and positive changes in safety and quality of life:

  • 84% of victims reported feeling safer
  • 82% felt that their quality of life had improved
  • 57% of victims reported cessation of abuse at point of case closure[4]

Protecting children

The government are also clear that the safety of children is paramount in instances of domestic abuse. The statutory responsibility for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children falls to local authority children’s social care, where domestic abuse remains the most prevalent factor identified by social workers when assessing children’s needs.[5]

The best children’s social care services deliver excellent help and support to children and families. Yet whilst there is much impressive social work in the system and progress has been made in laying the foundations for systemic improvement, there remains inconsistency in the services that children receive – and there is further to go, if all children are to receive the right help, at the right time.

Through wide-ranging children’s social care reforms, the government is driving improvements across the system, from the targeted recruitment and retention of high-calibre social workers into children's social care, to encouraging innovation and developing new approaches to the prevention, detection and response to domestic abuse.

Through the Children and Social Work Act 2017, we are introducing new multi-agency safeguarding arrangements and Local Safeguarding Children Boards will be superseded by new local safeguarding arrangements, led by three safeguarding partners (local authorities, chief officers of police, and clinical commissioning groups).

By requiring local areas to work together to develop stronger, bespoke working arrangements between the three key agencies and other relevant agencies, we expect to see an improvement in the quality of inter-agency work to safeguard children.

The new legislation will provide additional powers to secure effective participation from key agencies and agree plans to strengthen information sharing.

We have also funded a pilot of SafeLives’ ‘One Front Door’ model in seven areas across the UK. This moves away from an approach in which all family members are considered separately to a whole family one, identifying risks to all members of the family and working with them to develop a safeguarding response. Find out more.

The Home Office have also launched the ‘Trusted Relationships Fund’ which is allocating £13m over four years [6] to local initiatives that improve support for young people aged 10-17 at risk of exploitation and abuse, including peer and relationship abuse.

Local authorities can apply for funding to run projects with the focus of facilitating trusted relationships between vulnerable young people and the adults there to support them, with the aim of building up protective factors including a positive support network, personal resilience and self esteem [7].

Local needs

We have always been clear that local communities are best placed to assess and meet local needs. That is why considerable national funding has been directed towards local commissioning.

This allows local leaders who have a clear understanding of their local area’s needs and existing service provision, to focus funding where it will have the most impact.

For example, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) allocated around £96 million in 2016/17 and again in 2017/18 to fund crucial support services for victims of crime, about £68million of which went to Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs).

PCCs reported spending about £11.6 million of the MoJ grant on providing services to victims of domestic abuse in 2016/17. PCCs also reported spending £9.2 million from funding sources outside the MoJ grant, bringing the total PCC spend on domestic abuse to approximately £20.8 million.

In addition, £17million has been awarded to 41 local areas through the Home Office’s VAWG Service Transformation Fund, encouraging the delivery of joined-up local services between local authority, health, and PCCs with a focus on early intervention and prevention.

Case studies: Multi-agency projects funded by the Government

Birmingham ASSIST project: led by Birmingham Cross-City Clinical Commissioning Group

The government has provided £600,000 for the ASSIST Project being led by Birmingham Cross-City Clinical Commissioning Group, working in partnership with the local authority and specialist providers.

This project will offer specialist, trauma-informed support for highly vulnerable women who have the most complex needs, including focused work with women who are at risk of having their children removed.

London Borough of Southwark

This project creates a new model for domestic abuse survivors at high risk, often with complex needs, who have children on child protection plans and/or who have been re-referred to MARAC, and who for a variety of reasons don’t engage with existing support services.

The project provides bespoke dedicated support which places emphasis on researching, planning and resourcing tailored engagement approaches.

The proposal also introduces therapeutic support for children to ensure the effects of witnessing abuse are addressed and its longlasting effects minimised.

South Wales

South Wales PCC received the largest single award (£1.4 million) from the VAWG Service Transformation Fund. The project will pilot the ‘Change that Lasts’ model, in partnership with Welsh Women’s Aid.

They are working with local authorities, health boards and specialist third sector organisations to develop a joint regional strategy to tackle VAWG.

They will roll out the ‘Ask Me’ scheme, training 30 people as Community Ambassadors who will improve understanding of domestic abuse in their communities, including through establishing hair salons, shops and sports clubs as ‘safe spaces’ where women can report domestic abuse without going to a police station.

They will also maximise support service responses through introducing a trusted professional model and develop, deliver and evaluate new programmes of interventions to work with perpetrators of abuse to change their behaviour, including through a whole family approach.

Central government

Central government has an important role to play in providing direction and support to local areas to improve the response to victims. We have published a new National Statement of Expectations (NSE) on VAWG. [8]

This sets out what local areas need to put in place to ensure their response to Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) is effective.

Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) have issued quality standards on accommodation-based services as well as priorities for domestic abuse services for local authorities.

MHCLG will be conducting an audit of local authority commissioning of domestic abuse services in England and will be sharing more details on plans for the audit with local authorities and key domestic abuse partners shortly. The evidence from the audit will be fed into the review of the current approach to refuge provision in England.

The government announced an additional £20 million for domestic abuse services in the Spring Budget 2017 to support its work to transform the response to domestic abuse in England and Wales.[9]

We are allocating some of this money to support children who have witnessed domestic abuse and female offenders, and to help identify best practice in responding to domestic abuse in healthcare settings.

We are keen to ensure that this consultation informs the allocation of the remainder of this funding, and helps overcome other barriers that victims face in seeking appropriate support.

We want the funding to be used in a way that supports local ownership and prioritises the areas where national funding can have the most impact in supporting victims.


[1] Sanctuary schemes enable households at risk to remain in their own homes and reduce repeat victimisation by providing enhanced security measures and support

[2] Dispersed housing is semi-independent supported housing with wrap-around support for refuge residents who no longer require the intensity of support provided by a refuge

[3] Floating support is a flexible service which supports residents to access appropriate specialist services

[4] SafeLives 2016 survey of Independent Domestic Violence Advisor provision in England and Wales (2016). IDVA survey

[5] Department for Education (2017). Characteristics of children in need: 2016-2017 Table C3

[6] Years 3 and 4 pending the next Spending Review

[7] The total funding available across the local areas will be £2.45m in 2018/19 and £3m in 2019/20. A pot of £3m in 2020/21 and £2.6m in 2021/22 has been identified but this will be dependent upon the department’s funding position and priorities following the 2019 Spending Review.  Additional funding has been allocated to support implementation and evaluation across the programme

[8] Violence against women and girls: national statement of expectations

[9] Spring Budget 2017: 21 things you need to know

10. We are in the process of identifying priority areas for central Government funding on domestic abuse. Which of the following areas do you think the UK Government should prioritise? Please select up to 3.

11. What more can the Government do to encourage and support effective multi-agency working, in order to provide victims with full support and protection? Please select up to 3.