Lifesaving domestic abuse services at risk from council financial crisis, warns Commissioner

Domestic abuse services are at risk of disappearing as the local authority financial crisis spirals out of control, says the Domestic Abuse Commissioner.

Today Nicole Jacobs has written to Communities Secretary Michael Gove calling for urgent action to protect these lifesaving services.

The safety of victims and survivors hangs in the balance, says the Commissioner. Jacobs says that victims will be left with nowhere to turn in crisis if services lose their funding, risking serious harm and even homicide.

Since 2018, eight councils have issued a Section 114 notice – which effectively declares them bankrupt – and four in ten councils are at risk of going bust in the next five years.

Most domestic abuse services are non-statutory, meaning that councils are under no obligation to fund them. With local authorities facing mounting financial pressure, domestic abuse services will likely be cut back or cut altogether, Jacobs says.

In 2020-21 over one-quarter of specialist domestic abuse organisations were forced to cease some of their services due to a lack of funding, according to previous research from the Domestic Abuse Commissioner. This rose to 43% for more specialist organisations led ‘by and for’ minoritised communities such as LGBT+, Black and minoritised, and Deaf and disabled victims. 

Victims from minoritised communities will be most at risk, with the additional barriers they face in accessing support compounded by a lack of services to meet their needs, Jacobs says.

The fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and cost of living crisis, paired with chronic lack of investment has left councils on their knees. Without independent specialist domestic abuse services in the community, the demands on public services will skyrocket, Jacobs says.

“For too long, domestic abuse services have been hanging by a thread and piecing funding together just to keep their doors open,” Jacobs says.

“We are standing on the edge of a precipice. If urgent action is not taken, lifesaving services will disappear, risking the safety of thousands of victims and survivors. I fear for the adult and child victims and survivors who will be placed at greater risk of serious harm and homicide as a result.

“I’ve written to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities calling for decisive action. If councils are not legally obliged to fund a service, then those services face a greater risk of closure. We have an opportunity now to change that and protect services for generations to come. That’s why I’m calling for a legal duty in the Victims and Prisoners Bill to fund domestic abuse services so that victims and survivors don’t pay the price when councils face financial pressures.”

Farah Nazeer, chief executive of Women’s Aid Federation England, says: “Women’s Aid’s expertise on the national network of domestic abuse provision has continued to demonstrate the funding crisis that specialist women’s domestic abuse services have been facing.

“For over a decade this has resulted in a postcode lottery of support for women and girls who are being turned away daily at the point of need. The rise in the number of Section 114 notices issued by councils and the impact this will have on specialist domestic abuse support services is incredibly concerning.

“We are calling on the Government to commit to invest £427 million per year to fund specialist women’s domestic abuse services, alongside ring-fenced funding for ‘by and for’ services for Black and minoritised women, Deaf and disabled women and LGBT+ survivors.

“It is only by securing these vital funds can the services continue delivering the life-saving care and support to survivors and their children.”

Anna Edmundson, Head of Policy at the NSPCC, says: “Domestic abuse can have a devastating impact on victims and their families, with children and young people at risk of serious harm to both their emotional and physical health. Last year, the NSPCC Helpline received over 4,000 contacts from adults concerned about children experiencing domestic abuse. Yet community-based services for child victims of domestic abuse continue to be scarce.

“The Commissioner’s warning is clear. With more local authorities filing for bankruptcy, the few existing services for child victims of domestic abuse could disappear. This will leave families and children in a dire situation.

“These services must be protected. The Government has a golden opportunity through the Victims and Prisoners Bill to protect and support child victims of domestic abuse by making it a statutory requirement for local authorities to deliver these crucial life-saving services.”