Years in the making, the Domestic Abuse Bill receives Royal Assent and becomes law

In 2017, SEA welcomed the announcement that legislation would be brought forward to protect victims of domestic violence and abuse in the Queen’s Speech. Nearly four years later, the Domestic Abuse Bill was finally agreed in the House of Lords and received Royal Assent — the last step of its journey into law. It is now the Domestic Abuse Act.

There have been some major triumphs for victim-survivors along the way. Led by Experts by Experience, SEA called for the Act to include a statutory definition of economic abuse. With Royal Assent, economic abuse is recognised in law for the very first time.

The Domestic Abuse Act now recognises that domestic abuse can be (but is not limited to):

  • psychological abuse
  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • emotional abuse
  • economic abuse 

Our successful campaigning and advocacy for economic abuse to be included in the statutory definition of domestic abuse was recognised by the 2020 Charity Awards.

With the support of SafeLives, academic Casandra Wiener, victim-survivors and other groups in the sector, SEA then called for the legislation on controlling or coercive behaviour to be extended to post-separation abuse. Coercive control often continues after separation and victims are at heightened risk of homicide in this period. The government accepted this amendment in March 2021 after months of our engagement led first by Jess Phillips MP and then Baroness Lister with the support of Baroness Bertin and other Peers. These amendments will make a significant difference to victim-survivors’ safety and the criminal justice system’s ability to hold perpetrators to account.

In response to the passing of the Bill into law, Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs OBE, founder and CEO of Surviving Economic Abuse said:

“We are thrilled to see the Domestic Abuse Bill finally gain Royal Assent and become law. We want to pay tribute to all the victim survivors who bravely shared their experiences and the organisations who worked tirelessly to make this bill better. We are particularly pleased to see economic abuse named in the definition of domestic abuse, bringing this devastating form of abuse into plain sight. The post-separation abuse amendment will also strengthen the bill, protecting victim-survivors from ongoing coercion and control after leaving an abuser, when such behaviour commonly escalates. 

“However, the Government’s refusal to provide equal protection and support for migrant women leaves some of the most vulnerable victims of abuse out in the cold with no economic safety net. Without providing safety for all women, the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Act cannot be described as truly ‘landmark’ and we will continue to support those campaigning for the protection of all women.”

Our joy at the passing of the Bill into law is tempered by the loss of these crucial amendments linked to the rights of migrant women. The government has also committed to bring forward a domestic abuse perpetrator strategy later this year to address some of these shortcomings.

Another amendment which was not taken up in the Domestic Abuse Bill (now Act) was one to simplify the legal mechanism a victim-survivor could use in court to remove a perpetrator of domestic abuse from a secured or assured joint social tenancy. We realise the value of such an amendment for survivors who don’t want to lose their homes. Alongside Standing Together, DAHA and Women’s Aid Federation England, we welcome the government’s commitment to hold a consultation this summer to find a solution and include it in relevant legislation.

Jess Phillips MP, Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding, also tweeted earlier in the week:

“We laid amendments, led campaigns, had rows, submitted papers to court, researched for hours, cried with victims & pushed forward together. Today it passed through much better than when it arrived.”

Victim-survivors, VAWG organisations, MPs, Peers and all those who worked tirelessly to transform the Domestic Abuse Act into a stronger and more inclusive piece of legislation should feel proud of what they have achieved as it becomes law. We will continue to work alongside our partners and victim-survivors to ensure that all women are protected and receive support.

Read a full timeline of SEA’s engagement with the Bill here.