“A merry-go-round that just keeps turning post-separation” – an update on post-separation abuse in the Domestic Abuse Bill

“I must admit that I had not been aware of the prevalence and seriousness of post-separation economic abuse until it was brought to my attention by the charity Surviving Economic Abuse—SEA—to which I pay tribute for all its work on the issue and express my thanks for its help with the amendment.”
— Baroness Lister

On Monday, 8 February 2021, the post-separation abuse amendment was discussed during the Committee Stage of the Domestic Abuse Bill in the House of Lords.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett introduced the topic with a number of powerful quotes from victim-survivors who shared how devastating post-separation economic abuse had been for them. One survivor recalled the “sleepless nights worrying about debts put in my name, no pension provision, my credit score, [and] ability to borrow,” while another described the continued abuse as “a merry-go-round that just keeps turning post-separation.” We heard from a range of Peers over the course of the evening, including the former Victims’ Commissioner Baroness Newlove, who said:

“I met many survivors and victims of economic abuse. To sit side by side with someone and listen to their experience of abuse…the use of coercive control to persecute them financially is a heart-breaking situation when your hands are tied.”

At SEA, we’ve worked continuously to garner support from Members of the House of Lords for this amendment, which would offer protection to those victim-survivors of economic abuse who are #StillNotSafe after separating from an abuser. The amendment would extend the coercive and controlling behaviour offence within the Serious Crime Act (2015) to include those who were “previously personally connected”—such as in a former relationship—even if they are no longer in an intimate relationship or living together. In both the Second Reading in early January and this Committee Stage debate, we were thrilled to have such wide cross-bench support.

After 18 Peers gave speeches in support of the amendment, Home Office Minister Baroness Williams responded that there are arguments for and against it, and that the government would await the results of a review it is conducting into the coercive control offence before making a decision. She concluded: “As the case for change here is not clear-cut, we will continue to consider the evidence for and against change, including the review into the offence, ahead of Report. In coming to a final view, we will reflect very carefully on this debate.”

The review will be published ahead of Report Stage beginning March 8, which is the next stage of the Bill and we welcome the government’s commitment to “continue to consider” the post-separation abuse amendment. Whilst withdrawn at this stage, there is still scope for it to be brought forward—possibly as a government amendment which several Peers suggested.

“A number of noble Lords have mentioned the amendment to tackle post-separation abuse that was tabled in Committee in the Commons. The Minister, Alex Chalk, acknowledged that the charity Surviving Economic Abuse had done an ‘important public service’ in raising the issue. However, the amendment was withdrawn in Committee due to assurances regarding an ongoing government review into controlling or coercive behaviour, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. We still await the review. It is now promised before Report, and I hope this Minister will not use the same reason for not allowing this amendment. Even better, we would love to see the Government bring their own amendment on Report.” (Baroness Burt of Solihull. LD).

Everyone at SEA is very grateful to those who have supported the amendment and amplified the voices of victim-survivors. As always, a special thanks goes to the Experts By Experience who work alongside us. Their commitment and determination to see this vital amendment pass is a constant source of motivation.

We will have a better idea of where the amendment is heading when the coercive control review is published in the next few weeks, and will continue to update all those who have been instrumental in furthering this vital addition to the Domestic Abuse Bill. For now, it’s a case of waiting to see what happens next.

You can watch the debate here, with speeches on post-separation abuse starting at 20.24. SEA’s role in pushing for the amendment was highlighted in several of the Peer’s comments. You can also read a transcript of the full debate here.