Victims and Prisoners Bill

One in five women in the UK has experienced economic abuse from a current or former partner in the past 12 months. 

Lack of control over their economic situation can result in a victim-survivor staying with an abusive partner for longer. The primary reason women return to an abusive partner is ongoing interference with and lack of access to economic resources. 

The criminal justice system, public sector agencies and victim support services must recognise economic abuse in safety planning. This will reduce the immediate risks to victim-survivors and ensure services meet their longer-term needs.  

“Money doesn’t make you happy but without money, there’s nowhere to go. That’s why, for me, economic abuse is the greatest form of control.”

Policy context

The Victims and Prisoners Bill builds on the guidance in the Victims’ Code. It aims to support victims of crime by:   

  • making victims’ entitlements clearer  
  • ensuring victims have information about their case as it progresses through the criminal justice system  
  • improving the coordination of local support services.  

The Victims and Prisoners Bill would apply to victim-survivors of economic abuse if the abuse amounts to criminal conduct. This will be the case whether a survivor is seeking a criminal prosecution or not.  

While the Bill applies to victim-survivors of economic abuse, we are calling for the Bill to do more to recognise economic abuse and support victim-survivors. The Victims and Prisoners Bill should: 

  • ensure those who seek a criminal justice response are supported through the system 
  • ensure all economic abuse survivors, whether they seek a criminal justice response or not, are supported to establish economic safety and rebuild their lives.

Our key policy calls

SEA, together with other organisations in the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) sector, is calling for the following changes to be made to the Bill:

1. Include a duty on relevant public bodies to provide victim support services. This should include economic advocacy services. Services should be in partnership with money, debt, and benefits advice, as well as financial services.

The key to victim-survivors’ immediate safety is economic advocacy. Economic advocacy considers victim-survivors’ economic situations in immediate and long-term safety planning. Examples of economic advocacy include: 

  • supporting victim-survivors to access benefits and housing 
  • helping them build longer term economic security through debt write offs or resetting credit scores 

Commissioners should fund domestic abuse services to work with local money/debt advisors and financial services. Together, these services can support survivors to build long-term economic security and independence. 

What does economic advocacy look like in practice?
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An example of specialist economic advocacy is the Economic Justice Project. This pilot brought together local domestic abuse services and money and debt services.  

Both types of service received training to support the economic needs of victim-survivors. This gave them the knowledge and skills to support women through economic advocacy. A Debt and Benefit Specialist role was vital for staff to develop confidence in this work. The role helped staff work alongside national and local advocates with expertise in both domestic abuse and money/debt advice.  

The role also helped establish a closer working relationship between the domestic abuse services involved in the project and money/debt advisors. The project built a community infrastructure better able to respond to the needs of victim-survivors. 

2. Ensure criminal justice agencies (police, CPS, judges) receive mandatory domestic abuse training. Training should reference economic abuse within the context of controlling or coercive behaviour.  

For victim-survivors to access justice, it is important that the police can: 

  • recognise economic abuse 
  • refer victim-survivors to specialist domestic abuse support, including economic advocacy 
  • evidence economic abuse to support a successful prosecution

3. Ensure emergency funding is available to enable victim-survivors of domestic abuse to flee. The funding should be available to all survivors, including migrant women with no recourse to public funds (NRPF). 

Economic abuse can trap victim-survivors. It prevents them from escaping and rebuilding their lives after leaving the abuser. This is being compounded by the cost-of-living crisis.  

Financial support for women at the point of leaving is vital to allow them to reach safety and begin to rebuild their lives and those of their children.  

The Bill must include emergency funding to cover the costs of victims trying to leave an abuser and help cover the short-term costs of moving. 

4. Ensure migrant domestic abuse victim-survivors who have no recourse to public funds (NRPF) can access victim support services and introduce a firewall between the police and Immigration Enforcement. 

The Bill should provide legislative protection for all survivors, regardless of immigration status.  

Eligibility for the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession should extend to all migrant survivors and not only to those on spouse or partner visas, as called for by Southall Black Sisters.  

The Bill should also introduce a firewall between statutory services and immigration enforcement for survivors of VAWG, as called for by Latin American Women’s Rights Service.  

Seen yet sidelined

In September 2023 we published an updated analysis of how economic abuse is reflected and responded to within successful prosecutions of the Controlling or Coercive Behaviour Offence.

By analysing 810 successfully prosecuted offences of controlling or coercive behaviour, Seen yet sidelined found that nearly two-thirds (64%) of cases reported in the press reference economic abuse. 

Key findings and recommendations:

  • Not only do victim-survivors want criminal justice to be done, but they also want economic justice through action to address the costs arising from economic abuse, including through reparation. We recommend that compensation as well as the confiscation of assets derived from criminal conduct should be routinely considered in sentencing for the Controlling or Coercive Behaviour Offence.
  • Victim-survivors frequently do not initially report emotional or economic abuse to the police, rather they report an ‘emergency’ that requires immediate police intervention. This reinforces the importance of police training to establish whether there are patterns of controlling or coercive behaviours underlying the incident that led to a police callout as well the ability to proactively recognise and identify the signs of coercive control, including economic control when a victim-survivor is making a statement and may be alluding to these behaviours within their description of the circumstances.
  • Whilst sentencing guidelines in 2018 introduced a new aggravating factor of ‘victim left in debt, destitute or homeless due to exploitation of finances’ just two media reports referred to this aggravating factor, despite these being themes arising in the analysis. More needs to be done to make the Crown Prosecution Service and the judiciary aware of the aggravating factor and more detailed guidance should be developed to help interpret what this means in practice.

Read more about ‘Seen yet sidelined’

Next steps

The Victims and Prisoners Bill is currently progressing through Parliament. We will continue our work to influence the Bill to create vital changes for victim-survivors.  

Other policy work