Controlling or coercive behaviour legislation

The Serious Crime Act (2015) created a new offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or familial relationships (section 76).

This briefing paper sets out how controlling or coercive behaviour relates to economic abuse.

In December 2017, Surviving Economic Abuse published ‘Into Plain Sight’ – an analysis of how economic abuse is reflected in successful prosecutions of controlling or coercive behaviour.

In the report, we recommended that:

  1. Statutory guidance on controlling or coercive behaviour should name and define economic abuse
  2. The Westminster Government should recognise economic abuse within the statutory definition of domestic violence that is being developed within the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill.
  3. Consideration needs to be given about how to address forms of economic abuse which result in economic costs to the victim in sentencing and possibly criminal injury claims.
  4. Awareness-raising activity needs to be undertaken so that behaviours which seek to interfere with an individual’s ability to acquire, use and maintain economic resources are understood as abusive.
  5. The Westminster Government should consider making economic abuse a criminal offence.
  6. Responses to domestic violence cases should incorporate an understanding of both physical and economic safety.

There were a number of subsequent developments related to these recommendations:

  • In January 2018 the government committed to including economic abuse in the new statutory definition of domestic abuse to ensure that economic abuse and its impact are legally recognised, to improve knowledge and awareness of the issue and provide better support to victims
  • The Sentencing Council issued a ‘Definitive Guideline’ for Intimidatory Offences on 1 October 2018. An aggravating factor introduced within the guidance is ‘victim left in debt, destitute or homeless.’
  • In January 2019 the government committed to: include reference to economic abuse in the statutory guidance for the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour; and update legal guidance for prosecutors to ensure cases of economic abuse can be successfully prosecuted.
  • In April 2021 the Domestic Abuse Act was passed with economic abuse included within the statutory definition of domestic abuse for the first time. The Act also contains a definition of economic abuse.
  • SEA campaigned for the Domestic Abuse Act to amend the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in the Serious Crime Act, to extend the offence to post-separation abuse where much economic abuse takes place. This was successful. The Home Office had a consultation on the draft updated statutory guidance on the offence which closed in June 2022, to which SEA submitted a response. The guidance will be finalised following the consultation, and the amendment is expected to come into force in spring 2023.

SEA is currently updating the ‘Into Plain Sight’ analysis and will publish a new report. We are inviting victim-survivors who have pursued a successful prosecution to get in touch: [email protected].