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Post-separation abuse amendment FAQ

The information on this page relates to the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 for England and Wales.

This page has been created as a response to some general themes in the questions we received related to the Domestic Abuse Bill (now Act) and the post-separation abuse amendment.

The Bill received Royal Assent and became law on 29 April 2021. It is now the Domestic Abuse Act. Read our response to the Royal Assent here. The post-separation abuse amendment is expected to come into force in summer/autumn 2022 to allow for updates to guidance and training.

The themes and questions in this document have come directly from survivors of domestic and economic abuse.

“I am overjoyed by the government’s decision to recognise post-separation abuse in the Domestic Abuse Bill. This type of abuse has affected every part of my daily life; it has seemed to be endless and has left me feeling helpless and powerless to affect change.”

Background

One in ten offences recorded by the police are in relation to domestic abuse, with around 2.4 million victims of domestic abuse each year. In 2019, the Government was elected with a manifesto commitment to pass a Domestic Abuse Bill to change the way in which domestic abuse is dealt with and how victims and their children are supported.

The objectives of the Domestic Abuse Bill, now Act, include:

  • raising awareness and understanding about the devastating impact of domestic abuse on victims and their families.
  • further improving the effectiveness of the justice system in providing protection for victims of domestic abuse and bringing perpetrators to justice.
  • strengthening the support for victims of abuse by statutory agencies.

For more details you can read the government’s factsheets on the Domestic Abuse Act.

SEA’s call for the post-separation abuse amendment

Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act (2015) created the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour, which highlights that domestic abuse is rarely in the form of a single incident but a purposeful pattern of behaviour.

SEA led the successful call for the Domestic Abuse Bill, now Act, to extend this offence to post-separation abuse.

This amendment relates to criminal law, and only amends the criminal offence of controlling or coercive behaviour. However, there may be a crossover with family law proceedings. Behaviours such as abuse of child contact arrangements that take place post-separation may now be taken into account when considering whether behaviour falls within the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour.

You can read a full timeline of SEA’s engagement with the Bill, now Act, here. The many consultations we took part in happened with the support and insight of the Experts by Experience who we work alongside.

Frequently asked questions

1. When does the post-separation abuse amendment come into law?
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The Bill received Royal Assent and became an Act of Parliament (law) on 29 April 2021. However, when a Bill becomes an Act, some sections of the Act may not come into force immediately.

Different sections of the Act may come into force on different dates. The government has published a commencement schedule for the Domestic Abuse Act, and there is also a factsheet published by the Home Office which provides some information.

The Act is being implemented across criminal justice systems and agencies as relevant, and we understand that the post-separation abuse amendment will come into force in spring 2022. This is to allow for updating the guidance and training relating to the controlling or coercive behaviour offence.

The full Domestic Abuse Act is available online here.

2. Will it apply to my case?
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You may be wondering if the post-separation abuse amendment will apply to your current case, or even a situation from years ago.

The controlling or coercive behaviour offence, which is found in the Serious Crime Act 2015, came into force on 29 December 2015. It does not have retrospective effect. This means that  behaviours that occurred prior to that date cannot be prosecuted under the offence. However, charges for controlling or coercive behaviour brought after this date can consider previous behaviour as evidence of a person’s character.

The post-separation abuse amendment, made through the Domestic Abuse Act, amends this existing offence. Post-separation abuse will only become part of the coercive control offence after the amendment comes into force.

Different provisions of an Act come into force on different dates. We understand that the post-separation abuse amendment will not come into force until spring 2022.

3. How will it affect the child maintenance system?
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It is important to understand that the amendment only directly impacts criminal law. There is no direct bearing on the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). However, an abuser’s use of the CMS within a pattern of controlling or coercive behaviour could provide more evidence for a criminal investigation.

4. Will this impact the Family Courts at all?
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As explained in question 3, the amendment will have no direct bearing on any platform outside of criminal law. However, there may be a crossover with family law proceedings. Behaviours such as abuse of child contact arrangements that take place post-separation may now be taken into account when considering whether behaviour falls within the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour.

In other words, it is possible that perpetrators use the Family Court system as part of that pattern of controlling or coercive behaviour. This element of a pattern of behaviour is what should be taken into consideration if there is a criminal investigation.

5. How and when will professionals be trained on it?
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The most important aspect regarding training is the statutory guidance on the Act, which explains the changes brought about by the Act and how it will impact public authorities, including the police.

There is a recognised need for a stronger emphasis on training for police and others working in the criminal and family justice systems to ensure that economic abuse is properly understood and responded to. Amendments were proposed to the Bill on the need for increased training, such as by Baroness Bertin regarding training around domestic abuse awareness, which you can read here (Column 1448). SEA’s briefing on the Bill at report stage in March 2021 also supported calls to place a duty on public authorities to report to the Domestic Abuse Commissioner on training as required, and meeting standards as may be published in guidance by the Commissioner.

Enhanced training focusing on the family courts is also welcome, particularly as this is a key arena for economic abuse. Perpetrators can use the family justice system in a variety of ways to undermine victims’ economic stability, as SEA details in its response to the Ministry of Justice consultation on the risk of harm in private law children cases. SEA therefore supported the amendment requiring the Secretary of State to publish a strategy for providing specialist training on domestic abuse for magistrates and judges in family proceedings.

A review of the controlling or coercive behaviour offence also suggests more training is needed, in clause 3, page 7 & 50 where it states, “It is therefore recommended that further research be undertaken across the CJS to assess the current levels of awareness and understanding of the legislation, and its application in practice, in order to identify any required changes to the available guidance and training.”

6. Will the Act impact working women and their access to a refuge?
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A practical implication of employment for domestic abuse survivors relates to their ability to access refuge accommodation. Refuges presently operate in a way that disadvantages women in full time employment who are not in receipt of housing related benefits. Many working women cannot afford to pay for a refuge place, and have to give up employment so that they can claim state benefits that will fund a refuge place. It can therefore be harder for women who are working to secure accommodation in a refuge, as the costs can be too high, therefore creating an incentive to leave employment.

SEA previously highlighted this issue in September 2020, where we argued that this system of perverse incentives undermines the ability of survivors to maintain economic stability after leaving an abuser. It can leave women with the ‘choice’ of retaining their employment and staying with the abuser, or giving up work in order to access safe accommodation.

The Domestic Abuse Act does not directly address the issue of working women in relation to refuge provision and the costs included. Organisations that rallied for change within the Domestic Abuse Bill, now Act, argued that, without sustainable funding directly for refuge provision, the future of refuges is not secure nor is it sustainable. If refuge provision is improved, this will mean that women may be able to access refuges closer to home, hopefully increasing the number of women who can remain in employment.

The Domestic Abuse Bill – Tuesday 5 January 2021 – Hansard – UK Parliament states:

“Part 4 introduces a new duty on tier 1 local authorities in England to ensure that such support is available in their area for victims of domestic abuse and their children within safe accommodation. Noble Lords will have seen that following the spending review, the Government have committed £125 million to fund this new duty in 2021 and 2022.”

However this does not address the costs of refuge provision and how some women in employment cannot afford to pay for refuge provision unless they leave their employment and sign onto benefits. There is currently little research in the UK on the link between women who are employed and their ability to fund a refuge space while maintaining employment.

Last updated July 2022

Further support 

If you are experiencing economic abuse, you are not alone. We have more information that can support you to take steps towards safety and begin to regain control of your finances.

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