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Agenda item 3 - Domestic Abuse Act 2021

1  Purpose of the report

To provide an update on the introduction of the new Domestic Abuse Act 2021, including the implications that this will bring to arrangements and the local partnership approach.

 

2  Background

2.1       In February 2021, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, told the Home Office Committee that the “tail” of the pandemic’s impact on domestic abuse would extend “well beyond” the easing of lockdown, and that survivors depend on services.

2.2       The Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which came into force on 29th April 2021, aims to make changes to better protect survivors of domestic abuse and strengthen measures to address the behaviours of perpetrators.

2.3       The Domestic Abuse Act:

    • Creates a statutory definition of domestic abuse, emphasising that domestic abuse is not just physical violence, but can also be emotional, coercive or controlling and economic abuse. As part of this definition, children will be explicitly recognised as victims if they see, hear or otherwise experience the effects of abuse
    • Introduces a number of new offences. Including a new offence of non-fatal strangulation and extending the controlling or coercive behaviour offence to cover post-separation abuse
    • Establishes in law the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, to stand up for victims and survivors, raise public awareness, monitor the response of local authorities, the justice system and other statutory agencies and hold them to account in tackling domestic abuse
    • Prohibits GPs and other health professionals from charging a victim of domestic abuse for a letter to support an application for legal aid
    • Places a duty on local authorities in England to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation.

2.4       In strengthening measures to tackle perpetrators, the Domestic Abuse Act;

  • Prohibits perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining their victims in person in family and civil courts
  • Enables domestic abuse offenders to be subject to polygraph testing as a condition of their licence following their release from custody
  • Provides for a new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Domestic Abuse Protection Order, which will prevent perpetrators from contacting their victims, as well as force them to take positive steps to change their behaviour e.g. seeking mental health support
  • Introduces a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to publish a domestic abuse perpetrator strategy (to be published as part of a holistic domestic abuse strategy).

 

3          Statutory Duty- Safe Accommodation

3.1       Under the new statutory duty, ‘Tier 1’ county and unitary councils are required to convene a multi-agency Local Partnership Board (LPB) to support them in performing certain specified functions. These will be to:

    • Assess the need and demand for accommodation-based support for all victims and their children, including those who require cross-border support
    • Develop and publish strategies for the provision of support to cover the locality and diverse groups of victims
    • Give effect to strategies by making commissioning/ de-commissioning decisions
    • Meet the support needs of victims and their children
    • Monitor and evaluate the local delivery
    • Report back to central government.

 

3.2       There is a duty on the MHCLG to produce the accompanying statutory guidance (a draft set of guidance is currently available) and a duty on local authorities to have regard to the statutory guidance. There is a duty on ‘Tier 2’ district and borough councils and London Boroughs to co-operate with ‘Tier 1’ authorities.

 

4          Local Partnership Boards

4.1       The guidance states that authorities will be able to utilise existing Boards as Local Partnership Boards where appropriate, including joint arrangements between Tier 1’ authorities.

4.2       Locally the Domestic Abuse Joint Coordination Group for North Yorkshire and York will fulfil this function, this multi-agency group reports to North Yorkshire Community Safety Partnership and Safer York Community Safety Partnership. The membership and Terms of Reference are being reviewed to ensure it is fully effective in line with the duty. The partnership already has representation from North Yorkshire County Council, City of York Council, district councils, health care services, policing, criminal justice services, safeguarding partnerships and local providers of domestic abuse services. The partnership includes links with the County Homeless group and the Chief Housing Officers Group. Consultations and views have been sought with housing leads and these are feeding into our needs assessment.  Discussions have started on the meaningful engagement of victims of domestic abuse and children of domestic abuse victims.

 

5          Needs Assessments and Current Commissioned Services

5.1       Needs assessments are vital in ensuring the needs of victims are properly met, by understanding their needs, authorities will be in a better position to commission appropriate provision. Needs assessments should explore the levels of needs for support services within safe accommodation for victims of domestic abuse, including those presenting out of area.

5.2       IDAS is currently commissioned to deliver ‘safe accommodation’ across North Yorkshire and York. North Yorkshire County Council, City of York Council and the Office of the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner jointly commission these arrangements. Some of the elements described in the definitions for accommodation and support, within the Act, are covered in current contract arrangements.

5.3       The current contract (re-commissioned June 2020) with IDAS includes refuge accommodation, dispersed accommodation (including provision for male, adult victims), sanctuary schemes and there are links via the HALO project for specialist refuge provision (for those that have been victims of so-called honour based violence.) Within the contract, there is an agreed minimum capacity requirement of 42 ‘units’. A unit may differ in size from provision for one single person, to a parent with three or four dependent children. There is also an expectation within the contract that IDAS continues to explore opportunities to increase capacity of the service to meet any changing need or demand.

5.4       Within this contract, IDAS hoped to introduce and develop a Safe Haven scheme. Covid restrictions had placed this ‘on hold’, however IDAS during this period has focused on increasing dispersed accommodation provision. The Safe Haven scheme aimed to offer families short-term accommodation (up to two months) in host family’s home. The planning for this had started with faith groups across North Yorkshire and York, with an intention that 12 ‘settings’ could be found across North Yorkshire and York.

5.5       There is no ‘local connection’ restriction for accommodation and referrals will be accepted from other local authority areas in the UK through the national Women’s Aid network and Mankind Initiative. It is recognised nationally that services need to allow for victims and survivors to travel the distance needed to be safe from their abusers; local provision may not be suitable. During 2020/ 21 36% of victims accessing accommodation services in North Yorkshire and York, were recorded as local, 56% came from out of area.

5.6       To support the delivery of the statutory duty, MHCLG has allocated significant funding to local authorities. Below shows what has been allocated locally.

Tier 1 authorities

 

North Yorkshire

£1,041,769

York

£334, 506

Tier 2 authorities

 

Craven

£32, 614

Hambleton

£32, 685

Harrogate

£32, 987

Richmondshire

£33, 697

Ryedale

£32, 298

Scarborough

£32, 026

Selby

£32, 831

 

£228, 688

 

The grant only covers revenue expenditure relating to the functions set out in the new statutory duty, relating to the provision of support to victims of domestic abuse and their children residing within safe accommodation. The grant is distributed to Local Authorities for the period from 1st April 2021 to 31st March 2022.

5.7       Following the needs assessment a joint strategy regarding safe accommodation must be published by August 2021. Future reporting on spend and progress to central government will come from the Tier 1 authorities. The funding will be used to enhance current arrangements and ensure there is a range of options and support including dispersed properties and sanctuary schemes, appropriate advice and support to meet the wide range of needs.

 

6      Local Partnership Response

6.1       A core group is meeting regularly to complete the strategic needs assessment. As part of this process links have been made with other teams and organisations e.g. housing leads. Our commissioning arrangements already have oversight of useful data. There has been a particular focus on the demand on our accommodation based services over the year. With weekly data being gathered on referrals and identified needs and ‘move on’ activity. It is anticipated the assessment will be completed early June 2021, with the strategy being developed and published August 2021, in line with requirements

6.2       A series of ‘consultation’ discussions are taking place. These include with housing leads and community safety leads (districts) and the current provider of services, IDAS. Cross directorate discussions are taking place with colleagues within NYCC Health and Adults Services and Children and Families Services. Links have been made with other forums across West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire with other DA leads, as we identify common issues and good practice. Regular LGA and MHCLG workshops have also helped to shape our response.

 

7          Recommendations

7.1       Although ‘safe accommodation’ has been the focus nationally and locally, it is anticipated that the Domestic Abuse Act will bring further implications around our multi-agency domestic abuse arrangements.        

A clear partnership approach is required, to ensure we provide effective support for those affected by domestic abuse.

This is a key opportunity for chief executives to identify areas and developments that need to be accounted for and actioned, within our current partnership approach.

 

Odette Robson

Head of Safer Communities, North Yorkshire County Council

26 May 2021