Cost-of-living crisis increasingly impacting on domestic abuse victims ability to get to court

The cost-of-living crisis is increasingly being used as justification for domestic abuse while some victims are unable to afford to get to court to obtain protection, a charity has warned.

Financial pressures mean some victims who are seeking civil protection orders to keep them safe cannot afford to travel to court or arrange childcare so they can attend, Domestic Violence Assist said.

It comes as the soaring cost of living triggers a rise in cases, with victims being locked out of their vehicles, cut off from debit cards if they are deemed to have spent too much, and left without heating, electricity or hot water.

The organisation is the UK’s only registered charity specialising exclusively in helping victims apply for civil protection orders, which aim to protect them from being harmed or threatened by their abuser, and determine who can live in the family home or enter the surrounding area.

It received 40,000 referrals for help from bodies such as the police and social services and helpline calls in England and Wales in the year ending August 2022.

This is up 10% from the previous year and the highest total in its history.

It said the number of victims who cite the cost of living as the main reason for their abuse is growing – with 1,400 referrals and calls for this reason in April, rising to 2,400 in August.

This represents 60% of all victims seeking help in the latest month.

During the 12 months to August, 37% of all victims said their abuser had made it difficult for them to work or stopped them from doing so.

More than a quarter (27%) said they have limited or no access to money because of their abuser.

Chief executive Luis Labaton (pictured) said financial hardship is “being increasingly used by abusers to justify exerting coercive control” over victims.

He said: “In cases where access to money is controlled and restricted, victims are often forced to remain with their abusers, as they are financially dependent on them.”

One woman said she was left with so little money she was forced to steal from a supermarket to feed her children.

She said: “Whenever I spent money he knew about it instantly. He would know where I was and how much I spent.”

Another victim, living in an area with little public transport, discovered her abuser had put a steering wheel lock on the car, so could not get her children to school or get to work.

Rising living and transport expenses are also making it harder for victims to fund legal action or get to court, while means-tested legal aid criteria does not take into account the rising cost of living, DV Assist said.

The charity said in-person hearings for civil protection order applications restarted in some courts in August, with 15 people it was supporting backing out because they would struggle to get there or could not afford or arrange childcare, out of 290 applications.

In September, 22 people out of 300 applications did not go ahead.

One victim who did not proceed said: “I had no money for childcare as the courts would not allow my children in.

“Nor did I have money to get to the courts, which were over 20 miles away. On top of all that I would run the risk of seeing my abuser in court.

“Why would they change a perfectly good working system to a system that causes a victim such additional hardship? It must cost the courts more money in heating, etc…”

Another told the charity: “I cannot travel to and from the family court given that this is an hour’s drive away from me and I cannot make childcare arrangements on short notice.

“The court won’t accept applications via email and therefore I can’t proceed with the case. It’s grossly unfair.”

Mr Labaton has written to Justice Secretary Brandon Lewis urging a review of the decision to return to face-to-face court hearings.

He said: “These were stopped due to Covid and were held remotely instead, and this was successful for victims, as they did not have to attend court and risk seeing their abuser, or have to worry about the costs of travel or childcare.

“The return of face-to-face hearings is actually putting victims off from applying for orders, leaving them with little or no choice to stay with their abuser.”

A Government spokesperson said: “The new Domestic Abuse Act is transforming our response to this terrible crime – redefining economic abuse, improving protection for victims and bringing more perpetrators to justice.

“The roll-out of new technology to the vast majority of courtrooms ensures judges can hold remote hearings where appropriate and in consultation with the victim.

“We have also extended protection orders and are providing free legal advice for victims.”

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