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Ombudsman urges councils to heed new guidance and improve the way they work with victims of domestic abuse

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) has released new guidance for councils on improving services for domestic abuse victims in anticipation of the implementation of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

The Ombudsman said councils have a key role in responding to domestic abuse, which includes working with other agencies, such as the police and health services, to deliver appropriate support to victims.

As councils take on more responsibility under the 2021 Act, the Ombudsman is advising them to reflect on their own practices and procedures using the lessons contained within its report and identify whether they can improve the way they work.

A new statutory definition of abuse will be introduced under the Act. For the first time, a child or young person related to the person being abused or the abuser, is regarded as a victim themselves.

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“While this will place additional duties on councils,” the LGSCO said, “it must be welcomed that providing help to children and young people adversely affected by witnessing domestic abuse may prevent them from having long term difficulties.”

The guidance note draws on the experiences of a number of domestic abuse victims whose cases the Ombudsman has investigated.

In one case, a victim’s personal information was shared with her abusive former partner, causing huge stress and anxiety. In another, a pregnant mother and her four-month-old baby were assaulted by their abuser when they were not rehoused quickly enough by their local council.

Based on these cases, the Ombudsman set out advice relating to a number of potential failings that local authorities can make while handling victims. These include:

  • Wrongly sharing personal information with an abuser
  • Failing to work with other agencies to keep victims safe
  • Failing to safeguard children from risk of domestic abuse
  • Refusing to believe victims of domestic abuse and failing to understand what constitutes abuse
  • Failing to provide proper advice and support
  • Ignoring disclosures of domestic abuse
  • Failing to identify risk to victims
  • Delays in providing victims with services

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “Navigating the myriad processes that might be involved when victims of domestic abuse first call on their local council for help can be daunting enough, even without the trauma and stress of having gone through such awful experiences.

“The key thing therefore is for councils to provide services for victims of domestic abuse as soon as they ask for help – and those services provided by authorities and partner agencies need to be seamless to avoid compounding the trauma.

“I would urge councils across England to take the report in the constructive manner in which it is intended and use it to scrutinise their systems and procedures to see whether they can make changes for the better. If this helps drive action to keep even a single person safe from abuse, then it must be worth it.”

The full guidance can be read here.

Adam Carey

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