1. Introduction

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 has been passed by Parliament; this chapter is a summary of the main parts of the Act. However, please note that different parts of the Act are becoming operational at different times; where there is a future date to come into force it is outlined in the relevant section below. For further information visit Domestic Abuse Act 2021 Commencement Schedule (gov.uk).

2. Definitions

2.1 Domestic abuse

The Domestic Abuse Act provides a definition of domestic abuse.

It is the behaviour of one person towards another where:

  1.  both people are aged 16 or over and are personally connected to each other (see below); and
  2. the behaviour is abusive.

Behaviour is defined as abusive if it consists of any of the following:

  • physical or sexual abuse;
  • violent or threatening behaviour;
  • controlling or coercive behaviour;
  • economic abuse;

psychological, emotional or other abuse.

It does not make any difference whether the behaviour is a single incident or consists of a number of incidents over a period of time.

Economic abuse is any behaviour by a person that effects the other person’s ability to:

  • obtain, use or maintain money or other property (such as a mobile phone or car. This would also include pets);
  • buy goods or services (for example utilities such as heating, food or clothing).

Under the Act (by winter 2022), such abusive behaviour towards a child under 16 will be child abuse not domestic abuse (see Hull Safeguarding Children’s Partnership Procedures).

2.2 Personally connected

The Act introduces the term ‘personally connected’. This applies to people who:

  • are married to each other;
  • are civil partners;
  • have agreed to marry one another or have a civil partnership (whether or not they are still planning to);
  • are or have been in an intimate personal relationship with each other;
    have, or have had, a parental relationship in relation to the same child;
    are relatives.

Domestic abuse also includes so called ‘honour’ based abuse (see So Called Honour Based Abuse and Forced Marriage, the Crown Prosecution Service , forced marriage (see Forced Marriage, gov.uk) and female genital mutilation (see Female Genital Mutilation, gov.uk).

2.3 Controlling behaviour

Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and / or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour. In Spring 2022 this will be extended to also apply to people who are no longer in a relationship, but who were previously.

2.4 Coercive behaviour

Coercive behaviour is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim. In Spring 2022, this will be extended to also apply to people who are no longer in a relationship, but were previously.

3. Victims and Perpetrators of Domestic Abuse

The majority of domestic abuse is committed by men against women, however victims do not come solely from one gender or ethnic group. Men are abused by female partners, abuse occurs in same sex relationships, can be committed by young people against other family members or their own partners (teenage domestic abuse is the most common), as well as abuse of older relatives or those with physical or learning disabilities. Domestic abuse occurs irrespective of social class, racial, ethnic, cultural, religious or sexual relationships or identity.

4. Working with People where there are Concerns of Domestic Abuse

On average, victims live with abuse for between 2 to 3 years before seeking help, and will experience 50 incidents of abuse before they receive effective help (see Safelives).

The overall aim of social work interventions with adults who are experiencing, or at risk of, domestic abuse are:

  • to support victims to get protection from violence by providing relevant practical and other assistance;
  • to identify those who are responsible for perpetrating such abuse, so that there can be an appropriate criminal justice response;
  • to provide victims with full information about their legal rights, and about the extent and limits of statutory duties and powers;
  • support non-abusing parents in making safe choices for themselves and their children, where appropriate.

Professionals from any agency may receive a disclosure from a victim or perpetrator about domestic abuse, or suspect that such behaviour may be taking place. They should, therefore, be familiar with signs of domestic abuse, and know how to respond to such a disclosure. The local authority should ensure that training in relation to domestic abuse is provided for staff.
Concerns about domestic abuse may also be reported by a member of the extended family, friend or neighbour for example. Such information must be responded to in accordance with the Hull Safeguarding Adults Partnership Board Operating Guidance.

Social workers in contact with adults who are threatening or abusive need to be aware of the potential for that individual to be also abusive in their personal relationships. They should, therefore, assess whether domestic abuse is occurring within the family environment.

4.1 Conducting assessments

See also SafeLives: Resources for identifying the risk victims face. This includes the Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Harassment (DASH) checklist.

When conducting any assessment, social workers need to consider offering adults with whom they are working the opportunity of being seen alone to enable them to ask whether they are experiencing, or have previously experienced, domestic abuse. This may include asking direct questions about domestic abuse and asking whether domestic abuse has occurred whenever adult abuse is suspected. This should be considered at all stages of assessment, enquiries and intervention.

When assessing domestic abuse and the needs of the adult living with domestic abuse, the following questions should be considered:

  • age and vulnerability of the adult;
  • the adult’s description of the effects of the abuse upon them;
  • frequency and severity of the abuse, how recent and where it took place
    whether there were any children or other adults who either witnessed the abuse or was in the property at the time;
  • any weapons used or threatened to be used;
  • whether the adult victim has been locked in the house or prevented from leaving;
  • has there been any actual or threatened abuse of animals.

The social worker should determine, based on the assessment and their professional judgement, whether there is a threat to the safety of the adult or anyone else in the home environment. It should also be determined if any threat is imminent. If so, the police should be informed of the concerns immediately, by telephoning 999. If there is a non-imminent threat to the adult, the professional should raise a safeguarding enquiry (see Safeguarding Adults Procedures).

The police are often the first point of contact for adults experiencing domestic abuse. However, the ambulance service and hospital Accident and Emergency Departments may also often be involved as a first point of contact.

Social workers should ensure that they make a full record of all discussions, including with whom they take place and any actions taken, including referrals to other agencies. They should also inform their line manager who should sign off the discussions / actions (see Case Recording: Principles chapter).

Under the Domestic Abuse Act, the local authority has a duty to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation. In addition, all eligible homeless victims of domestic abuse automatically have ‘priority need’ for homelessness assistance.

5. Legal Protections

5.1 Civil protection injunctions

The Act introduces two new civil protection injunctions, however these will not be available until early 2023:

  • a Domestic Abuse Protection Notice (DAPN) – for immediate protection following an incident;
  • a Domestic Abuse Protection Order (DAPO) – flexible, longer-term protection for victims.

See also Domestic Violence Protection Notices (DVPNs) and Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) guidance (Home Office).

5.2 Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme

See also Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme Factsheet (gov.uk).

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (also known as Clare’s Law) was first introduced in 2014 but has now been given a legal basis under the Act. There are two elements: the Right to Ask; and the Right to Know.

A person or relevant third party (for example, a family member) can ask the police to check whether a current or ex-partner has a violent or abusive past. This is the Right to Ask. If records show that an individual may be at risk of domestic abuse from a partner or ex-partner, the police will consider disclosing the information.

Right to Know enables the police to make a disclosure on their own initiative if they receive information about the violent or abusive behaviour of a person that may impact on the safety of that person’s current or ex-partner. This could be information arising from a criminal investigation, through statutory or third sector agency involvement, or from another source of police intelligence.

6. Professional Safety

Care must be taken to assess any potential risks to social care staff, carers or other staff who are providing services to a family where domestic abuse is or has occurred. In such cases a risk assessment should be undertaken. Social care staff should speak with their manager and follow the local guidance for staff safety. Such issues should also be discussed as part of the member of staff’s regular supervision (see Supervision).