Moved by Baroness Lister of Burtersett
149: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—“Controlling or coercive behaviour offence: post-separation abuse(1) Section 76 (controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship) of the Serious Crime Act 2015 is amended as follows.(2) Leave out subsection (2) and insert—“(2) “personally connected” has the meaning as set out in section 2 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.”(3) Leave out subsections (6) and (7).”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause would ensure that those who were previously personally connected are protected from any coercive and controlling behaviour (including economic abuse) that occurs post-separation.
My Lords, Amendment 149 would protect those who were previously personally connected to an abuser from any coercive or controlling behaviour—including, in particular, economic abuse—that occurs post separation. It would do so by amending the Serious Crime Act 2015 so that its provisions concerning controlling or coercive behaviour were extended to cover those not living together. It would therefore also safeguard those covered by the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, which focuses on another important group in need of protection. I am grateful to noble Lords who have added their names to Amendment 149. Analysis of successful prosecutions of the controlling or coercive behaviour offence found that six in 10 involved economic abuse, yet the wording of that legislation means that, post separation, the victims of such abuse have no legal redress.
Economic abuse has been a long-standing concern of mine, even if I had not then come across the term, so its inclusion in the definition of domestic abuse in the Bill is welcome indeed. But I must admit that I had not been aware of the prevalence and seriousness of post-separation economic abuse until it was brought to my attention by the charity Surviving Economic Abuse—SEA—to which I pay tribute for all its work on the issue and express my thanks for its help with the amendment.
We are talking about, for instance, spending money from a victim’s bank account or a joint account without permission, running up bills in their name, prolonging the sale of joint property unreasonably, interfering with the victim’s employment, and jeopardising their social security entitlement through malicious calls or wrongly claiming the child benefit. Post-separation abuse can also involve indirect control through use of the family courts.
Following an interview I did on “You and Yours” last Autumn, prompted by SEA’s work, I received a long email from a mother of three children who shared her experience, and I am grateful for her permission to quote from it anonymously. Currently going through a divorce, having suffered a combination of psychological, economic and some physical abuse, a common combination, she detailed the ways in which her husband was putting debts in her name and was taking steps that undermined her financial position before the divorce and any financial settlement. She described his actions as
“malevolent, wilful, controlling that are all-consuming and intent on destruction.”
“sleepless nights worrying about debts put in my name, no pension provision, my credit score, ability to borrow.”
She said she had learned that
“the drive to dominate does not end after physical separation”, and she finished:
“I hope your colleagues take note that economic abuse that continues post separation, particularly when children are involved is disordered behaviour that goes against healthy parental and societal norms and should be legislated as unlawful.”
Since then I have received many emails covering various forms of post-separation abuse. One described it as
“a merry-go-round that just keeps turning post-separation” that
“in many ways has been worse than the emotional abuse I was subjected to throughout the relationship.”
Many echoed this plea from one of them:
“Please give survivors protection from on-going abuse after we leave as this is the most dangerous period for the victims.”
These emails are just the tip of an iceberg of anxiety, suffering and trauma caused by economic abuse which research shows frequently continues after separation.
For instance, in a national survey last year by Refuge and the Co-operative Bank about one-quarter of all respondents said they had experienced economic abuse after separation from their partner, nearly one in 10 said their former partner damaged or stole property that had to be replaced, and 6% reported that in each case their ex-partner had spent money from a joint account without consent or discussion, had run up bills in their name or had refused to pay any child support. In all, only just over half of those who had experienced economic abuse said it had ended when they split up with the abuser, and some said it started only after they had ended the relationship. The research underlined the devastating and long-term financial and mental health effect that economic abuse can have on well-being.
More recently, nearly four-fifths of post-separation abuse victims who responded to SEA’s pandemic survey said the perpetrator had attempted to control their finances, with success in two-thirds of all cases. Nicola Sharp-Jeffs of SEA has detailed how coerced debt is a particularly effective and insidious form of economic abuse and is all too frequent post separation. One project found that three out of five domestic abuse survivors had been subject to at least one coerced debt. One woman described such debts as “invisible chains” that link you to the perpetrator post separation.
Research from Manchester University shows how this can affect older women. The researchers quote one divorced woman with debts of around £6,000, who said:
“He used to wish me dead on the phone and ask ‘You’ve not died yet’? If I don’t talk to him politely enough he won’t pay the bills. I have to do as I am told. He’ll always have control. He still has the keys to the house and all the bills are in his name. He still comes round and opens the letters and tears them up or burns them.”
The Government are well aware of the problem created by post-separation abuse. Indeed, the draft statutory guidance on the Bill warns:
“Given that economic abuse does not require physical proximity it can continue, escalate or even begin after separation, creating a significant barrier for victims seeking to rebuild their lives.”
“People have come to realise that this is a particularly potent and cruel weapon”.—[Official Report, Commons, Domestic Abuse Bill Committee, 17/6/20; col. 392.]
Nevertheless, despite expressing some sympathy with the amendment when it was proposed in Committee in the Commons, he argued that it is not necessary for two reasons.
First, he said this form of coercive and controlling behaviour could be prosecuted under the existing offences of harassment and stalking. I note that the Minister used a similar argument in her Second Reading response but, if I may say so, without much conviction. Mr Chalk conceded SEA’s argument that stalking and harassment offences were not designed to prosecute this form of behaviour, but suggested that it was not beyond the wit of man or woman to find a way of including them in a specific case.
Common sense tells us that few if any people would understand the behaviour I have described, such as coerced debt or non-action such as the refusal to pay the mortgage, as stalking. This remains the case despite the fact that the recently updated statutory guidance on stalking protection orders includes economic abuse as a form of stalking. SEA rightly describes this approach as misguided.
Clear labelling is essential to criminal law. Naming economic abuse as stalking, a completely different type of abusive behaviour, is simply confusing. Indeed, on the basis of past experience, it is quite likely that there would be judicial resistance to convicting under stalking legislation a defendant who has committed economic abuse. I fear it would do nothing to address the situation of those women who have told me they have not been able to turn to the law to stop the abuse they are suffering, or that of the victim in a SEA case study of post-separation economic abuse who was told by police that the abuse could not be prosecuted because the perpetrator had left her—one of many examples it has received.
Secondly, Mr Chalk seemed to suggest that the amendment is unnecessary because the new statutory definition of domestic abuse in the Bill includes ex-partners and does not include a living together requirement. But surely it makes sense, again in the interests of clarity, to have consistency between this legislation and the legislation on coercive control, given that economic abuse is a form of coercive control and that the aim of the definition in this Bill is primarily to achieve a common understanding of domestic abuse across government and the public—a point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, and others at Second Reading.
The other argument used to deflect the amendment was that we should await the outcome of a review of the coercive control legislation due to be completed by early autumn; that is, last early autumn, nearly eight months ago. Yet despite an assurance in a Written Answer in November that the intention was to publish it in time to inform our debates, it was disappointing that the Minister responded by saying that we would not receive it until before Report, which is late in the day to say the least. I quite understand that the pandemic will have delayed things, but surely that could have been predicted when an early autumn completion was prayed in aid in the Commons.
The Government acknowledge that there is a real problem here. Their arguments against using this legislation to solve the problem are unconvincing. I do not understand why they are so reluctant to accept an amendment that is very much in the spirit of the Bill and without which the milestone step represented by its recognition of economic abuse could be seriously hobbled. The amendment is supported by the domestic abuse commissioner designate and a wide range of organisations on the ground. I beg to move.
A large number of noble Lords wish to speak on this group. We have a number of amendments to get through before the Committee rises at midnight. While of course there are no speaking limits, perhaps I may appeal for conciseness and brevity from noble Lords. That will assist us in making as much progress as possible before we rise later tonight.
My Lords, before speaking to my Amendment 157 in this group, I want to express my strong support for my noble friend Lady Lister in her Amendment 149, which she has argued for so persuasively just now. My amendment is concerned with family abuse, particularly that suffered by elderly people and disabled victims. I am glad to have the strong support of the noble Baronesses, Lady Burt, Lady Mansoor and Lady Greengross. The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, has been an extraordinary campaigner for older people and years ago was bringing the problem of abuse being suffered by older people to national and international attention. The noble Baroness, Lady Mansoor, cannot be with us today because of a pressing engagement, but she is a strong and enthusiastic supporter of the amendment.
Our concern is that when it comes to domestic abuse, family victims are repeatedly, even continually, being forgotten. The only explanation I can think of is that elderly and disabled victims of family abuse who are dependent on their abusers are in general unable or afraid to speak out. To my mind, this should make the coverage of family abuse by Section 76 a high legislative priority. The offence of controlling or coercive behaviour under Section 76 covers such behaviour by a family member, including financial abuse, but only when they are living with their victim. According to research, most perpetuators of financial abuse against elderly people were family members rather than partners, and only 25% actually live with their victims. I believe that the UK criminal law must afford victims equal protection, irrespective of their place of residence. As Gary FitzGerald, the former CEO of Action on Elder Abuse for 18 years, has stated:
“Older women can have a higher level of physical, emotional and particularly financial dependence on perpetrators, and will often have experienced the abuse for a much greater period of time. It is those psychological and emotional relationships that are crucial in considering coercive control, much more so than whether or not the victim is living with the perpetrator.”
Material published by Action on Elder Abuse shows that financial abuse can involve victims’ houses being sold or taken without their consent, or victims giving their property away under pressure or without full awareness.
The outcome of financial abuse on older people can be devastating. Many lose large sums of money, lose property that they have lived in for years, do not receive benefits to which they are entitled, incur large debts, or simply do not have enough money to live on. Many of the alleged perpetrators of large-scale financial abuse do not deny having access to or spending large amounts of money belonging to a particular older person. They merely contend that the older person gave them permission to spend the money in question, but the vulnerability of the victims means that they are often unable to categorically deny that such permission was given. The likelihood of such cases being progressed through to a satisfactory outcome, full recovery of assets and a criminal prosecution of the perpetrator remains low. Caroline Abrahams, the charity director of Age UK, has urged the Government,
“to give serious consideration to any amendment that will improve outcomes for older victims and survivors.”
Becki Meakin, general manager of Shaping Our Lives, the national user-led organisation for disabled people, has said:
“The high incidence of violence and abuse among disabled people is related to being dependent on their family and informal networks for care and support. These caring relationships provide additional opportunities for perpetrators to abuse and coercively control. The perpetrator can coercively control the disabled person by withholding essential support such as food, medication or prevent them going out independently. This type of abuse can be done by a family member wherever they live and this type of coercive control would not be easily recognised by the legislation around stalking” and harassment.
In her opening speech, my noble friend Lady Lister argued that it is wrong to say that post-separation economic abuse can be covered by stalking and harassment legislation, as the Government have done both in Committee in the Commons and at Second Reading. I agree with my noble friend that this is by no means sufficient.
We really need to take action on this now. Controlling or coercive behaviour, including financial abuse, does not become stalking or harassment simply because the victim does not live with their abuser.
My Lords, I strongly support Amendment 149, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, for the reasons that she has set out so cogently.
Everyone, including the Government, recognises that post-separation economic abuse exists and is serious. Its full seriousness has been well documented by Surviving Economic Abuse, to whose work I also pay warm tribute. Along with others, I drew attention to this evidence at Second Reading, and it has been very ably set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister.
It can be summarised very briefly in two points. First, 95% of abused women experience economic abuse, as a result of which 60% of abused women are left in debt. Secondly, one in four abused women continues to experience economic abuse even after they have left their abuser. Economic abuse does not require physical proximity: it continues and/or escalates after a couple separates. It can also begin after the separation, when an abuser’s opportunity to continue other forms of controlling and coercive behaviour has been removed and when the only way left is through access to their former partner’s resources.
Vivid examples of the ways in which economic abuse can continue, escalate or even begin, as a form of coercive control, have been given by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and there is no need to repeat them. In short, as one abused woman put it:
“He can’t physically get me, he can’t emotionally hurt me, and yet still, economically he can cripple me.”
However, despite this overwhelming evidence, the Government have, up to now, resisted having post-separation economic abuse in the Bill, on the grounds that such abuse can be captured by a harassment or stalking order—and this is indeed theoretically possible.
However, if you told someone you happened to meet in the street that this was what was being proposed by the Government, they would find it very strange indeed. Stalking brings to mind something quite different from economic abuse. As SEA has rightly put it:
“Clear labelling is the primary function of the criminal law—clarity is essential in order for the criminal law to fulfil its preventative function.”
If people are asked to abide by the law, they need to be clear what it says. As the person in the street would say, words should mean what they say. As such, it is quite clear that, from the point of view of clarity for public order and the public good, we need to include this in the Bill.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, mentioned, it is entirely possible that judicial resistance to convicting a defendant of stalking under the Protection from Harassment Act where there is evidence of economic abuse but not of stalking would mean that it simply would not go through. Quite simply, we should call things by their proper name. I very much hope that the Government continue to reflect on this issue and that they will see that it makes total sense to include this amendment in the Bill, where it properly belongs.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, for so clearly and comprehensively introducing her amendment. Amendment 149 would insert a new clause that seeks to extend the protection from any coercive and controlling behaviour that occurs post-separation. The noble Baroness concentrated on economic abuse, but that is not the only form of ongoing abuse.
I was in a relationship that became increasingly abusive over a period of five years. The first time I noticed something was happening was when a friend, a former partner, sent me a birthday card. When I explained who it was from, my then partner tore it up and threw it in the bin. His controlling and coercive behaviour continued and got worse, and he eventually resorted to physical violence. When we split up, he threatened to kill me and threatened to write to my employer to try to destroy my career. I continued to live in fear of what he might do until, 18 months after we had split up, he colluded with a Sunday tabloid newspaper to expose intimate details of our private life, including making public my HIV status, as well as making false allegations that the newspaper eventually admitted were libellous. Fighting the issue in the courts would have resulted in me losing everything if I had lost that case. His actions did not amount to harassment or stalking.
Coercive and controlling behaviour can continue long after separation, with victims of domestic abuse continuing to live in fear of what the perpetrator might do next, and the law needs to reflect this. Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 applies only if the perpetrator and victim are in an intimate relationship or if they live together. This amendment would ensure that it would apply to all those who are “personally connected” as defined by Clause 2 of this Bill, whether they live together or not. As such, it would also include the circumstances that Amendment 157 seeks to cover, where a relative is exerting controlling or coercive behaviour, whether or not they live together.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, explained, his amendment is specifically aimed at protecting older and disabled family members. I strongly support Amendment 149 and welcome the focus which Amendment 157 brings to the abuse of older and disabled family members.
My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in this important debate; he speaks movingly and powerfully on this issue. I support Amendment 157, for which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt set out the argument very well, but I will speak primarily in support of Amendment 149, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, to which I have also put my name. I also wish to thank her for all of her work in this area, and for eloquently speaking to this amendment, setting out in forensic detail why it is needed.
David Challen, son of Sally Challen, wrote movingly today in the Times. He said that leaving an abuser can be the most defining moment of a victim’s life. The fear of what will happen when they separate from their abuser is often overcome by an instinct of survival and the hope that they will be protected. However, as the law stands on coercive and controlling behaviour, victims who leave are not protected.
It is obvious that coercive control does not end when a relationship does and that very often the exact opposite happens, and the abuse escalates. As many noble Lords have said, this is particularly true of economic abuse, which does not require physical proximity to perpetrate, but can have a crippling effect on victims as their abuser seeks to make their life as hard and as financially unstable as possible. We also need to remember how often children are caught up in the continuation of this kind of abuse, with child maintenance very often being turned off and on like a tap. It is therefore absolutely right that the definition of domestic abuse in this Bill will include economic abuse and also recognises that the abuse can continue when the couple split up. We now need to take this opportunity, as others have said, to amend the Serious Crime Act 2015 to bring coercive control in line with the far better drafting of this Bill.
Not accounting for post-separation abuse is a serious shortcoming of the offence. Given that separation, as we have heard from other noble Lords, is a time at which women are at heightened risk of homicide, this shortcoming is dangerous, too. The Government made the point that existing legislation on stalking and harassment already addresses post-separation abuse. Like others, I absolutely do not accept that. These crimes are not the same and to suggest otherwise shows a lack of understanding about all these offences. I also do not believe that the Government’s outstanding report on controlling and coercive behaviour should stand in the way of this vital opportunity before us.
If the law on coercive control stays as it is, what kind of signal do we send to victims? It is this: “Stay put and we can charge him, but if you leave, we can’t touch him.” This makes no sense at all and must change. Failing to recognise that these abusive behaviours can occur post separation creates a dangerous gap in our understanding of this crime and would leave too many victims without the proper justice they deserve.
My Lords, I support this group of amendments and specifically wish to speak to Amendment 157, to which I have added my name. Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 covers coercive or controlling behaviours by family members who live with their victims; this amendment would ensure that this is broadened to include those family members who reside at a different address.
As I outlined at Second Reading, many older people suffer from domestic abuse, which all too often goes unreported. Until very recently, the ONS did not collect data for those aged 75 and over in the national crime survey. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the ONS has stopped asking questions around sensitive topics including domestic abuse and sexual assault, so it will not be until sometime after the pandemic that the ONS will start publishing data on the abuse of older people.
From the information we do have, however, we know that the abuse of older people is often committed by family members and victims can be reluctant to report this. In cases where parents are abused by their children, they often feel that the abuse reflects on them as parents—and indeed it might. The Metropolitan Police and other UK police forces have said that this is a significant factor in the underreporting of abuse against older people.
The organisation Hourglass, formerly Action on Elder Abuse, which I originally set up with the help of the Department of Health and of which I am a patron, has a helpline to support older people who are victims of abuse. The most frequent perpetrators recorded by the helpline are sons and daughters, making up 30% of all calls in 2019 and 38% of calls in the first six months of the pandemic, from March to September 2020.
Abuse against older people, like abuse against people of any age, takes many forms, as we know. Hourglass reports that, in 2019, 40% of calls to its abuse helpline involved financial abuse. Very often, this form of abuse is carried out by family members who do not reside at the same address as the victim.
One way this financial abuse occurs is through the use of technology and the digital exclusion of older people. In June 2020, the International Longevity Centre UK, of which I am chief executive, published a paper entitled Straddling the Divide, which highlighted the issues that many older people face with digital exclusion during the Covid-19 pandemic. The report found that, in the UK,
“around 11.9 million people lack the digital skills they need for everyday life.”
It also found that
“only 47% of adults aged 75 years and over recently used the internet.”
At a time when older people have been told to stay home and shield, many have not been able to go to the bank as they have in the past. More than ever before, many now rely on others to manage their finances online. Very often, this is done by a close family member and sadly, as we know, this can lead to financial abuse.
Such abuse is often coupled with controlling and coercive behaviours by the perpetrator where other forms of abuse, such as physical or psychological abuse, are not used. It is crucial that the offence of controlling or coercive behaviours by family members includes those not residing with the victim, as this would strengthen the law in protecting against the abuse of older people—which, I hope all noble Lords agree, is a serious and often urgent issue that must be resolved as a matter of urgency.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. I pay heartfelt and fulsome tribute to her for all her tireless work for older people. There is much to commend in Amendments 149 and 157 in this group, but I will direct my remarks to Amendment 149; I pay particular tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and her co-signers for introducing it.
The mental anguish and emotional strain of this form of abuse, continuing post separation, is worthy of our attention this evening. I thank the charities such as Refuge, Surviving Economic Abuse—known as SEA—and others that have brought this issue to our attention in the context of this Bill. The figures brought forward in research undertaken by Refuge suggest that 53% of survivors of economic abuse said that it stopped after they had separated from their partner.
However, the controlling and coercive behaviour offence does not cover abuse that occurs when couples are no longer in a relationship or living together, so there are strong arguments for bringing in the type of behaviour so eloquently outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, in moving this amendment. In paying tribute to the work of these charities and the many who have suffered abuse, we should look at the inconsistencies and at closing the loophole in the present laws. My starting point is that, now that economic abuse is being recognised in the context of the Domestic Abuse Bill, it makes sense to bring this type of coercive behaviour within the remit of the Bill.
In responding to the powerful arguments put forward in this debate, if my noble friend the Minister cannot adopt the amendments before the House, I hope that she will look kindly on bringing forward amendments from the department and in her own words to ensure that the inconsistencies identified in this amendment are brought to an end and that this type of abuse, the forms taken and its pervasiveness—this abuse can continue long after separation—are brought to a timely end. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for moving this amendment. I believe that it is worthy of the attention of the House, and that this type of behaviour is unacceptable and should be brought within the remit of this Bill. If that does not happen this evening, I hope that my noble friend will look favourably on bringing forward on Report a form of words that we can all unite around.
My Lords, given the excellent speeches that have already been made in support of these two amendments, I can be brief in supporting Amendment 149. The noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Burt, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, have all made a cogent case for aligning the definition in Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 of those to be protected from coercive control with the much better and wider definition in the current Bill, so that victims of coercive control are protected post separation.
As I said at Second Reading, my interest in this issue arises from my experience as patron of a domestic abuse charity in Norfolk which helps support women and men who have left abusive relationships to rebuild their lives and their confidence. The work it does has made me very aware of the destructive effect ex-partners can have, even from a distance and long after separation.
Together with that experience, as others have said, I am grateful for all the briefing we have received from various organisations and charities. My particular gratitude goes to Cassandra Wiener from the University of Sussex, for having so clearly set out the way coercive and controlling behaviour, particularly—but not exclusively—economic abuse, can continue after the abusive partner has left; indeed, how the act of leaving itself can be a trigger for increasing the abusive behaviour, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, so powerfully described in his very brave and moving speech.
The argument that the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 is the appropriate way to deal with a problem that the Government themselves recognise is simply not acceptable. Earlier, reference was made to the need to beware of adding baubles to a legislative Christmas tree. This amendment is no bauble. It goes to the roots of this legislation: the aim that we should provide comprehensive protection for all victims of all forms of domestic abuse from all types of that abuse. I urge the Government to support it.
My Lords, we have heard excellent speeches this evening, so I do not want to cover what has already been so excellently spoken to in the Chamber. I support Amendment 149 and I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for bringing this to the Committee. As the Victims’ Commissioner for over seven years, I met many survivors and victims of economic abuse. To sit side by side with someone and listen to their experience of abuse or, if not an abusive relationship, the use of coercive control to persecute them financially is a heart-breaking situation when your hands are tied.
I am very grateful, as many noble Lords have said, for lots of briefing but especially to Surviving Economic Abuse. Its briefing was outstanding, and I would like to highlight just some points as I know it is going to be a long night. One in four women reports experiencing economic abuse after leaving the abuser. In fact, given that economic abuse does not require physical proximity, as we have heard, it commonly continues, escalates and in some cases may begin after separation. This creates a significant barrier to the victim rebuilding their life. This is an horrendous attitude—the way that abusers absolutely pincer their victims.
To help people fully understand, I will quote a case study from Surviving Economic Abuse in support of this amendment. It says:
“Layla was married for over 20 years and has three children. Her husband was controlling and coercive throughout the marriage both economically and emotionally, pressurising her to transfer money to his bank account and forcing her to let him use the credit card she had in her sole name. He ran up debt on her credit card and, after separation, forced her to release hundreds of thousands of pounds of equity from the mortgage. Layla continues to pay debts he has put in her name, including bank loans of £70,000.”
We are not talking pocket money here. These are huge amounts that prevent victims repairing their lives.
It is so important that this amendment is made to the Domestic Abuse Bill as other Peers have covered other sections of the Serious Crime Act. More importantly, this would send a message to other abusers in relationships where a divorce is sought and coercive control carries on and on through the financial settlement while, to the victim’s cost, the debt escalates and escalates. I know this from the personal experience of friends, victims and survivors. We have to ensure that we make this amendment to the Bill to send a message that this is taken seriously, and to empower victims by ensuring that they know that we support them, listen to them and will help protect them from the people who cause them to go into debt.
My Lords, I support Amendment 149, as so excellently moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, who I warmly congratulate on all her work in this area. Amendment 149 relates to the abuse perpetrated after people have separated. I too thank Surviving Economic Abuse for its excellent work and briefing.
Economic abuse after separation can particularly affect older women, many of whom have been financially dependent on a partner who traditionally managed the family’s finances and then, after they have stopped living together, continues to try to withhold money or run up debts in the woman’s name, without her realising it in time. I also support Amendment 157, spoken to so well by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, which relates to the problem of abuse suffered by older people generally. They can suffer many different types of abuse. Further, I add my support to Amendment 171, which looks at carers and the abuse that can be perpetrated against elderly or disabled victims; this need to be covered as well.
As my noble friend Lord Cormack has said, the Domestic Abuse Bill is a ground-breaking, landmark piece of legislation. It contains some important measures to ensure that the statutory definition of domestic abuse is really wide-ranging. Amendment 149 seeks to ensure that this legislation is clearly consistent with other legislation. The Domestic Abuse Bill is an ideal avenue to address inconsistency with the Serious Crime Act 2015, and to extend the current offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in Section 6 of that Act to ensure that it covers abuse post separation.
Currently, Section 76 limits this offence to those situations where the perpetrator and victim are either in an intimate relationship with each other or living together as either members of the same family or having previously been an intimate relationship. Under the 2015 Act, the two people have to meet the definition of being personally connected, but this would exclude two individuals who are no longer in an intimate relationship or living together.
Without the changes in these amendments, abusive behaviours such as economic abuse by one partner towards the other cannot necessarily fall within the existing offence of controlling or coercive behaviour. This is a crucial gap in the law, which Amendment 149 seeks to close by unequivocally making the 2015 Act and the definitions in this Bill consistent, so that abuse perpetrated when people are not living together can still be counted as a criminal offence. Indeed, if this amendment is accepted, my own Amendment 168, debated on the first day in Committee, will automatically be covered.
Existing legislation on stalking and harassment is not suitable to address post-separation abuse, and I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify to the Committee that the Government support the aims of this amendment and, if they do not accept these words, may come forward with their own wording on Report that can ensure that the coercive control offence will be brought into the criminal law in line with the statutory definition of domestic abuse to remove the current anomaly, so that victims need wait no longer for this much-needed protection. Whether this is about controlling or coercive behaviour, alienating behaviour or other forms of abuse, the criminal law will then be able to catch up with the more enlightened understanding of domestic abuse enshrined in the Bill.
My Lords, I, too, offer my support for Amendment 149 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. I also heard compelling arguments from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, for their Amendment 157.
With regard to Amendment 149, we have heard some very compelling arguments this evening. Indeed, there has been unanimity thus far, and I expect that to continue. This proposal was the primary subject of my remarks at Second Reading. As we have heard, the protection afforded by Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act is limited by the residency requirement it contains. I completely agree with earlier speakers—indeed, it is self-evident—that victims can still be extremely vulnerable to abuse from their former partners even if they are not living together under the same roof. Research from bodies including the University of Sussex has reinforced the nature of this threat. They are concerned, quite rightly in my view, that this discrepancy creates a perverse disincentive for victims physically to leave their former partners.
Fortunately we have the solution to this problem staring at us from the Domestic Abuse Bill before us this evening. The enhanced definition of connected persons in Clause 2 does not have this residency requirement, as we have heard. Therefore, it seems entirely logical to harmonise the law between these two statutes. The clearer the law, the better, and there is no room for two competing definitions on the statute book. We need to choose the most effective one, and in my view that is the one contained in Clause 2. This is really extremely difficult to argue against, given that the Government have come forward with a new definition that is based on the lessons learned in the intervening five years. Why this should not be applied in these circumstances would be a difficult argument to make. So the issue is really as straightforward as that and, not surprisingly, the amendment has had a great deal of support to date both inside the House and externally, and I add my support.
The Bill has the potential to do so much good, and the Government should be warmly applauded for having brought it forward. Making the change proposed in this amendment would add further to those benefits. As I mentioned at Second Reading, we are fortunate enough to have a Minister with us this evening who is an expert in this field, and I very much look forward to my noble friend’s response after she has heard the arguments put forward this evening.
My Lords, I rise to speak in support of Amendment 149 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and other noble Lords who have signed it. I thank them for bringing this to the attention of the Committee and I wholeheartedly support this amendment on post-separation abuse, including economic abuse. It is tragic that so many women continue to be abused even after separation. They have done the right thing—left, escaped, moved or fled—but somehow the plague of abuse continues in other forms. It does not require physical contact, and for some victims this form of abuse only starts after they have left. It is another barrier to escape when they have surely suffered enough. It is widespread: one in four women reports experiencing economic abuse after separation. Most alarmingly, it is post-separation when women are at heightened risk of homicide.
Perhaps most tragically of all, the current law offers inadequate protection, and this amendment would begin to correct that. Currently, we are in the absurd position that many post-separation offences would be a crime only if they occurred before separation. In the words of one Crown Court judge:
“If you have had the strength to leave—we are suddenly not supporting those people? They have got the legislation wrong.”
There are a few important legislative issues to consider. The first is that the Serious Crime Act definition of coercive control does not cover post-separation abuse. Therefore, once this Bill passes, there will be an anomaly in the law, both within English statute and across the United Kingdom, since it is covered in Scotland. The amendment in the other place was withdrawn because of an ongoing government review into the offence of coercive behaviour. This would seem a compelling reason, but I do not think it reason enough to ignore this amendment. The review in question does not look specifically at economic abuse and, since it is concerned only with the current application of the law, which does not recognise economic abuse, it is unlikely to do the issue any justice. Therefore, the review should not stand as a barrier to the acceptance of this amendment.
Finally, it has been argued that victims of abuse can be protected under existing legislation concerning stalking, since statutory guidance has been updated to include economic abuse. But, practically speaking, this is unlikely to be effective. The guidance given to police officers when drawing up stalking protection orders does not include economic abuse provision. Indeed, it is not clear how it could. I therefore believe there is a clear and compelling case for accepting this amendment. The evidence that economic abuse is a crime has been accepted by all, as evidenced by the debate and continued passage of this Bill. It is now a question of offering every possible legal protection, consistently and universally, for the very brave victims of this awful crime. This amendment does that and has my unqualified support.
My Lords, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, who is next on the list, has already spoken and inadvertently appears a second time. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has withdrawn. I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Verma.
My Lords, I am very supportive of Amendment 149. I would like to put it in the context of how I see this: supporting women from BAME communities in particular, where they are separated from their families and yet the coercive behaviour continues, not just by one perpetrator but by many family members, in particular with regard to the economics of abuse or the way they poison—and I say “poison” very strongly—the minds of children against the victims and survivors. We need to have something in place that supports women. I concentrate on BAME women because I feel that they are probably those who least know how to access the services that are available and how to utilise the law as it currently stands. We need to make sure that they have as much protection as possible and are able to access it.
I know my noble friend will take away the serious implications of the amendment, particularly for the women I am trying to focus on. I feel, as other noble Lords have said very eloquently, that this is something that is critical and missing in an important piece of our legislative framework.
My Lords, I support Amendments 149 and 157. I am very well aware of the time and shall keep this short. Victims of domestic abuse who escape the perpetrator need protection in circumstances already set out so well by other speakers—and not exclusively, I have to say, in situations of economic abuse. However, to look at economic abuse, as a family judge financial dispute cases post-divorce came before me which undoubtedly came within the framework of economic abuse. They were very difficult to resolve because those who had perpetrated this economic abuse were usually very clever in managing to prevent adequate financial relief for the spouse. However, it is absurd to suggest that the CPS would be likely to prosecute these sorts of cases as issues of harassment. Possibly it would, but I would be astonished if it did or, indeed, if the police brought them to the attention of the CPS.
As I said, I also support Amendment 157. It is broader than has been suggested and, in my view, it includes teenagers who are being forced into marriage by family members who do not necessarily live under the same roof. An example would be uncles or brothers who have already left home, but they are as abusive and dangerous to the teenager being forced into marriage as those who live under the same roof.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lords and to listen to their powerful and compelling speeches. I am pleased to speak to Amendment 149. It is vital that post-separation abuse is recognised within this Domestic Abuse Bill, as the controlling and coercive behaviour offence only recognises victims who live with an abuser or who are in an intimate relationship with them. That cannot be right. Leaving a controlling relationship is very dangerous, as many survivors know. It is too easy to assume that once a victim has left their abuser, that abuse stops. In too many cases it is just the opposite and economic abuse is rarely used in isolation, as victims still suffer from other forms of abuse, which forces them to abide by their abusers with unreasonable demands placed on them. All the while, they desperately want to keep themselves and their children safe.
As one victim said, it is like an invisible chain: it goes on and on. That is because their abuser does not even have to know where their victim is. As a result, it puts them at an even greater risk of homicide during this period. The resulting outcome is that it prevents a victim from moving on with their lives. They feel that they can never be free. This new clause would ensure that those victims who were previously personally connected are protected from any coercive or controlling behaviour occurring post separation. This is a one-step opportunity within this Domestic Abuse Bill to change the law and save lives.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 149. It took us a long time to recognise coercive control, but now that we have, we have come a long way very quickly. The term “coercive control” has entered our vernacular; as mentioned in an earlier debate, “The Archers” centred a major story line on it, as did “Coronation Street”. That might sound trivial, but it is not, because with each storyline, society’s understanding grows and what was once considered acceptable is not any longer.
The Government should be proud of the part they have played in reaching this point. When Theresa May introduced the offence of coercive and controlling behaviour in 2015, England and Wales became the first countries in the world to recognise and criminalise this behaviour. With the Bill we are leading the world again by including economic abuse in the first legal definition of domestic abuse. Again, we are ahead of the curve.
When the Government launched consultation on the Bill in March 2018, LBC ran a phone-in discussing economic abuse. A woman called in. She had been suffering from emotional abuse and was also suffering from financial abuse without knowing it was a recognised behaviour. After listening to the show, the woman admitted she was now considering leaving her husband, saying: “I’ve always hidden it: ‘It’s all me; it’s all me.’ Now I realise it’s not all me. I’ve been going through this for quite some time, but I didn’t realise this was an issue”. This is just one example but it shows the very real impact of this Bill and how it is already forging that better understanding and, in so doing, providing better protection for victims—but it can provide better protection for many more victims if it accepts this amendment to include post-separation abuse in controlling and coercive behaviour rather than relying on stalking legislation in which it does not fit easily as a stand-alone offence.
I appreciate that my noble friend has said that we must wait for the outcome of the Home Office review and that this will be published by Report. I sincerely hope the findings will in fact cover this issue for, if we do not address this, we will be letting down all those victims, who we know exist and who continue to suffer even when they have summoned up the courage to leave their abusive partner. If we do that, I am afraid we will have renounced our leading role in this area.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, and other noble Lords for bringing Amendment 149, and to Surviving Economic Abuse. I support both Amendments 149 and 157 and am particularly keen to support Amendment 149 on post-separation economic control.
In an earlier discussion, we had the debate about universal credit and other benefits and the need to ensure the victim can have the financial wherewithal to leave the abuser by making split payments the default position. I hope the Government will be kindlier disposed towards this amendment, which covers a whole aspect of abuse not yet covered in UK law.
As we have heard, the crime of domestic abuse as set out in the Serious Crime Act 2015 does not cover post-separation abuse. Amendment 149 rectifies this. I do not need to add further to the examples that have already been given by other noble Lords, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, to make the point of how serious and all-pervasive to the life of the victim this can be.
A number of noble Lords have mentioned the amendment to tackle post-separation abuse that was tabled in Committee in the Commons. The Minister, Alex Chalk, acknowledged that the charity Surviving Economic Abuse had done an “important public service” in raising the issue. However, the amendment was withdrawn in Committee due to assurances regarding an ongoing government review into controlling or coercive behaviour, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. We still await the review. It is now promised before Report, and I hope this Minister will not use the same reason for not allowing this amendment. Even better, we would love to see the Government bring their own amendment on Report.
We really need this. One Crown Court judge estimated that without something of this nature, the legislation would be missing 50% or 60% of the people who need to be protected. This is a great Bill, but it will still fail victims—even after they have summoned the courage to escape and even when they thought they had finally got their lives back—if we do not tackle this vitally important group.
Amendment 157 was ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and I have added my name to it. It tackles coercive and controlling behaviour by a relative, whether or not they reside with the victim. As the noble Lord has said, only 25% do. The definition still applies, even if they are no longer in an intimate relationship but still reside together. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, raised the issue of forced marriage, and the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, mentioned other members of the girl’s or woman’s family who do not toe the family line and the way that their life can be poisoned as a result. This amendment therefore widens the definition of controlling and coercive behaviour to ensure that these relationships are still defined as domestic abuse and can be prosecuted as such. I hope that the Government give it favourable consideration.
I will just pick up on a point that was made by my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett and the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull. It concerns what was said during the debate on this or a similar amendment in the Commons, when the Government used an argument to deflect the amendment to the effect that we should await the outcome of the review of coercive control legislation due to be completed by “early autumn”. Last autumn was being referred to. It now appears that we might receive some further information—I hope, the outcome of the review—before Report. No doubt the Minister will confirm that or otherwise when she responds.
The point I want to make is that this is far from the first amendment on a key domestic abuse issue that the Government have told us at some stage that they cannot accept because they are awaiting the outcome of a review, pilot scheme or mapping exercise. That suggests that they know that there are real problems that need addressing but have not determined how in time for the Bill. The Bill has already been a long time on its still-unfinished journey to becoming an Act. I am not sure that this is a satisfactory situation. So often we are told that an amendment is unacceptable because there is a review, pilot scheme or mapping exercise outstanding.
My name is attached to Amendment 149 which, as expected, was moved so comprehensively and persuasively by my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett. It adds a new clause, which would ensure that those who were previously personally connected are protected from any coercive and controlling behaviour, including economic abuse, that occurs post separation. As we have heard, economic abuse makes the victim dependent on the perpetrator and limits their choices and ability to move. One in five women in the UK reports having experienced economic abuse from a current or former intimate partner, and 95% of domestic abuse victims report that they have suffered economic abuse. It is widespread.
Through economic exploitation, the perpetrator looks to benefit from the victim’s economic resources and, in so doing, sabotage their economic independence. The perpetrator may also build up debt in the victim’s name through coercion or fraud, or even steal or damage the victim’s property, which then has to be replaced. Building up debt in the victim’s name is common and leaves the victim struggling to live with it thereafter. When this happens, the impact on the victim’s economic well-being is hugely destabilising and limits their choices post separation. Economic safety underpins physical safety, and building an independent life can, for many victims of economic abuse, feel impossible. I will not continue further. I had some more points to make, but I know that time is pressing and I am sure that they have already been made.
I conclude by saying that we support Amendment 149, which addresses the deficiency that I referred to earlier: that the post-separation situation is not covered and that currently, victims of economic abuse post-separation are unable to seek justice. We also support the objectives of Amendment 157, which was introduced by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for setting out the case for their amendments, which seek to extend the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for tabling his amendment, which seeks to repeal the so-called carer’s defence. I join others in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and all the work that she has done in this area. I am grateful, too, to my noble friend Lady Verma, for pointing out the very particular problems faced by some BAME ladies. My noble friend Lady Sanderson illustrated so well how society, including notable broadcasters, has, over time, got to grips with an understanding of coercive control and the terrible harm it causes.
I will address Amendments 149 and 157 before turning to Amendment 171. Amendment 149 seeks to remove the current requirement in the offence of living together in the case of former partners as well as family members. Amendment 157 seeks to remove the current requirement in the offence of living together in the case of relatives who are perpetrating abuse but who do not live with their victim.
Controlling or coercive behaviours are an insidious form of domestic abuse that have long-term debilitating effects on victims and survivors. Such behaviours, intended to harm, punish and frighten, can be perpetrated within intimate and family abusive relationships. The offence of controlling or coercive behaviour applies, as it stands, to those who are personally connected. That means that it applies to intimate partners regardless of whether they live together, ex-partners who live together, or family members who live together. The offence does not currently apply to ex-partners or family members who do not live together. The rationale behind this is that there are other criminal offences—stalking and harassment—that may be used to prosecute controlling or coercive behaviours post separation, or in cases where family members do not live together. Indeed, the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour was specifically introduced to close a gap in the law with regard to abuse by intimate partners or family members in the same household.
Turning to surviving economic abuse, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, along with other noble Lords and domestic abuse organisations, rightly highlight that controlling or coercive behaviour often begins, continues or intensifies when the victim and perpetrator no longer live together. They further argue that the stalking and harassment offences are not specifically designed to prosecute this sort of behaviour. Supporters of this amendment also make the point that controlling or coercive behaviour occurs between family members who do not live together, an example being adult children who inflict economic abuse on their elderly parents. Furthermore, as my noble friend Lord Goschen pointed out, the new statutory definition of domestic abuse includes ex-partners among those defined as personally connected and does not have a “living together” requirement. Therefore, an amendment to the controlling or coercive behaviour offence could be seen as conforming to the definition in Part 1 of the Bill.
There are convincing arguments on either side of this debate, and the case for change is not clear-cut. The offence of controlling or coercive behaviour has been in force for just over five years. Consequently, there is only limited evidence on which to build a case for amending the legislation. Given its relative newness, there is also work to be done to further embed the offence throughout the criminal justice system.
Additionally, though not specifically designed to cover controlling or coercive behaviours, the stalking and harassment offence is broad enough that it may apply to post-separation abuse. This includes forms of economic abuse so rightly highlighted by Surviving Economic Abuse. It is also worth noting that the stalking and harassment offence has a maximum sentence of 10 years, whereas for controlling or coercive behaviour it is five years.
The Government are committed to ensuring that any changes to legislation are made on a sound evidential basis. To support this, in 2018 we committed to conducting a review into the controlling or coercive behaviour offence. Though the Home Office has made good progress with the review, it has been unavoidably delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has necessitated refocusing our efforts to support victims throughout this difficult time. We will be publishing the review findings ahead of Report. As the case for change here is not clear-cut, we will continue to consider the evidence for and against change, including the review into the offence, ahead of Report. In coming to a final view, we will reflect very carefully on this debate.
Amendment 171 seeks to repeal what has been labelled by some as the “carer’s defence”, under Section 76(8) to 76(10) of the 2015 Act. This allows for a limited defence where the accused believes that they were acting in the best interests of the victim. The defence is limited as it is not available in cases where the victim fears that violence will be used against them. In addition to believing that he or she was acting in the best interests of the victim, the accused would also need to demonstrate to the court that while their behaviour might have appeared controlling, it was reasonable in all the circumstances of the case. The defence is intended to cover cases where the accused is genuinely acting in the best interests of the victim: for example, if the accused has a caring responsibility for a disabled partner and for medical reasons must compel their partner to take medication or stay at home against their will, for their own protection or well-being. Again, it is important to note that this defence is not available in cases where the victim feared that violence would be used against them.
Supporters of this amendment have put forward three main arguments: first, that it is necessary to protect vulnerable victims who have disabilities or mental health issues from coercion or control; secondly, that the defence has the potential to prolong the abuse of disabled victims and prevent them from accessing equal justice; and, thirdly, that alternative legislation, such as the Mental Capacity Act, may be used by the accused to argue that they were acting in the best interests of the victim. This would render the defence unnecessary. However, the Government consider this defence entirely necessary. There will be specific circumstances in which it is possible that the accused’s behaviour, while it might be considered controlling in a different context, is justified and reasonable given the nature of their caring responsibilities. There is a real risk that, without such a defence, a person may be wrongfully convicted of controlling or coercive behaviour when in fact they were indeed acting in a person’s best interests.
As is the case with all legal defences, it is for the courts and juries to decide merit on a case by case basis, and whether the threshold for the defence has been met or not. There are similar or equivalent defences in Scotland, in Section 6 of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, and in the proposed new domestic abuse offence in Northern Ireland, in Clause 12 of the Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill, which has recently completed its passage through the Northern Ireland Assembly.
In conclusion, while I cannot support Amendment 171, I undertake to consider further Amendments 149 and 157. On that basis, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, it has been a privilege and an honour to move this amendment which has had such great support from across the House and in particular an unusual level of support from the Minister’s own Benches.
We have heard a lot of very strong arguments. I will not go through them, given the time. At present, there is a disincentive for victims of abuse to leave. We have heard about the positions of older and disabled women, children and black and minority ethnic women. We have heard from a former Victims’ Commissioner and a judge, and we have heard the very moving personal experience of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. Almost everyone who spoke dismissed, out of hand, the idea that post-separation abuse, and in particular economic abuse, could be treated as a form of stalking.
I had hoped that, having listened to the debate, the Minister would put up the white flag and basically say that the case had been overwhelmingly put. A number of noble Lords on her own Benches said they hoped she would bring forward her own amendment on Report. But I do welcome the fact that she said she will look again at this. That is progress. But she said there are arguments on both sides. Well, I have heard argument after argument for this amendment, and not one against it. The Minister did not really put an argument, so I look forward to what I hope will be productive discussions between now and Report, and I hope she will take note of the calls that, if she will not accept this amendment, she should bring forward her own amendment on Report.
I will leave it at that. I thank noble Lords again for such strong support for this amendment. But in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw it.
Amendment 149 withdrawn.
Amendments 150 to 154 not moved.