Definition of “personally connected”

Domestic Abuse Bill – in a Public Bill Committee on 9th June 2020.

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Amendment proposed (this day): 48, in clause 2, page 2, line 21, at end insert—

“(ee) one person is a provider of care to the other;”.—

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing amendment 49, in clause 2, page 2, line 34, at end insert—

“‘provider of care’ means any person (‘A’) who provides ongoing emotional, psychological or physical support to another person (‘B’) with the aim of enabling B to live independently, whether or not A is paid for this support;”.

An amendment to ensure a carer of a person with disabilities is included in the definition of “personally connected”.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Just to recap, I was setting out to the Committee that there are many forms of exploitation that can take place in all walks of life. I was giving the example of county line gangs grooming and recruiting young children with, frankly, paltry offers given the price they pay for the items they receive, such as food or a new pair of trainers. The police have been imaginative in dealing with gang leaders, including through prosecution under modern slavery legislation, because they draw out before the court that element of grooming and long-term exploitation and manipulation. I give that just as an example.

I completely understand where the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley is coming from, but we have tried to guard against addressing all forms of exploitative behaviour in the Bill, because we do not want inadvertently to dilute that central golden thread that runs through all of our understanding of domestic abuse: namely, that it is focused around a significant personal relationship, whether as a family member or as a partner. That is the core of the definition. If an unpaid carer is a family member, they will be caught by the definition. If they are a partner—as she said, many people have taken on caring responsibilities in the last couple of months because of the covid-19 crisis—they are covered by the Bill. I would not want anyone to think that carers per se are excluded from the Bill, but we have focused the definition around the central point of the personally connected relationship.

Abuse of disabled people by their carers can be covered by existing legislation. Section 42 of the Care Act 2014 places a duty on local authorities to carry out safeguarding inquiries if they have reason to suspect that an adult in their area with care and support needs is at risk of abuse or neglect. There have been steady overall increases in the number of concerns raised and inquiries conducted under that section. In 2018-19, for concluded section 42 inquiries where a risk was identified, the reported outcome was to have either removed or reduced the risk to the individual in 89% of inquiries, which is an increase of 63% from 2017-18.

The statutory guidance supporting the Care Act also places a duty on local authorities to ensure that the services they commission are safe, effective and of high quality. The Care Quality Commission plays a key monitoring role to ensure that care providers have effective systems to help keep adults safe from abuse and neglect. The offence of ill treatment or wilful neglect provided for in section 20 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 was introduced specifically to tackle the abuse of people who are dependent on care services. In addition, we have introduced tougher inspections of care services by the CQC and made sure that the police, councils and the NHS work together to help vulnerable adults.

The plight of disabled victims of domestic abuse will feature in the statutory guidance. Indeed, there is the national statement of expectations document for local commissioners—we have not discussed it much because it is not strictly on the Bill—through which specialist needs are and will be addressed.

I hope that we have reassured the Committee that we are alive to the risks to people who are disabled. Some carers who fall into the “personally connected” definition will fall foul of the Bill, but for those carers who do not, there is already existing legislation to tackle exploitative behaviour where it transpires. With that, I invite the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I thank the Minister for her thoughtful response. I appreciate what she said about the Care Quality Commission and its coverage, but it would have had absolutely no jurisdiction in the cases I outlined. Disabled victims are telling us that they are experiencing domestic abuse and feel that they are not in the definition. I look forward to the statement of expectations very much; I am pleased to hear that there will be expectations on commissioning in this area, but we want to get these people in the Bill. We will push the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 1 Domestic Abuse Bill — Definition of “personally connected”

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9.

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I beg to move amendment 29, in clause 2, page 2, line 24, at end insert—

“(h) they live, or at the time of the abuse lived, in the same household.”

This amendment would ensure that victims living with an abuser in the same household, for example as a flat share, are considered to be “personally connected”.

This is obviously a broader amendment than that of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley, and I am aware that the Minister has made some response, which I will try to address.

I have two main points. I was on the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill last year and this is one of its recommendations—I will refer to that in a moment. Secondly, “personally connected” is a term that is used in the legislation in Wales and I have found it very interesting—I hope it is interesting for others as well—to make the comparison between the legislation in Wales and that which we are creating here today, and to be aware of how those two pieces of legislation sit together.

The report from the Commission on Justice in Wales, led by Lord John Thomas, came out in October 2019. We have a legislature in Wales alongside the legislation that we make in similar areas in Westminster, and the growing effect of the divergence of legislation needs to be considered, particularly the impact on the ground —on victims and perpetrators. The report from the commission—chaired by Lord John Thomas, previously of the Supreme Court—was commissioned by the Welsh Government, but we should be alert to the effects on justice in Wales, particularly in legislation such as this Bill where we already have legislation in a similar area in Wales, although with a very different effect.

Amendment 29 would insert those who live, or who at the time of the abuse lived, in the same household into the definition of those who are considered to be personally connected. Although we have voted, I was supportive of amendments 48 and 49. As the Bill stands, people who live in the same household but who do not have an intimate relationship are not considered to be personally connected.

There is an interesting golden thread, to use a phrase that has already been picked up on: we are using the phrase domestic abuse, but at the same time we are dealing with relationship abuse and how those two issues sit together, because they evidently do not merge entirely together—nor do they in the concept that we are dealing with here. It is important that we tease out the differentiations and that we do not get caught into assuming that a certain term means one thing when perhaps it means something else. We should be very aware of whether there are individuals we intend to safeguard in the legislation who otherwise fall outside of it.

First, I must say clearly that the purpose of my amendment is not to add into the legislation a requirement for the victim to live in the same household as the perpetrator in order to be protected. Rather, the amendment seeks to ensure that victims of abuse inflicted by a housemate in the same domestic environment as them, which might be a friend, a sibling or a cousin, would be protected in addition to those who are protected here, to ensure that we cover that environment-specific case.

There were relevant recommendations from the Joint Committee; I will just refer to them again, because I think that will enable me to refer to some of the points that the Government have made in the meantime. The Joint Committee recommended that the Government

“reconsider including the ‘same household’ criterion in its definition of relationships within which domestic abuse can occur. This landmark Bill must ensure that no victim of domestic abuse will be denied protection simply because they lack the necessary relationship to a perpetrator with whom they live.”

The Joint Committee recognised that

“abuse of disabled people by their ‘carers’”,

which we discussed earlier,

“often mirrors that seen in the other relationships covered by the Bill. We conclude that abuse by any carer towards the particularly vulnerable group should be included in the statutory definition. We share the concerns of our witnesses, however, that, even with the ‘same household’ criterion included in the definition of ‘personally connected’, paid carers, and some unpaid ones, will be excluded from the definition of domestic abuse.”

The Joint Committee therefore recommended that the Government

“review the ‘personally connected’ clause with the intention of amending it to include a clause which will cover all disabled people and their carers, paid or unpaid, in recognition of the fact this type of abuse occurs in a domestic situation.”

I am aware that the Minister has already referred to some of these matters. She touched on the Care Act 2014; just as an aside, and at the risk of repeating this all the time, I am not sufficiently familiar with the Care Act to be able to disentangle those areas that apply to England and those areas that apply to England and Wales, but I ask her at least to consider whether there are any possible gaps or loopholes in which there could be confusion of expectation. There may well not be, but one of my roles here is to ensure that we have checked that, care being devolved in Wales.

The only other point that I will make in relation to what the Joint Committee raised is the need for consistency of approach. Again, when we refer to previous legislation, or legislation that already exists, one of the alarm bells set off in my mind with this domestic abuse legislation is that what we are attempting to do here is to provide clarity and consistency. We have seen exactly the same issue with the range of sexual abuse offences. The fact that something exists in law does not mean that it is applied consistently across forces or even perhaps across local authorities. We need to be alert to ensure that what is put into this legislation is applicable and is experienced by victims consistently, as is intended. It is important to ensure that.

I have a few further points. As I mentioned earlier, this issue is particularly important when it comes to the victims and potential victims living in Wales, as definitions within Welsh legislation vary from what is included in the Bill. The Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, in its definition of associated people, includes people who live or who have lived in the same household, so a different definition is being applied in Wales.

That is particularly important, since this is something we may well have seen at this time of covid-19 and also with young people, because younger households are much more likely to live in house shares and to rent privately. When all the bedrooms within a single house are occupied—in a terraced house, for example—with everyone sharing a bathroom and kitchen, that is a domestic situation in which abuse may occur. The landlord may well live there. There is a question about whether the legislation is missing something there that we might wish to capture. The 2019 figures from the Office for National Statistics illustrate that people aged between 25 and 34 now account for 35% of households in that sector.

Private renters are more likely to have direct experience of unaffordability, of precarity in their relationship and in how they pay their rent, and of insecurity, particularly at the lower end of the private rental market. Although we cannot know the true extent of financial abuse or coercive control, I fear that those suffering in house shares are not sufficiently protected in the Bill. That situation warrants particular attention.

Housemates, or individuals living in shared accommodation, are covered under the 2015 Act but, as it stands, they would not be protected under the Bill. It is worth considering whether both pieces of legislation complement one another or if we have an overlap up to a point, but not beyond, and if so, whether that inconsistency will result in victims whom we might have intended to protect. The legislation should be as aligned as possible.

We debate the Bill in a context that is a world away from that in which it was first drafted. Looking back to the October draft—I remember discussing it this time last year with the Joint Committee—the world is a very different place now. The pandemic means that people who live with abusive housemates will have to spend more time than ever in the same house, and the places where they could previously spend time apart—cafés, pubs, gyms, other friends’ homes, or workplaces—are not available to them. We may well see a spike in that sort of behaviour, which is exactly the sort that was intended to be captured this time last year, but there is a risk that we are defining it too tightly now. Of course, this applies just as much to carers. Because people have spent far more time in each other’s company, we anticipate that when we come to review it, there will have been a spike in domestic abuse.

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Shadow Minister (Justice) 2:15 pm, 9th June 2020

The right hon. Lady has touched on a contemporary issue that has been happening throughout this crisis. It gives the Committee the opportunity to express our sincere gratitude to the frontline police officers and other statutory bodies who are doing so much to re-tool themselves during the crisis to ensure that they identify potential victims and people who are in danger of suffering domestic abuse, to offer support in really creative ways. We offer them our thanks. Will she join me in imploring the Minister and the enforcement agencies to learn from the experience that has been gained from this crisis, and to look at ways of putting that learning into live enforcement services, so that when we recover, we do not go back to business as usual, but aspire to do better?

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. In the legislation, the considerations will be about how to apply that and how to do so consistently. The training that is available for police officers and other support bodies will be critical. At this time, I beg that we make the legislation as future-proof as possible, because we have experienced something that is different to how the Bill was drafted. We must consider that now; we do not want to be playing catch-up.

To come back to my point, although I entirely understand that there is a debate between what we mean by the location of the abuse—in the household—and relationship abuse, we have found ourselves in our households far more.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

On people who live together, we must not assume that we are talking only about young, trendy people in Brighton who live together in a house share. In my constituency, there are very vulnerable people who live in houses in multiple occupation for years on end, with almost no support from the structure that is meant to support them. Landlords often receive the extra housing benefit without providing any of the support we would hope to see. We are talking about—I see it every day in my constituency—cases of very vulnerable people who may have suffered a pattern of abuse living alongside people who, also because of their vulnerabilities, are very likely to be abusing them.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

That broader awareness of what constitutes a household has been brought home to us in the past few months, as well as the nature of the tensions that can exist in such households. The thing that comes to my mind is younger households where house-sharing is common. One can imagine those are quite small households. But this applies more broadly than that.

If we were to assume that the nature of the coercive or abusive relationship is based on whether there is a sexual relationship between the two individuals in a formal sense, we would close our eyes to the wider experience and we should consider whether we should capture them in this legislation. That also applies where there are informal sexual relationships, which can be imposed on people to a degree in certain household environments.

I am aware that we have already voted on the specific aspect of this in relation to people and their carer. I would be grateful if the Minister would consider our experiences in the past few months and the inherent tension between whether we are looking at this on the basis of household—where someone is physically located—and those people who are intimately related, or whether this is an opportunity to capture a wider question.

Photo of Julie Marson Julie Marson Conservative, Hertford and Stortford

This amendment and the previous amendment speak to a common motivation to protect against an abuse that takes place in our society among many abusers of different relations of the powerful against the weak. I know that we are all motivated by a desire to address that.

I was a magistrate in a general court for several years before specialist domestic abuse courts were even envisaged and came into being. I saw a whole range of different contexts of abuse, but I wanted to be a part of the domestic abuse courts because it spoke to something special: a specific context of abuse based on a very intimate relationship. I do not want to dilute that, because that direction of travel—to have fought so hard to get recognition for domestic abuse as the uniquely invidious and insidious crime that it is—is something I do not want to go against.

While I completely empathise with the desire to prevent abuse wherever we find it, I believe that the direction of travel that is encapsulated in this landmark Bill is where we want to go. That is why I would resist attempts to dilute that aim, context and direction of travel.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd—gosh, I took a deep breath before trying to say that. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford has summed it up beautifully, if I may say so. I absolutely understand the motivation for the right hon. Lady’s amendment.

As we were saying earlier, exploitation takes many forms. I know that the hon. Member for Hove has shone a bright light on the concept of sex for rent. I keep coming back to this golden thread of the relationship. I think everyone understand that that is what the concept of domestic abuse centres around, so that is the approach we have taken with the definition.

We considered the Joint Committee’s recommendations very carefully. Our concern was that including “household” in the definition may have the unintended consequence of diverting people’s attention from those relationships where people do not live together. I am sure we can all think of examples of incredibly abusive relationships in which the two people in that relationship do not happen to live together.

I will give an example: I visited a fantastic women’s centre a month ago, which has independent sexual violence advisers and independent domestic violence advisers working together. The IDVAs could identify certain serial perpetrators in their local area who were in relationships with not one woman, but with several women at the same time. By definition, that perpetrator could not live with all of the women simultaneously, but was visiting them and conducting his abuse against many women at the same time. I am anxious that we do not inadvertently, with absolutely the right intentions, divert people’s attention away from the central purpose of the Act. We have also tried to ensure in clause 2 that where a relationship has ended, that is still considered within the definition, because we are alive to the fact of abuse after a relationship has ended.

Finally, we would not want to broaden the definition to such an extent that it covers areas, such as landlords and tenants, that I do not believe people think of when they think about domestic abuse. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford has said, it has taken us an awfully long time to get to where we are, and I hope we can work on ensuring that victims who are in abusive relationships have our attention and focus. These other forms of exploitation should also have focus—just not in this piece of legislation.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I appreciate the Minister’s response. I am slightly concerned about the fact that she talked about one man with a number of relationships with different people, and then a relationship that is over. There is something slightly contradictory about that.

Because of the times in which we are living through, our awareness of the impact of domestic abuse and the misery caused by it, and the awareness of our police forces, will have changed since this Bill was originally drafted. I therefore leave the Minister with a sincere plea to be alert to the fact that we need to learn on our feet very quickly.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.