Domestic abuse Legislation, policy and guidance

Find out the UK's definition for domestic abuse and a summary of the government legislation, policy and guidance for responding to domestic abuse in each nation.

Official definition

The UK’s cross-government definition of domestic abuse is:

"Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This abuse can encompass but is not limited to

  • psychological
  • physical
  • sexual
  • financial
  • emotional

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 needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday 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.*

*This definition, which is not a legal definition, includes so called ‘honour’ based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage, and is clear that victims are not confined to one gender or ethnic group."

(Home Office, 2013)

Download Information for local areas on the change to the definition of domestic violence and abuse (PDF)

Legislation

Legislation makes it clear what constitutes an offence against a child and states what is an appropriate sentence.

Serious Crime Act 2015 section 76

Created a new offence of “controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship”. The offence came into force in December 2015. It closes a gap in the law around psychological and emotional abuse that stops short of physical abuse. The offence carries a maximum sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment, a fine or both.

View Serious Crime Act 2015 section 76

Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004

Extended provisions to help stop domestic abuse and created the new offence of "causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult". This offence enables prosecutions of people who stay silent or blame someone else.

The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 was amended in 2012 by the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims (Amendment) Act 2012 to include 'causing or allowing serious physical harm (equivalent to grievous bodily harm) to a child or vulnerable adult'

View Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004

View Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims (Amendment) Act 2012

Adoption and Children Act 2002 section 120

Amended the definition of 'harm' in Section 31(9) of the Children Act 1989 to include 'impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another'. This makes witnessing domestic abuse a reason to take action to protect a child from harm. Applies to England and Wales.

View Adoption and Children Act 2002 section 120 

View Children Act 1989 section 31

Family Homes and Domestic Violence (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 section 28 

Inserts section 12a into part 3 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 to include children witnessing domestic abuse as harm: “the court shall consider whether the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering any harm through seeing or hearing ill-treatment of another person by the prohibited person”. This makes witnessing domestic abuse a reason to take action to protect a child from harm.

View Family Homes and Domestic Violence (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 section 28

View Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 Part III

Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 section 24 

Amends section 11 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 to include domestic abuse in the definition of child abuse. This makes witnessing domestic abuse a reason to take action to protect a child from harm.

View the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 section 24

View the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 section 11

Serious Crime Act 2015 section 76

Created a new offence of “controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship”. The offence came into force in December 2015. It closes a gap in the law around psychological and emotional abuse that stops short of physical abuse. The offence carries a maximum sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment, a fine or both.

View Serious Crime Act 2015 section 76

Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004

Extended provisions to help stop domestic abuse and created the new offence of "causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult". This offence enables prosecutions of people who stay silent or blame someone else.

The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 was amended in 2012 by the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims (Amendment) Act 2012 to include 'causing or allowing serious physical harm (equivalent to grievous bodily harm) to a child or vulnerable adult'

View Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004

View Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims (Amendment) Act 2012

Adoption and Children Act 2002 section 120

Amended the definition of 'harm' in Section 31(9) of the Children Act 1989 to include 'impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another'. This makes witnessing domestic abuse a reason to take action to protect a child from harm. Applies to England and Wales.

View Adoption and Children Act 2002 section 120 

View Children Act 1989 section 31

Gender-based Violence, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Bill

This bill was introduced on 30 June 2014 and aims to improve the public sector response in Wales to gender based violence, domestic abuse and sexual violence. It focuses on:

  • improving leadership and accountability
  • improving education and awareness
  • strengthening services in Wales.

View the Gender-based violence, domestic abuse and sexual violence (Wales) Bill 

Policy

The Government for each nation has set out a strategy for tackling domestic abuse.

Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS)

Commonly known as ‘Clare’s law’, this scheme allows individuals to ask the police to check whether a new or existing partner has a violent past (the ‘right to ask’). If police checks show that a person may be at risk of domestic violence from their partner, the police will consider disclosing the information. Following the pilot of the domestic violence disclosure scheme in 4 police areas, the scheme was extended across England and Wales from 8 March 2014. 

Download Domestic violence disclosure scheme guidance (PDF)
(Home Office, 2012)

Download Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) pilot assessment (PDF)
(Home Office, 2013)

Download Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme impact analysis (PDF)
(Home Office, 2013)

Domestic Violence Protection Notices (DVPNs) and Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs)

(Home Office, 2011)

Under this scheme, police and magistrates can prevent a perpetrator from contacting the victim or returning to their home for up to 28 days. The scheme is designed to allow the victim time to consider their options and get the help they need. Following a 1 year pilot, DVPOs were implemented across England and Wales from 8 March 2014.

Download Domestic Violence Protection Notices (DVPNs) and Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs): Sections 24-33 Crime and Security Act 2010: interim Guidance document for police regional pilot schemes (PDF)

Download Evaluation of the pilot of Domestic Violence Protection Orders (PDF)
(Home Office, 2013)

Download Domestic Violence Protection Orders impact assessment (PDF)
(Home Office, 2013)

Domestic homicide reviews

(Home Office, 2013)

A domestic homicide review is carried out when a person has been killed as a result of domestic violence. It attempts to identify what happened, and what needs to change to reduce risk in the future. The guidance came into effect from 1 August 2013 and applied to England and Wales.

View Domestic homicide review

Strengthening the law on domestic abuse

(Home Office, 2014)

The Home Office is consulting on proposals to strengthen the law in England and Wales on domestic abuse to cover coercive control. Deadline for responses is 15 October 2014.

Download Strengthening the law on domestic abuse: a consultation (PDF)

Ending violence against women and girls (VAWG) strategy

(Home Office, 2010)

The Home Office published a strategy for tackling violence against women and girls in November 2010. Action plans updating the government's work towards this goal are published annually in March.

The latest action plan was published in March 2014 and sets out cross-government progress. Actions completed so far include:

  • re-launch of the 'This is abuse' campaign which targeted teenage relationship violence, with a greater focus on reaching boys
  • introduction of legislation to criminalise forced marriage (Part 10 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014)
  • completion of the domestic violence disclosure scheme (Clare's Law) pilot and the national roll out from March 2014

It also sets out plans for:

  • early intervention, rolling out programmes such as Clare's Law and domestic violence protection orders
  • supporting local commissioners
  • ensuring that other programmes such as sexual violence, gang related exploitation and modern slavery support the government approach to ending violence against women and girls.

Visit Ending violence against women and girls in the UK policy pages

Download Call to end violence against women and girls (PDF) 
(HM Government, 2010)

Download A call to end violence against women and girls: action plan 201 (PDF) 
(HM Government, 2014)

Visit 'This is abuse' campaign website
(Home Office, 2013)

Stopping domestic and sexual violence strategy

(Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) and Department of Justice, 2013)

The Northern Ireland Executive launched a consultation on a new joint strategy for dealing with domestic and sexual violence that closed in April 2014.

The proposed new strategy focuses on 5 strands:

  • driving change through leadership and partnership working
  • prevention, achieved through better knowledge and understanding of abuse, promotion of healthy relationships, changing attitudes, and early intervention for those at risk
  • delivering change through responsive services for victims
  • supporting victims
  • improving the protections and justice available to victims and their families.

The strategy also highlights 28 priority areas for taking the strategy forward, including:

  • teachers to have the necessary skills to teach about domestic and sexual violence and abuse, and respond to pupils experiencing distress
  • government will work with the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI) and the Children's and Young People's Strategic Partnership (CYPSP) to prevent domestic and sexual violence and abuse from occurring and to tackle child sexual exploitation
  • the development of a safety plan will be an integral part of the pathways approach to domestic and sexual violence and abuse for children, young people and adults.

Download Stopping domestic and sexual violence and abuse in Northern Ireland 2013-2020: public consultation document (PDF)

Getting it right for every child

(Scottish Government, 2008)

Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) is the Scottish government's approach to making a positive difference for all children and young people in Scotland. Its principles help shape all policy, practice and legislation that affects children and their families.

View Getting it right for every child

National domestic abuse delivery plan for children and young people 

(Scottish Government, 2008)

Published in 2008, this set out a common framework based on the principles and values of Getting it right for every child and the aims of the National Strategy to Address Domestic Abuse in Scotland.

The framework recognised the Government's definition of domestic abuse as 'gender based abuse', requiring a response that takes into account and addresses the persistent inequalities between men and women in Scotland. The plan came to an end in March 2011 and a final report is now available.

Download the National domestic abuse delivery plan for children and young people (PDF)

Download the National Domestic Abuse Delivery Plan for Children and Young People (2008-11): final summary report June 2011 (PDF) (Scottish Government, 2011)

Scotland's Strategy to Tackle Violence against Women and Girls 

(Scottish Government, 2014)

The Scottish Government and COSLA, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, are developing a national strategy aimed at tackling all forms of violence against women which will be published later in 2014.

View Scotland's Strategy to Tackle Violence against Women and Girls

Ending violence against women and girls (VAWG) strategy

(Home Office, 2010)

The Home Office published a strategy for tackling violence against women and girls in November 2010. Action plans updating the government's work towards this goal are published annually in March.

The latest action plan was published in March 2014 and sets out cross-government progress. Actions completed so far include:

  • re-launch of the 'This is abuse' campaign which targeted teenage relationship violence, with a greater focus on reaching boys
  • introduction of legislation to criminalise forced marriage (Part 10 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014)
  • completion of the domestic violence disclosure scheme (Clare's Law) pilot and the national roll out from March 2014

It also sets out plans for:

  • early intervention, rolling out programmes such as Clare's Law and domestic violence protection orders
  • supporting local commissioners
  • ensuring that other programmes such as sexual violence, gang related exploitation and modern slavery support the government approach to ending violence against women and girls.

Visit Ending violence against women and girls in the UK policy pages

Download Call to end violence against women and girls (PDF) 
(HM Government, 2010)

Download A call to end violence against women and girls: action plan 201 (PDF) 
(HM Government, 2014)

Visit 'This is abuse' campaign website
(Home Office, 2013)

The right to be safe

(Welsh Assembly Government, 2010)

A 6 year integrated strategy for tackling all forms of violence against women, including domestic abuse. It outlines the key national priorities, including: 

  • honour based violence
  • female genital mutilation
  • forced marriage.

It recognises national training is required to ensure professionals in all sectors recognise and know how to deal with violence against women and the potential impact on children.

Download The right to be safe (PDF)

Live fear free

(Welsh Assembly Government, 2011)

Live fear free is the Welsh Assembly Government's campaign website against domestic abuse, launched in 2011. It includes:

  • a video discussing how domestic abuse can affect children
  • information about protecting children living with family violence.

Visit the Live fear free website

Guidance

Includes key messages for practice for professionals working to safeguard children at risk of domestic abuse.

Working together to safeguard children

(HM Government, 2015)

Chapters 1-3 provide guidance on the legislative requirements and expectations on services to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, covering: assessing need and providing help; organisational responsibilities, including the requirement to appoint a qualified social worker to the role of designated officer for the management of allegations, unless the candidate has previous experience in the role; and, the statutory objectives and functions of Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs).

Chapter 4 sets out a learning and improvement framework for LSCBs to monitor the effectiveness of local services and includes: a section on what constitutes a notifiable incident; a definition of 'serious harm' for the purposes of Serious Case Reviews.

Chapter 5 provides guidance on child death reviews listing specific responsibilities of relevant bodies in relation to child deaths.

Download Working together to safeguard children: a guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children (PDF)

Read more about the changes made to the statutory guidance in 2015 on the Legislation, policy and guidance for England page.

Controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship

(Home Office, 2015)

This statutory guidance for the police and criminal justice agencies may also be helpful for non-governmental organisations and voluntary organisations.

The guide includes information on identifying domestic abuse and controlling or coercive behaviour and the circumstances when the offence might apply.

Download Controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship:  statutory guidance framework (PDF)

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines 

(NICE, 2014)

NICE has published guidance for health services and social care on domestic violence and abuse. Based on a review of evidence, it sets out recommendations for training to help staff identify, prevent and reduce domestic abuse. It includes 2 recommendations aimed specifically at children and young people. Recommendation 10 focuses on identifying, and where necessary, referring children. Recommendation 11 looks at provision of specialist services for children.

View Domestic violence and abuse: multi-agency working

Information for Local Areas on the change to the Definition of Domestic Violence and Abuse

(Home Office, 2013)

Guidance to help local areas look at how the extension to the definition of domestic violence and abuse may impact on services for 16-17 year olds.

Download Information for Local Areas on the change to the Definition of Domestic Violence and Abuse (PDF)

 

Guidance for health professionals on domestic violence 

(Department of Health (DH), 2011)

The Department of Health has published practical guidance, setting out how it will improve services for women and children who experience abuse. This includes guidance for commissioning services and a toolkit for front-line practitioners providing information about children, domestic abuse and related issues, as well as guidance, sample forms and factsheets.

Download Dommissioning services for women and children who experience violence or abuse: a guide for health commissioners

Download Domestic violence and abuse: professional guidance (Health Visiting and School Nursing Programmes: supporting implementation of the new service model)
(Department of Health (DH), 2013)

Improving safety, reducing harm

(Department of Health (DH), 2009)

Practical toolkit for frontline practitioners providing information on children experiencing domestic violence and aiming to help practitioners understand what legislation and guidance mean for them and their work.

Also covers sexual violence and exploitation and ‘honour’ based violence, female genital mutilation and forced marriage.

Includes an overview of Every Child Matters (ECM), principles of commissioning services, risk assessment, guidance for schools, explanations of key standards and policies and practical examples and standard forms. Supercedes 'Responding to domestic abuse: a handbook for health professionals'.

Download Improving safety, reducing harm: children, young people and domestic violence: a practical toolkit for front-line practitioners (PDF)

Recognising and preventing FGM

(Home Office, 2014)

The Home Office provides a free e-learning package for professionals who need to find out more about identifying and responding to FGM.

Co-operating to Safeguard Children and young people in Northern Ireland

Replaces the ‘Co-operating to Safeguard Children’ guidance issued in 2003. It provides the overarching policy framework for safeguarding children and young people in the statutory, private, independent, community, voluntary and faith sectors. Outlines how communities, organisations and individuals must work both individually and in partnership to ensure children and young people are safeguarded as effectively as possible.

View Co-operating to safeguard children and young people in Northern Ireland
(Department of Health, 2016)

Area Child Protection Committees' regional policy and procedures 2005

(Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. Northern Ireland, 2005)

Outlines a single set of child protection procedures all five Health and Social Care Trusts abide by. It is based on the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Policy guidance Co-operating to safeguard children (2003).

Download Area Child Protection Committees' regional policy and procedures 2005 (PDF)

Domestic abuse guidelines for Public Health Nursing, Midwifery, and Children’s Nursing Services in Northern Ireland

(Northern Health and Social Care Trust, 2012)

Sets out guidelines for public health workers based in Northern Ireland who are working in nursing, midwifery and children’s nursing services. It aims to improve the standard of care given to victims, unborn babies, babies and young children in Northern Ireland who may be living with domestic violence and abuse.

Download Domestic abuse guidelines for Public Health Nursing, Midwifery, and Children’s Nursing Services (PDF)

National guidance for child protection in Scotland

(Scottish Government, 2010)

Provides the current guidance and a national framework for anyone who could face child protection issues at work. Further guidance has been published for health professionals, and protecting disabled children.

Download National guidance for child protection in Scotland (PDF)

Safeguarding children

(Welsh Government, 2004)

Sets out the Welsh Government's guidance on child protection and safeguarding for local authorities in Wales.

Safeguarding children: working together under the Children Act 2004

Controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship

(Home Office, 2015)

This statutory guidance for the police and criminal justice agencies may also be helpful for non-governmental organisations and voluntary organisations.

The guide includes information on identifying domestic abuse and controlling or coercive behaviour and the circumstances when the offence might apply.

Download Controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship:  statutory guidance framework (PDF)

All Wales Protocol: safeguarding children and young people affected by domestic abuse

(All Wales Child Protection Procedures Review Group, 2011)

Practice guidance on safeguarding children who, through being in households or relationships, are aware of or are targeted as part of domestic abuse.

Aims to: protect the children, support the non-abusive partner; hold the abusive partner accountable; and improve the children's resilience.

Download All Wales Protocol: safeguarding children and young people affected by domestic abuse (PDF)

All Wales child protection procedures

(All Wales Child Protection Procedures Review Group, 2008)

Provides a common set of child protection procedures for every safeguarding board in Wales.

View All Wales child protection procedures

Child protection in the UK

How the systems and laws of the UK and its 4 nations work to keep children safe from abuse and harm.
More about the child protection system

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