Changes To Legal Aid Reported As Limiting Resources For Victims Of Domestic Violence
Citizens Advice has reported that changes to legal aid in 2013 have affected the amount of help that 60% of advisers can offer to victims of domestic abuse.
The survey across the Citizens Advice network has found that one of the biggest barriers to support for victims is now the restricted amount of access to legal aid. A mere 12% of advice workers reported being unaffected by the changes which came into force in April 2013.
The survey found that nearly 25% of advisers reported that difficulty with gathering evidence was a major barrier in helping victims. One third of advisers said that because of the changes, fewer victims were proceeding with legal action. One in five said that victims are unable to afford the contributions they must now make when offered legal aid, and a similar number reported victims as now representing themselves.
The Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, Gillian Guy, said that more of their advisers than not reported legal aid changes as endangering the victim’s case. She said that the Government’s assurance that it will ensure legal aid is available for domestic abuse victims, is not holding up.
She said that requiring someone who has left their home to make a financial contribution because of assets shared with their abuser is “clearly senseless”. Furthermore, the evidence that victims now need to provide in order to separate from the abuser and/or protect their children is completely impractical in many cases, and may actually keep victims in the way of harm.
Guy continued that having a Government that is committed to stamping out domestic abuse was “hugely encouraging” but it must be a priority to ensure that all victims can access legal aid when needed.
New rules mean victims must prove domestic abuse
Under the new rules, it is up to the victims to prove that they have been subject to severe domestic violence in order to obtain access to legal aid. This evidence may be authorities already aware of the victim being at risk of murder, or serious physical violence, the evidence of a medical professional, or involvement of social services. However, this can be impossible for victims whose lives have been controlled by the abuser.
Victims may also be in a position where they are unable to return to their homes in order to access financial assets, but not eligible for legal aid because they share the assets in the home, or have a joint bank account.
Only 40% of advisers report that they have sufficient support for victims with differing needs. Victims with English as a second language, and male victims, are those facing the biggest problems.
Citizens Advice is calling for the laws regarding legal aid to be reviewed. It says that the burden of evidence is too high for many victims, especially in those cases where the abuse is non-physical, but may be financial or emotional.
If you need help with domestic violence issues and abuse contact Milner Elledge – Domestic Abuse solicitor Romford