Gove urged to protect domestic abuse services funding amid councils crisis

<span>Birmingham is among the councils to have issued section 114 notices, in effect declaring them bankrupt.</span><span>Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian</span>
Birmingham is among the councils to have issued section 114 notices, in effect declaring them bankrupt.Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Victims and survivors of domestic abuse will be placed at risk if support services are cut due to the councils funding crisis, ministers have been warned.

The domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, Nicole Jacobs, said on Tuesday that because local authorities were under no legal obligation to fund most such services, they faced being reduced or scrapped by councils facing acute financial pressures.

She has written to the communities secretary, Michael Gove, calling for him to prevent this from happening by inserting a legal duty into the victims and prisoners bill to fund domestic abuse services.

“For too long domestic abuse services have been hanging by a thread and piecing funding together just to keep their doors open,” Jacobs said. “We are standing on the edge of a precipice. If urgent action is not taken, life-saving services will disappear, risking the safety of thousands of victims and survivors. I fear for the adult and child victims and survivors who will be placed at greater risk of serious harm and homicide as a result.”

Related: UK charities warn of ‘devastating’ council cuts to women’s services

She said that since 2018 eight councils had issued section 114 notices, in effect declaring them bankrupt, and four in 10 councils were at risk of going bust in the next five years.

Previous research by the commissioner found that more than a quarter of specialist domestic abuse organisations were forced to cease some services due to a lack of funding in 2020-21, rising to 43% for more specialist organisations led “by and for” minoritised communities such as LGBT+, Black, deaf and disabled victims.

Heather Kidd, the chair of the Local Government Association’s safer, stronger communities board, said: “As the domestic abuse commissioner rightly warns, ongoing funding pressures and competing demands are making it increasingly difficult for councils to ensure that victims have access to all the help they need.

Related: How a decade of austerity has squeezed council budgets in England

“Only with long-term, reliable funding can councils help safeguard individuals and families from the physical and psychological harm caused by domestic abuse. Investment in the prevention and early intervention measures are needed to tackle the root causes, support more victims and stop domestic abuse occurring in the first place.”

The Women’s Aid Federation of England called on the government to invest £427m a year to fund specialist women’s domestic abuse services.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities was approached for comment.