THE BLOG

Domestic Abuse Victims Deserve Protection, Not Punishment

09/02/2017 11:13 GMT | Updated 09/02/2017 11:13 GMT
ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Department for Work and Pensions offers help to parents seeking maintenance for their children from an ex-partner - so long as they are willing to pay charges.

Government guidance suggests charges are in place to cover administration costs, and for parents to "pause and consider" whether the Child Maintenance Service is actually necessary to collect the money to which their children are entitled. While this offers an effective cost-saving exercise when it comes to former couples who have amicably split, the policy applies regardless of circumstances - including those who have escaped domestic abuse.

Supporting victims of domestic abuse should go without saying, and the Government should not have to be embarrassed into recognising that they have made a mistake. Ultimately, we all have the right to live securely and without fear, and Government policy should reflect that.

Unfortunately this does not seem to be the case. It may be a right for women to live free from fear and abuse, but it is far from a reality. All too often the Government neglect their responsibility to look after the most vulnerable in society and fail to rectify blatantly bad policy because it's not politically expedient.

That must change. In the case of domestic abuse victim-survivors, it's too important and potentially dangerous to play games with.

The Child Maintenance Service has the ability to offer security and reassurance to those that require it. It removes any requirement of communication with a former partner, whilst providing some level of financial security and independence. It's a service that works for those who need it.

In order to access this service, there is a £20 application fee. There is an exemption on this application fee for survivors of domestic violence, which suggests the Government is aware of this problem - and that something needs to be done about it. However, no waiver is offered for the ongoing fees for those using the service, which are 20 per cent for the paying parent on top of the maintenance due, and 4 per cent of the maintenance due for the receiving parent.

This means that families who are statistically already in financial straits, and often struggling to re-establish a normal life after a difficult relationship split - are forced to choose between giving part of their already small entitlement to the Government, or to set up a private arrangement with an abusive ex-partner.

It is completely illogical and immoral to encourage victims of domestic abuse to engage with their ex-partners. On one hand, the advice given to those experiencing the coercion and danger of domestic abuse is to escape. One of the biggest barriers to this freedom is financial dependence, and yet the Government sees fit to charge women for asserting their rights to child maintenance.

These are not just my words, either. In response to a written question, the Minister in charge of the Child Maintenance Service said: "the introduction of fees and ongoing collection charges are designed to act as an incentive for parents to pause and consider the different options available to them for a child maintenance arrangement, rather than applying to the statutory Child Maintenance Service 'by default'."

So, essentially, the Government are urging women who have fled violent relationships to pause and reflect on whether they can engage with their ex partners. I believe this practice is ethically dubious and practically dangerous, and as such, I have established a public petition to make the Government sit up and take notice.

The Government must urgently consider the far-reaching challenges associated with this policy, and exclude victims-survivors of domestic abuse from collection charges. That way we will ensure that the support owed to their children is paid and that those victims-survivors are not distressed further by having to make contact with a former violent partner.