Staffordshire Commissioner backs call to review legal aid means testing for domestic abuse victims

Thursday, 18th June 2020

STAFFORDSHIRE Commissioner Matthew Ellis is backing domestic abuse service New Era’s call for a review of means-testing for victims seeking legal aid.

Currently, legal aid means tests include all assets held by a victim, including any equity held in their home. Many domestic abuse victims find themselves unable to access legal aid because of the value of their home but are unable to sell the property to release funds if it is owned jointly with their abuser.

New Era is calling for a change in the eligibility criteria to enable those experiencing domestic abuse to get the legal support they need.

New Era operates across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, providing free, confidential support and services for all those affected by domestic abuse. The service ensures consistency for victims and their families, who no longer face a postcode lottery when they need specialist support.

The service was commissioned by Mr Ellis with Staffordshire County Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council and is run jointly by Victim Support and the Reducing Reoffending Partnership.

Staffordshire Commissioner for Police, Fire and Rescue and Crime, Matthew Ellis said: ‘If you’re a victim of domestic abuse, you might need to go to court, and that can be a costly business.

‘That’s why I’m backing New Era’s call for a thorough review of means-testing for victims seeking legal aid. This is about people’s safety – those suffering from domestic abuse shouldn’t be discouraged from getting the vital legal help they need because of their financial situation.’

Mickey Hemmings, New Era’s acting head of service, said: ‘Experiencing domestic abuse can be devastating enough without the added worry of how to pay for specialist legal advice.

‘The current eligibility criteria for legal aid means many vulnerable people are potentially having to navigate the legal process without the representation they need.

‘Over the past 12 months, we’ve become aware of an increasing number of victims of domestic abuse missing out, either because their income is just above the threshold or because of the equity in their home which they jointly own with their abuser.

‘New Era’s free legal surgeries have made a difference to many victims in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire. However, making non-means tested legal aid available for domestic abuse cases would allow all victims to access legal aid and get the support and representation they need.’

New Era aims to end relationship abuse, focusing on prevention and early intervention as well as targeted and acute support. It also offers help to anyone who is displaying unhealthy or abusive behaviour within their relationship and wants to change this.

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Domestic Abuse Support

Remember, you are not to blame for what is happening. You are not alone, and above all, you do not have to suffer in silence.

Domestic abuse can encompass but is not limited to the following types of abuse:

  • physical
  • emotional
  • psychological
  • sexual
  • financial

Staffordshire-wide and Warwickshire-wide support for victims and their families:

  • New Era’s Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent 24-hour confidential helpline: 0300 303 3778 and their 24/7 live chat facility at www.new-era.uk
  • Talk2Someone Warwickshire have a confidential helpline which can be reached on 0800 408 1552 – lines are open 8:30am – 8:30pm, Monday – Friday and 10:00am – 4:00pm Saturday.

National support and out of hours:

  • Women’s Aid Domestic Violence Helpline – Free 24-hour national helpline run by Women’s Aid and Refuge – 0808 2000 247
  • Respect Men’s Advice Line – Confidential helpline for male victims of domestic abuse – 0808 801 0327
  • National LGBT Domestic Abuse Helpline – Emotional and practical support for LGBT+ people – 0800 999 5428

Localised support for victims and their families (including safe accommodation):

  • Pathway (supporting Lichfield and Tamworth): 01543 676800
  • Staffordshire Women’s Aid 24 hour confidential helpline (supporting Stafford, Cannock and South Staffordshire): 0300 330 5959

Staffordshire-wide services for perpetrators wanting to change their behaviour:

  • New Era Domestic Abuse Service for perpetrators who want support to change (across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent): 01785 601690

In an emergency, always dial 999