Referrals to Hackney Council’s Domestic Abuse Intervention Service (DAIS) have increased by 60 per cent during lockdown, from around 25 cases per week to almost 40, in a stark reminder of the impact of the crisis on some of the borough’s most vulnerable.
DAIS said that contacting victims of domestic abuse to advise them how to seek help is “difficult” during lockdown, with perpetrators at home and able to overhear phone calls.
According to a council report on the issue, a “significant number” of self-referrals are victims or survivors of domestic abuse who have used the service before and have “renewed concerns” during lockdown.
People have also raised concerns regarding their neighbours, making the council’s duty telephone line “very busy”.
A report prepared for the Living in Hackney scrutiny commission reads: “DAIS shares the generally accepted view that the current lockdown is likely to compound the problem of domestic abuse by creating more opportunity for perpetrators to hurt and control victims and by making it harder for victims to be seen and helped.
“In response to demand, DAIS has increased its capacity through increasing the numbers of case workers in the team through both agency recruitment and redeployment as well as being assisted by former members of the service now in other roles within the council.
“Management capacity has also been enhanced. DAIS is relatively confident that it is in a strong position to meet any rise in demand and the anticipated ‘surge’ once lockdown ends.”
The Town Hall is offering to take on casework from other domestic abuse agencies in Hackney struggling with staffing shortages or rises in demand during the pandemic.
DAIS is understood to not only be “checking in” on all its cases during lockdown, but also proactively contacting former users of its services who staff had felt were safe but whose risk levels could have risen.
The council has spoken out directly to central government over a lack of help for migrant women with no recourse to public funds (NRPF), with the Town Hall supporting domestic abuse victims and their children in these circumstances with accommodation.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is being petitioned by Hackney, along with other London boroughs, to change its policy on this issue, which currently provides no central government funding to councils for the protection of women with NRPF.
Community safety lead Cllr Caroline Selman described government policy on this issue as “unacceptable”, marking it out as “a clear continuation of its hostile environment policies”.
Work undertaken with abuse perpetrators has seen a shift during lockdown, with the council following guidance suggesting that “structured and challenging” work with abusers is unsafe during the current circumstances.
The report adds: “Engagement with [perpetrators] is in the form of regularly checking in and advising on techniques to better manage their emotions thus hopefully reducing some of their behaviour.”
Cllr Selman said: “Tackling domestic abuse is a longstanding priority in Hackney, and the impact of the lockdown on domestic abuse is of great concern to us, and we’re determined to do everything in our power to protect those affected by domestic abuse during this difficult time and beyond.
“We are also working closely with our partners in the police, NHS, voluntary sector and community groups to address the dangers that those affected by domestic abuse are facing.
“These include a wide reaching communications campaign, letting people know who they can get in touch with for help and support, training those on the front line to identify and respond safely and effectively to cases of domestic abuse, continuing to rehouse those at risk and supporting NRPF migrant women who will be particularly vulnerable in these unprecedented circumstances.”
If you are in immediate danger, call the police on 999 right away. If it is unsafe for you to speak, you can make a silent phone call to the police by dialling 999 and pressing 55 when asked to do so.
If you are deaf, hard of hearing or have visual impairments, you can call the police in emergencies on 18000 or text 999 if you have registered for the Emergency SMS service, which you can find at this link – bit.ly/emergency-sms.
If someone’s immediate safety is not under threat, you can report domestic abuse to the police by calling 101 or at this link bit.ly/report-domestic-abuse . If you are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired you can call the non-emergency textphone on 18001 101.
If you are concerned about the safety of children, you can call Hackney Council’s Children and Families Service on 020 8356 5500 from Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm, or 020 8356 2710 outside office hours.
The National Domestic Abuse Helpline can be reached 24-hours a day for free on 0808 2000 247 or by visiting nationaldahelpline.org.uk .
You can reach the National Stalking helpline on 0808 802 0330 .
More information can be found at hackney.gov.uk/domestic-violence