News – DV Assist – Thousands of domestic abuse victims ‘forced to stay with their abuser’ after being denied legal aid

Thousands of victims of domestic abuse are being forced to remain with their abusers because they cannot afford legal representation, a charity boss has warned. 

Luis Labaton, chief executive of Domestic Violence Assist (DV Assist), said it is “grossly and patently” unfair that thousands of victims are denied legal aid every year.

As a result, on an “almost daily” basis victims are left with no protection because they cannot afford legal fees or do not feel confident to represent themselves.

Only 40% of victims referred to DV Assist qualify for full legal aid when applying to the courts for orders to protect themselves and their families.

Mr Labaton said many of the remaining 60% are struggling financially and cannot afford a private solicitor.

He said: “Most don’t feel confident or comfortable in applying for an order themselves and representing themselves in court. Only a tiny number of people choose this route.

“The rest – amounting to thousands of people each year – end up having no protection and having to remain with their abuser. This is happening almost daily.

“They are left extremely distressed. It’s a horrendous situation. They are being badly let down by the legal aid system.”

According to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), applicants are eligible for civil legal aid if their monthly disposable income – money left over after basic living expenses – does not exceed £733 and their disposable capital does not exceed £8,000.

However, Mr Labaton said the threshold for disposable income does not take into account existing debt, utility bills or food costs.

He added: “The bar is set very, very low for disposable income and needs to be raised. Too many people on low incomes are simply not able to access public funds.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “While more than 95% of applications for legal aid in domestic abuse cases are successful, we are reviewing the means test to see how we can best support victims.”

DV Assist, which is the only registered charity specialising exclusively in arranging civil protection orders for domestic abuse victims, has seen a 50% rise in demand in the past year.

Mr Labaton said perpetrators are finding new ways to abuse their victims – such as using smart technology to turn the heating and hot water off remotely.

The charity receives around 3,000 referrals a month, up from 2,000 per month in 2020. These come from a range of agencies, including police, social services, housing associations and charities.

There has been a 68% rise in the number of orders it has helped secure, from 12,500 in 2020 to 21,000 up to the end of September.

The number of orders protecting male victims has risen from around 100 in 2020 to around 600 so far in 2021.

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