Take domestic abuse for example. Surrey has some of the highest rates of domestic abuse in the country, something which often comes as a surprise. It’s one of the UK’s most affluent counties after all. Yet it’s a crime which crosses boundaries of financial and social status, age, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. It’s also one of the most hidden, something that those who experience it are often reluctant to talk about – they may be frightened or controlled – and frequently even family and close friends have no idea what is happening.
Furthermore, some clients don’t even recognise what’s happening to them is abuse. Many people would define domestic abuse as controlling a partner or other family member with physical violence, but there are other ways of misusing power and control. The Serious Crime Act of 2015 broadened the definition of abuse to include emotional, psychological, financial and coercive control, and once a client recognises they are experiencing abuse, the local Citizens Advice Service can be an important first ‘port of call’ in getting the targeted help he or she needs. Citizens Advice Waverley work closely with the South West Surrey Domestic Abuse Outreach Service and they can refer clients for specialist advice.
How we helped Alison*:
It wasn’t clear at first why Alison had come to Citizens Advice. She explained she lived in a lovely house with her husband and two small children who she looked after full-time. She said the family had no money worries or debts, but asked a few general questions about benefits she might be entitled to ‘if her circumstances changed’. She also asked if she would have a claim on the family home given that her husband paid all the bills. A little gentle questioning around the subject revealed that Alison wanted to leave her husband. He was extremely controlling, both emotionally and financially, telling her repeatedly she was a useless mother who was totally dependent on him, and giving her a strict allowance every penny of which she had to account for. He’d also insisted she download a tracking app onto her phone so that he could check her whereabouts every minute of the day while he was at work. She’d already devised a cover story for her visit to Citizens Advice! – she would tell him she wanted to know how make applications to primary schools for her daughter, even though she knew he would say she was an idiot, because everybody knew you could find all that out on the internet!
The adviser suggested Alison might like to speak to the Outreach Service, who would not only provide a confidential ‘ear’, but also practical help and support. Alison was reluctant at first in case her husband found out, but when she heard that the Service could meet her on neutral, non-identifiable territory, such as in the local park, she agreed.
Several months later, Alison returned to Citizens Advice. With the Outreach’s support, she’d found the courage to ask her husband to leave. The family home was for sale and she intended to buy something for herself and the children with her share of the proceeds. She now wanted a benefit check and some practical advice about getting back into work.
*This is a typical story of a client’s problem, names and events have been altered for confidentiality purposes.
If you’re worried about domestic abuse – or something else?
Don’t put it off – Citizens Advice Waverley can almost certainly help. For free, independent, confidential advice call:
0344 848 7969
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