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Domestic abuse survivors have lost over £7 billion as perpetrators intercept their post, Citizens Advice warns
Citizens Advice has found that almost half (47%) of survivors of domestic abuse have had their post intercepted, opened or hidden by the perpetrator.
This has resulted in missed medical treatments and isolation from vital support networks. The charity has also estimated survivors have lost £7.1 billion in the last decade. This is as a result of abusers hiding bills - which can lead to interest building up and penalties - or taking credit out using the survivor’s identity
Additionally, four in ten (40%) survivors had their new address disclosed to the perpetrator, despite it breaching data protection regulations. This is mostly by agencies, such as a survivor’s child’s school or local authorities. This figure increased to 52% in the case of survivors with children.
Shana, 35, and her children experienced physical and psychological abuse at the hands of her ex-partner. He regularly intercepted her post to monitor where she was, and opened her bank statements to find out what she was spending money on.
Shana told Citizens Advice: “He was intercepting my post and found I was attending a local women’s group. He tried to stop me going and controlled where I could and couldn’t go.”
She now lives in a different region, but her greatest worry is being found by her former partner. Unfortunately, the courts and health service have mistakenly sent post to her old address which disclosed her current whereabouts to the perpetrator.
Shana explained: “For me, even now a year on, my fear is him coming back into our lives. I feel vulnerable, I feel open. It’s like I’m reliving all that again. He can still find me by going through my post. Though my entire family went through rehabilitation from the abuse it doesn’t matter how much you’re rehabilitated, post is still an issue.”
Citizens Advice, the statutory consumer watchdog for postal services, is calling for increased provision to help safeguard domestic abuse survivors. The charity recommends that:
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy invests in an ‘Address & Collect’ service, which would work like a PO Box, provided at post offices. This would ensure people in unsafe or untraditional living situations have equal access to post.
The Information Commissioner's Office investigates the significant number of data breaches that put survivors of domestic abuse at serious risk.
Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:
“It’s shocking that domestic abuse survivors are being put at risk of further harm because they can’t access their post securely. From social isolation and missed medical appointments to unpaid bills and unauthorised credit, the consequences of post interception can be dire.
“On top of this, it’s inexcusable that even once survivors have left the home where they suffered abuse, they’re at risk of having their new address disclosed to their perpetrator.
“We're urging the government to introduce a secure PO box system at post offices, and the Information Commissioner to investigate these inexcusable breaches of privacy. It’s a vital step to ensure that survivors and their families are able to live without fear.”
Notes to editors
- According to the 2018 Crime Survey for England and Wales one in four women and one in six men will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.
- More information on the issue of postal interception and domestic abuse can be found in Citizens Advice’s report ‘On the receiving end’. Full statistics can be found on page 36 of the report.
- This is the second time Citizens Advice research has revealed a large group of UK residents who don’t have adequate access to post, and who suffer severe consequences as a result. In 2018, the charity found homeless people were having difficulty accessing essential public services due to a lack of a fixed address. Read the report ‘The postal paradox: how having no address keeps people homeless’ for more information.
- Citizens Advice commissioned Community Research to conduct 30 in-depth interviews with survivors of domestic abuse, 5 interviews with professional advisers, and a follow up online bulletin board to test solutions with survivors. These interviews took place in September 2019.
- Citizens Advice commissioned Opinium to conduct a survey of 1,019 GB adults who had experienced abuse from a partner or family member in the last 10 years. Opinium ran an initial incidence survey of 1964 GB adults to understand the demographics of survivors within the general population. They used this information to weight the results from the survey with survivors appropriately. This research took place between 25 September and 3 October 2019.
- Citizens Advice includes the national charity; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.
- Citizens Advice is the statutory consumer advocate for energy and post. We provide supplier performance information to consumers and policy analysis to decision makers.
- The Citizens Advice Witness Service provides free, independent support for prosecution and defence witnesses in every criminal court in England and Wales.
- Citizens Advice offers Pension Wise services at 500 locations in England and Wales.
- Citizens Advice’s services are free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to all regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
- To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice, visit citizensadvice.org.uk
- For consumer advice, call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 to talk in Welsh.
- We helped 2.6 million people face to face, by phone, email and webchat in 2017-18. For service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.
- Citizens Advice staff are supported by over 23,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 locations in England and Wales.
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