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.”