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Same Roof Rule: Familial Sexual Abuse Cases

Volume 631: debated on Thursday 23 November 2017

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Andrew Stephenson.)

I welcome this opportunity to raise a little-known but significant issue. Before I move on to the substance of my remarks, I wish to put on the record a number of thanks. First, I thank Pat Strickland in the House of Commons Library for providing an excellent background briefing to the subject, and I also thank Alex Mayes of Victim Support, and Lisa Longstaff from the charity Women Against Rape, who provided me with further detail and powerfully put the case for change in the current legislation. I would also like to thank Andrew Perriman, a senior lecturer in law at Teesside University, who gave me a real insight into the problem and identified potential solutions. Above all, I would like to thank my constituent Alissa Moore, who has shown great personal courage in speaking out about her case.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Andrew Stephenson.)

My constituent, Alissa Moore, whose personal case has led me to seek this debate, has shown exceptional courage in speaking out and a great tenacity in pushing for a change to the regulations. Let me introduce the substance of the issue by giving details of Alissa’s story. I have her permission to relay the details.

Alissa and her sisters were sexually abused in their own home by their father when they were children over a long period of time. In Alissa’s own words, she said her father

“sexually abused me from the age of seven until I was 15. I was petrified of him. I couldn’t get away. I say seven, but he was caught abusing me aged one by my mother. I don’t think anyone knows what it feels like to be a child hiding under your covers, knowing that at any time your father is going to creep into your bed and rape you, and that this is something that happens almost every night. The nightmares still affect me today at the age of 53. The fear is still inside. The anxiety stops me doing so much more.”

Alissa kept her awful secret to herself until three years ago, when another family member reported her father to the police. Her father was convicted in 2015 and is rightly serving a 24-year prison sentence for his horrible crimes. She was advised by the police to make a claim to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, as she still needs medication and counselling to deal with the trauma of her attacks. However—this is my reason for seeking the debate—while her sisters were eligible for compensation, she was not, owing to the 1979 same roof rule. The rule prevents any survivor who was living with their abuser, as a member of the same family at the time of an assault, from claiming compensation if the offence took place before 1 October 1979. In Alissa’s case, her abuse stopped just a month or two before that deadline, while her sisters’ continued after the date. That cannot be right.

I will go on, later in my speech, to argue the case for wider reform of the same roof rule, but my first request of the Minister tonight is to look at a relaxation of the rule when the abuse was perpetrated by the same person or persons to members of the same family, irrespective of whether that happened before or after the 1 October 1979 deadline. I do not believe that there are many such cases, so the administrative and financial consequences of doing that would be minimal. That would be an enormous relief to my constituent and others in her situation. It would remove one of the most absurd anomalies of the legislation and allow each familial case of abuse to be treated as a whole. It would bring closure and enormous relief to people who have suffered greatly.

I would also like to make the case for the wider reform of the same roof rule. My understanding is that the intended purpose of the same roof rule was to prevent perpetrators of such despicable acts from benefiting financially from their crimes. I have to say that I struggle to understand the logic, because surely any compensation paid could have come with conditions so that the perpetrator would not be able to benefit. I am not a legal expert, but surely that could have been a way around it. Surely there could be some modification to differentiate the claims of those who still live with the perpetrator, or are likely to do so in the future, from cases in which that is not going to happen. The proposal has been made by Andrew Perriman of Teesside University, and it relates to paragraph 20 of the scheme. The distinction already applies to cases that occurred after the 1 October threshold. Why could it not apply to cases that predate it?

Over many years, Governments of all colours have been asked to review the rule. When they have done so, the defence for maintaining the status quo has been that change would cause a disproportionate financial and administrative burden. Those are not factors that we should dismiss lightly, but I remain to be convinced that such a burden would result. I have yet to see definitive figures from the Government for the number of cases that would be expected to arise. Andrew Perriman’s research suggests that it would be about 80 a year, and that the compensation per case would probably be less than about £20,000. That does not strike me as a disproportionate burden on the public purse, but if my figures—or Mr Perriman’s—are wrong, I should be grateful to be told why that is the case.

Mr Perriman also proposes a solution to the funding issue, if there is one. He has established that the Ministry of Justice has an annual £500,000 hardship fund which is barely touched in any one year; in one recent year, the amount spent was less than £2,000. Could that pot of money not be reallocated to the small number of cases involved? As the charity Women Against Rape has pointed out to me, achieving justice and compensation is seen by the victims as a proper and official recognition of the wrong that has been done to them, and it is often a crucial step on their path to recovery.

I also believe that the time is right for us to consider reforming wider aspects of the same roof rule, and the way in which rape victims are treated more generally. Not only is there currently a much higher focus on historical sexual abuse cases, but I know that the Secretary of State and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority are considering separate but related concerns, such as the two-year limit after the date of the crime for requesting compensation, the absurdity of some claims being rejected because the child supposedly complied with the attack, and the denial of compensation to those with criminal convictions when there is plenty of evidence to suggest that those convictions arose, directly or indirectly, as a result of the abuse that they were receiving. In all those scenarios, we need to have a much more compassionate understanding of the impact that such crimes have on individuals, and set our regulations more humanely.

In securing the debate, my principal focus has been on the problem that my constituent Alissa Moore displayed to me. If the Minister can do nothing else tonight, I hope that he will give careful consideration to making the adjustments that I have suggested in cases in which all the abuse happened within one family, regardless of whether one particular attack happened before or after the 1 October deadline. I hope that he will also take this opportunity to look afresh at the wider issues that I have outlined. Victims of sexual assaults often feel that they have been doubly punished, first by the attacks themselves and secondly by the way in which they can be treated by the system. Surely we can do better than this.

Let me conclude by thanking, again, all those who have provided me with information, and have deepened my understanding of what is a very complex issue. Above all else, let me give heartfelt thanks to my constituent Alissa Moore for her bravery in speaking out so that she may be helped to gain closure, but also so that she can help those who still suffer in silence. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) for securing the debate. Abuse is a devastating crime, and I know it must have taken great courage for his constituent, Ms Alissa Moore, to share her experiences with him. I am aware that he has previously raised concerns with my Department about how the same roof rule affected an application for compensation from his constituent, and I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the matter today.

Sexual abuse and exploitation of children is abhorrent, and hon. Friends in the Chamber will know that we are taking action across Government to bring about a step change in the response to it. From my Department’s perspective, we are taking action to ensure that vulnerable and intimidated witnesses, such as those who have suffered abuse, can give their best evidence, and to reduce the stress they face when there is a trial.

A range of measures exist to help reduce anxiety, including giving evidence from behind a screen in the courtroom or away from the courtroom, and the use of an intermediary to help the witness understand and communicate with the court. We are rolling out pre-recorded cross-examination for vulnerable witnesses in the Crown Court, which will enable witnesses to participate in the trial at an early stage. This measure will be tested in three Crown Court centres, initially for intimidated witnesses who are victims of sexual offences and modern slavery offences.

The rule we have been discussing is part of the criminal injuries compensation scheme, as my hon. Friend rightly noted. For more than 50 years, there has been a scheme to compensate victims of violent crime in Britain. In 1996, the first statutory scheme came into force through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act 1995. Subsequent schemes were made under that legislation in 2001, 2008 and, most recently, 2012.

The rules of the scheme and the value of the payments awarded are set by Parliament and administered by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice. The scheme is Government-funded and provides tariff-based awards for physical and mental injury suffered by victims of violent crime. Victims can also apply for loss of earnings and special expenses for things such as home adaptations and care costs. The scheme also provides for awards to dependants and the bereaved in fatal cases. In the financial year 2016-17, £143.3 million was paid out to victims of violent crime.

The same roof rule forms part of the eligibility criteria under the scheme, and has been part of all CICA schemes for victims injured in Great Britain since the first in 1964. From 1964 to 1 October 1979, an award could not be made for a criminal injury if, at the time of the incident giving rise to that injury, the applicant and the assailant were living together as members of the same family. The rule was put in place to ensure that perpetrators did not benefit from any compensation awarded to the victim where they were living together.

An interdepartmental working party reviewed the scheme and in 1978 recommended that the same roof rule be changed. The Labour Government accepted the recommendation of the working group that the changes to the rule should not be retrospective because of the difficulty of estimating the cost. The recommendations of the working party were reflected in a new scheme that came into effect on 1 October 1979. It was from that date that the same roof rule was relaxed, but only in relation to incidents from that date.

Consequently, the effect of the same roof rule is to render ineligible for compensation victims of historical sexual and other abuse that took place between 1964 and 1979 where the victim was living with their perpetrator as a member of the same family at the time of the incident. The change to the scheme in 1979 was not made retrospective. The Labour Government reviewed this approach in 2005 in the consultation paper “Rebuilding Lives: supporting victims of crime”, which proposed major changes to the scheme. It stated:

“We recognise that changes to the scheme mean that some cases would be dealt with differently in the future and that some applicants who have already received their compensation would have received more under a new scheme. However, we do not believe that it would be fair or workable to apply changes retrospectively.”

The most recent scheme was introduced on 27 November 2012 following a consultation exercise called “Getting it right for victims and witnesses”. The Government considered that to open the scheme up in this way could present difficulties for claims officers in establishing a link between the offence and the injuries in individual cases. The rule does not exclude victims who were abused in an institutional or public setting such as a school, hospital or care home prior to 1979. However, the Government understand that the same roof rule may affect some victims of abuse who were children at the time.

Hon. Friends will be aware that the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse is looking closely at the issue of compensation for victims of child sexual abuse, and the Government await its recommendations. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, my officials and interested groups have an ongoing dialogue about the scheme in the context of victims of child sexual abuse. We are determined to ensure that victims get the compensation to which they are entitled under the rules of the scheme. That is why the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority has reviewed its staff guidance to ensure that every instance where grooming could be a factor is identified. The authority is also improving staff training to help to get decisions right first time, every time. The compensation scheme will also be looked at as part of the Ministry of Justice’s work to develop a strategy for victims, which we aim to publish next year.

It is vital that constituents such as my hon. Friend’s are supported with the resources that they need in order to cope with and, as far as possible, recover from the effects of crime. This financial year we are providing £96 million for crucial support services for victims of crime, which includes funding for 97 rape support centres across England and Wales: £7 million funds specialist support for victims and survivors of recent and non-recent child sexual abuse; £1.74 million goes to rape support centres; £0.58 million is a fund for national and regional organisations that may find it difficult to apply to police and crime commissioners; and £7 million goes to police and crime commissioners to commission or deliver local support services for victims of child sexual abuse.

My hon. Friend asked about the reallocation of hardship funds. Hardship funds are separate from the funding of awards from the scheme, and we do not consider that they would be sufficient to meet the burden of relaxing the same roof rule. As I said earlier, the Department will be looking into this issue as part of its strategy for victims, which we aim to publish next year. I therefore suggest that he encourage his constituent to contact her local police and crime commissioner support services, especially as in the last financial year, PCCs reported spending an additional £1.6 million from other funding sources or through co-commissioning arrangements. As ever, the Department is available to offer support in any way that it can, and I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who is responsible for this portfolio, will be willing to engage directly with my hon. Friend on this matter.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.