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Domestic abuse survivors lose £7bn due to bungled post system

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28/02/2020
Correspondence addressed to domestic abuse survivors but opened by perpetrators means they’re continually at physical risk, and lose out financially.

Almost half of domestic abuse survivors have had their post intercepted, opened or hidden by the perpetrator. This means they have missed out on medical treatments, bills and interest can spiral, and credit can be taken out in their names.

According to charity Citizens Advice, domestic abuse survivors have lost over £7bn as a result of agencies and authorities sending letters which are intercepted by the perpetrator.

But as well as the financial risks, it also puts them at physical risk as four in 10 said their new address was disclosed to the perpetrator, breaching data protection regulations.

In one case, Shana, 35, and her children experienced physical and psychological abuse at the hand of her ex-partner. He regularly opened her post to monitor her whereabouts and find out what she was spending money on.

She now lives in a different region but the courts and health services mistakenly sent post to her old address which disclosed her current address to her ex.

She said: “My fear is him coming back into our lives. I feel vulnerable, I feel open. He can still find me by going through my post. 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.

It recommends that the government invest in an ‘address and collect’ service which would work like a PO Box, provided at Post Offices. This would ensure people in unsafe living situations would have equal access to post.

The charity also wants to see the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) investigate the significant number of data breaches that put survivors of domestic abuse at serious risk.

‘Inexcusable breaches of privacy’

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 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 local Post Offices and the ICO to investigate these inexcusable breaches of privacy. It’s a vital step to ensure survivors and their families are able to live without fear.”

One in four women and one in six men will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, according to the 2018 crime survey for England and Wales.

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