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Thursday, 25 January 2018

Charging domestic abuse victims for evidence letters 'morally wrong'

Written by Harriet Line

It is "morally wrong" for doctors to charge victims of domestic violence for a letter to prove they were abused, a housing minister has said.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth said anyone could ask to be given their medical records for free, removing the need for letters from their GP, but that the message needed to be spread.

He made the comments as peers debated an amendment to the Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill in the House of Lords tabled by Labour's shadow housing spokesman Lord Kennedy of Southwark.

Lord Kennedy said victims needed to be "protected and helped", but said: "As part of gathering evidence to satisfy a housing officer they are a victim of domestic violence they should not have to pay a fee.

"I think that is just wrong, and one profession where this is an issue is with respect to GPs."

He went on: "There are some GPs that charge for writing letters or notes that are outside their contract with the NHS for signing forms and things, and most don't do, but some do, do that.

"But I do think that signing letters to confirm someone is a victim of domestic violence and charging the victim is unacceptable."

Responding, Lord Bourne said charging a fee to a victim of domestic abuse seeking evidence of abuse to access services was "far from an ideal situation", and described the practice as "morally wrong".

He said: "As data subjects which we all are under the Data Protection Act I think an individual can ask lawfully to be provided with their medical records without charge, thus obviating the need for a letter altogether - and I appreciate we do need to get that message out there so people are aware of that.

"But I don't think this on that basis would represent a problem."

He went on: "We are investigating further with the Department of Health but it does appear to me that this particular issue shouldn't be a concern, if it is a concern then it is I think for the Department of Health and our ministry to discuss this further.

"But I do agree that in this sort of situation it is quite wrong, morally wrong, if not legally wrong, but it is morally wrong I think to be charging victims in this regard."

Lord Kennedy said he was "pleased" with Lord Bourne's comments, and withdrew his amendment but said he would raise the issue again at report stage.

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