Cllr Sarah Kerr - from the council chamber

22 Sep 2023

The council plays an important and varied role in all our lives. Sometimes, that role is obvious and universal, for example, refuse collection and disposal. A large amount of what the council does however is not universal or is less obvious.

Take domestic abuse for example. The latest ONS data found that 5% of adults (6.9% women and 3% men) in the UK 16 years and over experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2022. That equates to over 7,000 adults in Wokingham Borough alone.

Statutory duties from the Domestic Abuse Act are quite narrow, with the majority of victim-survivors being supported in the borough and the proactive work we do, falling outside of those duties. Not only is it morally the right thing to do to go beyond our basic duties, but the proactive work we do reduces demand on other services.

The Council’s Home Refuge service is a free service for anyone suffering domestic abuse and wanting to remain in their home. It is voluntary and can provide security measures such as door viewers, secure letter boxes and window alarms. Not only has this scheme helped make those suffering from domestic abuse safer, but it also prevents homelessness applications.

We also now have domestic abuse specialists sit in different parts of the council, including in the housing team, children’s services and adult’s services. Domestic abuse is often hidden, many victim-survivors themselves not recognising that they are suffering abuse from a perpetrator, and it is often difficult for those in professions such as social care to identify that there is abuse. We have listened to feedback and recognise that having independent domestic violence advisors (IDVAs) as part of these teams is crucial to ensure that the domestic abuse lens is applied, protecting and providing support in the right places, and not allowing the abuse to continue or get worse.

On a different note, our council website is a universal service used by the community for various purposes, from reporting issues to accessing planning information or finding out when the bins are collected. It also includes a section dedicated to domestic abuse, offering information and helpful resources.

We recently launched a new website as the previous one was built on old technology and caused many residents frustration. While it’s just the beginning (known as the minimum viable product), it’s already improving user satisfaction and making services more visible to vulnerable residents. The new site is also more accessible, particularly for people with disabilities. And we are going to continue to develop and improve the site based on data and feedback.

Enhancing digital services like our website benefits all residents and saves time by preventing avoidable problems. This enables us to focus on helping those who can’t use digital services or need a more personal, non-digital approach.