The UK government has formally abolished the ‘same roof rule’: a condition that, for many years, prevented victims of violent or sexual crimes from receiving compensation if their attacker lived in their household at the time of the assault. The announcement follows a landmark judgment last year in which the Court of Appeal held that the rule was discriminatory and contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights.
The same roof rule affected applicants to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (‘CICS’) who were victims of crimes that took place before 1979; if it so happened that they ‘shared a roof’ with the perpetrator at the time, the victim was unable to access CICS compensation. Many survivors of domestic physical and sexual abuse – often child abuse survivors - were categorically denied redress as a result.
Thankfully, victims who have previously had their applications refused because of the same roof rule will be able to reapply for compensation. Whether any proactive measures will be taken to contact these victims, and inform them of the change, remains to be seen.
The abolition of the same roof rule comes as a wider review into the CICS is underway, and the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse continues to examine criminal injuries compensation as part of its Accountability and Reparations investigation.
Further reform of criminal injuries compensation is certainly needed. The scheme provides vital financial support for victims and survivors to help them rebuild their lives. It is crucial that it operates in a fair and open manner. CICS applicants have spoken out about finding the tariff based scheme confusing; long delays in receiving awards; and difficulties accessing support as they go through the application process.
There is also concern that the mechanics of the CICS do not properly account for the experiences of victims of child sexual abuse. This includes the CICS’ own interpretation of consent, which has, in the past, ruled that victims had consented to the sexual activity despite being children at the time. Victims of non-recent abuse also have to explain to the CICS why they did not report the crimes earlier, a process that can be re-traumatising and costly. The lack of provision for legal costs means that many survivors are left to navigate the complexities of the scheme on their own.
Removing the same roof rule is an important step to ensure that the CICS properly provides for the needs of abuse survivors, but it is imperative that further reform follows swiftly. When the results of the IICSA’s report are published, the government should take particular heed to its recommendations – particularly on issues such as consent and past convictions – that may help survivors to access the compensation they require and deserve.