£1m safety net for domestic abuse survivors as SafeLives and NatWest renew crucial frontline fund

Over 4,000 survivors of domestic abuse have already been supported by the Circle Fund, with a further £1m donation ensuring vital needs are met quickly.

SafeLives, the UK-wide charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse, for everyone and for good, has announced the three-year renewal of its successful Circle Fund, thanks to a further £1m donation from NatWest. Designed by services and survivors, the Circle Fund provides fast, flexible and impactful grants of up to £500 to answer victims’ individual needs, delivered via a network of frontline services.

Since NatWest’s initial £1m donation in 2020, 137 frontline services across the UK have now accessed the Circle Fund, directly supporting over 4,000 survivors of domestic abuse. This includes specialist services reaching some of the UK’s most marginalised groups including LGBTQ+, Deaf, African and Caribbean heritage, Muslim and Arabic speaking, and South Asian ​​​​communities. The fund’s impact is reflected in SafeLives’ latest report; The Circle Fund 2020-2023: Small Sums Make Big Change also launched today.

With services able to issue individual grants to survivors within 24-48 hours, the Circle Fund ensures survivors are supported in the right way, at the right time. For example, it has been used to provide secure locations and Ring doorbell systems. It has also provided essentials such as food and cots, winter shoes and bus fares. However, alongside emergency provisions, the fund is also focused on helping survivors rebuild their life and maintain a feeling of safety.

Following praise from frontline services for its accessible and open approach, the fund’s renewal was announced at the Houses of Parliament during an event to celebrate the fund and the services it supports, where Raghu Narula, MD of Customer Engagement and Distribution, Retail Banking at NatWest Group said:

People from all walks of life across the UK have been affected by economic and domestic abuse. Banks have a critical role to play in supporting their financial capability as they deal with very difficult circumstances. Economic and domestic abuse can be deeply linked and mutually reinforcing, therefore we know the importance of handling with care and making sure that support to break the cycle can quickly reach those affected.

We initially donated £1m to create the Circle Fund in partnership with SafeLives with the aim of making a practical and important difference in people’s lives and we’ve seen the real impact it’s made to individuals and communities. We’ve made a further donation to build on this in the hope it will help empower more survivors. This is just one way that we have and will continue to support customers in vulnerable situations, and we will keep developing and enhancing our support by making use of expertise from organisations like SafeLives.

Raghu Narula, MD of Customer Engagement and Distribution, Retail Banking at NatWest Group

Suzanne Jacob, CEO of SafeLives, also commented:

We know that relatively small sums make a huge difference - £250 can change someone’s life, especially when they can ask for what they need instead of it being decided for them. empowering frontline staff to make decisions and to offer help that has direct and immediate impact is not only rewarding but alleviates some of the growing pressures on services during the cost-of-living crisis.

We are delighted that NatWest has pledged its continued support for the Circle Fund, without which thousands would be left without the safety net they need to survive, recover, and thrive.

Suzanne Jacob, CEO of SafeLives

Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, CEO and founder of Surviving Economic Abuse, said

It is fantastic to see NatWest’s continued commitment to the Circle Fund. SafeLive’s work delivering this fund over the past three years has shown just how crucial financial support is for survivors of economic abuse. We know that many struggle to leave, some even returning to an abuser, because they do not have control of their own money.

This is particularly desperate for the most marginalised survivors, such as those who do not have recourse to public funds, who are shut out of accessing other support. The Circle Fund is a lifeline and we look forward to continuing to support this vital fund which helps survivors rebuild their lives - and hope other banks follow suit.

Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, CEO and founder of Surviving Economic Abuse

Feedback from a frontline service whose clients accessed the fund said

It has been a godsend… The fund has alleviated hardship and suffering for clients without them having to feel shame and feel reassured that they are valued and supported.

This fund has made a significant contribution toward victims becoming survivors of abuse, ending the cycle of abuse and becoming independent

Reaching the most vulnerable, with what they need, when they need it 

Reflecting on the experiences of those accessing the fund, SafeLives’ new report shines a light on the latest issues now facing victims and survivors, from the legacy of COVID-19 and the cost-of-living crisis to a lack of access to funds for society’s most vulnerable. For example, 96% of Circle Fund recipients were not eligible to apply to any other fund for support. Concerningly, over half did not know who they held a bank account with. 15% were migrant victims, who have no recourse to public funds.

With services deciding how to utilise the funding based on need, grants can be issued to survivors by bank transfer, in cash, via vouchers or prepaid cash cards. Services can also directly purchase goods or services for the client. This freedom means clients can access the Circle Fund quickly and safely, regardless of whether they have access to a bank account or debit card, in a way which best meets their needs.

Reflecting on the Circle Fund’s accessibility, Jacob concluded,

With the most vulnerable seldom having access to other funds, the Circle fund has been a vital lifeline to thousands.

As we develop the fund, and our partnership with NatWest, we remain deeply committed to reaching the most vulnerable victims in our society - addressing the gaps faced by marginalised communities and ensuring the fund is available to those who need it most.

Full Report: Small Sums Make a Big Change

The impact that small grant amounts can have on survivors of domestic abuse

Read the report