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

22nd January 2024

Over 4k 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.” 

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.” 

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.” 

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.” 

The full report, Small Sums Make Big Change is available here.


Case Studies  

Sharon*, 43, Glasgow  

Sharon left her abusive partner six years ago. She experienced domestic and economic abuse. She has two children (10 and 16).   

There are ongoing child contact issues with their father.   

Sharon is in a financially precarious position. She hasn’t been able to return to work due to the physical and emotional impact of the abuse. She has developed severe fibromyalgia, a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body.   

As rising living costs have added further pressure, Sharon applied to the Scottish Welfare Fund for crisis assistance but was unsuccessful. She was experiencing extreme anxiety as she was increasingly struggling to feed her children. Previously, she had cooked batch meals on a budget, using a freezer which no longer worked. With the grant from the Circle Fund, Sharon has bought a new freezer and has filled her cupboards. ​ ​

“Thank you so much for helping me move forward. I can now feed my family in the way they deserve again. It is such a relief.”  

Prisha*, 31, London   

Prisha contacted a local frontline service, from the hospital. Her husband had beaten her so badly that she needed stitches on her eye. When she was discharged, Prisha decided to leave her husband and was moved into emergency accommodation in a hotel with her 18-month-old daughter  

Prisha is in the UK on a Spousal Visa. This means that her husband is allowed to work but she is not. Consequently, she can access benefits or housing support.   

Prisha had arrived at the hospital with nothing at all. Her social worker could not quickly release funds, and without the support of the Circle Fund, she would have had nothing.   

The service gave Prisha £200 from the fund to pay for food, clothes and essential items for herself and her baby daughter. While waiting for other support to kick in, the grant offered stability and security, meaning that Prisha was less likely to return to her husband in the short term.   

Sue*, 65, Denbighshire  

Sue is a victim of domestic violence and suffers from PTSD. She lives on a teacher’s pension and isn’t entitled to benefits. She has struggled with the cost of living crisis as energy prices have soared.   

Sue contacted her local service as she hadn’t been able to afford a gas cylinder and therefore went without heating for two weeks. She had been wearing multiple layers of clothing in the house and going to bed early to avoid the cold. With the Circle Fund, the service gave Sue the money to purchase a new gas cylinder.   

Amy*, 30, Midlothian  

Amy had recently been assaulted by her partner.  The assault took place on the date he was released from prison. Her home suffered substantial damage caused by her partner, including dents in walls and paint which had been thrown over her sofa, walls, doors and flooring. This was a combination of white and red paint, with the red paint, in particular, having hand marks smeared down her walls and cupboard doors. It was very clear that this living environment was having a detrimental effect on her mental health and wellbeing. Amy spoke of wanting to purchase new flooring but did not have the funds. She stated that every time she came home from work, seeing the paint and damage to her home was a constant reminder of the abuse.    

Thanks to the fund, Amy was provided with a payment towards flooring as well as wallpaper to cover her damaged walls.  She has reflected that she is really happy to come home now and her home feels like a warm, safe space for her.  She has also said that this had an immediate positive effect on her mental health.    

*names have been changed  

For media enquiries, please contact the Communications Team: Communications@safelives.org.uk  

Press Office: 07936 939 653    

About SafeLives:   

We are SafeLives, the UK-wide charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse, for everyone and for good.   

And why do we say ‘for good’? Because we want to stop it before it starts. And if it does start, we want a response that provides long-term, wraparound support to decrease the chance it will happen again.    

We work with organisations across the UK to transform the response to domestic abuse. We want what you would want for your best friend. We listen to survivors, putting their voices at the heart of our thinking. We look at the whole picture for each individual and family to get the right help at the right time, to make families everywhere safe and well.   

Together, we can end domestic abuse.    

Charity No. 1106864 

Get help; information and support  

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