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Victim Support is highly regarded by the 1.4 million victims and witnesses who make use of its services each year. But according to a National Audit Office report, published today, the rate at which victims are referred to Victim Support varies widely from area to area and only a small proportion of victims of unreported crime seek help. The report suggests that more needs to be known about the effectiveness of services in helping victims and witnesses overcome the effects of crime.

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In his report to Parliament today, NAO head Sir John Bourn noted that two thirds of victims found contact with Victim Support to be very or fairly helpful. The establishment of a national service for victims and witnesses across England and Wales represents a notable achievement for the voluntary charitable movement that makes up Victim Support. He proposed that the Home Office take steps to find out more about the effectiveness of the support provided by Victim Support and the various criminal justice agencies in helping alleviate the effects of crime on victims – for example, in reducing fear, anger or other mental trauma and enabling victims to return to everyday life and work. More research could determine which services, or combination of services, have the greatest impact on meeting victims’ needs.

The rates at which victims are referred by the police vary enormously from area to area. Victim Support, the Home Office and the police should examine the reasons for this wide regional variation and take action to improve referral rates where expected levels are not achieved. The NAO also highlight the fact that victims of unreported crime, an estimated 5.4 million victims each year, are unlikely t refer themselves to Victim Support – despite a survey finding that just over one third of them would welcome that support.

The level of personal support provided for victims also depends on the number of volunteers available; but that has fallen by over 3,000 in four years (from 10,180 in 1996-97 to just under 7,000 in 2000-01). Fifty-three per cent of local groups reported to the NAO that they had difficulty in finding enough volunteers to provide support. Today’s report recommends that Victim Support ensure that it is better placed to recruit and retain enough volunteers and that its plans to address the risk of losing volunteers should be monitored by the Home Office.

Until recently, Victim Support has been the sole recipient of Home Office funding for the provision of services to victims and witnesses. The Home Office has not subjected the development of new services for victims and witnesses to competition from other providers. The Report recommends that the Home Office reviews the arrangements for funding voluntary sector activity in the field, clarifying its priorities for services, and ensuring that the opportunity to bid to run new services is available to all potential providers.

The Home Office doubled Victim Support’s grant from £12.7 million in 1997-98 to £25 million in 2001-2002 to fund the new Witness Service in the Magistrates Courts and to strengthen Victim Support’s services, but without clearly specifying what performance improvements it expected to be provided in return. The NAO report recommends that the Home Office improve its oversight of Victim Support: by clarifying which aspects of the service should receive priority and strengthening its arrangements for monitoring the progress made by Victim Support, including its financial sustainability.

"Being a victim or a witness of a crime can be severely distressing and have serious consequences for your life. The volunteers for Victim Support who provide help and information for victims and witnesses deliver an invaluable service which is highly thought of by those who make use of it.

"However, the level of service provided varies enormously depending on where you live and only a tiny proportion of victims of unrecorded crime make use of Victim Support. And little research has been undertaken on what works best in helping victims overcome the effects of crime. The Home Office needs to address these and other problems in order to develop a strategy that will meet the varying needs of as many victims and witnesses as possible in the best possible way."

Sir John Bourn


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