Domestic abuse victims should be able to change their National Insurance (NI) numbers to prevent their abusive ex-partners tracking them down, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales has said.
Dame Vera Baird QC has written an open letter to government ministers asking them to make the changes in light of a recent article by The Independent which first revealed the issue.
The article detailed how the government had been accused of placing the lives of tens of thousands of victims of domestic abuse at risk by allowing them to be traced via their NI numbers.
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Charlotte Kneer, chief executive of Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid refuge in Surrey, said perpetrators regularly utilise the numbers to track down the addresses of women hiding from them.
Ms Kneer, a domestic violence survivor whose abusive ex was imprisoned for seven years in 2011, said a woman in hiding at the shelter had been hunted down 11 times by her abusive former partner prior to arriving there because he knew her NI number. She explained they had been “desperately” attempting to make her number private for more than a month, but had been unable to.
“She has been traced because her ex has a friend who works at the local council,” Ms Kneer previously told The Independent. “From the frontline work we do, we know people at local councils can trace anyone through their NI number. If you type this into the database, you can see their name and full address and what benefits they are claiming no matter where in the country they are living.”
She added: “Not having properly working mechanisms in place to hide the NI numbers is a systemic failing and the result of authorities not understanding the extreme danger these women are in.
“I don’t think they understand two women a week in the UK are murdered by current or ex-partners and domestic abuse murders are at a five-year high. These women’s lives are at risk.”
In her letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel, Dame Vera said a “failure of bureaucracy” is “inadvertently leading to victims’ lives being put at risk”.
She added: “I was very concerned to read the following piece in The Independent about victims of domestic abuse being traced by their abusers.
“It seems that perpetrators who have their victim’s NI number are able to share this with people who have access to the database which brings up the victim’s current address, enabling them to be found.
“Clearly the current system is open to abuse but the problem could be stopped by allowing victims to more easily change their NI number so that their former partners cannot use this method to find them. However, it seems that changing your NI number is not straightforward and the article above mentions that staff on the NI helpline do not even know the correct form to use to make this change.”
Women are most at danger of being murdered at the point of fleeing from an abusive former partner or after escaping, statistics show.