Victim Support faces crossroads

Victim Support is debating its future as a charity as talks continue with the Home Office this week about the content of new legislation on victims' rights.

The projected bill is likely to make it a statutory right for victims of crime to receive the kind of help and counselling that Victim Support currently provides on a voluntary basis.

The talks with the Home Office are about the content of the bill and what the likely future role of Victim Support would be.

One possible outcome is that its service provision work may become statutory but its campaigning and support services would remain independent of the Government.

But Victim Support is concerned that this may dissuade some crime victims from seeking help. "Only half of crime is reported because some crime victims distrust or are scared of the police and the legal system," said Paul Fawcett, director of communications.

"If victim support services are perceived to be part and parcel of the criminal justice system then they could lose effectiveness."

The charity receives around £28 million of government funding to run its range of services and pulls in around £1 million a year from public fundraising. It claims it would need almost double that amount to cope properly with the present level of demand.

"Even at the moment we need twice the amount of government money to operate effectively," said Dame Helen Reeves, chief executive of Victim Support.

"If the bill does come in and every crime victim has a right to our services, then we'd see a massive rise in demand which we'd need to honour.

"We've been lobbying the Government for this bill for years and if it comes in, will effectively establish our existing services as a legal right for any victim of crime," said Reeves.

"This puts us in a very interesting position as it's obviously a great vindication that half of our services have been recognised as an essential public service."

However, Reeves is concerned that the other half of Victim Support's work, which deals with counselling, campaigning and support work, should remain independent of the Government.

"We need a lot of flexibility to deliver and define our own priorities," said Reeves. "Everyone benefits from us being a charity and we're exploring ways that we can become involved in this while retaining our independent voice."

The proposed bill will set out the services the Government is obliged to offer any victim of crime. Victim Support has been involved in ongoing discussions over the possible shape of the legislation and is expecting a draft bill to be presented over the summer.

Victim Support admits that it suffers from the misconception that it is already a public service. "Because we run some services alongside the police force, people often take our service for granted," said Fawcett.

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