Abuse victims given free access to support websites on smartphones

Victims of domestic and sexual abuse are being granted free access to support websites on smartphones during the coronavirus pandemic.

Charities fear lockdown has resulted in vulnerable people spending concentrated periods of time with perpetrators, while social distancing measures make it harder for those in need to seek face-to-face help.

A number of organisations have reported a surge in the number of calls to helpline services since the coronavirus lockdown started.

Last month, Refuge said calls had jumped by two-thirds since lockdown started.

In a bid to help vulnerable people access crucial support information, the Government has enlisted the UK’s main network providers to zero-rate a number of charity websites, meaning anyone can access their sites from a smartphone at no charge.

The sites include:
– Victim Support (victimsupport.org.uk)
– Rape Crisis (rapecrisis.org.uk)
– The Survivors Trust (thesurvivorstrust.org)
– Male Survivors Partnership (malesurvivor.co.uk)
– Refuge (refuge.org.uk)
– Women’s Aid (womensaid.org.uk)
– Welsh Women’s Aid (welshwomensaid.org.uk)
– NSPCC (nspcc.org.uk)

Mobile network operators EE, Vodafone, O2, Three, Sky Mobile, Virgin Media, Tesco Mobile and Giffgaff have agreed that their customers will not incur data charges when accessing the sites.

“This agreement will help people who are at risk of violence during this pandemic get the information and support they need, particularly those on pay as you go contracts or tight data allowances,” said Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman.

A number of network providers had already zero-rated essential sites such as NHS Covid-19 advice online.

Some internet providers have also removed data allowance caps on current fixed broadband services to help those in need.

Justice Minister Alex Chalk added: “Victims need to know that support remains available despite this pandemic.

“Ensuring free access to these important websites and more funding for vital helplines is just one part of the work we are doing to make sure no victim is left to suffer alone.”