Everything you need to know about the new psychological abuse law

Psychological abuse does not necessarily amount to physical violence

A new law targeting people who psychologically and emotionally abuse their partners, spouses, or family members has come into force under the Serious Crime Bill.


The legislation will see psychological abusers facing up to five years in jail or a hefty fine, or both, if found guilty.

Here’s everything you need to know about the law:


What was it before?


Prior to the change, there was no specific offence of domestic abuse, let alone any law criminalising “controlling, coercive” behaviour, according to The Police Foundation.

Domestic abuse cases are frequently prosecuted as common assault, although depending on the nature of the offence, they can also be prosecuted as criminal damage, threats to kill, harassment, threatening behaviour, or sexual assault.

However, victims would have had to report the abuse within six months of it occurring, which many do not have the courage to do. Under new legislation, victims now have up to two years to report the crime.

What is “controlling, coercive” behaviour?


The Home Office’s Statutory Guidance Framework on “controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship” includes:

  • Isolating a person from their friends and family

  • Controlling what they do, where they go, who they can see, what they wear and when they sleep

  • Repeatedly putting them down, such as telling them they are worthless

  • Enforcing rules and activity which humiliate, degrade or dehumanise the victim

  • Financial abuse

  • Threats to reveal or publish private information


When does the offence apply?

The offence only applies if the victim suffers such treatment “repeatedly or continuously”, on an ongoing basis.

Although courts will look for evidence of a behavioural pattern rather than isolated incidents, the Home Office states each case “must be considered on an individual basis” and “there is no set number of incidents in which controlling or coercive behaviour has been displayed which must be proved”.


It must also have had a “serious effect” on the victim. It is explicitly stated that the victim must either “fear that violence will be used against them on at least two occasions” or “been caused serious alarm or distress” enough to disrupt their day-to-day activities.