How Aviva supports those facing domestic abuse

As charities brace themselves for an increase in people seeking help over Christmas, Danny Harmer explains what measures the insurance firm put in place to tackle the problem

‘And so this is Christmas, and what have you done…’, as the well-known song goes. This festive season is going to be different for sure, with restrictions on who we can see and how we get together. 

Most of us are working out how to celebrate the festive season at home in a slightly more understated way. But for some people, sadly domestic abuse means that home is not a haven, and this is a focus for us at Aviva. We need to recognise the threat of domestic abuse that our colleagues and customers may be experiencing. By creating an environment where people feel safe to open up while providing practical support, organisations can help.

Last year, the number of domestic abuse crimes reported to police over the Christmas period increased by 13 per cent from the year before. With people spending more time at home, charities are bracing themselves for an increase in the number of people seeking help with abusive relationships.

Long before we knew what 2020 had in store, a small team at Aviva designed specialist training for our customer-facing colleagues to support victims of domestic abuse. We initially rolled this out to around 150 of our people. We could not have imagined how timely the training would be.

During the first lockdown, cases of domestic abuse increased as people became house-bound overnight and their escape to the safety of their workplace was no longer available. Between April and June 2020, there was a 65 per cent rise in calls and contacts logged by the National Domestic Abuse Helpline.

We realised wider support was needed for our employees as well. So we formally launched our domestic abuse awareness and support policy and training in July 2020. As a large employer and a company with significant customer contact, we focused on both colleague and customer support, helping our employees to identify the signs and offer best practice responses and guidance to customers and also to colleagues. Our partnership with the amazing specialist charity SafeLives has been central to our efforts.

Since then, more than 1,200 colleagues have completed the awareness training. It’s not compulsory – we want to create a culture where our people can choose to engage with such a difficult subject. 

Three key things we’ve learned since we introduced support:

  • Goodwill is great but is not enough. Seek specialist help and partner with experts, such as SafeLives. 
  • Keep the conversation going. The more we talk about this and encourage our people to understand, the greater the chance to help someone and make a difference.  
  • It’s never finished. This is a complex issue. Our support will need to remain relevant and we’ll work to keep it that way.

Since the launch in July, we’ve updated the awareness training to include advice and support on stalking. Stalking is another difficult area that’s also become more acute, because the visible signs we may have picked up on in offices – such as ex-partners turning up or attempting to make contact – are now unseen with so many working from home. 

One of the many stories that will stay with me serves as a reminder of how important this is. Thanks to the training an employee, who is a member of an online parenting group, spotted red flags in the language used in another member’s post. She checked in with this person, sharing resources with them. Thankfully her intervention was the wake-up call the individual needed to get out of a dangerous home situation and into a refuge. 

So if you’re looking for a new year’s resolution for 2021, I’d encourage you to think about how your organisation can support your employees and customers who may be victims of domestic abuse. Ultimately, business is about people and we are all members of the communities that our customers and colleagues live in. What better than to know that, with the right support, your employees could save someone’s life, literally. 



Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service

Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helplines:

  • England – 0808 2000 247
  • Scotland – 0800 0271 234
  • Northern Ireland – 0808 8021 414
  • Wales – 0808 8010 800
  • Ireland – 1800 341 900

Danny Harmer is chief people officer at Aviva