The definition of domestic abuse has been widened so it covers forms of non-violent coercive behaviour and under-18s for the first time.

It means behaviour such as preventing partners from leaving the house or having access to a phone could lead to a prosecution.

It is hoped the broadened definition will increase awareness of what domestic abuse is and who suffers it.

The Home Office says more prosecutions could be brought as a result.

It also wants more youngsters to come forward and access the support they need – for example, speaking to someone about the abuse or contacting a helpline or a specialist service.

The changes, which will be implemented in March 2013, follow calls from local authorities, police and voluntary organisations.

There is no specific criminal offence of domestic violence. Instead, a definition that refers to “incidents of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse” was adopted in 2004.

But ministers say that has led police and prosecutors to make too narrow an interpretation of the term and let some perpetrators off the hook.

Home Secretary Theresa May reaffirmed her commitment to tackling and ending domestic violence, stating that the Government had fulfilled its pledge.

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