In a longitudinal evaluation of two multi-agency projects providing holistic, early intervention to victim/survivors of domestic violence, their children and perpetrators, the voluntary perpetrator programmes (VPPs) were the least successful aspect of the initiatives. This article explores why there were relatively low numbers of abusive partners self-referring and/or being referred into programmes and high drop-out rates in the pre-commencement phase. Four key reasons emerged: work with perpetrators was not within the remit of partner agencies; when it was part of their remit, it was through a criminal justice lens; agencies such as children's services claimed to work with families but in practice this meant mothers and children only; and female practitioners felt unsafe about engaging with perpetrators, especially when this was in a domestic setting. These findings echo those of others who have found that practitioners rarely expect to or actually engage with men as partners or family members. We conclude that discussions of the effectiveness of VPPs should consider the engagement of perpetrators in the pre-commencement phase. Additionally, training to improve the skills and confidence of practitioners such as social workers to more effectively engage and prepare perpetrators in the pre-commencement phase could improve engagement rates for these programmes.