A Safe Home: breaking the link between homelessness and domestic abuse
No one who has fled domestic abuse should be left facing a choice between homelessness or returning to a dangerous situation. However, new research carried out by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness (APPGEH) shows that this is the case for an estimated 1,960 people each year in England, all because local authority rules state they aren’t vulnerable enough for help with finding permanent housing.
There is a strong link between homelessness and domestic abuse. In 2018, 5,380 households were made homeless in England over a three-month period directly because of domestic abuse. Crisis’ services support hundreds of survivors each year, with one in five of the women the charity works with citing domestic abuse as the direct case of their homelessness.
But under current legislation in England, people fleeing domestic abuse have to prove that they are significantly more vulnerable than an “ordinary” person facing homelessness in order to access a safe and settled home. The bar for proving vulnerability can be incredibly high and being asked to provide evidence is not only deeply traumatic for survivors, it’s extremely difficult to do.
An inquiry carried out by the APPGEH into domestic abuse heard of one woman being told to return home to get a letter from the perpetrator stating that he had raped and attacked her. Others have reported being told to provide criminal reference numbers, an inappropriate expectation as many survivors will not want to report abuse to the police. This could also result in a person staying in a dangerous situation where they are at risk of experiencing further harm.
Recent research by Women’s Aid found that nearly one quarter of survivors supported through their No Woman Turned Away project, who were prevented from making a valid homelessness application, were turned away by local authorities as they were told they would not be in priority need for housing.
The APPGEH’s ‘A Safe Home’ campaign calls on the Government to break the link between homelessness and domestic abuse by extending automatic priority need for settled housing to everyone who is homeless following domestic abuse. This would recognise that everyone who is left facing homelessness due to domestic abuse is vulnerable by definition.
The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 places a very welcome emphasis on prevention and we hope that, as far as possible, local authorities will support people at risk of homelessness due to domestic abuse through the new prevention and relief duties included in the Act.
However, it is not always possible to prevent a person’s homelessness, and this is especially true for survivors of domestic abuse. Often people present as homeless at a time when they have fled a dangerous situation and would be at risk of further abuse if they returned home. The APPG’s recent research, which looks at what happens to survivors after they have gone through relief and prevention stage, shows that many people are still falling through the gaps.
It is essential that automatic priority need for settled housing is extended to survivors of domestic abuse to plug this crucial gap in support and ensure greater consistency across local authorities.
The Government is currently consulting on plans to place a new legal duty on larger, Tier 1 local authorities to ensure that all survivors have access to temporary support in emergency refuges. However, the case remains that without a change to the homelessness legislation, there is still no legal duty to provide everyone who is homeless because of domestic abuse with a safe and settled home. This means that many survivors may become stuck in refuge accommodation, unable to move forward with their lives.
The APPGEH, supported by Homeless Link, and other partners from across the homelessness and women’s sector, is calling on the Government to urgently amend the Domestic Abuse Bill so that it guarantees all homeless survivors of domestic abuse a safe home.
To help us encourage the Government to make this change happen, we are asking the public to share their thoughts on why the new legal duty proposed by the Government doesn’t go far enough in ensuring all homeless survivors of domestic abuse can access safe, settled housing. If you would like to support the APPG’s campaign you can let the Government know your views here.
You can also show your support for the campaign on social media using the hashtag #ASafeHome or contact the APPG Secretariat to find out more Leah.Miller@Crisis.org.uk