Domestic abuse is a leading cause of homelessness in the UK. Women living with abuse are regularly faced with either having to stay in an abusive and often escalating situation or lose their homes. Over 70% of Solace’s survivors have a housing need and the charity is still seeing those who have experienced domestic abuse not able to access safe and affordable housing.
The Domestic Abuse Act amended housing legislation to give automatic priority need to all survivors of domestic abuse making homelessness applications, so they would no longer need to prove they were more vulnerable than an ordinary person in order to be eligible for temporary accommodation.
Solace has investigated the impact of this change and their new report on housing has found that women are still too often facing ‘gatekeeping’ from housing officers which are preventing them from accessing support and accommodation, leaving vulnerable women re-traumatised when they sought help to leave an abuser.
Solace’s new report found that:
- The number of people made homeless by domestic abuse between these periods increased by 24% in England and 22% in London, which is reflected in the experiences of our service users, 887 of whom were made homeless by domestic abuse in the full year April 2021 to March 2022 compared to 609 the previous year.
- The number of people accepted as a priority needs also increased between the 9-month period above, by 35% in England from 1,140 to 1,540 people and by 193% in London, from 140 to 410 people
- 30% of frontline workers said ‘gatekeeping’ practices had improved following the DA Act change but 50% said it has not. Housing officers continue to say they require evidence of police reports to support women’s applications, with 71% of staff saying this happened in at least some applications and 21% saying it happened in most or all applications – reflecting different approaches across different authorities.
- Frontline workers are seeing that housing officers are using delaying tactics and are giving the worst-case scenario to put women off. Staff have also voiced concerns that when survivors present without an advocate they are treated as though they are only making enquiries and not even recorded as presenting as homeless. It’s only when professionals get involved and quote the law they follow the process they are meant to.
- The extent to which housing officers are asking for proof of physical violence has reduced since Solace last ran the survey, which Solace believe shows the impact of the Domestic Abuse Act definition of domestic abuse including economic abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour.
- Two key groups are still being excluded to access housing and this needs to be addressed. Migrant women with insecure immigration status and those with no recourse to public funds are not eligible for housing support and can be made destitute by domestic abuse. They are some of the most marginalised and vulnerable survivors as a result. Survivors of rape and sexual violence are excluded unless perpetrated by an intimate partner or family member.
Solace’s recommendations for safe housing
To tackle the housing challenges survivors of domestic abuse face, we need action from the central Government, pan-London bodies and local authorities. Recommendations include that:
- Government should extend eligibility under the Domestic Violence Rule and Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) to all migrant survivors with insecure immigration status, and/ or no recourse to public funds who have experienced domestic abuse and extend the time temporary leave and access to public services is given from 3 to at least 6 months, as recommended by Southall Black Sisters.
- Government should lift the no recourse to public funds condition and implement a firewall between public services and Immigration Enforcement to ensure survivors can report safely and access safe housing.
- Government should review the freeze on Local Housing Allowance rates so that they are linked again to the actual market rent levels and availability of housing at those levels
- Government should extend priority needs and the shared accommodation exemption for single people under 35 to survivors of rape and sexual violence.
- Councils should ensure every housing officer has been trained in their duties in relation to domestic abuse and homelessness and that this training is readily available to access.
- Councils should commission co-located housing advocates to provide advice and training to housing officers and to provide direct support for homeless applicants whose first disclosure is to the housing authority.
- Councils should ensure that there is a physical presence in the housing department of every council during normal business hours with female housing officers available and all staff trained in trauma-informed practice.
- Councils should ringfence 5% of all new social housing built for survivors of domestic abuse.