Don’t pay the price of a blind eye on domestic abuse

Research by housing provider Gentoo and charity SafeLives shows that taking a stand against domestic abuse isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s good business sense too 

By Mark Cantrell 

SOCIAL landlords have a vested interest in tackling domestic abuse, a new report claims; not only is it the right thing to do, it also benefits the bottom line.

The statistics on domestic abuse are chilling (see below). That’s the human cost. But alongside this, there’s the financial impact that a landlord must contend with too. It may seem heartless to set the two side-by-side like this, but the extra resources expended – on repairs to a property, for example – may indicate the presence of abuse that is otherwise hidden behind closed doors.

Certainly, it’s an added incentive to take a stand against domestic abusers. What’s more, as the report Safe at Home argues, social landlords have a vital role to play in helping the victims and holding the culprits to account.

As the report notes: “Given that domestic abuse is perpetrated predominantly within homes, housing providers can play a unique role in supporting victims of abuse who are their tenants.”

The report is based on research carried out by national domestic abuse charity SafeLives in collaboration with the Sunderland-based housing association Gentoo.

All told, domestic abuse is estimated to cost providers £160 million per year. That’s before factoring in such issues as debts left by perpetrators in cases of financial abuse.

The financial impact on landlords can come through criminal damage to housing stock or delays to rent payments caused by disruption to household finances. Then there’s aspects such as mediation services between neighbours; eviction costs and re-letting. There’s also an impact when domestic abuse is wrongly classed as anti-social behaviour.

Looking at its own case, Gentoo found that:

  • Approximately 13% of all repairs jobs and 21% of all repair costs were potentially related to domestic abuse, costing the organisation £8.4 million
  • Gentoo found that the costs associated with evicting tenants who may be hidden victims of domestic abuse and re-letting the property came to £5,700 per eviction
  • The costs associated with dealing with perpetrators of domestic abuse and their behaviour cost the organisation on average £330 per perpetrator

Gentoo certainly doesn’t need the added incentive, but such figures provide clout to the report’s argument; the organisation is a co-founder of the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA), through which members share best practice to improve the sector’s handling of the issue.

Michelle Meldrum, executive director of Gentoo Operations, said: “Housing providers are in a unique position to be able to identify abuse and support victims. Gentoo has trained our frontline teams to be able to spot the signs of abuse and have a number of victim support officers who offer specialist support. There is no doubt that this saves lives.”

Investment and training means housing providers can spot domestic abuse earlier and work with the police to challenge the abuser, according to Safe at Home. By including perpetration of abuse as a breach of tenancy, then landlords can take a proactive role to protect victims and property, and potentially even evict the abuser from the home – rather than see the victim fleeing the property, perhaps with children in tow.

Taking such an approach would not only reduce the impact and suffering on the victims and their families, it also makes financial sense for the housing provider.

The report goes on to say that social landlords can also play an important role in raising awareness, and in promoting greater understanding among staff and customers of the dynamics of abuse. Again, this would help foster early identification of properties where abuse is taking place so that safety measures can be put in place. This would help to ensure that staying at home can remain a safe and realistic option for the victims.

“All too often, we hear people asking ‘why doesn’t she just leave?’ Which in practice means why she doesn’t just leave her home – uprooting her and her children, risking disruption to education and relationships with friends and family, a sense of normality,” said Suzanne Jacob, chief executive of SafeLives.

“We must flip the narrative, focusing on the behaviour of the perpetrator and challenging them to change. A good housing response can help this happen.

“We often hear domestic abuse described as ‘hidden’ due to it largely being perpetrated at home. But housing providers are in a unique position to work with other agencies, including the police, to identify and disrupt perpetrator behaviour as quickly as possible.”

Meldrum added: “By working closely with SafeLives to produce this important piece of research we have been able to develop a strong business case, helping us to get this important message out to the sector. This piece of research really has helped us to demonstrate why it is so important for all housing providers to tackle domestic abuse in all forms. It really is the right thing to do.”

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Terrible tally of abuse

KEY statistics about domestic abuse in England and Wales includes:

  • Nearly two million people in the UK suffer some form of domestic abuse each year. The majority (1.3 million) are female, but 600,000 victims are male
  • Each year, over 100,000 people in the UK are at “high and imminent risk” of being murdered or seriously injured from domestic abuse
  • Seven women a month are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales
  • In 2013-14 the police recorded 887,000 domestic abuse incidents in England and Wales
  • 130,000 children live in homes where there is high-risk of domestic abuse
  • 62% of children living with domestic abuse are directly harmed by the abuser, in addition to the harm caused by witnessing the abuse of others
  • On average high-risk victims live with domestic abuse for 2.3 years before getting help
  • 85% of victims sought help five times on average from professionals in the year before they got effective help to stop the abuse

(Source: SafeLives)

NH

This article was originally published in the print edition of Northern Housing magazine #1 Summer (July) 2018

 

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