SURVIVORS of domestic abuse are being put at risk of homelessness because council rules say they are not vulnerable enough to need help finding a permanent home, a new report claims.
According to the report, published by Crisis and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness (APPGEH), an estimated 1,960 households fleeing domestic abuse in England is let down by the system every year.
This is because under the current rules, not everyone fleeing domestic abuse in England is considered in “priority need” meaning they are not being provided with a safe home by their local authority housing teams.
A Safe Home: Breaking the link between homelessness and domestic abuse, as the report is called, bases its findings of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests made to 168 (52%) councils across the country. It is said to paint a “bleak” picture of the “harrowing” situation people experiencing abuse are left in.
Faced with the prospect of nowhere to turn, it says many survivors have no option but to return to their abusers or face the dangers of homelessness.
“It’s beyond heart-breaking that people fleeing for their lives are being forced to choose between homelessness or returning to their abusers because the services that should have found them a safe home, don’t consider them a priority,” said Neil Coyle MP, chair of the APPGEH.
“The current system of asking survivors to provide evidence of their vulnerability is incredibly insensitive and traumatic, and often impossible to do. We’ve heard horrifying stories of people being asked to return to the address they have fled to gather evidence of the abuse they’ve experienced.
“Putting lives in danger simply cannot carry on. The Domestic Abuse Bill is the opportune moment for the Government to put an end to these harrowing stories by ensuring that everyone fleeing domestic abuse is guaranteed the safety and stability of a permanent home.”
Crisis and the APPGEH are calling for the Government to urgently amend the Domestic Abuse Bill so that it extends priority need status to all victims who are homeless because of domestic abuse, guaranteeing them a safe and settled home.
The Government recently announced measures to ensure that all survivors have access to temporary support in emergency refuges, but this doesn’t go far enough, according to Crisis and the APPGEH.
Refuges are an “incredibly important” resource providing both shelter and vital mental, physical, and emotional support, but in the long term, people fleeing abuse need safe and stable homes to rebuild their lives in, they say. Without this, people face the prospect of being stuck in temporary accommodation for months or even years on end with their lives on hold.
This is considered particularly important as latest official figures show the number of people who have become homeless because of domestic abuse is “alarmingly” high. Government statistics released last week show that in 2018, 5,380 households were made homeless in England over a three-month period directly because of domestic abuse.
Meanwhile, Crisis says its own services support hundreds of survivors each year, with one in five of its female members having had their homelessness caused by domestic abuse.
“It’s a horrifying thought that people fleeing domestic abuse aren’t being supported to find a safe home at a time when they need one the most,” said Rebecca Pritchard, director of services at Crisis.
“It’s simply not good enough that survivors are being forced to sleep rough or are ending up stuck in temporary accommodation unable to move on with their lives because they’re being refused help to find a safe settled home.
“It doesn’t have to be this way – that’s why we’re calling on the government to ensure survivors are guaranteed a permanent home where they can begin to rebuild their lives away from abuse.”
Jess Phillips MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Domestic Violence and Abuse, added: “We know that for survivors of domestic abuse, having somewhere to flee to quickly can be the difference between life and death.
“But right now, we’re leaving people with little choice but to return to the very place and person they were trying to escape or face the dangers of homelessness, because they have nowhere else to go.
“The Domestic Abuse Bill is the government’s chance to make this right by ensuring that everyone fleeing domestic abuse is automatically entitled to a safe, settled home – because in 21st century Britain no one should ever have to choose between homelessness and abuse.”
Responding to the report, the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England and Wales, said that local authorities take domestic abuse “very seriously” but are struggling to cope with rising levels of homelessness.
“Tackling domestic abuse is an issue which councils take very seriously, and they already offer a range of support to protect victims and their families from this horrendous crime,” said Councillor Simon Blackburn, chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board
“The Government’s recent announcement that funding will be provided to place these vital services on a long-term, sustainable footing will help councils in this vital work.
“A multi-agency approach is needed to tackle this crime, with flexibility in the Government’s new package of support to ensure services can be tailored to the needs of different areas.
“However, our ambition must be to reduce the number of victims of domestic abuse, with greater investment in early intervention and prevention schemes that helps stop domestic abuse occurring in the first place.
“Many councils are struggling to cope with rising homelessness and to find suitable accommodation for those in need, which is leading to the increasing use of temporary accommodation.
“If councils are to be truly able to help more domestic abuse victims find suitable housing, councils need to keep 100% of the receipts of any homes they sell to replace them and reinvest in building more of the genuinely affordable homes they desperately need and the ability to adapt welfare reforms.”