#Abusedtwice – End The Traumatic Fight For Housing Assistance Faced By Survivors Of Domestic Abuse.
Domestic abuse takes many forms: financial, emotional or physical. In almost all cases, it is about controlling the abused person. It makes sense, therefore, that when a survivor tries to leave the abusive relationship, this is when the most danger can be present. It is when a person takes back control over their own lives.
For abuse within the home, the first step is physical distance. The survivor must remove themselves from the sphere of control of the abuser. Changes in the law under the Domestic Abuse Act 2020 recognised this, and ensured that all survivors of domestic abuse who had nowhere else to go would be recognised as being in a priority need for emergency housing assistance, even if they have no children or disabilities. Detailed guidance was also given to all local authorities setting out how to meet the particular needs of this group of people, with an entire chapter being added to the Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities.
While this sounds positive, unfortunately the experience of survivors of domestic abuse asking for housing assistance is a far cry from the ideals these changes were striving for. Approaching a local authority for help in escaping abuse and starting a new life can be a harrowing and all too often traumatising experience. Survivors are regularly probed for intimate details of their abuse with little or no compassion. People are more often than not ignored or left for months without contact from the local authority, sometimes forcing them to remain with their abuser for lack of any alternative.
The research prepared by the Public Interest Law centre includes first hand witness evidence from every single one of the 32 London Boroughs. In each statement, the patterns are repeated. Local authorities refuse to respond to requests for support or assistance. When initial interviews are given, they are traumatic and probing and dismissive. Practical assistance with rehousing, owed to practically every person homeless because of their abuse, is either denied or ignored completely. Emergency accommodation, when it is offered, can be hundreds of miles away, or otherwise grimly unsuitable. Often survivors are told that if they were “really” victims of abuse they would take anything, removing children from school and leaving any healthy or supportive relationships behind in the process.
The research was prepared in conjunction with organisations that provide Independent Domestic Abuse Advocacy (IDVA) services. Even with an advocate present, the experiences described in the research are disturbing. On many occasions, no assistance at all is provided until the local authority receives a letter from a lawyer threatening judicial review for these unlawful actions. The cases are not recorded in court; they don’t get that far. The actions of the local authority are in most cases clearly unlawful.
The treatment of survivors of domestic abuse is not unique, the gatekeeping practices of local authorities are well documented and familiar to anyone who has had experience in the sector. The difference with this class of people is that they are already attempting to remove themselves from a situation of control, escaping abuse should not be allowed to involve the re-traumatisation of a survivor.
The report recognises the cause of this behaviour, the relentless cuts to local authority budgets and the broken housing market preventing affordable or stable housing, but it strives to throw light on the tragic and often unseen consequences of these. Things can only change when there is shown to be a need for it, and the report highlights the desperate need for improvement.
Legal submissions have been sent to Simon Clarke, Secretary of State for the department of Levelling up and, Housing and Communities as well as Siddiq Khan, Mayor of London.