Two thousand domestic abuse survivors a year are put at risk of homelessness or being forced back into the arms of their abuser due to local authority rules saying they are not vulnerable enough to access housing.
An estimated 1,960 households fleeing domestic abuse in England are not being provided with a safe home by local authority housing teams because not everyone escaping domestic abuse is considered in “priority need”, finds a report by Crisis and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness (APPGEH).
The study calls for the government to urgently revise the domestic abuse bill so that all of those who are homeless due to escaping abusive partners are considered a priority and therefore guaranteed a safe home.
Neil Coyle MP, chair of the APPGEH, said: “It is beyond heartbreaking 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.
“The current system of asking survivors to provide evidence of their vulnerability is incredibly insensitive and traumatic, and often impossible to do. We have heard horrifying stories of people being asked to return to the address they have fled to gather evidence of the abuse they have experienced. Putting lives in danger simply cannot carry on.”
He said the landmark domestic abuse bill was the “opportune moment” for the government to put an end to “these harrowing stories” by making sure everyone who is escaping domestic abuse is guaranteed the safety and stability of a permanent home.
Housing charity Crisis and the APPGEH argued the government’s recent announcement of measures to ensure that all survivors have access to temporary support in emergency refuges fails to go far enough.
The report says that although refuges are a profoundly important resource, which provide emotional support as well as shelter, survivors need long-term housing options.
Researchers add that this is particularly important because the number of people who have become homeless because of domestic abuse is troublingly high. In 2018, some 5,380 households were made homeless in England over a three-month period directly because of domestic abuse, according to government statistics released last week.
One woman from Manchester told The Independent she was forced into homelessness after having to flee the privately rented property she shared with her abusive partner after he severely assaulted her.
She said she approached her local authority for assistance but was told she was not a priority for housing, despite submitting evidence of domestic abuse and mental health support needs, unless she was pregnant or became pregnant.
Due to her ex-partner’s bail conditions having been set to the property they shared, she requested that her landlord take her name off the tenancy agreement – but they refused to do so. The council then stated she was making herself intentionally homeless.
“We were together on and off for 10 years in total,” she said. “I experienced emotional, financial and physical abuse from him. He broke my nose and I had to get surgery. It was always something. It was all the time. He would push me down the stairs. He would twist my arm until you heard the bone click. He tried to drown me once. I thought it would get better but it didn’t. He used to cry after every time it happened but he did not apologise once. He would say ‘why do you make me do this?’”
“One night he came home from work. He saw I was trying to call someone and he threw my phone and house phone over houses so they disappeared. He ripped the front door off so anyone could walk in and I had to stay there for security. I did not have keys as he had thrown them away too. He had exploded in the first place because I got angry that he had kissed another girl but then he got really angry about it – saying I was controlling.”
Neighbours called the police after hearing the uproar and he was arrested. The woman was then offered access to a refuge after going to the council but chose not to go as it would have meant having to drop out of her social work degree. Left with no other option, she was forced to sofa-surf with friends for the next two years while she finished college.
“I didn’t want to give up my degree,” she said. ”Why should I give it up? If he had taken me back, I would have gone back straight away, to have somewhere to live. I know domestic abuse survivors who have had to sleep with strangers for somewhere to live. It is weird that they don’t put people in emergency accommodation.”
Her ex-partner pleaded guilty to assault occasioning actual bodily harm, common assault and criminal damage and was sentenced to seven months in prison, she said, adding that he got out on good behaviour in a month.
Rebecca Pritchard, director of services at Crisis, said: “It is 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. 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.”
She added: “It doesn’t have to be this way – that is 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.”
Researchers point out survivors are faced with the prospect of being trapped in temporary accommodation for months or even years on end in limbo with their lives on hold.
Jess Phillips, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Domestic Violence and Abuse, said: “We know that for survivors of domestic abuse, having somewhere to flee to quickly can be the difference between life and death.”
The Labour MP said survivors were being given “little choice” but to go back to the “very place and person” they were desperately trying to escape or face the “dangers of homelessness” – arguing that no one should be forced to make this choice in 21st-century Britain.
The report comes in the context of increasing cuts to refuges – with women and children having been turned away from oversubscribed shelters and forced to return to abusive homes after years of funding cuts. Several refuges have closed since 2010.
Those in need of a refuge to escape their abuser are finding it harder than ever to find a free bed, with the most recent figures showing 60 per cent of them are unable to be housed, most commonly due to lack of space. Local authority spending on refuges has been cut from £31.2m in 2010 to £23.9m in 2017.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government said: “We recently announced that for the first time ever, councils will be legally required to provide vital support in secure accommodation for survivors of domestic abuse and their children, and communities secretary James Brokenshire pledged over £90m for this. This will end the variation in support and ensure that all families are able to recover and overcome their experiences.”
Source: Maya Oppenheim