The existing shortage of affordable housing including social housing combined with the bleak economic situation and a creaking welfare system is leaving survivors of domestic abuse, including those experiencing economic abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour, in unsuitable, unaffordable housing with many left feeling they have no choice but to return to perpetrators.
Recent changes to access to housing for domestic abuse survivors through the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 are yet to improve the ability for many survivors to flee to safe and affordable housing.
Solace has reviewed how well the change is working for survivors of domestic abuse since that came into force in July 2021. In a report published today and launched at a roundtable event with London councillors this morning, findings include:
The number of people made homeless by domestic abuse is increasing across the country, by 22% in London (from 3,840 to 4,680) and 24% (from 19,610 to 24,290) in the rest of England in the nine month period from July 2021 compared to the same period the previous year. This is reflected in the experiences of Solace’s service users.
More people are assessed as being in priority need as a result of domestic abuse than before the change came into force, which is positive. In London, the number of people accepted as priority need increased by 193% in the same period as above (from 140 to 410 households).
However, housing outcomes for survivors are not improving, with increasing numbers of our service users going into temporary accommodation and private rented accommodation, which is often unaffordable on current levels of benefits.
Housing officers are still demonstrating behaviours known as ‘gatekeeping’, with 71% of frontline staff surveyed by Solace reporting that housing officers require police corroboration in at least some of the homelessness applications they support survivors with (which they shouldn’t do), and only 30% reporting that the change to priority need had improved survivors’ experiences.
Judith Banjoko, Interim CEO said,
“The Government’s change to housing law in Domestic Abuse Act gave councils powers, resources and opportunities to understand and improve the experiences of survivors of domestic abuse made homeless as a result of abuse. We are seeing improvements to the response to survivors in some areas, but many women are still not getting the support they need to find safe and affordable housing from councils.
“Housing officers are incentivised to find ways to turn down people making homelessness applications because the needs far outstrip supply. When they do this to survivors of abuse and violence, they retraumatise vulnerable women.
“For the survivors who are accepted for temporary accommodation, the lack of suitable, affordable housing including social housing, combined with the current cost of living crisis and punitive benefit measures often leaves them in unsuitable, unaffordable housing with many left feeling they have no choice but to return to perpetrators, with devastating consequences.
“The new Prime Minister and his Government have an opportunity to make good on the positive steps in the Domestic Abuse Act by lifting the benefit cap and the two-child limit on benefits and increasing local housing rates in line with actual market prices. They also need to massively scale up social housing supply.
“There are two groups of survivors who are excluded from the policies enacted to date, migrant women with insecure migration status or no recourse to public funds, and survivors of sexual violence. The Government should put this right and make the necessary changes to ensure all women can access the life-saving support they need to recover from abuse."