Older survivors of domestic abuse struggling to access council services due to move to online services
Solace is concerned to see the recent statistics published by Age UK London that nine London councils do not offer offline access to housing benefit and that even when councils claimed offline alternatives exist, they do not always exist in practice.
Solace’s Silver Project which supports women over 55 experiencing domestic abuse has seen an increase in the barriers to older women getting access to council services. More older women are not being provided with offline routes to apply for housing benefits and to make housing applications to get to a place of safety.
Rosie*, a 65 year old woman supported by our Silver Project, needed housing support as she had fled abuse to a friend’s house with only a small bag of clothes, no money and a phone on the advice of the police. She tried calling the council’s housing team and approaching them herself to no avail and only got housing support when Solace referred.
Domestic abuse is a leading cause of homelessness in the UK. Women living with abuse are regularly faced with either having to stay in an abusive and often escalating situation or lose their home. Over 70% of Solace’s survivors have a housing need and we are still seeing those who have experienced domestic abuse are still not able to access safe and affordable housing.
Older survivors of domestic abuse already face additional barriers to getting access to safe accommodation when fleeing abuse as refuges cannot always meet their health needs and there is a need for older survivors to stay near local health services and support networks.
The lack of access to housing services and benefits from councils is particularly worrying as nearly one in five of domestic homicides were aged 70 years and over and a high number of older survivors are accessing hospital services.
Rebecca Goshawk, Head of Partnerships and Public Affairs said “Like Age UK London, we are concerned that the pandemic has accelerated the digitisation of accessing Government support and welfare, with many applications for social housing and welfare benefits largely only accessible online. Since the start of the pandemic, many of older women we support have needed access to these services and may have need to do so fairly urgently, but may not have the technical know-how. This is leaving them in dangerous and abusive situations.
“For those older women who do have access to the internet, the rise in abuse involving technology may mean that women would be at risk making applications online as their digital use could be being monitored by a perpetrator, and it often means increased sharing of confidential information with professionals, carers or others, which again increases the risk of financial abuse. We urge councils to ensure that alternative and safe routes when seeking to access housing when fleeing domestic abuse.”
We support Age UK London’s call for public service providers to not exclude those who cannot, or choose not, to use the internet. In our recent report on safe housing for domestic abuse survivors, we called for all housing departments to have a physical presence, and we echo Age UK’s London’s call for councils in London to offer non-digital options.
We also support Age UK London’s calling on national government to ensure local councils have sufficient funding to meet their statutory requirements, including the proper administration of benefits for older people.