Solace responds to key housing policy changes for survivors of domestic abuse

During the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, the Government committed to consult on key housing issues for survivors of domestic abuse:

  • Exemption of local connection or residency requirements for survivors of domestic abuse applying for social housing, and
  • The impact on survivors of joint tenancies with perpetrators in social housing

Solace submitted responses to both consultations, drawing on the experiences and expertise of our frontline staff and service users.

Local connection rules

During the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, Solace supported amendments to the Bill which sought to bar local connection rules for survivors of domestic abuse fleeing their local area for safety and needing to access social housing. We continue to think it is crucial that victims are exempt and that this is put into regulations as there is currently disparities in how local authorities are applying the code of guidance. 

Whilst it is important to have this exemption, it is critical that this doesn’t mean survivors of domestic abuse are prohibited from remaining in their local area if they so wish. It should be the decision of the survivor as to whether they need to move to another area, in which case need to be exempted from the local connection requirement, or whether they deem their area to be safe enough to stay in.

Any exemption should not be used by local authorities to gatekeep social housing, either by insisting a survivor must leave their social housing and move to another local authority because of this exemption and the domestic abuse, or by insisting on the local connection requirement.

Survivors are often weighing up several factors including where they have any support networks, where their children attend school as well as the risk they assess their perpetrator/s pose. They are best placed to make those judgements, not housing officers.

Joint tenancies

The legal mechanisms currently available are generally not suitable where victim/survivors share joint tenancies with perpetrators as they are too dependent on survivors taking action while at risk of abuse from their perpetrators.

In addition, in our experience, social housing landlords rarely use the mechanisms available to them and are also frequently unaware of any options available to them. Too often, housing authorities take the approach that they have an equal duty of care to both tenants and are therefore reluctant to take action, even when they are informed that the perpetrator is breaching the conditions of their tenancy agreement through their violent and/ or abusive behaviour.

A major barrier to survivors seeking to remain in the property is that legal remedies to do so often require survivors to issue notices to quit while still living with their perpetrators, which alerts them to their plans and increases their risk to their safety in the meantime. While in the short term, survivors can get non-molestation orders these are time limited and rely on police capacity and prioritisation to enforce where there are breaches. Additionally, in our experience the time in which women are planning to leave is often when they are at significant risk and any notification of plans to leave could lead to an escalation in abuse.

We support the proposals made by Women’s Aid and Standing Together with legal experts, Giles Peaker, Justin Bates, and Jenny Beck during the progression of the Domestic Abuse Bill, supported by the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance.

The proposed mechanism is simple and less costly to survivors, it would also make clear that the expectation is for perpetrators to leave a jointly occupied premise wherever a domestic abuse protection notice and order is issued, and puts in place a much more simple and straightforward legal mechanism to permanently transfer a joint tenancy, putting the onus on perpetrators to challenge the presumption of transfer rather than on survivors to take costly and timely legal action against perpetrators.

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