One of Solace’s priorities is to ensure that the Domestic Abuse Bill, currently going through Parliament, is not a missed opportunity to ensure all women are protected when fleeing abuse.
We welcome measures already taken to strengthen the Bill through the House of Commons and will continue to campaign for vital amendments in the House of Lords.
What the Bill does?
- Gives victims of domestic abuse priority housing need - Councils will now be required to give priority need to all victims of domestic abuse who are homeless and eligible for assistance, removing the subjective and harmful ‘vulnerability’ criterion that some housing officers currently use a gatekeeping tool or to turn them away. Our research found that nearly 1 in 3 women make 6 or more approaches to seek safe accommodation, only to be turned away.
- Maintains secure housing for women who flee their homes - Survivors of domestic abuse with secure tenancies who have to flee their homes will now be granted a new secure tenancy when rehoused by councils, rather than the short-term leases commonly granted to new claimants. Our research found that that 53% of women lose their secure tenancy if they go into a refuge.
- Recognises children and young people who witness domestic as victims - The Bill defines domestic abuse in law for the first time and has now been extended to include children who see, hear or experiences the effects of domestic abuse and are related to the target of abuse or the perpetrator. This means children in families where domestic abuse is happening will be recognised as victims by statutory services, which is vital for the 55% of women we support who have children.
- Ensures there is no defence for serious bodily harm or death - The Bill will now make it clear that no one can consent to the infliction of serious injury, harm, or death as part of any so-called ‘rough sex gone wrong’ defence.
What changes are needed to the Bill?
To protect all women and meet international law, key gaps in the Bill must still be addressed by the House of Lords.
As the Bill goes through the House of Lords, we are calling for peers to improve the Bill with amendments to:
Protect migrant women, who are more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation especially women with no recourse to public funds. We are calling for the Bill to:
- Ensure all survivors of domestic abuse can access support, welfare and legal assistance equally in accordance with Article 4(3) of the Istanbul Convention.
- Establish safe reporting mechanisms for survivors accessing public services including the police, social services, and health services without fear of immigration enforcement.
- Extend the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession to all migrant women whether on student visas, domestic workers or others - not just those on spousal visas - and increase the time in which domestic abuse victims can access public funds while making an application for leave to remain from three to six months.
Statutory requirement to provide community-based services
- The Bill creates a duty on local authorities to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children within refuges and other safe accommodation. While this is welcome, without amendment to extend to community-based services the Bill risks creating a two-tier system.
- Our advice, advocacy and support teams worked with over 10,000 survivors in 2020. We support survivors with creating safety plans while living with abusers; with advice and guidance on immigration, housing and welfare support; with implementing a sanctuary scheme to make it safe to stay home where wanted and possible, with accessing legal aid and guidance through child custody arrangements; and with accessing therapeutic support so they can begin to recover from trauma and rebuild their lives. These services are a lifeline and should also be statutory.
Ensure women and children survivors of domestic abuse are provided safe, suitable accommodation wherever they escape to.
- All women accepted for re-housing should be legally granted the highest possible banding/points so that their priority status translates into provision of a new home.
- The Bill should include specifications in the duty on local authorities to provide accommodation that it must be safe, secure, and stable housing, with recognition of the specific needs of women and children facing additional barriers resulting from their race and ethnicity, disability, migration status, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Women we work with have been housed in damp, empty move-on accommodation that was not fit for purpose. For some women and their families unsuitable and unsafe housing results in them returning to perpetrators.
- All women moving across council boundaries should maintain their housing priority status if they are forced to move across council boundaries for their safety. The Bill should be amended to make it clear that local connection rules do not apply to survivors of domestic abuse.
End the presumption of parental involvement where there is domestic abuse
- Currently there is a legal presumption that the involvement of both parents in a child’s life will further the child’s welfare, unless there is evidence that the involvement of one parent in the child's life would put the child at risk of harm. The Domestic Abuse Bill should be amended to change the legal presumption of parental involvement in the Children Act 1989. This presumption should be ended in cases where children are at risk of harm from domestic abuse, with contact arrangements in domestic abuse cases based on informed judgement of a child’s best interests and safety.