In housing law in England it has long been recognised that to escape domestic violence you may need to leave home, and travel quite a distance – including across local authority boundaries. Access to social housing would usually require a ‘local connection’ to that local authority – like a moat created between each council area. However, an exception exists for individuals who are unable to remain safely in their own local authority – like a drawbridge extended across these moats – creating a route to safety. So women escaping domestic violence are able to apply to a local authority where they have no ‘local connection’.
But these drawbridges are being pulled up in all kinds of ways – cutting off escape routes for women and children.
Sometimes, a housing officer in a local authority will not tell women that they can apply for social housing. Other times, they will refer someone in crisis to a refuge in another area, and not explain that this temporary accommodation does not necessarily fix their location in the longer term. Refuges may be required by funders to prioritise local women, and even keep a room empty rather than provide accommodation to a non-local woman needing to escape abuse. Sometimes women give up a secure tenancy knowing it will never be safe for them to return… but no-one tells them that they might be able to use that tenancy for a transfer or reciprocal arrangement to another local authority where they would be safe.
As these drawbridges are closed to women who need to relocate to another area, their escape journeys are made more fragmented – more risky, costly and disruptive – by law, policy and practice. Law, policy and practice which could be changed….
For more details on how women’s domestic violence journeys are made more fragmented by policy and practice see:
Journal of Gender-Based Violence
Segmented journeys, fragmented lives: women’s forced migration to escape domestic violence
which is free to access during August 2017.