Moving On in a time of pandemic

Whilst the Government has made clear that anyone is allowed to leave home to “avoid or escape risk of injury or harm”[1], there is much else that is needed to make it possible for all the different stages of escaping domestic abuse and getting somewhere safe. 

There is a risk that the focus on women and children escaping to a safe place implies that the escape phase is the only critical stage in domestic violence journeys.  But at each stage there are crucial concerns both about the options available; and who is in control of the decisions[2].

A new initiative[3] between housing providers and women’s refuges is trying to free up the next stage after an initial escape to a refuge.

The issue is that some housing providers have a number of homes that are currently empty as the usual nominations and lettings procedures were paused during the early part of the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, refuges are increasingly full, and unable to support women in the refuge to move on to less temporary accommodation.

Move on from refuges is difficult enough at the best of times – women and children often face years of housing insecurity after leaving a refuge –  but now the problems are even more acute. 

And if women and children are staying longer than they need in refuges that both frustrates and stalls their journey, and means one fewer refuge space for someone else in acute need.  The average number of refuge vacancies in England during the first 7 weeks of lockdown was 97, compared with an average of 183 for the same period in 2019[3].

The initiative from the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA) provides clear guidance to housing providers and refuges about how to make at least this part of the system work a little bit better at this time of acute and ongoing need.

It’s a window of opportunity – to free up space in different stages of the system for women and children who need support in moving on from abuse.


[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do

[2] Bowstead, Janet C. 2017. “Segmented Journeys, Fragmented Lives: Women’s Forced Migration to Escape Domestic Violence.” Journal of Gender-Based Violence 1 (1): 43–58. doi:10.1332/239868017X14912933953340.

[3] https://www.dahalliance.org.uk/media/10760/standing-together_housing-providers-refuges_final.pdf

Stay Put – Remain Local – Go Elsewhere

Each woman’s journey to escape domestic abuse is unique, but there are shared characteristics that can be identified. 

Understanding these shared aspects can help identify the barriers and challenges that face particular women or women in particular places or circumstances.  That can highlight the kinds of help and support needed from different types of services – or the policies and practices that could be changed to assist women and children. 

Domestic violence journeys can include stages of actual relocation, but also stages of staying put; and journeys can be short or long, and include crossing administrative boundaries.

The data from women who did access services show three distinct strategies when women seek help:

  • Stay Put – and seek help from support services
  • Remain Local – relocate to access support, but within the same Local Authority
  • Go Elsewhere – move to another Local Authority to seek help

The three strategies are not just distinctive in terms of where women and children go; they also involve different types of agencies.  And these agencies therefore only know about some women’s strategies – which limits their understanding of what other women do.

For example, statutory agencies such as Police or Health are only involved for some women – and distinctively for women who are trying to Stay Put or Remain Local.  Housing is particularly involved when women need to relocate but are Remaining Local.

However, voluntary agencies are much more likely to be contacted by women who need to Go Elsewhere – escaping to another area.  And women self-refer for all three help-seeking strategies.

Different types of agencies – in different areas of the country – will only see a fraction of what women are weighing up in their strategies away from abuse.

More details in the briefing paper: http://www.womensjourneyscapes.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Womens-Journeyscapes-Briefing-paper-6-May-2020.pdf

The long and winding road

How many twists and turns do women have to make to escape abusive partners?

Only each woman herself would be able to map the road she has travelled – and often she still won’t know if there are more journeys to make.

Interviews with twenty women about their domestic violence journeys showed complex trajectories which could be over 2, 3, or more years; and involving nine or ten moves[1].  And women and their children could still be in temporary or insecure accommodation and anxious about when they would have to move again.

Analysis of the administrative data in this current research project[2] is revealing complex journeys of moves and stays – accessing different types of services across England.  It is only possible to link the data over a maximum of four years, and what is most striking is that these journeys seem to be just the tip of the iceberg. 

For example, a 22 year old woman, with no children, is recorded as having ten stays either in services or between accessing services; travelling over 600 miles within England in under 3 years.  But the first service record is in a women’s refuge – so she was already on the move due to domestic violence before this administrative record begins. 

A 39 year old woman, with a 3 year old daughter and a 1 year old son, was in a local authority tenancy at the start of the administrative record.  But over 800 miles later, in under year, she and her children had 7 stays in different types of accommodation, and the final recorded move is to stay with friends.  Even such complex trajectories are clearly only part of longer journeys away from abuse.

The administrative data only record what happened – we need to listen to women at every stage to understand which journeys are necessary, and which are more about a failure to provide the right support at that point in the road.


[1] Bowstead, Janet C. 2016. “Women on the Move: Theorising the Geographies of Domestic Violence Journeys in England.” Gender, Place and Culture 24 (1): 108–121. doi:10.1080/0966369X.2016.1251396.

[2] EUGEO. 2019. Re-Imagining Europe’s Future Society and Landscapes: EUGEO Congress 2019 Book of Abstracts. Galway, Ireland [Page 205] “Keep on running: women’s multiple moves in seeking security from domestic violence”. https://www.eugeo2019.eu/conference-schedule.

Still waiting for security

The Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Act 2018 became law in May last year – but there is no sign of it actually coming into force.

The Act had support in all political parties – believing that no-one should have to prioritise their personal security in escaping abuse, over their longer-term housing security.

It should mean that anybody in England who leaves a secure social housing tenancy due to domestic abuse should receive the same security of tenure when they apply to a new local authority.

So what’s happened?

Well, it seems to be waiting for the Secretary of State to fill in the detail – to provide the regulations[1].

In the past year, since it became law, thousands of women will have left permanent housing tenancies to escape domestic abuse.

Did they lose those tenancies?  Did they keep the security of a permanent tenancy?

The simple answer is, we don’t know.

There is now a new Secretary of State[2] – the second since the Bill was first introduced – and we’re still waiting…


[1] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2018/11/section/2/enacted

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/ministers/secretary-of-state-for-housing-communities-and-local-government

Is it ‘some’ or ‘many’?

The Government’s consultation[1] about the accommodation needs of domestic abuse survivors provides a welcome focus on women’s and children’s needs in terms of support and refuge.  But in its proposal to place a statutory duty on only local (rather than national) government, it appears confused about the scale of the issue of relocation due to domestic abuse.

In the main part of the consultation document there is some acknowledgement of the needs of those who move across borders to access support:

“We recognise that in some cases, an appropriate response to supporting a victim and their children will be to help them move to another local area to access services and rebuild their lives.” [p22]

And the suggested Statutory Duty on local authorities would require them to:

“Assess the need and demand for accommodation-based support for all victims and their children, including those who require cross-border support.” [p17]

But this reminder has disappeared by the overview summary two pages later, which only says:

“Assess the need and demand for accommodation-based support for all victims and their children” [p19]

This makes the needs and rights of tens of thousands of women and children who cross local authority boundaries appear a bit of an afterthought.

And yet, in the Annex of “Priorities for Domestic Abuse Services” there is repeated recognition that:

“many victims of domestic abuse need to flee from their local area to access services and stay safe.” [p42]

And that local authorities are expected to commission services that:

 “Meet the needs of victims from within and outside the local area, recognising that many victims move from their local area to be safe.” [p43]

So – is it a marginal issue affecting some individuals; or does it affect many?

Of course, it affects many – tens of thousands – and this consultation (which ends on 2nd August 2019) is an important opportunity to wake up to that fact; and ensure that women and children who relocate across boundaries due to domestic abuse do not continue to disappear through the gaps in policy, service provision and rights.


[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/support-for-victims-of-domestic-abuse-in-safe-accommodation

Are you local?

Because specialist services on domestic abuse, and housing rights and provision, are devolved by the UK Government, there is no consistent response across the country.  There are different responses between the UK nations, and between local authorities – even within the same region.

On top of everything else you have to face if you relocate to escape a violence partner, you have to find out what it means to have left your local area and journeyed somewhere else.

Statutory services in your new area will ask – Are you local?

– and, if you are not, then you may find yourself or your children at the back of the queue for services – or even not eligible at all.

This is particularly the case if you need homelessness help – if you want to try and go to social housing.  By law, local authorities have to determine if you have a “Local Connection”, and – if not – whether you have a good enough reason for now being in their area and seeking help.

Tens of thousands of women and children are forced to relocate due to domestic abuse – and many cross local authority boundaries and seek help in an unknown place.  But this means that they often have no “Local Connection” – the lack of connection is often vital for them to feel and be safe.  However, the research in this project has shown that most local authorities have a similar number of women and children leaving as the number who arrive to seek help[1] – so the authorities are not unfairly affected.  They are only helping women and children to the same extent as their women and children are being helped elsewhere.

So it’s good to see the Scottish Government consulting[2] on easing the “Local Connection” legislation, recognising that “Choice may lead to better outcomes than a strict interpretation of the legislative test.”  They see the importance for resettlement if people who have been forced to move from their local area are able to go to their kind of place to start again: that “People experiencing homelessness are best placed to make the judgement as to the geographical area which best meets these needs.”


[1] Bowstead, Janet C. 2015. “Forced Migration in the United Kingdom: Women’s Journeys to Escape Domestic Violence.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 40 (3): 307–320. doi:10.1111/tran.12085.

[2] https://www.gov.scot/publications/consultation-local-connection-intentionality-provisions-homelessness-legislation/

What about housing associations?

The Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill received Royal Assent on 10th May 2018, and so is now an Act of Parliament.  Politicians of all parties welcomed the new law, saying it will “protect lifetime tenants who have to flee their home” (Heather Wheeler, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government) and “do a large amount of good for many domestic abuse victims across the country” (Melanie Onn, Great Grimsby, Labour).  The debate in Parliament talked about removing a key barrier that prevents domestic abuse victims from leaving their perpetrator[1].

If so, that is to be welcomed.

But it is also important to know that various details and concerns have been left until the guidance is published.

One significant amendment that was not passed was about new housing association tenancies.  Many women experiencing domestic abuse will move to a housing association property – including in areas where all the social housing is housing association and not council housing.

However, the Government limited the Act to local authorities, and said “housing associations will continue to have the freedom, which they have now, to offer lifetime tenancies wherever they consider it appropriate” (Heather Wheeler).

Some housing associations are developing good practice.  For example, Gentoo, a housing association that provides over 29,000 homes in North East England, has recently produced a report showing how good practice by housing associations on domestic abuse makes financial as well as moral sense[2].  But others are not so good.

So, what about housing associations?  – we’ll have to wait and see…  The Government has left it that “We expect housing associations to take very seriously their responsibilities for people fleeing domestic violence and abuse” (Heather Wheeler).

[1] https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/securetenanciesvictimsofdomesticabuse.html

[2] Safe Lives and Gentoo (2018) Safe at Home: The case for a response to domestic abuse by housing providers. Available from: http://www.safelives.org.uk/Safe_at_Home

 

Secure tenancies – a real possibility?

Women who have to leave home because of domestic violence face many losses.  Whether they move locally, or across the country, they often lose possessions – both practical things like furniture, cooker, washing machine, and personal things like photographs, favourite clothes, children’s drawings and toys.

They also lose their rights to services.  Sometimes because of different service provision around the country, other times because they have to start again at the bottom of waiting lists, or they have missed a crucial enrolment date in the new area.  Sometimes because they cannot find their way around the bureaucracy.

They may lose their housing rights.  If they have a secure housing tenancy that they have to leave, there is a real risk that they will end up with far less housing security in the new area.  They will have had to choose personal security over housing security.

They shouldn’t have to choose.

A Government Bill currently going through Parliament may start to address this problem.  The Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill had its latest committee debate on the 27th of March[1].  The Minister stated:

“Under the Bill, any local authority in England that has somebody presenting with domestic abuse issues must take on a secure tenancy if that person had a secure tenancy before. It cannot be plainer than that.”

Heather Wheeler (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government)

In the debate, other MPs highlighted the difficulties and implications of relocating:

“Still too often, we require the victim to put the pieces of her escape route together.”

Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)

“People do not necessarily leave a secure tenancy; sometimes they go to stay with a friend, sometimes they go to a refuge and sometimes they go to stay with their parents. In most housing law, that diminishes their rights.”

Sir Robert Syms (Poole) (Con)

“We are talking mostly about women who have spent months, years, sometimes decades making mental lists over and again about their route out.  Our main responsibility today is to remove all the barriers on that route out.”

Rosie Duffield (Canterbury) (Lab)

To follow the progress of this Bill, see https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/securetenanciesvictimsofdomesticabuse.html

[1] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmpublic/SecureTenancies/PBC_Combined_1-2_27_03_2018.pdf

Good news on London moves

The scheme in London that enables people at high risk of harm to relocate without losing security of housing tenure has been running for a year.  It’s a positive beginning to ensuring that – at a time of many other losses – women and children can gain their safety without losing their housing security.

Requests were made from almost every London Borough, and the majority of moves supported individuals and families fleeing domestic abuse.  Some received greater security of tenure than they had before, and almost all received the same security of tenure.  Safer London – which is funded by the London Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime to run the scheme – is committed to make sure that no-one feels under pressure to take a shorter or less secure tenancy, and will not take anyone off the list for refusing an unsuitable property.  Despite the pressures on social housing in London, the moves so far have taken an average of only 2 months to arrange.

This is good news.  As a Housing Professional quoted in the report says:

“Due to the reciprocal I was able to support the client to address her safety which was her priority. It was important that the client felt in control of where she wanted to relocate to which was in the area she was placed as she felt that her family, friends and network in the area would help her to move forward, free of further abuses.”

In terms of the project on this website – Women on the move: the journeyscapes of domestic violence – it is interesting to note that the scheme recognises the problems of administrative boundaries: constraining and confusing the journeys women and children need to make.  These boundaries often become barriers, so that women cannot make the journeys that work for them, and are forced to move further or nearer than they need; or to a place that is less suitable for them and their children to start again[1].

 

[1] To quote from the report: “One of the common themes that the team have found is that applicants, and the professionals supporting them, do not visualise London by borough. This has resulted in many people wishing to be moved to specific areas of a borough, or not having full knowledge of the areas that they have included in their request.” Page 15, Safer London. 2018. Pan London Housing Reciprocal Year 1 Report (Feb 2017 – Jan 2018). https://saferlondon.org.uk/pan-london-housing-reciprocal/.

Pulling up the drawbridge

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.