Staying Put – the problems of joint tenancies

Women experiencing domestic abuse should be able to stay put in their homes – whilst safely continuing their lives and connections with friends, family, work and education.

That’s obvious.

Tens of thousands of women and children relocate due to domestic abuse – but for many others, they try to stay put.

However, even if they could safely do this, they are often caught in the trap of a joint tenancy with the perpetrator of the abuse.

Perpetrators may use the joint tenancy as another tool of abuse. They may have originally used coercion to get themselves onto the tenancy, which the woman had in her sole name before. They may threaten to terminate the tenancy and/or continue to maintain control by refusing to remove themselves voluntarily from the tenancy. They may use their name on the tenancy as a means of continuing post-separation abuse – claiming that they could move back into the home. Survivors of abuse may find themselves trapped by the power of the perpetrator threatening to keep/end/keep/end the tenancy – never being free from the control and abuse.

The Government says in its Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan that it has the aim of “bringing victims and survivors more security if the right option for them is remaining in their own home”[1] but there are legal changes urgently needed to make this a reality for women with joint tenancies.

Currently, the legal procedures may be expensive and/or complicated[2] – with survivors often not knowing their options or rights, and finding themselves facing eviction, or being forced to relocate, with all the losses and uncertainties that follow from that.

A real option of staying put is needed.

To provide this, an alternative legal procedure has been proposed[3] – it was raised during the development of the Domestic Abuse Bill; though it was not included by the Government in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. It would provide a simplified legal mechanism for the transfer of a tenancy in the family court if a survivor of domestic abuse shares a joint secured or social tenancy with the perpetrator. It would recognise the tenancy rights within a joint tenancy, but provide a proportionate response to be able to promote the safety, stability, and housing security of the survivor.

Now it is being proposed again in response to the Government’s consultation on the impacts of joint tenancies on victims of domestic abuse. The consultation[4] is open until 10th May 2022 – asking landlords, lawyers and individuals about what is currently happening, and what the Government should do about it. We’ll have to see how the Government responds this time….

Women fleeing domestic abuse are fleeing a human rights violation: they should be able to stay put, stay as near as they can, or travel as far as they need without any detriment to their lives.


[1] HM Government (March 2022) ‘Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan’ https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1064427/E02735263_Tackling_Domestic_Abuse_CP_639_Accessible.pdf

[2] National Group briefing on Joint Tenancies and Survivors of Domestic Abuse (2021) https://www.dahalliance.org.uk/media/11058/domestic-abuse-bill-joint-tenancies-qa.pdf

[3] National Group response to MHCLG’s New Deal for renting (2019), https://www.dahalliance.org.uk/what-we-do/national-policy-practice-group/our-national-group-responses-to-government-consultations/

[4] Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (15 February 2022) ‘Consultation on the impacts of joint tenancies on victims of domestic abuse’ https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-the-impacts-of-joint-tenancies-on-victims-of-domestic-abuse

Drawbridges and Moats – the problems of local connection

Despite decades of recognition that domestic abuse forces journeys across local authority boundaries, and the further evidence of the scale of such journeys from this research, so many aspects of the system of services and support remain fragmented down to the local authority scale.

Local authorities can tend to operate as closed systems – like they are surrounded by moats to cut them off from everything else. As soon as you cross that boundary, everything changes – your rights to services, your place on waiting lists, your housing, schooling, college access, and so much else.

Government has further reinforced these boundaries – deepened these moats – by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 devolving needs assessments and strategies for safe accommodation to the local authority scale.

Yet tens of thousands of women and children have to move to a different local authority due to the violence and abuse.

And the problem isn’t just at the crisis point of seeking emergency accommodation – it continues when women try to find housing where they can resettle longer term, and find themselves caught out by residency requirements that they cannot fulfil. The drawbridge that let them cross to another place in emergency, is pulled up again when they try to apply for social housing, and they are turned away.

In 2018 statutory guidance was issued[1] because – to quote – “The government believes that victims fleeing domestic abuse should be given as much assistance as possible to ensure they are able to re-build their lives away from abuse and harm.”

But this clearly isn’t working.

Now the Government has realised that “domestic abuse victims are being denied social housing allocations in some areas because they have no local connection to an area” and identifies the need “to consider further measures beyond statutory guidance”[2]. The proposed solution for England is “to introduce regulations so that local authorities would be prevented from applying a local connection or residency test to victims who have been forced to flee to another local authority district in order to escape domestic abuse.”

But it wants to find out whether this is a good idea.

So there is a consultation at present[2] – until 10th May 2022 – asking local authorities and individuals about what is currently happening, and what the Government should do about it.

Women fleeing domestic abuse are fleeing a human rights violation: they should be able to stay as near as they can, or travel as far as they need, without being forced any further, and without any detriment to their lives.

But many of the consultation questions are not concerned with enabling rights and support, but are concerned that any change should be strictly limited. Proposed limits include that exemption from ‘local connection’ only applies for a limited time period “after the victim has fled domestic abuse” or that the social housing is only being considered “for reasons connected with that abuse”. The consultation asks about limiting it in terms of the current accommodation (eg. refuge, temporary accommodation, private rented), in terms of moving to England from the rest of the UK, and in terms of the kind of evidence of domestic abuse that local authorities require.

The consultation recognises the tensions between neighbouring authorities currently providing different levels of services, and pleads “We wish to see local authorities working together with neighbouring authorities”.

But nothing is proposed to make this happen.

Yet again, Government is not considering the larger scale over which tens of thousands of women and children travel – and is not taking national responsibilities – but is hoping that local authorities will make boundary-crossing work a bit better for a limited number, within limited circumstances.


[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/improving-access-to-social-housing-for-victims-of-domestic-abuse

Statutory guidance: Improving access to social housing for victims of domestic abuse

Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, 10 November 2018

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-local-connection-requirements-for-social-housing-for-victims-of-domestic-abuse

Consultation on local connection requirements for social housing for victims of domestic abuse

Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, 15 February 2022

Women on the Move – report published

On Human Rights Day – 10th December 2021 – the report from this research was published.

Featuring more than 250 images by women who have been forced to relocate due to domestic violence, the book and maps provide an overview of the project, highlighting key research findings and new conceptualisations and knowledge from the research.

The publication presents the key messages – and points to further reading – on aspects of People, Places, Patterns and Processes of women and children on the move due to domestic violence and abuse.

To order a copy, please send postal address to info(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)womensjourneyscapes.net or send details via the contact form

Women on the Move – Vol. 1: Journeyscapes of Domestic Violence (book). ISBN: 978-1-7399686-0-1

Women on the Move: Journeyscapes of Domestic Violence. From Everywhere to Everywhere (map). ISBN: 978-1-7399686-1-8

Women on the Move: Journeyscapes of Domestic Violence. One Year of Spatial Churn (map). ISBN: 978-1-7399686-2-5

See the flier for further information.

The Opportunity to Allow, Enable or Assist

Leaving abuse is a process – not an event – and often involves points of interaction with agencies, professionals, family, friends, employers, or even strangers.

Each interaction provides an opportunity.

Every woman has been dealing with the reality and consequences of domestic abuse from before she has any contact with services; and will be doing so for long afterwards. But the impact of these interactions on the journey can be crucial.

Women are experts in their own lives, and are passing through a complicated and fragmented system which may or may not help them. At each encounter with family, friends, services, professionals, or strangers she may need

  • to be allowed to continue her journey – pursue her strategies – and not be blocked
  • to be enabled in practical or emotional ways – with information and input – and not be blanked
  • to be actively assisted by services, support and resources – formally or informally – and not have her strategies broken

The encounters and interactions need to build on where she is at – and what she wants and needs.

Whatever women need, they are still managing their own lives, and have the right to do so; and do not need a replication of the surveillance and control previously wielded by the perpetrator.

Therefore, it is crucial – whether you are friends or family; or professionals in statutory or voluntary organisations – to see the opportunity at the point of interaction. The opportunity to Allow, Enable or Assist women’s own strategies.

The independence of voluntary sector services

Women escaping abuse often contact a range of organisations and services.  Some help – Some don’t.

Different women might find particular services more accessible – more understanding of their needs and concerns.  Each woman’s journey to escape domestic abuse is unique, and only some include formal services in their help-seeking. 

The key focus for any responses should be to respect women’s rights and needs – and listen to their experiences.  And independent voluntary sector services can be key in this – especially specialist ‘by and for’ services.

These might crucially be women-only services – and services by and for particular minoritised communities.

Black and ethnic minoritised women are significantly more likely to be referred to services by voluntary sector agencies – and less likely to be referred by statutory sector agencies – than White British women[1].  When referrals are made by statutory agencies, Police are more likely to refer Asian Pakistani women, Housing more likely to refer Black African women and Social Services more likely to refer Asian Bangladeshi women. 

And Black and ethnic minoritised women are significantly more likely to access services run by the independent voluntary sector – especially women’s refuges – than White British women.  This might reflect different help-seeking patterns, as well as the availability and suitability of different services.  In terms of distance travelled, and length of time in support services, it is difficult to generalise about different ethnic groups as there is so much variety within groups.

There is more detail in a briefing paper from this research.

The differences and the similarities between women do show how vital the independent and specialist voluntary sector is for women’s domestic violence journeys.  So that all women can make the journeys they need and receive the support and understanding they deserve.


[1] Analysis by Janet C. Bowstead using data fromDepartment for Communities and Local Government and University of St Andrews, Centre for Housing Research (2012) Supporting People Client Records and Outcomes, 2003/04-2010/11: Special Licence Access [computer file]. Colchester, Essex, UK Data Archive [distributor]. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-7020-1

Safety isn’t Static

At every twist and turn of women’s journeys away from abuse they are balancing the threats and risks against them with their own needs and plans and options.  It is a constantly changing assessment, as she tries to assess what she needs and wants, against what she can find to help her.

Meanwhile, as she interacts with services and professionals, they may be carrying out formal assessments of her — and her children’s — safety and other needs.

However, current “Risk Assessment” tools are often not dynamic enough to deal with all these moving parts.

One aspect that is often under-recognised by service assessments and responses is how women’s location strategies — whether she is trying to stay put, remain local or go elsewhere — interact with their needs.  The diagram below shows how levels of key needs for safety, wellbeing and resettlement vary according to the strategies women use.

Wellbeing is a constant need—women and children’s wellbeing will have been harmed by the abuse, and can be rebuilt by their own emotional labour, and supported by peer and specialist support in different contexts.

Other needs, however, interact strongly with the strategy a woman is attempting at any one time. If she is attempting to Stay Put, her safety needs will be very high, but her resettlement needs are low, as she and her children are staying in a familiar place. However, if she goes to an unknown and maybe distant place, her safety needs are massively reduced (and she will become ineligible for any risk-based support services) but her resettlement needs are greatly increased as she is literally safe but deeply displaced in a new area.

This shows the folly and injustice of eligibility criteria based solely on assessing level of risk—excluding women and children who are most in need of resettlement support.  Women’s and children’s recovery will therefore take so much longer, with all the personal and economic costs, if they are left literally safe but isolated and stuck in terms of moving on from the abuse.

The interplay of different needs and strategies indicates the importance of holistic and dynamic responses to domestic violence, which build on women’s own responses and rights.  A new open-access article published from this research includes much more detail[1].


[1] Bowstead, Janet C. 2021. “Stay Put; Remain Local; Go Elsewhere: Three Strategies of Women’s Domestic Violence Help Seeking.” Dignity: A Journal of Analysis of Exploitation and Violence 6 (3): 4. doi:10.23860/dignity.2021.06.03.04. https://digitalcommons.uri.edu/dignity/vol6/iss3/4/

Women’s struggle to be free

Women and children’s journeys to escape abuse are often complex and multi-stage.  From initially staying put, both the behaviour of the abuser and the support (or lack of support) of services and authorities may then force relocation.

Women’s help-seeking strategies may mean that they get the support and protection they need – involving a range of different services – or they might encounter closed doors, judgement and prejudice, lack of belief, misunderstanding, and service responses that make things worse.

This conference presentation video outlines the individuality of women’s domestic violence journey trajectories – as women try to get themselves and their children to a life free from abuse.

Video of conference presentation showing journey-graphs of women’s help-seeking strategies due to domestic violence revealing unique trajectories and ongoing housing insecurity.

The ongoing displacement is striking – both practically and emotionally – as is shown by the example of housing tenure, and ongoing housing insecurity.

These individual examples are taken from tens of thousands of domestic violence journeys – known and unknown to services and the state – and highlight the responsibilities on the state and those services to respond better: to journeyscape:

  • Through effective policies, laws, professional practice, and awareness
  • To build the infrastructure and map the terrain
  • To minimise the losses so women and children retain their rights and status
  • But not to determine the route that any woman takes

The principle should be that women – and their children – go as far as they need / stay as near as they can; and have a right to a life free from abuse.

Christmas is a time for families

Women experiencing domestic violence seek help all year round; whether it is advice and support to be able to stay put; or relocating to access services locally or further away.

Many factors affect the timing of seeking help.

Individual women may seek help at a time of extreme danger – or at a time of opportunity: it may be when a woman hears about support services or refuges, or is encouraged to believe that someone will help her.

Women are often not just seeking help for themselves – over half the women accessing services over an eight year period in England had children with them[1].

Women may or may not have an option about when and where to seek help – and if they try and access a service they may not find any space at a refuge, or may be put on a waiting list for an advice and support worker.

However, there is one clear pattern in women’s help-seeking month by month:


Whether women are staying put and seeking support, remaining local within the same Local Authority area, or travelling across boundaries to go elsewhere, the numbers dip in December.

Christmas in the UK is often celebrated as a time for families – with the restrictions this year being highlighted as preventing the kind of December that so many people expect. 

However, help-seeking due to violence and abuse highlights another side of many women and children’s experiences in families – with December as a time of not wanting or not being able to seek help; and January as a time of reaching out or relocating for support.

Even so, thousands of women and children will be seeking help in December – with thousands more to come in January.

[1] Analysis by Janet C. Bowstead using data fromDepartment for Communities and Local Government and University of St Andrews, Centre for Housing Research (2012) Supporting People Client Records and Outcomes, 2003/04-2010/11: Special Licence Access [computer file]. Colchester, Essex, UK Data Archive [distributor]. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-7020-1

Night or Day I can go where I want

Women who have relocated due to domestic abuse talk about escaping from the abuser’s control and being able to make their own choices and decisions – in major issues, and in the day-to-day.

One of the participatory photography groups in London produced this poster collage of their local walks.

© Image by women who have relocated due to domestic abuse – from the research project “Women on the move: the journeyscapes of domestic violence”. For further details see: www.womensjourneyscapes.net