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

Perverse incentives in (not) assessing need

How do you assess the need for domestic abuse support in a Local Authority area?

It is well-known how hidden domestic abuse is – that many women keep their experiences secret and never seek formal help. Others do seek help, but are turned away. Others do not disclose the violence or abuse until they are safely away from where the perpetrator might find them.

But over and above all that… assessing need in an area depends on what the word ‘in’ means…

  • Is it the women and children already in an area?
    • but what about the many forced to move away because of the abuse…
  • Is it the women and children coming into an area to seek help?
  • Is it both?

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 requires Local Authorities (Counties and Unitary Authorities – and London as a whole) to “assess, or make arrangements for the assessment of, the need for accommodation-based support in its area”[1].

But how can they do that?

To take the example of one year of help-seeking to services and one local authority – Cambridgeshire:


The local authority should be able to count the number of women who manage to access formal services – women’s refuges and other types of accommodation – due to domestic abuse;  and include that in their ‘needs assessment’. But that depends – of course – on them providing services in the first place…

And the majority – it can be noted – do not actually come from Cambridgeshire…

And then, what about Cambridgeshire women and children? – where do they go to access services?

Well, some ‘remain local’ – remain within Cambridgeshire – but many (and the vast majority of those needing women’s refuges) go elsewhere[1]

So, should Cambridgeshire be including these as well in its ‘needs assessment’? – maybe if it provided more services they would have been able to stay in the County… maybe they wouldn’t…

Certainly, Cambridgeshire is very unlikely to have any data on all those who ‘go elsewhere’ as the whole point is that they are escaping the abuse – they are not going to wait and inform the authorities of their plans.

So, any local authority – like Cambridgeshire – is only going to be able to count those who come into its area if it already provides services for them to come to; and is unlikely to have any idea of the numbers of its women and children who flee elsewhere.

With the best will in the world, a very partial needs assessment is all that is possible… and there is a perverse incentive to reduce or limit service provision, so that there is less expressed need in your area – and therefore less ‘need’ to provide services for…

Is this what local authorities are currently doing?  Given that the ‘needs assessments’ are not made public, it’s impossible to know…

But it’s clear that if you wanted to design a system to fail to meet domestic abuse accommodation needs, then this would be a good way to do it….


[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

[1] Domestic Abuse Act 2021 https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2021/17/section/57/enacted

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’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.

The Scale of Services

Women and children forced to leave home due to domestic abuse need support and accommodation at the regional and national scale — not just the local scale. 

And they need more than just a temporary roof over their heads — they need the understanding and respect of specialist domestic violence support.  Such specialist support — of which women’s refuges are a key part — can never be taken for granted.

Refuges are under threat, not just from years of cuts to publicly-funded services, but from the very specific mismatch between the scale of funding and the scale of need.

Scale — in this case — is about geographical scale.

Women’s Refuges are still being planned and funded at the scale of local government; and yet it is primarily non-local women and children who need the refuge in any location.

The Domestic Abuse Bill proposes to keep this fundamental mismatch[1] — posing an existential threat to the future of women’s domestic violence refuges.

Local authorities are asked to assess the local need for accommodation services — without any recognition of the very different role of refuges compared to other accommodation services.  And then, as an afterthought, they will be asked to consider the need for cross-border support…

Does this mean their women — travelling elsewhere for support — or women from elsewhere coming into their area for support?  Or both?

Women’s strategy of relocating for safety shouldn’t be an afterthought.

This map shows just one year of women’s domestic violence journeys across borders to access formal services in England (so not any of the local services for local people)[2]:

One year of domestic violence journeys to services

What does all this cross-border travelling mean for any particular Local Authorities?

Let’s look at Brighton and Hove and East Sussex councils, which have just decided to stop funding their local specialist domestic violence organisation, Rise[3].

In one year, women and children come from different English regions and Scotland to access services in the two authorities.  But — and local authorities generally do not acknowledge this — more of their local women go elsewhere to access help.

One year of domestic violence journeys to services in Brighton & Hove and East Sussex
One year of domestic violence journeys from Brighton & Hove and East Sussex to services elsewhere

So Brighton & Hove and East Sussex need services in the rest of the country more than they actually support women and children from elsewhere.

Are councils really going to be able — or willing — to include all this in their needs assessments?

And — if they don’t — there isn’t going to be anywhere for women and children to go…


[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/domestic-abuse-bill-2020-factsheets/local-authority-support-for-victims-of-domestic-abuse-and-their-children-within-safe-accommodation-factsheet

[2] 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

[3] https://www.theargus.co.uk/news/19089879.rise-brighton-loses-13-million-seven-year-contract/

https://www.riseuk.org.uk/news/2021/latest-news-about-rises-funding



Cross-border support

Three little words could determine the fate of thousands of women and children experiencing domestic abuse.

And not in a good way…

Three little words – sent out by National Government – but interpreted by Local Government – will affect whether or not women and children can escape domestic violence.

Cross-border support.

The three words are slipped in – almost as if they were an afterthought – in the Home Office information on the Domestic Abuse Bill 2020.

A statutory duty will be placed on Local Authorities in England to “Assess the need for accommodation-based domestic abuse support for all victims in their area, including those who require cross-border support”[1].

There are at least three major problems with this:

  1. Specialist accommodation-based domestic abuse services are mostly used by non-local women and children.  Whilst other types of support services and temporary accommodation may be frequently accessed by local women who need to leave their previous accommodation, refuges are distinctively – and vitally – accessed by women and children who cannot remain local because of the risks they face.

Pie charts of Help-seeking strategies to Women’s Refuges and Other accommodation services[2]

  • The proposed duty could therefore easily have the effect of undermining and reducing the provision of women’s refuges, and switching local authority funding to other accommodation – including non-specialist, low-support, mixed accommodation.
  1. Many women and children affected by domestic abuse seek help from non-accommodation services.  However, the proposed duty is silent on this; ignoring the fact that tens of thousands of women and children need specialist one-to-one and group support in their local area because of the violence they have experienced.  There have been urgent calls for the Government to address this major gap, but no response as yet[3].
  • The proposed accommodation duty could therefore easily have the effect of cutting these vital non-accommodation services by switching local authority funding to the only services they will now have to provide.
  1. Local Authorities are not well-placed to assess the need for accommodation-based domestic abuse support in their area because cross-border support isn’t a minor role for these services; it is the key option they provide for women and children experiencing threats, abuse and violence.  Most women who go to these services do not go via their Local Authority at all – they cross borders as part of secret journeys, frequently facilitated by voluntary sector agencies that they trust to keep their relocation secret; and not referred by statutory agencies.  For every cross-border statutory referral, that a Local Authority might know about and assess, there are more than double these which do not come to the notice of a statutory agency.

Graph of self-referrals and referrals and the three help-seeking strategies[2]

Simply put, Local Authorities know very little about women’s cross-border help-seeking, and they have a perverse incentive to under-estimate it in their needs assessment of what services they will provide.

If the National Government really wants to “help transform the response to domestic abuse, helping to prevent offending, protect victims and ensure they have the support they need”[4], it must take national responsibility for assessment, funding and provision of specialist services for women and children who have to cross borders due to domestic violence; and it must require Local Authorities to provide the range and capacity of services needed by women and children who stay put or remain local.


[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/domestic-abuse-bill-2020-factsheets/local-authority-support-for-victims-of-domestic-abuse-and-their-children-within-safe-accommodation-factsheet

[2] Analysis by Janet C. Bowstead using data from Department 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

[3] https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/2021/02/02/our-joint-call-on-the-government-to-include-a-statutory-duty-on-local-authorities-to-fund-community-based-services-in-the-domestic-abuse-bill/

[4] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/domestic-abuse-bill-2020-factsheets/domestic-abuse-bill-2020-overarching-factsheet

Essential journeys

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 anyone to escape domestic abuse and get somewhere safe.  Let alone the practicalities and support needed in the longer term.

Just thinking about the journeys of escape – the essential journeys – when women and children need to escape domestic abuse, how do they actually travel?

Because the journeys are very secret, not much has been known; but a new article has just been published from this research about different means of transport[2].

Public transport is extremely important – especially for longer distances – as the graph shows; however two-thirds of the journey stages were by private transport.

And, in the sample of women interviewed for this research, the largest category of transport was the private car of friends or family. 

Figure 1. Journey segments by public, private and others’ means of transport

So – at this time – it is not just a problem of that initial escape due to:

  • Increased surveillance from the abuser at home
  • Risk of being questioned about how essential your journey is
  • Difficulty accessing over-stretched support services and refuges
  • Less public transport

It is also a problem that you cannot connect in the same way with others – friends and family – who could help you with both the actual journey, but also to plan how to make the journey safer and reduce the losses for you and your children. 

This might be the initial essential journey away from an abusive partner; but it will also be all the further literal and emotional stages of your journey after that first step. 

[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. 2020. “Private violence/Private transport: the role of means of transport in women’s mobility to escape from domestic violence in England and Wales.” Mobilities, doi: 10.1080/17450101.2020.1750289 Available here:  Private violence/Private transport: the role of means of transport in women’s mobility to escape from domestic violence in England and Wales

Women’s Rights are Human Rights?

It shouldn’t be too controversial a statement to highlight that violence against women is not just an individual problem – causing fear, harm, injury – but a human rights violation.  A violation that does not just harm the individual woman, but harms society, community, nation and humanity – every time that abuse is not responded to with justice. 

Violence against women does not just need a response from welfare services to individuals; it needs a response from justice services in the widest sense.  It needs a willingness to tackle the causes as well as the consequences of the abuse.

That is the thinking about linking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25th November) with International Human Rights Day on the 10th December via the internationally-recognised “16 days of activism” each year[1].

At the international level, the United Nations highlights that “violence against women has come to be recognized as a violation of women’s human rights and a form of gender-based discrimination”; and the latest report[2] from the  Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences details the international legal framework on women’s human rights and violence against women.

But you will struggle to find much recognition of women’s rights as human rights in the priorities of the UK Parliament.  During the Second Reading of the Domestic Violence Bill on 2nd October 2019[3] only three MPs mentioned human rights:

  • Conservative MP Theresa May talked about an individual abuser controlling a woman “until that individual’s rights as an individual human being were taken away from them.”
  • SNP MP Angela Crawley highlighted that “should the Bill fail adequately to promote equality, including for those with insecure immigration status, it would risk violating our existing human rights obligations.”
  • Labour MP Debbie Abrahams focused on public services for both men and women stating “That needs to be a human rights approach, and those services need to be adequately funded.”

A human rights approach requires a less piecemeal approach.  It can’t be an afterthought or add-on.  It needs to go beyond a brief statement[4] on the Domestic Violence Bill by the then Home Secretary Sajid Javid that “In my view the provisions of the Domestic Abuse Bill are compatible with the Convention[5] rights.”

As the Special Rapporteur [2] states “At present, at the international normative level, the right of women to be free from violence is recognized as an international human rights standard but, in practice, gender-based violence against women and girls continues to be tolerated and has become normalized in many societies.”


[1] https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/take-action/16-days-of-activism

[2] UN Human Rights Council. 2019. Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Its Causes and Consequences. A/HRC/41/42. UN Human Rights Council. http://undocs.org/A/HRC/41/42

[3] https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2019-10-02/debates/C3488538-CFEC-4670-9299-732672E2BE67/DomesticAbuseBill

[4] https://services.parliament.uk/Bills/2017-19/domesticabuse/documents.html

[5] European Convention on Human Rights. https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Convention_ENG.pdf

An infrastructure for women’s human rights

Imagine a world where there were enough refuge spaces for women and children escaping domestic violence.  Where these refuges were situated all around the country – in all types of places – so that women could go to the right type of place for their needs.

  • Not too close – first and foremost you need safety
  • Not too familiar – the abuser might try and track you down
  • Not too far – so that you don’t feel that you have been forced into exile
  • Not too strange – the kind of place where you can start again

Imagine a world where you could escape if you needed to – and therefore also knew that you could try and stay put (using legal protection and services’ support if necessary) if you wanted to…. because there would always be a safety net if that didn’t work.

Imagine a support system that gave top priority to your rights and needs – that was there to serve you.

A basic infrastructure that you have a fundamental right to access – when and where you need it.

Not the current fragmentation – where local areas can decide whether or not to provide services – and restrict the services they provide to local women and children.  Where you have to keep on proving that you really need help, and prove where you have come from – as if you are asking for some special favour rather than simply your rights…

If we really believe that “violence against women constitutes a violation of the rights and fundamental freedoms of women and impairs or nullifies their enjoyment of those rights and freedoms[1] then every state should ensure that women can easily access their right to escape violence.  Every state should provide a comprehensive, fully-functioning infrastructure for women’s human rights.




[1] UN General Assembly. 1993. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women: General Assembly resolution 48/104 of 20 December 1993. United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland. Available at: http://www.un-documents.net/a48r104.htm

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