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

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.

Not just Police and Law

A focus on the responses of police and the law to domestic violence does not meet the needs of most women and children experiencing domestic violence.

For the women who have to relocate to escape a violent partner, it is not the police that are the main source of help.  Police and criminal justice agencies made up only 10% of referrals to housing related support services over six years of data (110,849 cases in England).  The largest categories of referrals were from Housing authorities and providers (24%) and Voluntary Agencies (24%), and 20% were self-referrals as women contacted services directly themselves.

Police referrals were even lower in London, making up just 5.2% of the referrals of London women and children to services; and Voluntary Agencies were much more important, making up over a third (35.6%) of referrals in London.

So women and children need much more than legal and police responses – and they particularly need the independent non-statutory agencies of the voluntary sector, and the information and assistance that enable them to refer themselves to the kind of support services they need.