The Domestic Abuse Bill must ensure every survivor of domestic abuse has access to a safe home
The Government has today published its draft Domestic Abuse Bill. The Bill puts in place for the first time a statutory definition of domestic abuse, which includes economic abuse.
We strongly welcome the drive behind the Domestic Abuse Bill - to make domestic abuse everyone’s business – and the recognition of the important role of a wide range of agencies in identifying and acting to stop and prevent domestic abuse.
However, given the central role of secure housing in supporting domestic abuse survivors, and preventing them falling victim to domestic abuse in the future, the lack of specific recommendations aimed at tackling homelessness among survivors in the Bill is concerning.
For people fleeing domestic abuse, access to safe, secure accommodation is vital. Without this, there is a risk that survivors will be left with no option but to return to a dangerous situation or sleep rough putting themselves at risk of further abuse and exploitation.
Although 12% (6,850) of households in England cited domestic abuse as the cause of their homelessness, only 2% (1,330) were accepted as in priority need because they were vulnerable due to domestic abuse.
We are calling on the Government to ensure that the Bill makes provision to ensure that all survivors of domestic abuse have access to a safe home.
This would be achieved by ensuring that everyone fleeing domestic abuse who is homeless is automatically considered in priority need for settled housing, rather than being subject to the vulnerability test to determine whether they qualify.
In our 2017 inquiry on prevention, the APPG heard how providing evidence to prove vulnerability can be traumatic and near impossible for people who have experienced domestic violence. There is overwhelming evidence of local authorities consistently failing to provide people fleeing from domestic abuse with the help they need, and of the ‘vulnerability test’ being used as a gatekeeping tool. Recent research by Women’s Aid found that 53% of survivors supported through the No Woman Turned Away project, which provides additional support to women struggling to access refuge places, were prevented from making a valid homelessness application by their local authority. Nearly one quarter (23.1%) of these women were prevented from making a homelessness application because they were told they would not be in priority need.
We argue all persons who experience domestic violence are, by definition, vulnerable and therefore they should be placed in the automatic priority need category.
Survivors of domestic abuse in Wales and Scotland are already considered a priority for housing. Changing the English legislation could change the culture around how survivors are treated by Housing Options teams and speed up their recovery.
The Domestic Abuse Bill provides a vital opportunity to extend priority need to all survivors of domestic abuse. As the Bill progresses through parliament, we will be campaigning hard to amend it to provide for this change and ensure this opportunity is not lost.
Neil Coyle MP and Will Quince MP
Co-Chairs of the APPG for Ending Homelessness