The Domestic Abuse Bill (2021) saw the legal definition of domestic abuse grow to include emotional, coercive and controlling behaviour and economic abuse, alongside physical abuse. [1] The bill also afforded the police and the courts new powers to protect victims and help prevent offences. This is alongside the provision that all eligible homeless victims of domestic abuse have ‘priority need’ for homeless assistance.

Despite this renewed focus on domestic abuse in legislation, Covid-19 has had a huge impact on the services[2]:

  • Police in England and Wales recorded over a quarter of a million domestic abuse offences in the first lockdown
  • Demand on domestic abuse helplines increased in the year ending March 2021 with a 22% increase in people supported by the National Domestic Abuse Helpline in England. This is not indicative of an increase in the number of victims, but perhaps an increase in the severity of abuse being committed.
  • Between April and June 2021, 1 in 6 new homeless cases in the UK were a result of domestic abuse.

To ensure domestic abuse survivors are supported, it is important for service providers to find ways to improve and collaborate. We heard from Nicola Lambe, Head of Domestic Abuse Support Services at Stonewater Housing on providing housing and refuge support for survivors of domestic abuse. [3]

The Successes of Stonewater Housing

In 2020 Stonewater was awarded the Homeless Link ‘Innovation in Housing’ award for their domestic abuse services during lockdown.[4] During lockdown Stonewater adapted their services, using houses from general needs stock to provide for additional referrals and technology to provide virtual support from its Domestic Abuse Coaches.

“Stonewater’s vision is for everyone to have a place to call home, and that homes are safe places, free from the fear of violence and abuse

How can Housing Providers Ensure that Homes are a Safe Place for Domestic Abuse Survivors?

Be Aware and Recognise the Signs of Domestic Abuse

Staff from housing providers are often the first or only contact outside of the home so need to be able to recognise signs of domestic abuse to provide help to the individual. Some signs to be aware of-

  • Holes in walls or in doors- Bathroom doors are often the only doors with locks in a home so this is where a person often flees to.
  • Handles removed from doors or windows- A tool to prevent escape routes
  • Economic abuse-If people cannot cover tenancy or fall into rent arrears. 60% of women with rent arrears are experiencing domestic abuse.

Working Together

Often domestic abuse complaints are registered as noise nuisance reports and classified as anti-social behaviour. Housing providers and associations need to recognise that many anti-social behaviour reports are incidents of domestic abuse. To help recognise victims and provide support, Stonewater have introduced domestic abuse specialists to sit alongside the anti-social behaviour and resolutions team.

The Role of Housing Organisations in Tackling Domestic Abuse

  • Organisations need to have a robust and centralised approach to recognising and supporting those experiencing domestic abuse.
  • Communication between staff and relevant contracted staff is key so that learning can be shared to ensure survivors are supported
  • They should regularly review policies and tenancy options to work out what will best suit the survivor
  • Work to develop strong partnerships with specialist organisations and understand how best to support survivors
  • Use of data collection, reporting and analysis to understand how to better the systems in place to support survivors. Developing responses and services in line with this.
  • Have strong organizational policies to combat domestic abuse so that any staff affected by it can be supported
  • Ensure the survivor’s voice is at the heart of service design and delivery. Provide survivors with the opportunity to have a platform for their voice.

These are vital measures for enabling survivors to move on to safer futures with long term solutions and support.

Building Sustainable Long Term Solutions

The domestic abuse bill gives survivors priority need for housing if they become homeless; additional funding provisions have been made for emergency accommodation and services. These housing options need to be safe and suitable for their needs to allow them to have a safe recovery.

Housing Needs

  • Safe and secure move on housing options- These need to be available at the right time so that people can recover and move on from refuges.
  • Safe accommodation options- Safe housing alternatives need to be provided for those who cannot access traditional refuges
  • Suitability of properties- Is the property accessible? Is it in the right area? Consider the suitability of where the survivors are being rehomed . Ensure the new home will be safe for them.
  • Survivors and specialists should be involved in housing policy work on both a local and national level- Specialist insight provides the best understanding for housing needs.

To provide long-term support there needs to be a multi-agency approach in providing aid. Women should be able to access holistic support throughout the rehoming process as it is a traumatic time in their lives.

There needs to be communication between different agencies so issues are resolved quickly and women do not return to vulnerable situations.

[1] Home Office and Ministry of Justice, Domestic Abuse Bill, (2021)
[2]Office for National Statistics, Domestic Abuse in England and Wales overview, (2021)
[3] Nicola Lambe, Head of Domestic Abuse Support Stone Water Housing, (2021)
[4]Stonewater Housing, Stonewater scoops award for Lockdown Domestic Abuse Service, (2020)

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Covid-19 has had a huge impact on domestic abuse services with 1 in 6 homeless cases registered between April and June 2021 being survivors of domestic abuse. Housing service providers need to find ways to improve services for survivors and to collaborate with partner organisations to provide the best possible support for survivors.

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