Charities warn that domestic abuse survivors may be forced to choose between staying with their abuser or becoming homeless, unless the government lets other household members seek housing support on their behalf.
Homelessness charity Crisis and domestic abuse charities have written to the government asking for an urgent change to a key part of the incoming domestic abuse bill. The change would allow others in the home to apply for help in securing emergency housing.
This is already the case for other groups who receive automatic priority need status, such as pregnant women.
“The unbearable choice”
In early May, housing secretary Robert Jenrick said the Bill would give survivors priority access to local housing services “much more easily” so they don’t need to “make the unbearable choice between staying somewhere that they know is unsafe or becoming homeless”.
But the charities say that if survivors have to apply in person for housing assistance, the bill will “fail… to guarantee the protection of survivors of domestic abuse”.
Crisis head of policy Hannah Gousy said the worst scenario would be that women have to risk their lives by staying with their abuser or applying for help when it’s unsafe, or risk falling into homelessness. She said:
Having to require women to turn up in person to local authorities to make that application puts them in grave, grave danger. And obviously if somebody can’t make that application and another member of their household isn’t able to make that application on their behalf, the reality is that they might remain in that abusive relationship. So what we are really doing is putting people in a situation where they are either choosing to stay with a violent perpetrator or experience homelessness, because they haven’t been able to successfully make that homelessness application.
Given that we know people are most at risk at the point they leave, they are most likely to be killed, it just feels like madness that we wouldn’t put that additional safeguard in for people, particularly given that there are other groups who are given the additional safeguard… why wouldn’t the government follow that same logic? They are choosing to apply a different set of safeguards to an extremely vulnerable group of people.
The government has said that requiring survivors to apply for assistance in person is an added safeguard mechanism to stop further abuse.
Victoria Atkins said the government was concerned an abuser would be able to apply for new housing “to the detriment of the victim and the gain and advantage of the perpetrator”.
However, the domestic abuse and homelessness charities “firmly disagree”. Their letter to Jenrick reads:
It is clear from our experiences working in these areas that it is not always safe for survivors of abuse to make the application for homelessness assistance and enabling other household members to do so provides a vital safeguarding mechanism.
This could be, for example, because it is too dangerous for them to leave their home until they know that they have somewhere safe to flee to.
It might also be the case that they are unable to attend in person because they are receiving hospital treatment as a consequence of the abuse they’ve experienced.
The letter is signed by the heads of Crisis, Women’s Aid, Refuge and Standing Together Against Domestic Violence.
Bob Blackman is co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary group (APPG) for ending homelessness. He said it was “very concerning” that the Government’s amendment doesn’t fully reflect the proposals the group put forward.
The Conservative MP said:
Through the work of the APPG we know just how dangerous it can be for people to flee abuse and how it’s not always possible for them to leave the home until they know they have somewhere safe to go to.
So, removing the option of another member of the family from being able to seek help could result in people being forced to stay with their abuser or face life on the streets.
The domestic abuse bill is a landmark moment for survivors but it’s vital that the government removes this final hurdle if we are to truly provide survivors with a safe route out of abuse and the ability to rebuild their lives in a safe, secure home.
The government was approached for comment but had not responded at the time of publishing.