I’ve spent the past few years talking to the social housing sector about domestic abuse, why it’s an issue for them, and what they can do about it. The starting point for any discussion is usually that an average of two women a week are killed by a partner or ex-partner in England and Wales, a figure that hasn’t really budged for years. Or, it hadn’t until a few weeks ago. Since the lockdown started domestic homicides have soared, and the number of reports of abuse made to the charity Refuge has increased by 49%. This pattern is being repeated around the world; domestic abuse is itself reaching pandemic proportions and we must make sure that social landlords play their part in tackling it.
It has taken the lockdown to persuade the Government to agree with a coalition of homelessness charities, the women’s sector, the Chartered Institute of Housing, the NHF and many more, that survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence should automatically qualify for priority need when applying for housing. Good news, but too late for too many women who have had no choice but to return to their abuser rather than face life on the streets.
It is hard to completely disentangle domestic abuse from the wider housing crisis. Acute housing stress means that people often start living together far earlier than they would if there were other, affordable options. And when a relationship breaks down lack of alternative accommodation means people are forced to stay together. Labour’s commitment to a massive programme of social house building will help but there is so much more we need to do. And many women and children do not have the luxury of time.
Work done by the domestic abuse charity Safe Lives for the Sunderland social landlord Gentoo (2018) estimates that approximately 13% of all repair jobs, and 21% of repairs spend, could be attributable to domestic abuse. This shows the business case for Councils and Housing Associations stepping up and making domestic abuse their business. It’s shocking that most victims of abuse first come to the notice of their landlord when they are themselves reported as a perpetrator of noise nuisance. Just think about that for a minute. And almost two thirds of women with significant rent arrears are experiencing abuse in the home. Domestic Abuse really is a housing issue.
The work of the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance has been key to the understanding of the relationships between physical, emotional and financial abuse and the housing system. They have free resources on their website and their eight stage accreditation guides landlords through a whole range of issues from case management to dealing with perpetrators. The CIH #MakeaStand campaign has hopefully shone a light on the issues for the sector, DAHA accreditation will make sure that local authorities and housing associations adopt the very best practice.