'The housing sector must do better on domestic abuse.'
Kelly Henderson, domestic violence business manager at Gentoo, has launched a new research project to inform and encourage the housing sector to embrace its role in tackling domestic abuse.
It is now 20 years since I entered the housing world and the sense of social purpose we have as a sector still inspires me today.
Over the last 40 years there has been increasing awareness of domestic abuse as a social issue.
It is widely acknowledged that feminists working inside and outside the state worked hard to transform domestic abuse from a ‘private matter’ into a social issue which now is to varying degrees on the agenda of local, national and international governments.
Working in the housing sector enables us to form unique relationships with our customers and that’s what makes us ideally placed to play a key role in a coordinated community response to domestic abuse. I know this from my experience at Gentoo.
Safelives Insights research showed that Gentoo customers on average experienced abuse for three years prior to engaging with our support service, compared with four years on average in the Safelives national data set.
This demonstrates that housing providers are ideally placed to recognise and respond to domestic abuse as a first point of contact.
The national data set is made up of services which are largely domestic abuse specialist services.
As well as a housing practitioner, I am also a PhD researcher at Durham University examining the role of housing providers in a coordinated community response to domestic abuse.
My research questions are:
1. How do housing providers identify and respond to victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse?
2. What good practice exists currently and what potential is there for development?
3. How do housing provider interventions support the work of a Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programme and what are the experiences of those that use it?
Addressing these research questions has involved interviewing housing professionals, perpetrators and victims of domestic abuse to understand their experiences, highlight good practice and identify any gaps.
As well as in depth interviews, I also undertook what may be the largest academic survey on housing and domestic abuse in the UK.
The survey was anonymous for participants to complete as it was important to get real insight into what housing professionals felt their role was in relation to domestic abuse.
While many respondents highlighted the work they did to support victims, the research found that only 6.1% of 232 UK organisations surveyed offered support to perpetrators to address their abusive behaviour. Meanwhile 12.95% of respondents stated their organisation did not treat domestic abuse as a tenancy breach. Whilst almost three quarters (73.21%) did, just over half (53.71%) of respondents organisations had actually taken any action against perpetrators highlighting a gap in policy and action.
Comments also suggested some confusion as to how they could take enforcement action or believed action had to be related to anti-social behaviour, nuisance to neighbours or damage to property. While housing professionals were very assured in taking action in anti-social behaviour cases, they did not have the same level of in relation to domestic abuse.
Victims expressed surprise at the support they received from their housing provider and said they would recommend seeking such support to others, some expressed disappointment in regards to a joined up approach and in the lack of understanding of non-specialist staff.
Hearing victims’ experiences of how it made them feel when we get it wrong as a sector makes me more determined that we must better skill ourselves.
For me, it’s important my research makes a difference on the ground. I am hopeful that it will go somewhere to start to fill the gap in knowledge and encourage the sector as a whole to embrace their role in a coordinated community response to domestic abuse.
Kelly Henderson is a business manager (domestic abuse) at Gentoo, co-founder of the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA) and a PhD researcher at Durham University.