06 Dec 2021
I am delighted that many housing providers have promoted and supported the United Nations 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence running from 25 November to 10 December 2021 with the global theme set by the UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE campaign: “Orange the World: End Violence against Women Now!”
Wake up call to housing providers
During the 16 days, the Housing Ombudsman uncovered cumulative failings against a housing provider in their response to a victim / survivor of domestic abuse which resulted in her being homeless for five months. The Ombudsman sets out that the case centred around allocations in the main and was deemed maladministration; this should serve as a wake-up call to all housing providers to have a close look at how they recognise and respond to domestic abuse and consider if they are doing all they can. It is always a good idea in any report of maladministration to test how our own organisation would respond faced with similar circumstances. The policy can say one thing; but it is the practical application and interpretation of that policy by our staff that is key to providing excellent and, in this case, life-saving services to residents.
The Domestic Abuse Act (2021) sets out key actions that will support victims and survivors of domestic abuse, including placing a duty on local authorities in England to provide accommodation-based support to victims and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation and to develop and publish a strategy as to how it will meet that need. Local authorities are also required to appoint a multi-agency Domestic Abuse Local Partnership Board. Furthermore, The Social Housing White Paper (2020) established that the Government would be asking the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) to review and amend its regulatory standards to make it clear that landlords should have a policy setting out how they would tackle issues surrounding domestic abuse, working with other agencies as appropriate.
The Regulator is currently consulting on consumer standards with a view to make changes to the way it carries out consumer regulation and plans to create a new consumer function. Kate Dodsworth, director of consumer regulation at RSH made it clear when she was appointed that providers should not sit around waiting for the regulation to be introduced but should actively be listening to residents already.
Last week we saw the change the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court Bill to make it clear to councils, police forces and other local agencies that they must treat domestic abuse and sexual offences as seriously as knife crime and homicide. The Government will add the domestic abuse and sexual offences changes to the Serious Violence Duty via an amendment to the Bill, meaning that when it becomes law, police, government, health, and education agencies are to share insight locally to develop a clear strategy to protect people from harm.
Lets be transparent and scrutinise our own approaches
Whilst I am delighted that many organisations are holding domestic abuse awareness sessions and events as part of the 16 days of action, let’s be transparent and hear those with lived experience of domestic abuse on what they would like to see; and what would have made things better for them. We should see the 16 days as a launch pad for tangible action and commitment to provide the best service for residents. Let’s scrutinise our own approaches and consider what we can bring to partnerships as part of a coordinated community response to domestic abuse. In house, why wait for the changes to consumer standards, when you look at what we can do now? Deeds not words!
Kelly Henderson is a chartered member of CIH. She is a Board member of Women in Social Housing (WISH) North East, a trustee of the Alice Ruggles Trust and co-authored Housing and Domestic Abuse – Policy into Action (Routledge).