25 Nov 2023

Homes at the heart of effective domestic abuse legislation

At the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), it is our belief that everyone has the right to a safe, affordable, and secure home. Yet we know that for victims and survivors of domestic abuse, including children, home is often the most dangerous place.

We know survivors (including children) who are forced to leave their homes to because of domestic abuse can face substantial barriers accessing safety, with the chronic undersupply of social homes playing a key part in this. In 2022 over 10,000 people fleeing domestic abuse were unable to access safe housing because of a lack of capacity or appropriate support. It isn’t surprising that domestic abuse is consistently one of the leading causes of homelessness amongst women.

Tragically, housing insecurity has also been sighted as one of the main factors in domestic abuse victims not leaving abusive situations. We need political commitment to make the changes needed to empower victims to leave and ensure same day homelessness isn’t inevitable for those fleeing abusive situations.

At CIH we’re urging all political parties to commit to a long-term plan for housing which recognises it as the foundation for creating healthy and sustainable communities. CIH’s Homes at the Heart – A strategy for housing unpacks this further, urging all political parties to commit to recognising the role of housing, particularly social housing, as a foundation for life.

We need a clear, long-term plan, backed by targets and investment, to meet housing need - with transparency and accountability for how it will be delivered. With the right support, social housing partners can play a key role in this. Through their work managing homes and working within the community they can help to advocate for what places need and target their policies and resources to bring about positive change, especially for those who need it most.

CIH is a member of the National Housing and Domestic Abuse Policy and Practice Group led by Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA) which brings together experts from the housing, domestic abuse, and violence against women and girls’ (VAWG) sectors. Based on our shared understanding of the housing needs and issues faced by survivors of domestic abuse, we are calling on the government to commit to the following actions:

  • Support survivors who share a joint secure or assured social tenancy with their abuser, so that survivors can maintain their tenancy and their home, while placing the responsibility of leaving on perpetrators of abuse.
  • Introduce a statutory exemption for survivors of domestic abuse from local connect or residency requirements as part of their qualification criteria for of social housing.
  • Recognise and respond to women’s rough sleeping and broader homelessness as a distinct and urgent problem which requires a distinct and urgent response. This must include a gender informed homelessness pathway and women-only accommodation offer across the country.

In addition, in our Homes at the heart housing manifesto, we highlight that although survivors of domestic abuse who are non-UK nationals are entitled to help under housing, homelessness and benefits rules, many do not receive it. We therefore call on government to recognise and support survivors of domestic abuse who are non-UK nationals by extending the Domestic Violence Indefinite Leave to Remain (DVILR) and Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) model for those on partner/spousal visas to all migrant victims regardless of their immigration status. By extending the current three-month provision to six months under the DDVC it would give survivors the breathing space to resolve problems by seeking advice and recover from abuse and would encourage more refuge providers to accept referrals and not turn victims away.

At CIH our members, as housing professionals, have access behind the closed doors where domestic abuse occurs. Their insight can prove essential in correctly identifying abuse, especially where it could be misidentified as antisocial behaviour or rent arrears. The ability to spot, signpost, support, and safeguard domestic abuse victims can often be the difference between life and death for those in extremely violent situations.

During the 2023 #16DaysofActivism, we call on government to make the legislative changes needed to provide the support and secure homes that domestic abuse survivors need to create a bright and safer future.

Written by Gavin Smart

Gavin is the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing.