15 Dec 2020

Improving housing outcomes for victims of domestic abuse

Two women hugging each other in time of crisis

The human rights of women and children experiencing domestic abuse, particularly rights to a private and family life, often taken second place to those of perpetrators.

This results in a breach of women and children’s rights to remain in the family home as evidenced by the high incidence of women and children’s homelessness because of domestic abuse.

Frontline organisations, local authorities and housing associations have a vital role in safeguarding the housing rights of victims of domestic abuse. However, we know that services that are supposed to help victims can end up causing greater harm, with the prevention of domestic abuse almost always requiring the woman to leave her home.

Today we launch a new report calling on the Scottish Government and social landlords to use a human rights approach to improve housing outcomes for women and children experiencing domestic abuse. 

The recommendations seek to change the way councils and housing associations support victims of domestic abuse and make it a requirement that their needs are prioritised over those of a perpetrator.

The report suggests how to prevent homelessness and make leaving an abusive partner easier and safer for women. This includes ensuring women’s rights to remain in their own home are protected.

It also calls for all councils and housing associations to have a domestic abuse policy and for regulatory changes so social landlords can be held to account if they do not safeguard the housing rights of victims of domestic abuse.

Later this month the Scottish Parliament will start its consideration of the Domestic Abuse (Protection) Bill. This legislation will give MSPs an early chance to consider some of the recommendations in our report. If passed the legislation will give police and courts the powers to intervene immediately and remove a perpetrator from a domestic setting for up to 3 months and it will give social landlords the grounds to cite domestic abuse for removing someone from a social tenancy.

This is a welcome start and we encourage all politicians to support this Bill.

But addressing systemic discrimination in our housing system will take more than one new piece of legislation. We need rethink our whole culture of homelessness services and underpin it through a human rights framework.

Encouragingly we are making progress in this area. The Scottish Government is considering how we incorporate economic, social and cultural rights into domestic law now we have left the EU. The Scottish Housing Regulator is developing a framework so landlords give greater regard to equality and human rights.

MSPs have much to be proud of these last five years when it comes to housing and domestic abuse. They have passed the gold standard in domestic abuse legislation, recognising coercive control as an act of harm and agreed funding for 50,000 affordable homes.

But we need to be bolder, we need to move faster, and we need to put victim-survivors at the heart of our approach. Our recommendations, if adopted, will transform housing and homelessness services. They will ensure government and social landlords are better at measuring the scale of homelessness caused by domestic abuse, support social landlords to develop their own domestic abuse policy and improve the supply and quality of accommodation available for victims-giving them a genuine choice about where they want to live.  We can’t stop now.