“Domestic abuse victims to have priority for social housing”

By Joe Lepper

| 21 November 2018

Domestic abuse victims should be made a priority for social housing, amid concerns that women and children fleeing abusers are being forced to live in unsafe temporary accommodation.

Under updated statutory guidance the government is calling on councils to ensure that victims in refuges and other temporary housing are prioritised for social housing places.

This would help victims feel more settled and also free up refuge spaces for other victims, the guidance states. The move follows a report by Women's Aid in June, which found that women and children fleeing domestic violence are being forced to sleep rough or "sofa surf" due to a lack of support from councils.

It found that 121 of 264 women supported by its No Woman Turned Away project had been forced to sofa surf, of these 65 had children with them.

The updated guidance, published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, states that it is "important that victims of domestic abuse who are provided with temporary protection in a refuge, or other form of temporary accommodation, are given appropriate priority under a local authority's allocation scheme, to enable them to move into more suitable settled accommodation, releasing valuable refuge spaces for others".

Councils are also warned in the guidance against putting pressure on victims to accept accommodation that is inappropriate for them.

"It is important that victims of domestic abuse should be assisted to move on from a refuge, or other form of temporary accommodation, into settled accommodation, when they are ready," adds the updated guidance.

"However, they should not be put under pressure to accept accommodation which is inappropriate simply in order to increase the throughput for refuges."

The guidance also urges councils to ensure all domestic abuse victims seeking social housing are not turned away through local residency tests when fleeing from another council area.

Many councils already exempt domestic abuse victims from such tests and the updated guidance is calling on all local authorities to put this exemption in place.

This exemption is important as it takes into account the need for some victims to put a safe distance between themselves and their abuser, says the guidance.

"The Secretary of State therefore strongly encourages all local authorities to exempt from their residency requirements those who are living in a refuge or other form of safe temporary accommodation in their district having escaped domestic abuse in another local authority area," the guidance adds.

Also being called for in the updated guidance is closer collaboration between councils "to ensure that any increased pressure on social housing does not fall disproportionately on those authorities with refuge provision".

The guidance has been updated following a consultation that took place between October 2017 and January 2018.

The majority (86 per cent) of the 191 responses, from among others councils, charities, refuge providers and social housing organisations, said domestic abuse victims should be exempt from local residency tests.