Neil Coyle: Domestic abuse survivors need the safety and stability of a permanent home
Refuges are just one part of the rebuilding process for people who have experienced domestic abuse. Safe homes for the longer-term must also form part of the picture, writes Neil Coyle
The APPG for Ending Homelessness, which I Chair, is leading a campaign backed by all the main organisations working to tackle domestic abuse and homelessness. We are calling on the Government to amend the Domestic Abuse Bill to extend automatic prioritisation for long-term, safe housing to everyone who is homeless due to domestic abuse.
Last week, we published new research showing that every year almost 2,000 households fleeing domestic abuse in England are not provided with a safe home by councils. This is because, under the current system, not everyone fleeing domestic abuse in England is considered vulnerable enough to qualify for help.
As a result, many survivors are being refused assistance with finding a safe, permanent home where they can begin to rebuild their lives and escape the dangers of the abuse they have experienced.
Our report, A Safe Home: Breaking the link between homelessness and domestic abuse, is based on responses from 168 councils across the country and paints a bleak picture of the desperate situations those experiencing abuse face. With no alternative but homelessness, many survivors are left with no option but to return to dangerous partners. The current situation is putting lives at risk.
The report follows on from our 2017 inquiry into preventing homelessness among at-risk groups, including people fleeing domestic abuse. During the inquiry, we heard harrowing evidence from people forced to recount experiences of abuse in crowded waiting rooms and women forced to return home to collect ID or evidence of abuse. One woman was even asked to return to the perpetrator to ask him to provide a letter detailing his attack on her.
The culture surrounding treatment of people fleeing domestic abuse must change. Currently, survivors are required to prove they are significantly more vulnerable than other people facing homelessness before being considered a priority for housing. Proving vulnerability can be near impossible. Some local authorities also use the vulnerability threshold as a gatekeeping tool to avoid costs. Extending automatic priority need would help guarantee greater protection, as well as sensitivity from councils and access to safe, permanent accommodation.
The Government recently announced that local authorities will have a legal duty to provide temporary support in emergency refuges for people fleeing domestic abuse, which is welcome but does not go far enough. Refuges are an important resource for immediate, short term shelter as well as crucial physical and emotional support. However, in the long term, people fleeing abuse need safety and stability in permanent homes which can only be accessed if priority status is granted.
The latest official figures show that the number of people who become homeless because of domestic abuse is very high. Government statistics for 2018 show 5,380 households were made homeless in England over a three-month period directly because of domestic abuse. Refuges are just one part of the rebuilding process for people who have experienced domestic abuse. Safe homes for the longer-term must also form part of the picture.
The Domestic Abuse Bill is an opportunity for the Government to address the distressing stories of people fleeing domestic abuse by providing the safety and stability of a permanent home. A Joint Committee is currently scrutinising the draft Domestic Abuse Bill and the APPG hopes that our suggested amendment will be included in their recommendations to the Government and accepted by Ministers. Missing this chance would leave more people at greater risk of homelessness or from their abusive former partners.
Neil Coyle is Labour MP for Bermondsey and Southwark and chair of the APPG for Ending Homelessness