New report demonstrates need for ‘Whole Housing Approach’ for victim-survivors of domestic abuse

Report finds that two-thirds of victim-survivors interviewed were either living in private rented property (38%) or owned their own home (33%) yet the needs of those in privately rented/owned homes are invisible.

More needs to be done to support victims-survivors of domestic abuse who are homeowners or private renters, according to a new analysis carried out by the University of Bristol for the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA) and Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA).

The analysis was funded by social landlord Peabody as part of a pilot project called the ‘Whole Housing Approach’. The project seeks to increase safety and choice for victims and their children, to reduce the use of costly emergency and/or refuge accommodation and ensure that, so far as is practicable and safe, victims can remain in their own homes.

The analysis drew on the Justice, Inequality and Gender Based Violence research (conducted by the Universities of Bristol, West of England and Cardiff between 2015 and 2018, ESRC grant ES/M010090/1), which included in-depth interviews  with 251 victim-survivors of gender-based violence and abuse (GBV), of which over two-thirds were either living in private rented property (38%) or owned their own home (33%).

Key findings highlight a need for awareness raising across both privately owned and privately rented sectors and systemic changes to the legal and procedural frameworks that underpin them.

Key findings include:

  • Financial penalties for victim-survivors
  • Loss of the family home and the emotional impact of having to leave
  • Barriers to safety
  • Importance of affordable, adequate legal advice and ineligibility for legal aid
  • Experiences of help-seeking amongst victims-survivors with a range of agencies
  • Debt, created by the perpetrator or accrued through legal fees
  • Continued abuse post-separation
  • Court orders are crucial but obtaining one can be slow and expensive

Private rented sector tenants received inconsistent advice about their legal rights when trying to remain in the home, relied on permission from the landlord to implement safety measures and were unable to change the locks. Many found that the only way to remove the perpetrator from the tenancy was to leave the home and end the tenancy completely. Financial penalties included the cost of starting over in new accommodation and being liable for all of the rent, bills and any damage caused by the perpetrator.

Homeowners also incurred financial penalties for leaving, reaching hundreds of thousands of pounds for one victim-survivor. They were more likely to end up with huge legal bills as a consequence of having to fight for what is rightfully theirs and many, approximately 1 in 5 (18%), applied for an occupation order. Many homeowners lacked the financial means to protect access to their own property and lost their financial investment.

In May 2019, the UK Government unveiled a new package of support for victims-survivors of domestic violence and abuse (DVA). It sees a legal duty placed on local authorities to deliver support in accommodation-based services, backed by funding to place services on a sustainable footing. The intention is that this new requirement will end the variation in support for those fleeing domestic abuse across the UK.

DAHA and SEA have both responded to the UK Government consultation which closed on the 22nd August, recommending that all local authorities adopt a ‘Whole Housing Approach’ to accommodation for victim-survivors of domestic abuse.

Victoria Watts, DAHA Development Manager PRS, said: “The private rented sector (PRS) needs to be better informed and aware of what constitutes domestic abuse to improve its response and adhere to safeguarding responsibilities. The package of support from Government is a welcome step forward and will hopefully help many victims-survivors of DVA living in social housing, it may not address the specific needs of those victims-survivors who are either homeowners or privately renting.”

Stephanie Orr, Privately Owned Housing Advocate, Surviving Economic Abuse, said: “’Non-traditional’ stakeholders such as banks, building societies, property agents and lawyers need to have a better understanding of domestic abuse, including how economic abuse may be linked to the purchase, sale and re-mortgaging of properties.”