No Woman Turned Away Project: Domestic Abuse and Homelessness
Research in 2014 found that 61% of women and 16% of men who were homeless had experienced violence or abuse from a partner, whilst one in ﬁve women experiencing or having experienced extensive physical and sexual violence reported having been homeless at some point in their lives.
To prevent and end homelessness as a result of domestic abuse, access to safe, secure accommodation is vital. Without this, there is a risk that survivors will be left with no option but to return to a dangerous situation or sleep rough putting themselves at risk of further abuse and exploitation. Around two million people experienced domestic abuse in 2017/18, although these ﬁgures are likely to be an underestimate due to the under-reporting of abuse. The Femicide Census found that two women are killed each week in England by a partner or ex-offender.
The Government’s draft Domestic Abuse Bill is a signiﬁcant opportunity to ensure that people ﬂeeing domestic abuse can access safe and secure homes. The Justice Secretary has made it clear that the Government’s key objectives for the Bill include supporting and protecting survivors and transforming the justice process to prioritise the safety and wellbeing of survivors, to improve performance on tackling domestic abuse.
Although 12% (6,850) of households in England cited domestic abuse as a cause of their homelessness, only 2% (1,330) were accepted as priority need because they were vulnerable due to domestic abuse.
Recent research by Women’s Aid found that nearly one quarter of survivors supported through the No Woman Turned Away project, who were prevented from making a valid homelessness application, were turned away as they were told they would not be in priority need. The No Woman Turned Away project supported women for a year who were left with nowhere to turn at a time when they were at their most vulnerable. This left some of them at risk of homelessness and further abuse from the perpetrator, resulting in over one in ten women supported on the project being forced to sleep rough during their search for a refuge, of which three women were pregnant and five women had their children with them. Almost half of the women were forced to sofa-surf, of which 65 women sofa-surfed with their children. Nearly one in ten women gave up their search and stayed with the perpetrator.
Over half of the women supported by the project were prevented from making a valid homelessness application, meaning that they were refused assistance with emergency accommodation. Nearly one quarter of these women were told they were not a priority need despite having multiple vulnerabilities; 15% were required to provide proof that they had experienced domestic abuse; one in ten were told they had made themselves intentionally homeless and 6% were told to return to the perpetrator.
Housing teams are failing to follow their statutory duty to assist those in priority need who are vulnerable due to fleeing domestic abuse. This is set against the backdrop of cuts to local authority budgets and a social housing sector which is in crisis.
The Government has also consulted on support for victims of domestic abuse in safe acommodation which includes some useful measures including a legal duty on local authorities to provide accommodation-based services for women and children fleeing domestic abuse, and the need for acoommodation which is appropriate for all domestic abuse victims/survivors covering all their protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. However, without further funding and resources this will be hard to implement for the majority of local authorities.
In Bristol our local domestic abuse refuge accommodation service is Next Link and there are other local providers of secure accommodation. See our Signposting Guide for more information on local and national services.