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Survivors of domestic abuse must be guaranteed safe permanent homes

Claire Waxman, Victims' Commissioner

For those of us working with victims and survivors of domestic violence, the Domestic Abuse Bill has been a long time coming. It is the product of many years of tireless campaigning and includes strong proposals which will go a long way to improving the rights of survivors and the support they are entitled to.

But as we await the Bill’s return to Parliament, there is still some work to do to ensure that it is as strong as possible. One of the areas we haven’t got quite right yet is housing. And I’m pleased to support the recommendations of the APPG for Ending Homelessness, who are calling for survivors of domestic abuse to be automatically considered ‘priority need’ when approaching their local authority for housing.

As Victims’ Commissioner for London I regularly hear directly from those who have experienced domestic abuse, who have fled and subsequently navigated the system to access support. All of them report challenges and varying degrees of success. One thing I am struck by is just how often housing is cited as a problem and how many barriers there are for survivors trying to access it.

The current context is undoubtedly bleak and for too many the safety net is not working as it should. Refuges have faced a barrage of funding cuts in recent years and the services that are still open are desperately overstretched. As it stands, people fleeing domestic violence cannot be guaranteed an emergency place in a refuge.

At the same time, research by the APPG for Ending Homelessness found that nearly 2,000 households fleeing domestic abuse in England each year are not being provided help to access a safe home because they are not considered in ‘priority need’ for housing. At a time when many are desperately relying on local councils’ duties, they are being turned away.

With no legal duty to find settled housing for these individuals they risk getting stuck in temporary accommodation, unable to rebuild their lives. And so the system is presenting survivors with an impossible decision: flee an abusive situation and risk facing homelessness, or stay in an abusive and potentially life-threatening situation. It is unacceptable that people are having to make this choice, as it obviously is no choice at all. This can also have the knock-on effect of survivors taking up vital emergency spaces in refuges despite no longer requiring the support, because they have nowhere to move on to.

A safe and secure home is the foundation of a good life. It allows us to put down roots, to truly thrive rather than just survive. And for the survivors I advocate for in my role as London’s Victims’ Commissioner, a stable home is vital to beginning the cope and recovery journey. But for survivors of domestic abuse, access to such a home could be the difference between life and death.

As we await the return of this vital Bill to Parliament, I hope MPs from all parties are able to get behind this policy call and help to close some of the gaps in our precious safety net.

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