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‘Whole housing approach’ needed for victims of domestic abuse

Press release issued: 22 August 2019

More needs to be done to support victims and survivors of domestic abuse who are homeowners or private renters, according to a new report from the University of Bristol.

Researchers in the Centre for Gender and Violence Research carried out in-depth interviews with 251 people and found two-thirds were either living in private rented property (38 per cent) or owned their own home (33 per cent), yet their needs are largely invisible.

Now, organisations are calling on the Government as well as key stakeholders – including banks, building societies, property agents and lawyers – to have a better understanding of domestic abuse and its impact on housing.

The report, carried out for the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA) and Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA), 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.

Key findings from the Bristol University report highlight a need for awareness raising across both privately owned and privately rented sectors, as well as systemic changes to the legal and procedural frameworks that underpin them.

The report also highlights:

  • Financial penalties faced by victims and 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

Professor Marianne Hester, who led the Justice, Inequality and GBV research justice project, said: "It is clear from many of our interviewees, who were home owners or in private rented accommodation, that abusive (ex)-partners are currently able to find many ways to continue their coercive and controlling behaviour through interfering with financial aspects and agreements regarding home ownership and private tenancies."

Interviews revealed how 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 one in five (18 per cent), 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 and 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 today [22 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 and survivors of DVA living in social housing, it may not address the specific needs of those victims and 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."

Case study

Isabelle might lose her home. The fixed interest rate on her mortgage ended in August 2018 and she was unable to switch to another deal due to arrears. Isabelle was unaware that her abusive ex-partner had sabotaged the mortgage payments, he had not paid his share since February 2019 and the bank had not informed her.

When she found out, Isabelle cleared the arrears within seven days and asked again to switch the rate. The bank told her there was nothing they could do because they required her ex-partner's signature which he refused to give.

Isabelle is a 'mortgage prisoner', trapped on an unaffordable rate and unable to sell the house because her ex-partner continues to exercise control by refusing to agree. She faces repossession if she cannot maintain the payments and continues to be financially linked to the abuser.

Further information

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, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (grant ES/M010090/1).

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