Homelessness code of guidance for local authorities

Chapter 21: Domestic abuse

Guidance on providing homelessness services to people who have experienced or are at risk of domestic violence or abuse.

21.1 This chapter provides guidance on providing homelessness services to people who have experienced domestic violence or abuse, or are at risk of domestic violence or abuse.

Understanding domestic violence and abuse

21.2 Domestic violence or abuse is ‘domestic’ in nature if the perpetrator is a person who is associated with the victim. It is not limited to physical violence or confined to instances within the home.

21.3 Housing authorities must take account of the cross-government definition of domestic violence and abuse when designing and delivering services. This defines domestic violence and abuse as:

  1. 21.4 Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to:

    1. (a) psychological – including: intimidation, insults, isolating the person from friends and family, criticising, denying the abuse, treating the person as inferior, threatening to harm children or take them away, forced marriage;

    2. (b) physical – this can include: shaking, smacking, punching, kicking, presence of finger or bite marks, bruising, starving, tying up, stabbing, suffocation, throwing things, using objects as weapons, female genital mutilation. Physical effects are often in areas of the body that are covered and hidden (i.e. breasts, legs and stomach);

    3. (c) sexual – including rape (including the threat of rape), sexual assault, forced prostitution, ignoring religious prohibitions about sex, refusal to practise safe sex, sexual insults, passing on sexually transmitted diseases, preventing breastfeeding;

    4. (d) financial – not letting the person work, undermining efforts to find work or study, refusing to give money, asking for an explanation of how every penny is spent, making the person beg for money, gambling, not paying bills, building up debt in the other person’s name;

    5. (e) emotional – including: swearing, undermining confidence, making racist, sexist or other derogatory remarks, making the person feel unattractive, calling the person stupid or useless, eroding the person’s independence, keeping them isolated from family or friends.

21.5 Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.

21.6 Coercive behaviour is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.

21.7 So-called honour-based abuse is also a form of domestic abuse, explained by the perpetrator of the abuse on the grounds that it was committed as a consequence of the need to protect or defend the honour of the family; it can include all the types of abuse listed above and specific crimes such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

21.8 Domestic violence and abuse can affect anyone regardless of their age, gender identity or reassignment, race, religion, class, sexual orientation and marital status. Housing authorities should bear in mind that the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 for public authorities apply to policies, practice and procedures relating to homelessness and domestic violence and abuse.

21.9 An important factor in ensuring that an authority develops a strong and appropriate response to domestic abuse is understanding what domestic abuse is, the context in which it takes place in and the impacts are on victims; as well as how the impacts may be different on different groups of people. Specialist training for staff and managers will help them to provide a more sensitive response and to identify, with applicants, housing options which are safe and appropriate to their needs.

Identifying abuse and preventing homelessness

21.10 Housing authorities should have policies in place to identify and respond to domestic abuse. Alongside their role in tackling homelessness authorities should take an active role in identifying victims and referring them for help and support. They are key partners in local domestic violence partnerships and should be represented at their local multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC).

21.11 The MARAC leads multi-agency safety planning for high-risk victims of domestic abuse. It brings together the police, independent domestic violence advisers, children’s social services, health, social landlords and other relevant agencies. They share information and write a safety plan for each victim and family, which may include actions by any agency present. The housing authority should be consistently represented at the MARAC and encourage relevant social landlords to also be represented.

21.12 Victims can experience many incidents of abuse before calling the police or reporting it to another agency. Housing providers may be able to identify abuse at earlier stages and should consider how they can best provide support to their residents. By understanding the indicators of domestic abuse through training and professional development, housing officers can increase their confidence to speak to people experiencing abuse, risk assess and safety plan alongside them.

21.13 Housing authorities should also be alert to the wider role they play in ensuring victim safety. Procedures should be in place to keep all information on victims safe and secure. In many cases, particularly where extended family members or multiple perpetrators may be involved, for example in female genital mutilation, forced marriage and so called honour based violence cases, perpetrators go to great lengths to seek information on victims.

21.14 The housing authority must be alert to the possibility of employees being, or having links to, perpetrators. Housing authorities should not disclose information about an applicant to anybody outside the organisation without consent, and should be particularly alert to the need to maintain confidentiality wherever domestic abuse is involved. In some circumstances, it may be necessary to restrict access to cases where abuse is disclosed to only named members of staff. Housing authorities should also consider how they flag case files so they can identify those victims who have been referred to the MARAC and may present as homeless.

21.15 Households at risk of domestic abuse often have to leave their homes and the area where they have lived. There is a clear need for victims of abuse and their children to be able to travel to different areas in order for them to be safe from the perpetrator, and housing authorities should extend the same level of support to those from other areas as they do to their own residents.

Duties to those homeless or threatened with homelessness

  1. 21.16 Section 177(1) of the 1996 Act provides that it is not reasonable for a person to continue to occupy accommodation if it is probable that this will lead to domestic violence or other violence against:

    1. (a) the applicant;

    2. (b) a person who normally resides as a member of the applicant’s family; or,

    3. (c) any other person who might reasonably be expected to reside with the applicant.

21.17 Section 177(1A) provides that ‘violence’ means violence from another person or threats of violence from another person which are likely to be carried out. ‘Domestic violence’ is violence or threats of violence which are likely to be carried out by a person who is associated with the victim. Domestic violence is not confined to instances within the home.

  1. 21.18 In the context of defining domestic violence, section 178 provides that, for the purposes of Part 7 of the 1996 Act, a person is associated with another if:

    1. (a) they are, or have been, married to each other;

    2. (b) they are or have been civil partners of each other;

    3. (c) they are, or have been, cohabitants;

    4. (d) they live, or have lived, in the same household;

    5. (e) they are relatives, i.e. father, mother, stepfather, stepmother, son, daughter, stepson, stepdaughter, grandmother, grandfather, grandson, granddaughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, niece or nephew (whether of full blood, or of half blood or by marriage or civil partnership) of that person or of that person’s spouse or former spouse. A person is also included if they would fall into any of these categories in relation to cohabitees or former cohabitees if they were married to each other;

    6. (f) they have agreed to marry each other, whether or not that agreement has been terminated;

    7. (g) they have entered into a civil partnership agreement between them, whether or not that agreement has been terminated;

    8. (h) in relation to a child, each of them is a parent of the child or has, or has had, parental responsibility for the child (within the meaning of the Children Act 1989). A child is a person under 18 years of age;

    9. (i) if a child has been adopted or ‘freed for adoption’ (section 18 of the Adoption Act 1976), 2 persons are also associated if one is the natural parent or grandparent of the child and the other is the child or a person who has become the parent by virtue of an ‘adoption order’ (section 72(1), Adoption Act 1976) or has applied for an adoption order or someone with whom the child has at any time been placed for adoption.

21.19 The term ‘violence’ should not be given a restrictive meaning, and ‘domestic violence’ should be understood to include physical violence, threatening or intimidating behaviour, and any other form of abuse which directly or indirectly may give rise to harm; between persons who are, or have been, intimate partners, family members or members of the same household, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

21.20 An assessment of the likelihood of a threat of violence or abuse being carried out should not be based on whether there has been actual violence or abuse in the past. Assessments must be based on the facts of the case and should be devoid of any value judgements about what an applicant should or should not do, or should or should not have done, to mitigate the risk of any violence and abuse.

21.21 It is essential that inquiries do not provoke further violence and abuse. Housing authorities should not approach the alleged perpetrator, since this could generate further violence and abuse. Housing authorities may, however, wish to seek information from friends and relatives of the applicant, social services, health professionals, MARACs, a domestic abuse support service or the police, as appropriate. This is not an exhaustive list and there may be other sources of evidence that would be appropriate. In some cases, corroborative evidence of actual or threatened violence may not be available, for example, because there were no adult witnesses and/or the applicant was too frightened or ashamed to report incidents to family, friend or the police. Housing authorities should not have a blanket approach toward domestic abuse which requires corroborative or police evidence to be provided.

21.22 There may be occasions where victims of abuse seek emergency assistance having left behind ID and other documentation that may be required to support their application. Housing authorities should work with police; domestic abuse agencies (as appropriate) and the applicant to ensure that essential documentation can be recovered or replaced without putting the applicant at further risk of abuse.

21.23 In many cases involving violence and abuse, the applicant may be in considerable distress and an officer trained in dealing with the particular circumstances should conduct the interview. Applicants should be given the option of being interviewed by an officer of the same sex if they so wish. Housing authorities should be aware that this may be the first time a victim has disclosed their abuse and that the period during which a victim is planning or making their exit, is often the most dangerous time for them and any children they have.

  1. 21.24 The following services are among those subject to the duty to refer, meaning they are required to refer service users in England they consider may be homeless or threatened with homelessness within 56 days to a housing authority, with the service user’s consent:

    1. (a) emergency departments;

    2. (b) urgent treatment centres;

    3. (c) hospitals in their function of providing in patient care; and,

    4. (d) adults and children’s social care services.

For further guidance on the duty to refer see Chapter 4.

Prevention and relief duties

21.25 Following an application for assistance under Part 7 of the 1996 Act, whether an applicant is threatened with homelessness or is actually homeless will be a matter for the housing authority to assess taking into account all of the relevant circumstances. For example, a person at risk of domestic violence or abuse may be threatened with homelessness because a perpetrator is soon to be released from custody (and so the person is likely to become homeless within 56 days); but would be actually homeless if the perpetrator was in the community and presented a risk to them at their home (and so it is not reasonable for the person to continue to occupy the accommodation).

21.26 When developing a personalised housing plan the housing authority should be particularly sensitive to an applicant’s wishes and respectful of their judgement about the risk of abuse, unless there is evidence to the contrary. For further guidance on assessments and personalised housing plans see Chapter 11. Victims should be allowed sufficient time and space to absorb and understand the options available to them.

21.27 The reasonable steps that a housing authority might take to help an applicant to retain or secure safe accommodation might include provision of sanctuary scheme or other security measures, assistance to find alternative accommodation, or help to access legal remedies such as injunctions where these might be effective. Single people might also be assisted to access supported housing, or helped to gain more support from family and friends through the intervention of the housing authority.

21.28 Sanctuary schemes can prevent homelessness by enabling victims to remain safely in their home where it is their choice, and it is safe to do so. A sanctuary comprises enhanced security measures in the home which delay or prevent a perpetrator from gaining entry into and within a property, and allow time for the police to arrive. Use of sanctuary is not appropriate if the perpetrator lives at, or retains a legal right to enter the home, or if the victim continues to be at risk in the vicinity around the home.

21.29 Housing authorities may wish to inform applicants of the option of seeking an injunction against the perpetrator. Where applicants wish to pursue this option, authorities should inform them that they should seek legal advice and that they may be eligible for legal aid.

21.30 Housing authorities should recognise that injunctions ordering a person not to molest (non-molestation orders), or not to live in the home or enter the surrounding area (occupation orders) may not be effective in deterring some perpetrators from carrying out further violence, abuse or incursions, and applicants may not have confidence in their effectiveness. Consequently, applicants should not be expected to return home on the strength of an injunction. To ensure applicants who have experienced actual or threatened violence get the support they need, authorities should inform them of appropriate specialist organisations in the area as well as agencies offering counselling and support.

21.31 When dealing with domestic violence and abuse within the home, where the authority is the landlord, housing authorities should consider the scope for evicting the perpetrator and allowing the victim to remain in their home. However, where there would be a probability of violence if the applicant continued to occupy their present accommodation, the housing authority must treat the applicant as homeless and should not expect them to remain in, or return to, the accommodation. In all cases involving violence the safety of the applicant and their household should be the primary consideration at all stages of decision making as to whether or not the applicant remains in their own home.

Assessing priority need

21.32 A person has a priority need if they are vulnerable as a result of having to leave accommodation because of violence from another person, or threats of violence from another person that are likely to be carried out. (Article 6, Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order 2002).

21.33 It is not only domestic violence and abuse that is relevant, but all forms of violence, including racially motivated violence or threats of violence likely to be carried out. In assessing whether it is likely that threats of violence are likely to be carried out, a housing authority should only take into account the probability of violence, and not actions which the applicant could take (such as injunctions against the perpetrators).

  1. 21.34 In considering whether applicants are vulnerable as a result of leaving accommodation because of violence or threats of violence likely to be carried out, a housing authority may wish to take into account the following factors:

    1. (a) the nature of the violence or threats of violence (there may have been a single but significant incident or a number of incidents over an extended period of time which have had a cumulative effect);

    2. (b) the impact and likely effects of the violence or threats of violence on the applicant’s current and future wellbeing;

      1. (i) whether the applicant has any existing support networks, particularly by way of family or friends; and,
      2. (ii) the continuing threat from the perpetrator.

For further guidance on priority need see Chapter 8.

Providing suitable accommodation

21.35 There are a number of accommodation options for victims of domestic abuse, and housing authorities will need to consider which are most appropriate for each person on a case by case basis taking into account their circumstances and needs. This may include safe temporary accommodation and/or a managed transfer. Housing authorities may, for example, provide temporary accommodation whilst action is taken to exclude or to arrest and detain a perpetrator. Opportunities to plan for victims to remain or return to their homes are much improved by housing authorities working with partners in the MARAC to reduce risk.

21.36 For victims at risk from highly dangerous perpetrators, refuges will usually be the most appropriate choice. Refuges provide key short term, intensive support for those who flee from abuse. Given the intensity of the support and the vulnerability of the victims, attention should be paid to the length of time they spend in a refuge. Refuges are not simply a substitute for other forms of temporary accommodation. The housing authority should work with the refuge provider to consider how long a person needs to stay before the provision of other accommodation (which may be temporary in the absence of settled accommodation) may be more appropriate, potentially with floating support if needed.

21.37 Account will need to be taken of any social considerations relating to the applicant and their household that might affect the suitability of accommodation offered to them to prevent or relieve homelessness, or under the main housing duty. Any risk of violence or racial harassment in a particular locality should be taken into account. Where domestic violence is involved and the applicant is not able to stay in the current home, housing authorities may need to consider the need for accommodation that would not be found by the perpetrator (which may involve an out of district placement) and which has security measures and appropriately trained staff to protect the occupants. Housing authorities may consider implementing a reciprocal agreement with other housing authorities and providers to facilitate out of area moves for victims of domestic violence and abuse.

Local connection referrals

21.38 A housing authority cannot refer an applicant to another housing authority where they have a local connection if that person or any person who might reasonably be expected to reside with them would be at risk of violence and abuse in that other district. The housing authority is under a positive duty to enquire whether the applicant would be at such a risk and, if they would, it should not be assumed that the applicant will take steps to deal with the threat. For further guidance on local connection see Chapter 10.

  1. 21.39 Section 198(3) defines violence as violence from another person or threats of violence from another person which are likely to be carried out. Housing authorities should be alert to the deliberate distinction which is made in section 198(3) between actual violence and threatened violence. A high standard of proof of actual violence in the past should not be imposed. The threshold is that there must be:

    1. (a) no risk of domestic violence (actual or threatened) in the other district; and,

    2. (b) no risk of non-domestic violence (actual or threatened) in the other district. Nor should ‘domestic violence’ be interpreted restrictively.

Eligibility

  1. 21.40 People who have no recourse to public funds are not generally eligible for homelessness assistance. However, the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession supports those who have entered or stayed in the UK as a spouse, unmarried partner, same-sex or civil partner of a British Citizen, or settled citizen and this relationship has permanently broken down due to domestic violence and abuse. A victim may be eligible if:

    1. (a) they came to the UK or were granted leave to stay in the UK as the spouse or partner of a British Citizen or someone settled in the UK;

    2. (b) their relationship has permanently broken down due to domestic violence and abuse.

21.41 They can then apply to the Home Office for limited leave to remain (3 months) under the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession to enable them to access public funds and advice, whilst they prepare and submit an application for indefinite leave to remain (or to make alternative arrangements).