Hestia supports adults and children in crisis across London. Last year we worked with more than 9,000 people, including women and children who have experienced domestic abuse, victims of modern slavery, young care leavers and older people. From giving someone a home, to helping them to get the right mental health support, we are there for people at the moment of crisis and as they go on to rebuild their lives.
As London’s largest provider of domestic abuse refuges, last year Hestia supported 719 women and 668 children in our 29 refuges across 11 London boroughs. We therefore welcome the opportunity to respond to the Department for Communities and Local Government’s consultation on ‘Improving Access to Social Housing for Victims of Domestic Abuse’. We will restrict our consultation response to our specific areas of expertise.
Residency requirements for victims of domestic abuse
Ensuring that victims of domestic violence do not have to wait for a period of time to establish residency is crucial. We therefore believe that the Department for Communities and Local Government should go beyond statutory guidance to make it obligatory.
Our report Victim to Survivor (April 2016) showed that 59% of women in our safe houses had been in the refuge for more than six months. 14% had been in a refuge for more than a year. For many this is because they have had to wait at least six months to establish residency and therefore be able to start their homelessness application. For some women and children this means staying in a refuge for far longer than is necessary for them, which can be both detrimental to their mental health and prevents them for moving on with their lives and re-entering employment. This also means that bed spaces are not available to women and children in crisis when they need them.
A victim of domestic violence that comes to a refuge is homeless. The purpose of her stay is to flee to a safe place where she and her children can start recovering from the trauma of domestic abuse. Currently many local authorities in London do not see victims as homeless as they are in ‘temporary accommodation’. Victim to Survivor found that 62% of women in our refuges had experienced this response from housing departments.
To enable women and their children to access the housing they are entitled to, we often have to let their license agreement expire and produce an eviction letter for them to be deemed homeless. This creates a lot of stress and anxiety for victims who face uncertainty about where they will be moving to. In the majority of cases, women and children end up in bed and breakfast accommodation that is not appropriate for families who have already spent months in a refuge. This is despite the fact that 49.5% of women say they would feel scared and unsafe in a bed and breakfast and 13% believe it would put their recovery back by months (Victim to Survivor).
A statutory change that recognises every victim of domestic violence in a refuge as homeless would help with the prompt recovery from trauma for thousands of families. Supporting victims to stay in their home Local authorities should ensure that their housing and community safety teams understand the powers they can use to support a family who has been a victim of domestic violence to stay in their home, providing this is safe.
In many cases it is assumed that the victims should leave their house, without appropriately assessing the risks or the wishes of the victims. Refuges have become one of the only options presented to victims, even when it might not be the most suitable for a family. For example, of the women supported by Hestia, 56% were not offered a sanctuary scheme by the housing team (Victim to Survivor), even though it could have enabled them to stay safely in their homes.
The trauma of experiencing domestic abuse is enormous. For the women and children that we work with, ensuring they get the right support in their time of crisis is paramount. But it is also important that they are empowered to recover from their experience and move on with their lives. Providing access to the right sort of housing at the right time is critical to this journey. Hestia supports the Department for Communities and Local Government’s commitment to removing the obstacles that victims of domestic abuse currently face to accessing the right type of housing to enable them to rebuild their lives.
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