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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

'More landlords should be using legal powers to keep people safe'

22/08/2018


Social landlords could be making more use of legal powers to protect residents from domestic abuse, say Andrea Baker of Poplar HARCA and Daniel Skinner of Capsticks.

Andrea Baker, director of housing, Poplar HARCA: The Office for National Statistics reports that in 2016/17, 1.9m adults in England and Wales experienced domestic abuse. Roughly 1 in 31 people. Pause there. Give it some thought.

Poplar HARCA’s 9,000 properties are home to 30,000 adults. That’s 1,000 people likely experiencing abuse. We employ 300 people, so 10 are likely experiencing abuse.

Does your organisation include ‘improving the quality of life of residents’ in its aims? Do you:

  • employ people whose job it is to support those experiencing abuse?
  • train everyone (including your executive team and board) about what to do if they become aware of, or experience, abuse?
  • commit resources to using legal tools to support people experiencing abuse?
  • use your homes to offer respite, refuge or re-housing?

I was unpleasantly surprised when Daniel (our go-to solicitor) told me that only Poplar HARCA and one other of his clients has ever asked him to issue legal proceedings in a domestic abuse case. Surely not, I said. Not when so many residents must be experiencing abuse, and so many of his clients claim to want to improve quality of life.

Poplar HARCA has a dedicated safeguarding team including a specialist working with people experiencing abuse. We use non-social housing subsidiary stock as places of safety (social housing stock is subject to a Common Housing Register so can’t be used). We often seek injunctions to stop abusive behaviour; and to exclude abusers from their homes (or from our estates if they don’t live in our property). We use ‘hearsay’ evidence (such as complaints from neighbours, or criminal damage reports, or community impact statements) so people experiencing abuse don’t have to give evidence. We ask for a power of arrest. We use our police team to serve and evidence breaches. Again, we do this to try to avoid people experiencing abuse having to give evidence. We have successfully asked the court to commit to prison when there’s an injunction breach, and successfully used possession ground 14a saving an arduous (and by no means certain) Matrimonial Causes Act route to securing the tenancy.

We all want people to be, stay and feel safe. Can you do more to make it happen?

Daniel Skinner, partner, Capsticks: Capsticks acts for social landlords across the UK.

Registered providers have the power to gain anti-social behaviour injunctions and/or possession orders where there is domestic abuse. The test for an injunction is:

(a) conduct that has caused, or is likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress to any person,

(b) conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to a person in relation to that person’s occupation of residential premises, or

(c) conduct capable of causing housing-related nuisance or annoyance to any person.

You must persuade the court it is “just and convenient” to grant an injunction. Where there is abuse that can be relatively straight-forward.

To get an exclusion order, and/or a power of arrest, you must show either:

  • the use or threatened use of violence against other persons, or
  • a significant risk of harm to other persons from the respondent.

Again, where there is domestic abuse this should be straight-forward.

For possession claims you can use Grounds 12 (breach of tenancy) or 14 (anti-social behaviour). Registered providers can also rely on Ground 14a where one of a couple has left the property because of violence or threats of violence from the partner or the partner’s family.

So why do so few organisations take legal action in such cases?

People experiencing abuse are often reluctant to come forward. However, as Poplar HARCA has shown, it is still possible to take action.

Some providers take the view that if there are no complaints it’s not their business. They may feel it is up to the tenant to take their own action, or it’s a police matter if a crime has been committed. But we know that some police forces are better than others when domestic abuse is reported. And there is often reluctance to take injunction proceedings, even if legal aid is available, due to fear of reprisals.

While there is no legal or regulatory obligation (yet) on a landlord to act, it is a missed opportunity to keep people safe that more do not use the legal powers available to them.

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