As a sector, we must do better to help victims of domestic violence
The approach to helping victims of domestic violence needs to change and our new guidance is aimed at addressing that, writes Callum Chomczuk, national director of CIH Scotland.
In Scotland, we are starting to rethink our approach to housing and human rights. The Scottish Housing Regulator is developing a framework so landlords give regard to equality and human rights.
And the Scottish government has set up a taskforce to consider how we can incorporate human rights into domestic legislation. But when it comes to the human rights of victims of domestic abuse, we have regrettably fallen short.
Every year in Scotland, there are around 60,000 victims of domestic abuse and on average, between one in three and one in five women will experience domestic abuse in the course of their lifetime. And we know that relationship breakdown remains the single biggest cause of homelessness for women in Scotland.
Victims of abuse need housing like we all do, and the sector has a responsibility to do the right thing, but landlords need support to make sure that they’re offering a consistently good response to those affected by domestic abuse. Few social landlords have formal policies on domestic abuse to help them respond effectively to tenants who experience or perpetrate domestic abuse, or indeed their own employees.
The consequence is that victims are often asked to leave their home time and again, and at times are made homeless by the very services that are meant to support them.
However, we can and must do better. Housing as a profession is well placed to help identify the signs, to deal with the outcomes and to help tackle some of the root causes of domestic violence. Housing professionals are in these homes more regularly than most other professions.
As such, the Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland – alongside the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, Scottish Women’s Aid and Shelter Scotland – has published new domestic abuse guidance (available below) for social landlords, which sets out how they can:
- Prevent homelessness and address the housing needs of women and children tenants who experience domestic abuse
- Intervene effectively with tenants who perpetrate domestic abuse
- Promote a proactive approach to domestic abuse with all tenants and housing partners
This doesn’t just mean providing refuge when it’s too late. It means helping people before, during and after their abuse and understanding that even when partners separate, women and children are not necessarily safe.
It is encouraging that a recent Scottish government report called for “clear policies on domestic abuse and ensuring that experience of abuse or violence does not lead to someone losing their tenancy”.
We need to ensure that policy reflects the reality for victims and allows social landlords to end a joint tenancy without making victims homeless.
When this happens, we want all social landlords to try and prevent homelessness, support victims’ right to stay in their home, address financial disadvantage as a result of domestic abuse, and ultimately reduce homelessness among women and children who are victims of domestic abuse.
Speaking out about domestic abuse can be an incredibly difficult thing to do; when women come forward, they need reliable support and advice about their options.
The guidance launched this week is a start. It will help landlords embed a victim-centred approach to supporting victims of abuse but more change is still needed.
To fully embed the ambition of the guidance and ensure that victims are protected and perpetrators held to account, we need a culture change. The housing sector, along with local and national government, can ensure that every survivor receives the right response first time around. Only by making this everyone’s priority will we ensure that all women and children can live their lives free from fear and abuse.
*This opinion piece originally featured in Inside Housing on 27.08.19.