08 Nov 2022

Lack of affordable housing and the cost of living crisis is leaving domestic abuse survivors vulnerable, despite recent Government reforms, says latest Solace report

Solace Women’s Aid have recently released a new report which shows that the number of people made homeless by domestic abuse in the last year (April 2021 to March 2022) has increased by a shocking 24 percent in England and 22 percent in London.

Despite the Domestic Abuse Act (2021) amending housing legislation to give automatic priority need to all survivors of domestic abuse making homelessness applications (so they no longer need to prove they are more vulnerable than an ordinary person in order to be eligible for temporary accommodation), the study has found that women are still too often facing ‘gatekeeping’ from housing officers which is preventing them from accessing support and accommodation. A key reason for this is the desperate under-supply of social housing in the face of increasing demand. 

The report also highlights that two key groups of people are still excluded from access to housing and that this needs to be addressed. Firstly, migrant women with insecure immigration status and those with no recourse to public funds are not eligible for housing support and can be made destitute by domestic abuse. They are some of the most marginalised and vulnerable survivors as a result. Secondly, survivors of rape and sexual violence are excluded unless perpetrated by an intimate partner or family member. Sexual violence can cause women’s homelessness, but not only are these women excluded from priority need unless they have children or other vulnerabilities, women without children who are under the age of 35 are only eligible for housing allowance that is meant to cover shared accommodation such as flat shares and hostels. Shared accommodation is inappropriate and potentially physically and /or psychologically unsafe for survivors of sexual violence.  

The study explains that the change to priority need has made some improvements to survivors’ experiences of making homelessness applications and accessing support and that there is increased awareness of the new definition of domestic abuse since the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. However, the lack of affordable and social housing supply incentivises housing officers to gatekeep or create delays (which can be compounded by a lack of understanding or at times empathy for survivors of domestic abuse).

Many survivors need the secure and affordable tenancies offered in social housing, but social housing is in short supply compared to need (and priority need). Despite domestic abuse survivors now being eligible for automatic priority need, Solace Women’s Aid report that the proportion of survivors being supported into temporary and private rented accommodation is increasing year-on-year. The survey of survivors also found that three quarters of women living with and having financial links with an abuser said that the cost of living crisis had either prevented them from leaving or made it harder for them to leave. The rising costs in the private rented sector, poor quality of housing at the lower end of the market, and the impact of inflation and energy prices on the costs of basics such as food, gas, and electricity bills, combined with insufficient income from benefits, risks greater numbers of survivors returning to perpetrators. 

Our view at the Chartered Institute of Housing

The latest findings in this important study are very concerning. In terms of the disproportionate impact of the cost of living crisis on survivors of domestic abuse, the results are in line with those reported in our third cost of living briefing. This study demonstrates again the pressing need to scale up investment in building new social housing to meet demand, and for the Government to take urgent action to support people on the lowest incomes most in need during the cost of living crisis. Without this, we risk a situation where even more survivors will feel they have no choice but to return to a perpetrator because of financial pressures. This would be a tragedy, especially given that we also know that a woman is killed by her male partner or former partner every four days (femicide stat by Women's Aid).

We therefore continue to call on government to:

  • Uprate benefits in line with inflation (September CPI) and reform welfare provision
  • Remove the benefit cap and two-child limit
  • Restore local housing allowance (LHA) rates to at least the 30th percentile and return to annual uprating
  • Remove the shared accommodation rate of LHA.

We are proud to be part of the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA) National Domestic Abuse & Housing Policy and Practice Group. DAHA’s vision is to support all local authorities and housing providers across the UK to offer a safe, consistent, and effective response to domestic abuse, and to influence systems change. Our Make A Stand pledge was developed in partnership with Women's Aid and DAHA, to encourage housing organisations to make a commitment to support people experiencing domestic abuse.