New guidance on domestic abuse and allocations

11.11.2018

Supplementary guidance has been issued to councils in England concerning the allocation of social housing to victims of domestic violence and abuse.

Image: a house

The guidance can be downloaded here.

This follows a consultation, to which a summary of the responses has also been published.

The key recommendation is that local authorities should exempt from residency or local connection qualification requirements those living in a refuge or "other form of safe temporary accommodation" in their district, who have escaped domestic abuse in another council area (paras 19, 24).

This is to ensure a 'consistent approach' in how applications from victims are treated across councils, which it is said will release refuge spaces and "help victims to have the confidence they need to leave an abusive situation" (paras 4, 12 and 24).

Which makes me wonder why the Government doesn't just legislate to include domestic abuse victims as one of the groups which cannot be the subject of a residency qualification.

In addition local authorities are:

  • Encouraged to consider the scope for working with neighbouring authorities to ensure that increased pressure on social housing does not disproportionately fall on those councils which have refuge provision in their area (para 21).
  • Reminded that victims and household members indirectly affected by domestic abuse are likely to have medical and welfare needs, and that long-lasting physical and mental health issues are likely to constitute a disability (para 26).
  • Strongly encouraged to apply the medical and welfare reasonable preference categories to victims who have escaped abuse who are being accommodated temporarily (para 27).
  • Advised to ensure that appropriate support is put in place (para 35).
  • Advised to take account of the cross-government definition of domestic abuse when considering whether someone has experienced abuse (para 36).

Curiously it's suggested that the third bullet point above may reduce the 'incentive' for victims of abuse to seek homelessness assistance (para 28). It's unclear from the wording of the guidance how this will "reduce the pressure on homelessness services" given that:

  • Those in temporary accommodation who've applied for an allocation because of abuse will ordinarily be statutory homeless in any event.
  • Falling into a medical or welfare need priority group does not prevent someone being homeless or being owed the accompanying duties under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996.

Guidance is also given on the steps that may be required when assessing whether tenants can be protected and supported in their own home (paras 32 and 33).

At para 40 it's stated that legislation will be brought forward to ensure similar protections to those in the Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Act 2018 are provided where fixed term tenancies are offered on a discretionary basis to victims of domestic abuse.

In the meantime, authorities are encouraged to ensure that, when offering further tenancies to existing 'lifetime' social tenants because of domestic abuse, such tenancies are "granted on a lifetime basis".

Councils will need to review their allocation scheme in light of this guidance, and decide whether changes are required, to ensure they've had regard to its contents.

Piecemeal changes

In terms of statutory guidance for the allocation of social housing we've now got:

The guidance would be clearer and easier to apply if it was in one place. The time has surely come for the guidance to be reviewed anyway, because of the homelessness changes and case law in the last five years.

Survey

On a related note, the Chartered Institute of Housing is currently asking councils and social housing providers to take part in an online survey, as part of their 'Rethinking Allocations' project.

All providers should be taking part, given the need for the profession to take stock of post-Localism Act practice, affordability issues and the exclusionary practices that often prevents those who are most in need from accessing social housing.

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