Domestic violence and abuse accounts for around a quarter of all recorded crime and although such violence occurs in same-sex relationships and can happen to men, the overwhelming number of victims are women at the hands of a male partner or family member. As Suzanne Jacob, the CEO of SafeLives, points out, there is a prevailing pressure on survivors to leave home with their children and to go into hiding, while the perpetrators remain in the familial home, unchallenged and unaccountable.
Nearly two million people in the UK experience domestic abuse every year, while seven women a month are killed by partners in England and Wales, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Domestic violence and abuse is also one of the leading causes of homelessness for women and their children in Sheffield and South Yorkshire
In Sheffield over 2,200 calls are received by the Helpline for Domestic Violence and Abuse each year and in 2017 alone, the Sheffield Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference discussed 945 cases where people were at high risk of serious harm. Services commissioned by Sheffield Council and partners are accessed by around 6,008 people every year – 94.3 per cent female.
Domestic violence and abuse is also one of the leading causes of homelessness for women and their children in Sheffield and while not all women who experience domestic violence and abuse will become homeless, as some have greater access to financial and social resources, women who have fewer resources are more likely to need help from Housing Associations and homelessness services.
In my work for equalities and human rights, I regularly come across another grouping presenting to me, for help. These are women, who have children who have resided in Housing Association accommodation with a partner who led them to believe they are joint tenants, only to find that they never were, when partners leave. Many of these ex-partners have been withdrawing their tenancy and forcibly placing their ex-partners and children at risk of becoming homeless.
Some Housing Associations have demonstrated great discretion, care and compassion enabling very vulnerable women to transfer the tenancy. Sadly, others have been taking a position of issuing upon these vulnerable women and their children a 14-day Notice to Quit.
In advocating for such cases, I have unfortunately found at times a severe lack of compassion and care is prevalent, even when no other suitable accommodation has been identified
Instead the drive from some Housing Associations has been their assertion that the ‘problem’ is not theirs and it is permissible for them to serve the Quit Notices to enforce eviction, while pushing the buck to Local Authority homeless services instead. Refusing in doing so to facilitate under terms of safeguarding and discretion the transfer of the tenancy to the women, and evading looking at potentials for rehousing by using their own social housing stock, or working with Local Authorities to exercise homelessness legislation to protect victims and putting into action reciprocal arrangements with other housing providers.
I have been party to written communications and present in meetings in which some officers have given little regard to significant disruption to vulnerable children’s and their mothers’ lives. I have been obliged to challenge some officers when they speak brutally to the women, alternatively decrying the realities of their experiences of domestic violence and abuse even where the evidence demonstrates the contrary or laying blame on them for the domestic abuses they experience. In one case even claiming that they had given birth solely to coerce the association to allow them a tenancy.
Throughout these children’s childhoods, these associations have known of the children’s and their mother’s having been residents, many women having contributed to paying rent, with associations happy to accept it. Yet, down the line, now in periods of heightened distress and risk, these women and their children are deemed to be dispensable to the property, merely because they had been duped into believingthey were joint tenants.
Whilst social housing providers have in place policies and procedures on domestic violence and abuse, these are of no use if pragmatism, care and compassion are not underpinning and enforcing and adapting them.
Housing providers are uniquely placed to not only identify and disrupt domestic abuse, but to evade significant disruptions in already distressed and terrified children’s and their mother’s lives by securing their home. Every child deserves a safe home. Evicting vulnerable children and their mothers is absolutely contrary to this.