The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has announced funding for councils in England to support domestic abuse victims.
The funding is to be used to provide safe accommodation spaces, for example refuges and shelters, with provision for vital support services. Such services would include healthcare, social workers and benefits, immigration advice and other support services such as drug and alcohol support.
The funding aims to provide victims of domestic abuse and their children with the practical and emotional support necessary to recover and rebuild their lives.
The government has also said that current housing rules will be reconsidered with the intent to give victims more choice on where they rebuild their lives. In particular, they will look at the rules on joint tenancies and the Local Connections Test with the aim of making it easier for victims of abuse to leave and start afresh or to remain in their own homes if they wish to do so.
A consultation has been launched to consider removing the Local Connections Tests for these victims. The test can prevent victims from social housing in areas where they do not have a local connection, denying them a fresh start in a new area. The concerns were raised during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act, and the consultation seeks views on:
- Proposals to allow victims of abuse who need to move to another local authority area to qualify for an allocation of social housing; and
- How local authorities make use of existing legislation and guidance to support victims who wish to move across boundaries.
The Domestic Abuse Act introduces a legal definition of domestic abuse. This encompasses physical violence, emotional abuse, economic abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour.
A local connection is usually established when people have lived in an area for at least 6 out of 12 months, or 3 years out of 5 years, or where an applicant has well-established connections. Councils are already required to disregard the local connections test for domestic abuse victims by way of taking account of such special circumstances. Councils also have the discretion to deal with individual cases where there are exceptional circumstances. Concerns remain, however, that victims are still being denied social housing when they have no local connection. As a result, the government believes that the use and appropriateness of statutory guidance needs to be reviewed. The consultation is to consider the pros and cons of introducing new legislation to prevent local connection tests from being applied to domestic abuse victims. In addition, the scope of the regulations needs to be assessed and the circumstances in which such exemptions should apply.
The consultation closes on 10th May 2022. On the same date, a second consultation will also close. In that consultation, the government seeks views o the impacts of the law on joint tenancies on victims of domestic abuse in the social rented sector. In particular, views are sought on whether:
- perpetrators are using their ability to end a joint tenancy to threaten a victim with homelessness;
- victims feel trapped in their joint tenancy;
- the current guidance for social landlords is sufficient to support victims in joint tenancies; and
- the law on transferring joint tenancies is working successfully for victims.
The announcement follows the Domestic Abuse Act and is said to follow earlier funding for safe accommodation for victims. Further funding is expected for victim support services, Sexual and Domestic Violence Advisors and crisis helplines. A "Victims' Law" was set out in plans in December, which will aim to put victims at the heart of the justice system. This will be something to keep an eye on due to the potential impact on sentencing, and restrictive orders, in the courts.
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