Cash-strapped local authorities turn victims away as demand for accommodation rises
Councils fail domestic violence victims
Victims of domestic violence who need to be re-housed are being turned away by cash-strapped councils.
Charities, refuges and solicitors this week warned that councils, which are facing budget reductions and high demand for accommodation, are increasingly failing to carry out their legal duties to help those fleeing domestic violence.
Eaves, a charity providing a pan-London advice line for domestic violence victims, reports that on average it is forced to get a solicitor to write to councils once a week because they are failing to fulfil their legal duties.
Local authorities are required under the Housing Act 1996 to put domestic violence victims in temporary accommodation if they are homeless or threatened with homelessness. They should then investigate the case and re-home them permanently if necessary.
Jennifer Garcia Bree, resettlement team leader at Eaves, said: ‘More and more we’re going to solicitors, even to make sure women get an assessment.’
Giles Parker, a solicitor at law firm Anthony Gold, said: ‘The problem is definitely on the rise in London councils.’
He put this down to a rise in homelessness and the fact that councils’ budgets are tighter.
Housing association Peabody, when referring victims, now uses a standard letter to remind councils of their duty to provide emergency housing.
A number of councils have been criticised in recent years because of their policies towards and treatment of domestic violence victims.
Last year, Hounslow Council, in London, lost a Supreme Court case after it refused help to a woman who had been threatened with violence by her husband. The authority was forced to pay compensation to another victim who was wrongly told it was reasonable to stay in her mother-in-law’s home.
Birmingham Council also lost a series of judicial reviews in 2009, after the interim head of housing sent an email to staff which said that in domestic violence cases, staff should ‘not be completing a homeless application’.
Cornwall Council was criticised over its decision not to view a woman as homeless because she had joint tenancy of her family home in an independent case review early last year. A spokesperson for the Communities and Local Government department said: ‘We would be concerned if any local authority, by not carrying out their statutory duties correctly, put any person at risk of violence.’
A spokesperson for London Councils, which represents local authorities in the capital, said: ‘Councils provide advice and assistance to victims of domestic violence in a number of ways.’