The role of social landlords in making a stand against domestic abuse
Domestic abuse is the leading cause of homelessness for women in Scotland and it happens behind closed doors. As a consequence, social landlords are often at the frontline of dealing with people affected by domestic abuse in their homes. Social landlords inherently want to reduce homelessness and help their tenants to feel safe and secure in their homes. However, they are typically unsure of when or how to intervene and, until recently, there has been little in the way of guidance or legislation available to help social landlords provide adequate support to victim-survivors of domestic abuse.
‘Make a Stand’
In 2018, the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) in partnership with Women’s Aid and the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance, launched the ‘Make a Stand’ campaign, which sought to encourage housing organisations across the UK to commit publicly to taking action to support victim-survivors of domestic abuse.
In August 2019, ‘Domestic abuse: a good practice guide for social landlords’ (the ‘Practice Guide’) was produced by The Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers, CIH, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA), Shelter Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid to support social landlords in creating and implementing a suitable domestic abuse policy to support victim-survivors – to allow them to stay in their homes and avoid homelessness. This Practice Guide outlines important factors and indicators of domestic abuse, as well as providing practical examples of policies to assist social landlords in fulfilling their pledge.
In April 2023, CIH Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid reviewed the domestic abuse policies of those Scottish landlords who had made a pledge to the Make a Stand campaign and found that the overwhelming majority either did not have a dedicated domestic abuse policy, or their policy did not meet the standards set out in the guidelines. The ‘Policy not Promises’ review highlighted the need for social landlords to review their policies to ensure that they have robust procedures in place to help victim-survivors of domestic abuse, as well as ensuring that their staff are adequately trained to identify and deal with domestic abuse and the resulting homelessness that victim-survivors often face.
The Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Act 2021
The Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Act 2021 received Royal Assent on 5th May 2021, and is expected to come into force later in 2023. The 2021 Act provides new powers for the police and social landlords to help victim-survivors escape the abuse and avoid them having to leave their home as a result. These powers, contained in Part 2 of the Act, provide a mechanism for social landlords to terminate an abuser’s interest in a Scottish Secure Tenancy (SST) and allow their partner or ex-partner to remain in the property if they choose to do so. The landlord could then enter into a new SST with the victim-survivor if the abuser was the sole tenant or terminate the abuser’s interest if the SST was a joint tenancy with the abuser and the victim-survivor.
If the social landlord wishes to use these powers, they must apply for a court order to remove the offending tenant. The court must make an order for recovery of possession either where they feel it is reasonable to do so or where the abuser has been convicted of a domestic abuse offence punishable by imprisonment within the previous 12 months. If a social landlord applies to the court for an order for recovery of possession, there is an obligation on them to provide advice and assistance as soon as reasonably practicable after raising the proceedings to the abuser regarding alternative accommodation.
Next steps for social landlords
The 2023 Policy not Promises review highlights that work still needs to be done in the social housing sector to support victim-survivors of domestic abuse. Homelessness is a common consequence for victim-survivors who try to leave abusive situations, and the need for a dedicated domestic abuse policy is clear from the statistics provided by Women’s Aid in their review.
The Scottish Government has pledged to implement a statutory requirement for all social landlords to have a dedicated domestic abuse policy in the next Housing Bill. This, alongside the new powers in the 2021 Act expected to come into force later in 2023 to end a SST where there is domestic abuse within the household highlights that social landlords should to act now improve their policies and ensure that they are ready for the statutory changes on the horizon.
We can help support social landlords to draft and review their policies and procedures to ensure that they are fit for purpose in helping to tackle domestic violence.
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