Why domestic abuse is a social housing issue – 16 days of activism against gender-based violence

Imagine a fire alarm is going off in your home.

Not your usual I-left-my-toast-in-the-toaster-too-long alarm, but a proper fire drill: the one that means if you were in the office you’d need to evacuate. Nothing is coming with you that can’t be grabbed and moved in under a minute – probably half a bin bag worth of things at most.

For many domestic abuse survivors who have been forced to tolerate abuse for years – some for decades – if they decide to leave, they will rarely get more than a few minutes to make the move. The key in the front domestic abuse survivors door – its turn signalling that your abuser is about to walk in – isn’t the fire alarm; it’s the fire.

Domestic abuse services have this urgency ringing through them in every conversation they have with policy makers. legislators need to be more proactive in considering how domestic abuse survivors might be impacted by their proposals.

At the heart of every policy change recommended by domestic abuse charities is the recognition that, to see real preventative change, the welfare of survivors cannot be left in the hands of specialist services alone. Survivors interact with too many public services for this to be viable.

All public services need to be more aware of how their practices could have significant impact on survivor outcomes. Unfortunately, these opportunities are repeatedly being missed.

Social Housing Regulation Bill: Inadequate support for domestic abuse survivors.

A report published late last month from DHLUC noted that some predatory housing providers actively look for domestic abuse survivors to use their services, despite offering little to no wraparound support or safeguarding function. The report also notes that abuse is rife in exempt accommodation and the risk it poses to tenants, especially to women and young girls.

Whilst the recent announcement from the government is welcome (which states that it will be “cracking down” on rogue landlords to the tune of £30k fines for those who do not protect vulnerable residents) it is still part of a bitty and piecemeal approach.

Where this should have been acknowledged in the fabric of legislation is in the Social Housing Regulation Bill, which is about to enter its final stages, having now being debated in the House of Lords and House of Commons. The Bill mentions domestic abuse once. No peer or MP has mentioned domestic abuse during the Bill’s passage.

Whilst that report from DHLUC was published during the Bill’s passage, services have been banging the drum about the importance of accommodation for domestic abuse survivors for decades. Domestic abuse needs to be proactively considered and addressed in legislation to ensure that councils and public services are accountable and domestic abuse survivors can have recourse to justice if their needs are not being met.

It takes careful, considered and focused political engagement activity to ensure that any issues-based organisation understands where the opportunities lie in the legislative calendar and in parliament. These opportunities often lie in unexpected places, perhaps away from the ‘core‘ policy area but where substantial and far-reaching policy change can take place.

Conclusion: Government needs to turn up the pressure on housing policies and improve legislation.

With housing in the headlines every day and the government scrutinising housing policy more closely, the government needs to hear the voices of domestic abuse survivors to improve legislation and public services. And domestic abuse organisations need to engage with different stakeholders and different departments to make the substantial change that will make a real difference.


If you are a housing provider who knows where the issues are but needs extra resource to put these evidence bases in front of policymakers, reach out to Whitehouse Communications. We are leaders in political communications for charities and non-profits, with a demonstrated history in achieving major wins for our clients in legislative and regulatory spaces. Contact us to find out more.