Councils in England are looking for ways to provide housing for domestic abusers so their victims can stay in the family home, in response to growing calls from some charities and campaigners.
The recently passed Domestic Abuse Act requires councils to publish a strategy to provide housing support for victims and children. Some councils are now drafting plans that include housing for perpetrators along with measures for victims.
Sunderland city council’s draft strategy, which is awaiting sign-off, says alternative accommodation should be made available for abusers. “Women and their children should not have to leave their home. Women perceived this as disruptive for them and their children and unnecessary if safety plans can be put in place to protect themselves and their children.
“Women identified a key factor for their recovery would be provision of alternative accommodation for the perpetrator..”
There have been growing calls for more ways to rehouse abusers, including an open letter to the government last year. A recent report from the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance said that “without the option to remove and rehouse a perpetrator, victims, including children, will continue to suffer by remaining trapped in abusive relationships or being forced to flee their home”.
The report said any such approach must be led and informed by the victim, with risk assessment and management of the perpetrator. It referred to cases where police and judges have been reluctant to issue domestic violence protection notices and orders in case they made the perpetrator homeless, and other instances where abusers are housed in mixed-sex homelessness accommodation alongside homeless abuse victims.
Dorset council has put housing for perpetrators in its domestic abuse strategy.
Such plans build on recent pilot schemes in London, North Yorkshire and the north-east.
Egter, some organisations are sceptical of such initiatives. Isabelle Younane, head of policy, campaigns and public affairs at Women’s Aid, gesê: “While staying in their homes may be the right choice for some women, a woman may not feel safe in her own home, as the perpetrator knows the address and could easily come back.
“Furthermore, for many women this is not a possibility and the only option is to flee to a life-saving refuge.
“We also know that women frequently face complex, expensive legal issues, such as transferring a joint tenancy into their name, when trying to remain at home, and affordability is often an ongoing concern.
“Based on these and other challenges, Women’s Aid does not endorse funding this scheme while refuges remain hugely underfunded. Refuges are more than just a roof over a survivor’s head: they provide vital holistic support, community therapy, financial stability and more.
“Yet despite the services that refuges provide, women are still being turned away, due to the lack of capacity and funding. This gap must be adequately addressed to ensure women and children’s safety.”
A Local Government Association spokesperson said: “Developing a comprehensive and effective perpetrator response is an integral part of preventing domestic abuse. We firmly believe the right interventions at the right time can stop abuse from occurring, recurring, or escalating.
“We would like to see this prioritised at a government level – and eagerly await the government’s National Domestic Abuse Strategy, which is expected to have an emphasis on perpetrator interventions. We would also support cross-departmental efforts to addressing perpetrator accommodation options, so that the abusive partner is removed, and victims are not forced to leave their own homes for their safety.”
A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to radically changing how we end violence against women, by supporting survivors and pursuing perpetrators, committing £25m this year to hold them to account.
“The duties in the Domestic Abuse Act are about providing the right support to victims and their children who need to find safe accommodation, rather than supporting perpetrators.
“We would expect perpetrators to make their own living arrangements. Egter, councils have statutory duties to prevent and relieve homelessness, ensuring that help and advice is provided to all eligible people.”