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Action needed to protect domestic abuse survivors from homelessness

An independent report has said more needs to be done to prioritise the housing rights of domestic abuse survivors in Scotland.
Statistics show domestic abuse is the main cause of women’s homelessness in Scotland. Credit: Jackie_Chance, Pixabay

Charities and housing experts have said regulatory changes are necessary to protect the housing rights of domestic abuse survivors in Scotland. 

An independent report commissioned by the Scottish Government warns women and children who have been the victim of abusive behaviours need more support, publishing a list of recommendations which could be implemented to improve access to housing.

Statistics show domestic abuse is the main cause of women’s homelessness in Scotland, with the report making recommendations to both prevent homelessness and to make leaving an abusive partner easier and safer for women.

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The report was commissioned in 2019 for a Scottish Government working group on the topic, which is chaired by Scottish Women’s Aid (SWA) and the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) Scotland. 

Improving housing outcomes for women and children experiencing domestic abuse seeks to change the way councils and housing associations in Scotland support survivors of domestic abuse, making it a requirement that their needs are prioritised over those of a perpetrator.

Landlords should ensure women’s rights to remain in their own home are protected, the author wrote, adding that all local authorities and housing associations should implement a domestic abuse policy alongside regulatory changes to ensure social landlords can be held to account if they do not safeguard survivors.

“Lockdown measures have enabled perpetrators to enforce control, and highlighted that, even in normal circumstances, many women and children do not feel safe or secure at home.” – Scottish Women’s Aid policy officer Jo Ozga

Concerns were raised within the report that, despite the publication in 2019 of domestic abuse good practice guidance for social landlords, only a minority have implemented this or developed a domestic abuse policy. 

Jo Ozga, SWA policy officer and co-chair of the report and review group, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted a ‘shadow pandemic’ of domestic abuse. Lockdown measures have enabled perpetrators to enforce control, and highlighted that, even in normal circumstances, many women and children do not feel safe or secure at home. 

“The report recommends a combination of systemic change, legislation and actions to prevent homelessness for victim-survivors of domestic abuse that will make a fundamental difference to improving not only the housing outcomes for women and children in Scotland but also their health and wellbeing.”

Contributors also urged the Scottish Government to take action before the upcoming Holyrood elections in May, asking ministers to prioritise the passing of the Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Bill. 

Those behind the report recommended that all elements of the right to adequate housing should be incorporated within Scots law during the next parliamentary term. 

Callum Chomczuk, national director of CIH Scotland and co- chair of the report and review group, said: “The housing sector unfortunately has been too slow to improve our approach to domestic abuse. Too many social landlords still do not have a policy which recognises domestic abuse and victims are at times made homeless by the services that are meant to help them – despite domestic abuse remaining the principal cause of women’s homelessness. 

The report has been welcomed by Scottish Government ministers, who said this marked “a huge step in recognising and addressing the impact domestic abuse has on women’s homelessness”. 

Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart MSP, added: “It is shocking that people are at risk of harm from those they live with, yet we know domestic abuse is the most common reason for women making a homelessness application and we must support them. 

“The Scottish Government looks forward to working together with social housing providers to implement the report’s findings and ensuring victims of domestic abuse have a safe and secure place to live, where they can access the support they need.”