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Housing

New rules could stop domestic abuse victims from having to live near abusers

The government has announced a consultation to axe the local connections test, which prevents domestic abuse victims from applying for social housing in areas they have no connection to.

The Westminster government is looking at scrapping housing rules that can force domestic abuse victims to live in the same area as their abusers.

Ministers announced on Tuesday that a consultation will be held on whether the local connections test should be axed.

The rule as it stands stops domestic abuse victims from applying for social housing unless they have a local connection to an area. This can prevent them from starting afresh in a new area and also means many are sometimes forced to live in the same communities as their abusers.

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The announcement comes as ministers also pledged £125 million to make sure safe accommodation spaces like refuges and shelters can provide domestic abuse victims with support including healthcare, social workers and immigration advice in 2022/23.

“Home is not the safe place it should be for domestic abuse victims and their families. The extra support provided today will provide a vital lifeline for victims as they try and rebuild their lives positively while feeling supported and protected,” said safeguarding minister Rachel Maclean.

Domestic abuse has been an increasingly prevalent issue during the pandemic. The number of domestic abuse-related incidents recorded by police in England and Wales increased by six per cent in the year ending March 2021 when compared to the previous year.

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That rise has seen many victims turning to councils for support with homelessness. Domestic abuse was the second most common reason for households approaching English councils for homelessness relief between July and September 2021. The 6,310 households represented a 13 per cent rise on the same quarter in 2020 and a rise of a third on 2019 levels according to official statistics.

Nicole Jacobs, domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, added that the un-ringfenced £125m funding will “tackle the postcode lottery of accommodation-based support for victims and survivors”.

Ministers said a further £4m is being invested in respite rooms to support vulnerable rough sleepers impacted by domestic abuse. 

But the consultation on current housing rules, also announced today, is also intended to prevent domestic abuse victims from falling into homelessness.

As well as removing the local connection test, ministers are also asking people with experience of abuse or people who support them to give their views on joint tenancies. Removing joint tenancies may stop victims feeling forced to stay in their home or at risk of being made homeless by their abuser, according to ministers.

Rough sleeping minister Eddie Hughes said: “Through the landmark Domestic Abuse Act, the government has transformed the response to domestic abuse, helping to prevent offending and make sure victims are protected and supported.  

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“The consultations we are launching today build on this work and will help us give victims more options to move forward with their lives in the way that is right for them.”  

The move has been welcomed by charities. Rebecca Goshawk, head of public affairs at Solace Women’s Aid, said the money should be used to make safe accommodation spaces more accessible for women with disabilities, from a minority background or for women of insecure immigration status.

“The pandemic has led to an increase in domestic abuse, and we’ve seen a surge in the demand for advocacy support and accommodation services for women and children needing to flee. This funding from the Government is welcome and should be used to address the gaps in London’s refuge provision.”

However, Isabelle Younane, head of policy, campaigns and public affairs at Women’s Aid, said the governement investment does not completely cover the funding shortfall in England.

She added: “Women’s Aid estimates that at least £409 million is needed to run the specialist domestic abuse services across England ​this year, and this funding is therefore well-received as a positive step towards that goal. Nevertheless, today’s announcement still leaves a significant shortfall in the funding needed to run domestic abuse services across the country, particularly in the context of rising energy prices.”

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