Today sees the launch of the Domestic Abuse and Housing Forum (DAHF), created by PILC in response to the increasing obstacles domestic abuse survivors face when seeking housing support from local authorities.
In our latest blog, legal caseworker Isabella Mulholland explains what the forum will do and why it’s needed.
For the last three years, I’ve been working with domestic abuse survivors to support them to access safe housing. Before coming to PILC as a legal caseworker, I was a homelessness advocate worker in a winter night shelter. In both roles I’ve been struck by the multiple barriers survivors must overcome in order to assert their basic right to a safe and suitable home.
When survivors flee, they are at their most vulnerable. Yet when they seek help from local authorities at this crucial time, housing officers routinely provide inaccurate information about their rights and options. This deliberate (and often unlawful) gatekeeping is a systemic problem across local authorities and spans both homelessness and longer-term accommodation provision.
The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 contains a number of provisions that may help survivors (we wrote a briefing about the act earlier this year), but it will not address the deep-rooted culture of disbelief and gatekeeping that exists in local authorities. It will also do nothing to support those with no recourse to public funds (NRPF), who remain barred from access to local authority housing.
Moreover, lawyers are often unaware of the daily obstacles survivors face when trying to access housing support, while frontline workers often struggle to find legal advice or representation. The few lawyers working in the area are inundated with cases.
We hope the new Domestic Abuse and Housing Forum (DAHF) will help tackle some of these issues. Through the forum we want to create a network of frontline DV workers, homelessness advice workers, housing and public lawyers and campaigners who will support one another to tackle local authority gatekeeping in cases of domestic abuse.
DAHF will allow domestic abuse advocates and other frontliners to access second-tier legal advice on their cases and refer their clients for formal legal representation. It will also be a space where updates and resources can be shared.
Quarterly meetings will see DV workers, campaigners and lawyers come together to discuss, and hopefully tackle, the systemic barriers facing survivors who need support from their local authority.
DAHF will only be as strong as its membership. For the forum to be successful, it will need the right mix of frontline workers and campaigners supporting survivors and lawyers who can take on legal cases.
That’s why we’re asking our friends and partners to share information about DAHF as widely as possible, particularly among housing and public lawyers, and in advice and legal aid ‘deserts’. In many parts of the country there are no housing legal aid providers, and we hope the new forum will help frontliners in those areas access robust legal support.
Domestic abuse survivors should not have to face constant barriers when seeking a safe home. We hope that by pooling our resources, we will be better able to tackle the unjust practices that currently prevail across many local authorities.
We will be providing updates on the activities of the forum throughout 2022. To join DAHF or for more information, please email email@example.com
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