Published On: 27th July 2023Categories: General

In September 2022 we released a report – ‘Abused twice’: the ‘gatekeeping’ of support for domestic abuse survivors in every London borough – exposing how domestic abuse survivors are often denied access to housing provision due to local authority ‘gatekeeping’. 

As a direct result of this report, London Councils, working alongside London’s Housing Directors, secured £20,000 for a project to ‘identify the principles and processes that would underpin an exemplar housing support service model to ensure that people with an eligibility for support receive the service they are entitled to’. The project was set up to ‘seek to address the findings of the recent report that identified examples of failures in how London local authority housing services were responding to domestic abuse survivors approaching the councils for support.’

Aicha Penrith (Principal Policy & Project Officer, Housing & Planning, London Councils) explained that this project will look at the initial stages of triaging people in need of emergency support. The intended outputs of the triage project include: a series of practical tools to assist local authorities delivering frontline services; a standardised triage script for local authority staff providing first contact with homelessness services; and a rough sleeping risk assessment tool to help housing specialists recognise when someone is homeless. 

Set to run from March to July 2023, the report states that at the end of the project a self-assessment framework would be implemented to allow both London (and non-London) authorities to measure performance of homelessness and housing options services – using best practice from the project. With the intention of enabling benchmarking and helping move from a process-driven service to a person-centred approach. 

London Councils’ report and subsequent project are a sign of real progress. The interviews, evidence and law that we presented in Abused Twice has forced London Housing Directors to sit down and acknowledge the housing problems faced by so many survivors. Examining the endemic failure of London councils to provide emergency accommodation is an urgent priority – and it is great that London Councils and London Housing Directors have begun the process of reviewing their systems. It is also encouraging to see that a broad range of London local authorities are involved in the project – and will hopefully begin a process of necessary change.

However, we are concerned that this grant will not be enough to resolve the wider, more entrenched issues relating to housing in England. As we argue in Abused Twice, the problem of local-authority ‘gatekeeping’ of support for survivors has worsened over the last decade as a consequence of austerity and a chronic shortage of social housing. The enormity of the problem now requires a response of similar magnitude.

Under Sections 188 and 193 of the Housing Act 1996, domestic abuse survivors have the legal right to access emergency housing and longer-term safe and secure accommodation. Despite this, local authorities continue to claim that their failure to abide by the law is due to a lack of resources. These, quite frankly, are excuses. Local authorities must abide by the law – which means granting survivors their statutory right to housing support.

While we appreciate that London Councils and London’s Housing Directors are taking our findings from Abused Twice on board, we question why local authorities do not undertake joint campaigns for decent funding from Central Government to enable them to house people safely and securely. In this vein, we are encouraged by the joint letter to Housing Secretary Michael Gove, signed by London Deputy Mayor for Housing Tom Copley and the London Housing Panel, urging the Government to provide long-term investment into social rented housing as local authorities cannot solve the housing crisis alone.

We look forward to the findings of the London Councils pilot project, and hope this marks the beginning of tangible change.

Our Report – Abused Twice

‘Gatekeeping’ can be defined as the placing of bureaucratic or other obstacles in the way of those seeking statutory support. In other words, when somebody tries to access support a gate is effectively put in their way. In domestic abuse cases this might be: demanding that survivors submit police evidence, or that incidents of abuse have occurred recently. Unless they provide this evidence the survivor is prevented from receiving housing support. With years of experience working within this area, we can confidently report that this type of gatekeeping is unfortunately systemic across London. 

To fully emphasise just how endemic gatekeeping can be, we published Abused Twice. We took a witness statement from a domestic abuse survivor or frontline advocate from each of the 32 London boroughs. In every statement, the same kinds of obstacles arise when survivors seek housing support from local authorities. This is not a coincidence. Instead, we found this to be a deeply-rooted, chronic problem.

Out of the survivors who participated in our report, one third were not accommodated in emergency accommodation; three quarters reported experiencing delays with their application for housing support, with some waiting for months or even years for an outcome of their applications; and two thirds were accommodated in unsuitable accommodation, including housing that was overcrowded, located in unsafe areas or far from support networks. 

Advocacy from an Independent Domestic Violence Advocate (IDVA) or a lawyer is often required for a survivor to have any chance of accessing housing; over a quarter of the participants required the intervention of a lawyer to get their local authority to provide housing support.

The real-life consequences of this ‘gatekeeping’ can be extremely grave. As documented in the report, this includes:

  • Survivors being forced to remain in dangerous properties or return to the perpetrator of abuse;  
  • Street homelessness—one of our participants was forced to sleep in a friend’s car, another on a park bench – who then the next day tried to take her life;  
  • Survivors having no choice but to occupy unsuitable or unaffordable accommodation;
  • Survivors are being moved away from support networks; and 
  • Survivors being retraumatised leading to a deterioration in their mental health. 

The impact of local authority gatekeeping in domestic abuse cases can be the difference between life and death, safety and danger, housing and street homelessness. As one survivor put it, this makes survivors feel like they have been abused twice.