We’re in the High Court today for a hearing on a judicial-review challenge our client is bringing against Network Homes.
The challenge relates to the housing association’s refusal to allow T, a domestic abuse survivor, to move to new accommodation where she and her children will be safe. The court will also consider in what circumstances judicial review challenges can be brought against housing associations.
In the latest in our series of Q&As on PILC legal cases, we outline the basis for the challenge and explore the wider issues raised by our client’s case.
What’s the issue?
T lives with her children in a flat that she rents from the housing association Network Homes. T’s ex-partner was physically and emotionally abusive both during and after their relationship and continues to present a risk to T and her children.
In early 2021 T applied for a management transfer that would allow her to move to new accommodation where she and her children would be safe. (A management transfer is when a local authority or housing association allows a tenant to transfer to new accommodation because of exceptional circumstances.)
In July Network Homes refused to grant T’s request.
Why is this a problem?
T has bravely taken steps to protect herself and her children from further abuse by engaging with domestic abuse charities, seeking civil protective orders and now by requesting a move. Network Homes’ refusal to grant her a management transfer means she and her children remain at risk from her ex-partner.
The housing association’s own policy states that the ‘exceptional circumstances’ that might lead to a request for a management transfer being granted include ‘[where] there is a severe or immediate risk to life or personal safety of a […] resident because of domestic violence, harassment, hate crime, safeguarding issues or [if they become the] victim of a serious crime.’
But they have said that the domestic abuse in T’s case does not meet their threshold, outlined in a sub-policy, of constituting a ‘threat to life and limb’. They have suggested she could instead seek a civil injunction against the perpetrator (which she has done) and report any new incidents of abuse to the police.
Are other people experiencing this same problem?
Yes. Councils and housing associations across London are imposing excessively high thresholds when it comes to survivors’ access to management transfers. This is despite the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which provides a statutory definition of domestic abuse going beyond physical violence and was designed to make it easier for survivors to retain secure tenancies.
What are the legal grounds of our challenge?
We are arguing that Network Homes’s decision to refuse our client’s application for a management transfer on the basis that ‘she was unable to provide any evidence of threats to life or limb’ is unlawful because it takes an excessively restrictive view of domestic abuse, limiting it to acts of physical violence. We say that the housing association’s decision goes against its own published policy.
Network Homes have claimed that T ‘could approach the police or local authority to take more immediate and effective action’ as an alternative to the housing association moving her to new accommodation.But when T did approach her local authority, it confirmed that it supported her application for a management transfer. There was no suggestion that the council could or would accommodate her instead.
In our view, expecting survivors to approach their local authority places them in the invidious position of having to choose between their current stable accommodation and taking their chances with whatever (likely precarious) accommodation the council may provide.
Finally, Network Homes’ sub-policy requires domestic abuse cited in support of an application for a management transfer to have been reported to the police or a MARAC. We are arguing that this is both irrational and indirectly discriminatory.
It is irrational, in our view, because of the widely acknowledged fact that many survivors do not report abuse to the police or other public authorities. Therefore, the absence of a police or MARAC report does not indicate an absence of risk.
It is discriminatory, we say, because women are disproportionately likely to face domestic abuse and abuse is often not reported. Therefore, whilst it may be rational to require evidence from the police or other relevant authorities when considering applications for transfers not based on domestic abuse, the requirement places survivors of domestic abuse at an unfair disadvantage.
What are the wider issues raised by this challenge?
It is our view that housing associations fulfil a public function by providing social housing. They receive public funding in order to do so. As such, the safety of domestic abuse survivors should be paramount in the decisions they take.
Social housing providers should not be taking so narrow a view of domestic abuse as to grant the vital safety measure of a management transfer only to survivors who can prove they have experienced a ‘threat to life or limb’.
Domestic abuse survivors seek management transfers in order to remain safe whilst retaining security of tenure. The message Network Homes’ decision in this case sends to survivors is that they should either seek homelessness assistance from the local authority, move into the private sector, or remain in an unsafe home. All of these options are likely to result in reduced safety and security for survivors and their children.
From the decision in a case known as Weaver, the relevant question is whether the act under scrutiny is a private act. To determine that, it will be necessary to examine the nature of the act in the context of the body’s activities as a whole.
We are arguing that Network Homes’s decision in this case, and its policies relating to transfers, are amenable to judicial review. We do not believe that a decision concerning the transfer of a social housing tenancy can be a private act.
Please check back for updates about this case in the coming weeks.
Public Interest Law Centre
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