News

The Housing Crisis Is Leaving Victims of Domestic Violence Nowhere to Turn

And waiting lists aren't really an option if you've got a stalker.
May 18, 2016, 11:00pm

A screengrab from the Solace Women's Aid website

*Some names have been changed to protect the anonymity of those involved

"I was so fearful about his release from prison that I fled my home to live in a refuge so he couldn't find me," explains Chantel*, 28. She's visibly shaken and currently living in a Solace refuge. According to a spokesperson for the refuge, her story is unfortunately typical.

Social housing providers are failing to provide safety and security of tenure for victims of abuse. Solace Women's Aid, an independent charity working, runs 19 refuges with 150 beds in six London boroughs. They say that last year, over 60 percent of women entering their refuges from a secure social housing tenancy lost this when they moved. 87 percent moved on to another form of emergency temporary accommodation.

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Chantel too is at risk of losing her secure tenancy. Her abusive ex-husband found her through mutual friends while she was living in a council flat with a secure lifetime social housing tenancy. He bombarded her with phone calls and text messages – threatening to pay someone to have her killed.

She was given a restraining order – which her abuser breached several times. He ended up behind bars, and Chantel is desperate to move: "For the past 18-months, I have been pleading with my Housing Trust to move me to a safe permanent address unknown to my ex-husband. I'm still waiting."

When exploring alternative housing options, she says that she met with local authority housing officers, who were equally unhelpful and dismissive. Victims and their children often have to move several times – and understandably are left unsettled and distressed.

A 2014 study into how women rebuild their lives after domestic violence by Solace, "Finding the Cost of Freedom", found that 44 percent of their interviewees had moved once, 31 percent had moved twice, 14 percent had moved three times, 6 percent had moved four times and 5 percent had moved five or more times.

The study followed 100 women and their children in the UK. They had used a range of domestic violence services within the period of 2011 to 2014, interviewing them four times each.

Stalking victims aren't faring too much better. Andreia Oliveria-Miguel, 24, for example, lost her secure social housing tenancy essentially because she was a victim of stalking: "My fear was my stalker having a bad day, seeing me, raping me or killing me."

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In her efforts to find safety away from the stalker, she agreed to taking on an affordable tenancy agreement from Notting Hill Housing Trust. Andreia's rent was previously £450 per month and upon transfer, was increased to £940.

She's now in arrears of just over £4,000: "I was desperate because of the stalking. I was offered unsuitable moves – one was even to a location one road away from where my stalker had moved to."

Statistics published this year by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust revealed that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 12 men will be stalked in their lifetime.

Women who have children have a statutory right to be rehoused, but those without are vulnerable to falling into the unregulated private rented sector – with little or no security.

When challenged on Andreia's case, a spokesperson from Notting Hill Housing Trust responded: "When Miss Oliveira-Miguel moved, she chose to do so through our bidding system. We awarded her a higher priority to assist her bid. We followed our normal policies for people wishing to move from their home, but in April 2015 we revised our lettings policy to cover cases such as this. In light of these changes, we will be seeking to meet with the resident to discuss options to resolve her situation."

After contact with VICE, Notting Hill Housing Trust made a discretionary decision to reduce Andreia's rent back to a social rent. However they have refused to give her a hard copy of this new tenancy agreement. They have also refused to backdate their decision to the time that they transferred her into the new property – keeping her in arrears. She is currently in the process of appealing both these decisions.

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Many social housing providers say that they are struggling because of financial cutbacks. In a recent Guardian survey, 72 percent of interviewed housing professionals said that their employers had shed staff and as a result, 40 percent said that this meant their workloads had become unmanageable.

With this in mind, it's unsurprising that victims of abuse, who don't have the luxury of time on their hands to make a move, are suffering.

For confidential advice, call the Stalking Helpline on 0808 802 0300 or the national domestic violence helpline on 0808 2000 247.

@danielleaumord

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