Housing providers are well placed to spot domestic violence – so why don’t they?

25 November 2013

One housing association substantially increased the number of reports of domestic violence it received by making a few small steps. Here’s how others can follow suit.

Today is the United Nations’ international day for the elimination of violence against women. In England, one in four women experiences domestic abuse in her lifetime, and two women a week are killed by a current or former male partner. This is shocking and unacceptable.

Because abuse often happens behind closed doors, social housing providers are uniquely placed to help individuals experiencing domestic abuse, but historically, housing providers were not very aware of the issue, or confident in identifying signs of domestic abuse in their properties.

Women who have experienced domestic abuse often state that safe housing for them and their children is a top priority. It is vital that landlords and support workers understand the housing options and benefits available to women in crisis, in order to be able to work with other agencies to provide appropriate support.

Victims of domestic violence often endure more than 30 assaults before contacting someone for help.

Domestic abuse takes many forms, from physical and sexual to emotional and psychological, to other forms of coercive control, and it’s not always obvious to the outsider. I worked directly with individuals experiencing abuse for eight years in various roles before joining the housing sector, and an important part of the training is about challenging perceptions and attitudes. Many that attend the training are often shocked to hear how many assaults a woman endures before contacting the police or another agency for help. The answer is more than 30.

Violence against women, children and young people is notoriously difficult to identify when it occurs in the family home. Having access to people’s homes for maintenance purposes, and regular contact with residents through our community development activities enables trained housing professionals to identify signs of domestic abuse that would otherwise be hidden. As a result, staff are trusted and accessible, and are seen to be easier to approach than the police or other statutory agencies.

Earlier this year the Home Office called for criminal justice, education , health, housing and benefits to work together to identify, protect and support victims and bring perpetrators to justice. However, housing providers do not normally take part in most preventative work (such as risk assessment panels) and their methods for approaching violence differs from methods used by most others.

This is why Peabody introduced domestic abuse training for all of frontline staff, and is rolling the approach out to other housing associations and councils. We developed a more efficient case management system, strengthened our links with local authorities and added two qualified independent domestic abuse advisers to our community safety team. Where previously we recorded and took action against one instance of reported domestic violence per quarter, we are now taking action against 18 reports. Our satisfaction scores for domestic abuse handling are now 15% higher than average.

Both the mayor’s office and the Welsh housing minister have requested our input to strengthen domestic abuse interventions, as have local authorities in London and beyond.

I am proud that Peabody has been able to put domestic abuse on the housing agenda like this. We are demonstrating that changes in service delivery can have a far reaching impact for individuals affected by domestic abuse, and this will ultimately save lives.

Gudrun Burnet
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