Domestic abuse is the number one cause of women and children’s homelessness in Scotland, and today (26 August 2019) new guidance will be launched for all social landlords and local authority housing providers to help them offer a safer and more consistent approach to this issue.
Current housing policy and practice responses are based on expecting women and children experiencing domestic abuse, rather than perpetrators, to leave their homes. Many women looking for support are made homeless by the very services that are meant to help them: forced to leave the family home and then move multiple times. That is why Scottish Women’s Aid and partners felt it was necessary to work together to develop specific guidance for social landlords.
Scottish Women’s Aid has partnered with the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers, the Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and Shelter Scotland to produce a good practice guide on domestic abuse for social landlords to help them prevent women and children’s homelessness and provide a service that is sensitive to their needs.
The guidance includes good practice examples, checklists for best practice in responding to domestic abuse and templates for domestic abuse policies. The guide also features first-hand accounts from women who had been made homeless as a result of domestic abuse and the challenges they faced when seeking help from their local council, often having to repeat and retell their stories in a way that is re-traumatising. One woman said: “Having to repeat my circumstances over and over again was humiliating and distressing to me. I was also worried about a negative reaction of not being believed every time I had to explain to a new person.”
Jo Ozga, Policy Officer at Scottish Women’s Aid, said: “Domestic abuse is a violation of human rights and those rights are further denied if public services do not respond to abuse and if policies do not prevent it. Often women are told that their only housing option when they are separating from an abusive partner is to make a homeless application. Being forced to become homeless adds to the trauma of domestic abuse and comes at a huge emotional and financial cost.
“Women are hugely concerned about the impact on their children of having to leave their home, often moving multiple times. This impacts on children’s emotional wellbeing and health, and their education if they have to move school. They can also experience bullying, loss of friends and support at a time when they really need it.
“This new guidance will be available to every social landlord and every local authority in Scotland, meaning the potential is there to change the future for thousands of women and children.
“We know there is more to do and we will continue to campaign for a gendered approach to homelessness in Scotland. However, we believe this good practice guide will be an invaluable tool in improving the responses to women, children and young people experiencing the trauma of coercive control and we will work with our partners to ensure consistency in those responses.”
Sally Thomas, Chief Executive of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, said: “No woman or child should ever become homeless fleeing domestic abuse. This guidance is a significant step forward in ensuring that is the case and I urge all senior staff across our sector to implement it in its entirety throughout their organisations.”
Annette Finnan, Co-Chair of the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers, said: “The sector has been too slow to see the need to improve our approach to domestic abuse. I’m confident that the publication of this new guidance and our working relationship with Scottish Women’s Aid and others will provide the impetus we need to start to get it right for those facing the challenges of moving on from domestic abuse.”
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