This report addresses the housing experiences of Black and minoritised women survivors of gender violence, drawing on the first year of the Women Against Homelessness and Abuse (WAHA), a two year project funded by Trust for London and jointly run by Latin American Women’s Aid (LAWA) and London Black Women’s Project (LBWP) under the OYA consortium of, by and for Black and minoritised women’s refuges. Both LAWA and LBWP have a longstanding history of 60 plus years working with minoritised women and run refuges and advice centres for women affected by different forms of gender-based violence.
The WAHA project
The WAHA project is aimed at addressing Black and minoritised women’s intersecting pressures of poverty, homelessness and gender violence, through promoting changes in housing policy and practice in the UK using a rights-based approach. Hence, it is policy focused, but it is also a frontline project advising women and acting on their behalf to help them access and achieve safe and appropriate accommodation, in an environment free from violence and intimidation. The project also endeavours to build the capacity of professionals, with the goal of ensuring all homeless women are treated fairly and with dignity. WAHA’s ultimate goal is to work with policy-makers and practitioners to effect change in the way the housing needs of vulnerable women are met. They envisage a world where no woman will be forced to endure violence for fear of becoming homeless, and where minoritised women fleeing violence are able to access their right to safe, suitable and stable accommodation without that process furthering the cycle of abuse.
The findings build on the in-depth analysis of 69 housing cases of Black and minoritised survivors supported through the WAHA project for an average of 4-5 months. It also draws on interviews and focus groups carried out with Black and minoritised refuge residents (38) and refuge workers (6) from LAWA, LBWP and Asha. The research reveals a range of housing issues experienced at the different stages of Black and minoritised survivors’ journeys, from leaving their abusers, moving on from refuges, to issues arising even after they have been re-housed.
- 52% were supported just after becoming homeless or threatened with homelessness due to gender violence. In half of the cases, Black and minoritised women needed urgent help with maintaining their tenancy when it was safe for them to do so. The other half of these cases required assistance with re-housing into safe accommodation after leaving or being evicted from the house where they lived with the perpetrator.
- 20% were supported regarding move on challenges in dealing with local housing authorities as they were in need of re-housing following a period in a women's refuge. The majority of cases needed help to deal with local housing authorities' malpractice.
- 28% were supported at a post-move on stage, that is, after they had already been re-housed from a women's refuge or other forms of accommodation. Some women needed help with preventing unreasonable eviction at short notice due to local authority malpractice. However, the majority needed help with relocation from their current residence.
Black and minoritised survivors are faced with complex structural barriers to access safe and stable forms of accommodation. They are often at high risk of homelessness and re-victimisation at different stages of their journeys of fleeing violence; not only at the point of exiting a violent relationship but rather for an extended period thereafter. Their journeys reveal a cycle of abuse that goes beyond the violence perpetrated by their direct abusers; this abuse is furthered by systemic and institutional failures and discrimination in the ways in which public authorities (the police, and housing authorities in particular) deal with their cases of violence. The re-victimization experienced by minoritised survivors plays out not only in terms of poor welfare/housing provisions and structural sexism but is also compounded by intersecting structures of oppressions based on race, immigration status, language barrier, class and/or disability.
The findings further indicate that Black and minoritised women tend to leave their abusers only after long periods of experiencing violence or after violence escalates, with this being mostly due
to isolation and unfamiliarity with the UK system. Most Black and minoritised women reported having decided to leave their houses following severe incidents of abuse which resulted in them being in contact with public services, in particular, the police, GPs, or local councils. It is therefore crucial that public authorities are sufficiently equipped to fulfil their duties under homelessness legislation, provide information to Black and minoritised women and make appropriate referrals based on a diverse pathways approach.
The recommendations presented by this report suggest concrete ways to move forward to ensure the UK complies with its national and international obligations towards all women subjected to violence, regardless of race and immigration status, in a fair and non-discriminatory manner.
For local authorities
- A binding duty should be placed on Local Authorities to ensure their internal guidance and practices comply with the MHCLG Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities 2018 in order to fulfil their legal duties under the homelessness legislation - Housing Act 1996, Homelessness Act 2002, Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.
- Local Authorities should refrain from using B&B style accommodation as a move on option for Black and minoritised survivors, in particular women with dependent children.
- Local Authorities should refrain from housing Black and minoritised women in unsuitable areas, instead ensuring they are placed in areas where they can integrate in the local community.
- The Habitual Residence Test (HRT) should be abolished by Local Authorities’ in assessing the eligibility for benefits of women who have been subjected to violence.
- Local housing teams should provide Black and minoritised survivors with the option to be assisted by an officer who is a Black and minoritised woman when this is available.
- Local Authorities should provide comprehensive training for all its staff dealing with Black and minoritised survivors who are homeless or threatened with homelessness.
For those at a national level
- Amend the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 to ensure the duty to refer embeds a diverse pathways approach inclusive of the by and for Black and minoritised sector.
- The MHCLG Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities 2018 should become binding and a robust accountability structure to ensure Local Authorities’ set up practices guaranteeing representation of the by and for Black and minoritised specialist sector.
- All survivors of violence should be automatically considered eligible for safe housing/housing benefit regardless of their immigration status.
- The central government should provide ring-fenced funding to, by, and for Black and minoritised women’s refuges.
- The government should reassess caps on Local Housing Allowance to ensure it realistically matches the cost of rented accommodation.
For the police
- The police should be provided with comprehensive training on how to adequately respond to cases of Black and minoritised women subjected to violence.
- The police should make appropriate use of Domestic Violence Protection Notice (DVPN) and Domestic Violence Prevention Order (DVPO) to remove perpetrators from a house at least until safer accommodation is made available for Black and minoritised survivors.