Domestic abuse victim refused local housing

A mother who became homeless after experiencing domestic violence has said she can understand “why lots of women and men stay in abusive relationships”, after an Essex council declined to offer her local emergency housing in the district.

According to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, she no longer felt safe at the address she shared with her child after a “high risk” domestic abuse incident in October 2021.

But the woman, referred to as “Miss X” in a report, was told by Epping Forest District Council she would only be offered interim housing outside the council’s area.

Miss X wanted to stay in the area for work and her child’s schooling, and the perpetrator did not live in the area, according to the ombudsman’s report.

The council said it accepted mistakes had been made and has paid Miss X £500, one month’s rent and her deposit for the property she has moved to.

The report quotes Miss X as saying in an email to the council she would lose her income if forced to move further away.

She said: “After this experience I can see why lots of women and men stay in abusive relationships.

“The homeless team at Epping Forest have tried to make it impossible for me to stay and to leave would be nothing but stress and financial hardship not to mention what it would do to my child.”

In addition to making homelessness applications, Miss X also asked the council for financial help with a deposit and rent if she found her own privately rented accommodation, the report continues.

The council told her it would only help if she moved away from the area.

Domestic abuse survivors have a legal right to access emergency housing and longer-term accommodation.

But according to a September 2022 report by the Public Interest Law Centre, victims are often forced to remain in properties where they are at risk due to inaction from local authorities.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Epping Forest District Council said “lessons have been learned” from this case.

The authority now has a dedicated domestic abuse support specialist within the homelessness team and is in the process of obtaining accreditation from the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA).

They said: “We operate a compassionate, trauma-informed approach as part of our practice and regret that was not Miss X’s experience throughout her journey with our service.

“We are sorry for the way in which this case and subsequent complaint was handled. We recognise that a different process could have been followed in the first instance and more understanding for the individual circumstances could have been shown.”

Finding fault with the council, the Ombudsman said the council based some of its decisions on assumptions or incomplete information.

A section of the report read: “It did not show any understanding of Miss X’s individual circumstances. It sought to tell Miss X what she should do and took away her agency to make decisions about what was in the best interests for her and her child.”

The report also says the police confirmed the perpetrator of the domestic abuse incident was arrested, but was later released because the “victim declined to confirm the perp as responsible”. The police told the council she would not give a statement “out of fear” of the perpetrator.

The Ombudsman’s decision will also be shared with homelessness officers working with domestic abuse victims to improve understanding of victim choice and agency, the report says.

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Charlie Ridler

Local Democracy Reporter