Q&A: Supporting survivors of domestic abuse – Dr Kelly Henderson & Anna Bennett

Following on from our very successful Webinar with Dr Kelly Henderson in September 2021, Dr Henderson and Anna Bennett respond to some of the common practical and legal questions that come up when trying to assist survivors of domestic abuse.

Dr Kelly Henderson is Managing Director at Addressing Domestic Abuse (ADA). ADA is a community interest company which provides bespoke support to organisations including social housing providers to recognise and respond to domestic abuse. As well as providing bespoke support to organisations to develop their response to domestic abuse, including training staff, developing policies to support staff, they provide a strong focus on social housing prepare for upcoming changes in regulation (by the Regulator of Social Housing) on domestic abuse.

I have had a few cases where neighbours and/or the police are claiming that the Tenants are victims of domestic abuse however the Tenant denies this and does not cooperate with the police action. Neighbours complain about the noise of fighting and being scared by the aggression of the perpetrator however we have no actual evidence of domestic abuse. How can we deal with the behaviour but at the same time be supportive of the domestic abuse victim?
Dr Kelly Henderson – If we receive information from a third party and the victim does not feel able to raise a complaint, we do need to make clear that the door is open for them to access our support and have an understanding that it may take residents time to trust we can help. As part to our multi agency working it is worth noting that Police can take forward a victimless prosecution and as housing officers we can provide crucial information.
An example of this could relate to breaches of Domestic Abuse Protection Notices (DVPN) and Orders (DVPO). Housing Officers can provide information if we see a person served with a DVPN /DVPO in a defined area outlined in the Notice / Order, we can report the breach to the Police which can result in the Police making an arrest. A survivor may be afraid to report the breach to Police and we as housing officers can provide evidence of the breach. In a recent case of an L&Q resident the judge relied in the detailed notes of the support staff meaning the victim didn’t have to give evidence in court.

Anna Bennett – Under the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014, if the perpetrator is witnessed being physically or verbally aggressive or threatening to household members and that witness is willing to give evidence, then it is possible to apply for an exclusion order excluding the perpetrator from their home and from the vicinity of the premises. As such this is something that a Registered Provider (not for profit only) may consider even if the victim themselves is not willing to come forward.

If the perpetrator is a sole Tenant and the couple is married, there are no children involved but the perpetrator has stayed in the property and his former partner has fled what would be the most appropriate way to assist?
Anna Bennett – In this case Ground 2A of the Housing Act 1985 for secure Tenants or Ground 14A of the Housing Act 1988 for assured Tenants may well be appropriate where the perpetrator of domestic abuse caused the victim to flee and the victim has no intention to return. If there is evidence that domestic abuse has occurred in the property, a Registered Provider Landlord may want to show that such behaviour will not be tolerated from its residents and seek possession. It may also seek possession on other grounds that may apply such as such as Ground 1/12 (breach of tenancy) or Ground 2/14 (antisocial behaviour).

We have a case where the perpetrator and the victim are on a joint tenancy. The victim has left the property and has asked if it may be possible to return to the property in the future, how can we suggest that we manage this process?
Anna Bennett – The tenancy will continue as a joint tenancy until one or both of the joint Tenants takes action to resolve the situation. If the relationship is amicable enough for both Tenants to agree and sign a Deed of Assignment then this would be the preferred option.

If the victim has fled and the perpetrator remains then Ground 2A Housing Act 1985 or Ground 14A may be appropriate. Alternatively the cleanest way to end the Tenants would be to advise the joint tenancy of their right to end the tenancy by serving a notice to quote upon the Landlord. Any joint Tenant wanting to do this should be advised to seek independent legal advice as it is very important that they get the form of notice and expiry date correct in line with the tenancy agreement. If the remaining Tenant refused to move out then the Landlord would need to issue a claim for possession.

The victim has left the property but does not want to terminate her sole tenancy under this option in case she will lose her security of tenure as a secure Tenant.
Anna Bennett – Under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 if the Tenant is fleeing domestic abuse then he/she should be given a tenancy that is the equivalent security of tenure even if the Council operate a flexible tenancy scheme.

Do you have specific recommendations for measures to ensure early detection in the initial stages of a tenancy?
Dr Kelly Henderson – It is really worthwhile spelling out your approach to providing support at the sign-up stage on issues including ASB, mental health and domestic abuse so that the resident has an idea of the response they will get should they ever seek support. You should spell out clearly if your tenancy agreement includes domestic abuse as a tenancy breach. In addition, your website should let residents know what they can expect if disclosing domestic abuse so you can instil confidence right from the sign-up stage.

A training programme where all staff are trained to recognise domestic abuse is essential. Training repairs staff and those taking repairs calls to spot any potential signs of domestic abuse can make a real difference. For example, a call taker could, by looking at the repair history see a number of repairs that could raise concerns. Some housing providers have configured their repairs systems to create an alert when repeated repairs are reported within a timescale.

Other information could also suggest domestic abuse, such as rent arears. SafeLives found when looking at the data of residents experiencing domestic abuse from a housing provider that the arrears increased and in those cases where there were no arrears, on experiencing abuse the resident in most cases went into arrears.

One housing provider ensures that in their interactions with residents they ask them if they feel safe in their home. This broad-ranging question gives residents the opportunity to raise a number of issues that may impact on their feelings of safety. They highlighted that if a resident requests a security light that they take the time to find out the reason behind the request. For example, in one case it transpired that the resident wanted the light as she feared her ex-partner would find her new address.

In those cases where a complaint may have been received relating to potential ASB or noise nuisance then we must investigate fully. Merely sending a letter about a tenancy breach if the resident is experiencing abuse can increase concerns about coming forward to seek support as they could feel they have been categorised as the problem and worry that their home is at risk. Contact made investigating potential ASB or noise nuisance needs to be done with a domestic abuse perspective.

In conclusion, the key in any case whether the person is a new Tenant or not is about housing staff considering domestic abuse, having professional curiosity and listening to what residents are saying, as well as piecing together what the data we hold could be telling us. It is all part of the jigsaw.

Do we need consent from a Tenant before making a referral regarding domestic abuse?
Dr Kelly Henderson – Ideally yes, we should engage with the resident before making a referral to any agency and explain how the referral process works and what they can expect. Any referral forms should include a section where you ask the resident to consent to referrals and residents should be advised of the reasons that we would like to make a referral.

There will be some cases where the person may be in immediate danger or perhaps they haven’t been seen for some time. In those cases, we should contact the Police to check on the person’s welfare. If the person is in immediate danger, we should dial 999.

Crucially, in terms of referrals and in gaining the confidence of residents it is important that we engage with partners and play a key role in domestic abuse partnerships and developing relationships with domestic abuse organisations and Police so we can let our residents know with some certainty what they can expect from services.

For more information, please contact Anna Bennett or Dr Kelly Henderson.

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