Domestic abuse and homelessness
If you have had to leave your home due to domestic abuse, or feel that you need to leave because of the abuse but you have nowhere to go, you should be able to get help from your local council’s homelessness department.
You do not need to be sleeping on the street to be considered homeless. Even if you have accommodation that you can legally occupy, the council should still consider you homeless if you can’t live there because of a risk of abuse.
Click here to find details of your council and see the video below to find out more general information about how to get help from the council and what they can do to help:
Am I classed as homeless because of the abuse?
The law says that the council should consider you homeless if you have no accommodation that you have a right to occupy. However, even if you do have accommodation that you have a right to occupy (eg a joint tenancy), the council should consider you homeless if you cannot return there because it is likely that you, or anyone else you live with (eg one of your children), will be subjected to abuse.
Domestic abuse is abuse from another person who is, or has been:
- your spouse or civil partner
- your intimate partner, regardless of gender
- a family member, including your parents, grandparents or someone who has had parental responsibility for you
- someone who has agreed to marry you, or enter into a civil partnership with you (whether or not that has happened)
- another member of your household (eg, a carer, or a friend that you normally live with).
The definition of abuse includes physical violence but also threatening or intimidating behaviour. Abuse could include:
- psychological abuse
- financial abuse
- emotional abuse
- sexual abuse.
You do not need to have actually suffered violence to be considered homeless. If there have been threats of abuse that are likely to be carried out, the council should help you.
If you are in short-term accommodation (eg. you are staying with a friend or relative) because you have left your home because of abuse or threats of abuse, you should also be considered to be homeless.
What should the council do?
If you are homeless (or likely to become homeless in the next 56 days) and ask the council for help with housing, it should take a ‘homelessness application’ from you. Once a homelessness application has been taken the council will have certain duties to help you. Depending upon your circumstances, it may have to find you emergency accommodation or perhaps help you return or stay in your home. For more detailed information on what help the council can give, click here.
You can make a homelessness application to any council, regardless of where you have been living or the reasons you have become homeless. If the council refuse to take a homelessness application from you, get advice immediately.
The council will want to talk to you about what has happened and how you have become homeless. They should offer you the choice of being interviewed by a person of the same sex and should speak to you sensitively. If you feel that the person interviewing you is not being sympathetic or is not taking you seriously, tell them, or ask to speak to their manager.
The council may ask you for some evidence of the abuse or threats, for example a crime reference number. However, if you cannot supply evidence, the council should take your word that you have been a victim of abuse or threats of abuse. You may be asked to sign a statement stating what has happened.
Just because you may not have suffered actual abuse in the past does not mean that there is not a chance it could happen in the future. The council should not insist that you prove abuse has already happened.
The council will then carry out an assessment of your situation to decide what help they should give you. The council may contact the police, your friends and relatives, your landlord, your doctor, or anyone else you have told or who may know about the abuse. However, they should not contact the person who has been violent against you or threatened you, as this could put you at risk. If the council decides that you are eligible for help, homeless, or at risk of homelessness, then the council should provide you with support as soon as possible. The council may write a Personal Housing Plan with you.
Can the council give me emergency accommodation?
If the council has reason to believe you may be:
then the council has to provide you with emergency or interim accommodation while they decide what other help they can give you.
You will have a ‘priority need’ if you have suffered domestic abuse or would be at risk of domestic abuse if you returned home. Also people with dependent children, pregnant women, 16- and 17-year-olds, and people aged 18-20 who are at risk of sexual or financial exploitation or have spent time in care have a priority need.
The emergency accommodation may not be ideal, but should be suitable for you. It may be in a hostel, refuge, or a bed and breakfast hotel. If you have children, bed and breakfast should not be considered suitable, except for a maximum of six weeks if nothing else is available.
For more information on the council’s emergency accommodation click here.
What other help can the council give me?
What help you are entitled to depends on your circumstances. In most cases the council will have to provide you with advice and help at an early stage.
If you are eligible for help and in danger of losing your home in the next 56 days, the council must help you to try and keep your current home. This is known as the duty to help to prevent homelessness or “the prevention duty” and means that the council must take reasonable steps to stop you from becoming homeless. If you have accommodation that you have a right to occupy, the council may offer you options to help you remain in your home, such as personal protection arrangements, help in securing your home or finding a solicitor to help you get an injunction. The council cannot expect you to return home if there is a risk that you will be in danger and it must take into account your wishes about where you think you should live.
If you are actually homeless and eligible for help, the council must help you to find suitable accommodation. This is known as the duty to help to secure accommodation or “the relief duty”. This does NOT mean that the council has to house you, only that it must take ‘reasonable steps’ to help you find somewhere to live. This might be, for example, helping you find a safe home or refuge.
In some circumstances the council has a duty to provide or secure accommodation for people who remain homeless even after help and advice has been given to them. This is known as the duty to secure accommodation or “the final duty”.
What do I do with all of my belongings?
The council may need to take reasonable steps to protect your belongings (“the duty to protect belongings”) if they are at risk of damage or loss and you are not able to protect or deal with them yourself, for example because you can’t afford to arrange removals or storage.