Early evidence from China, as well as learning from other global pandemics, shows potential increases in Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (VAWDASV). This comes at a time when specialist services are also under significant strain due to staff shortages and having to adapt services to ensure they can be provided in a manner that protects staff, survivors and the wider community from further infection.
There have been calls from different agencies, that people fleeing VAWDASV and their children, be offered ‘alternative accommodation’ in order to navigate the potential rise in cases coupled with the decreased capacity of refuges, in the form of hotels and B&Bs.
Although we welcome the awareness of this situation and the proactive response to it, we have some significant concerns with survivors being accommodated at these premises and would like to take the opportunity to highlight these concerns identify any unintended consequences and offer recommendations.
- Support for refuge – This solution should not replace the protection and support of specialist workers and maintenance of refuge provision. Refuges are still the best option where this is possible, and guidance needs to be released to support refuges and resources to run as effectively as possible.
- Statutory duty – Local Authorities in Wales have a duty to house survivors in available stock. This should still be the course of action wherever possible. Local authorities and Rented Social Landlords (RSLs) need to work with specialist services to enable survivors to access any available housing, especially where there are current voids in the housing stock.
- Safety and Support – Hotel and B&B staff do not have the understanding or awareness of domestic abuse, particularly the dynamics of coercive control, to provide effective 24/7 support and protection for survivors. This must be led by specialist services, that have the expertise and knowledge to meet the needs and safety planning for survivors.
- Publicity – As has been the case with hotels accommodating NHS staff and people who would otherwise be sleeping rough, hotels and B&Bs offering temporary accommodation to people fleeing VAWDASV could not participate in any form of ‘good news stories’ or other publicity. Due to the nature of the support needed the safety of the women, her children and the hotel/ B&B staff would all be put at risk if the perpetrators were to find the location.
- Future commissioning – It must be clear from the offset that this approach is part of unprecedented crisis management and not a viable opportunity for future commissioning. Refuges remains the best option for many survivors, as evidenced by years of provision. Any guidance on the use of hotels and B&Bs must clearly state this.
- Loss of funding for refuges – Refuge funding is aligned to the numbers they support, including supporting people funding through local authorities and housing benefit to cover individual survivor rent costs. If survivors are not housed in refuge and housing benefit money is diverted to hotels and B&Bs, refuge providers will not be able to cover the cost of rent on their properties or cover staffing costs. This could lead to the loss of refuges in the future as well as further limiting current provision.
Utilising Hotels and B&Bs for perpetrators
Some suggestion has been made to use the accommodation for perpetrators who that cannot go to parents or other of family members or friends safely. They may be perpetrators released early from prison or have been arrested and released on bail or have exclusion orders. These perpetrators could be sex offenders, domestic abusers or any other perpetrator of VAWDASV. They will need specific management, and there is significant risk if this proposal is rolled out without appropriate registration of properties or clear delineation of responsibility for perpetrator management with police, probation and relevant perpetrator programmes. This needs to be informed by the expertise of Respect UK.
Consideration needs to be made regarding:
- DVPO/DVPN perpetrators with no criminal sanction but are given a requirement to leave the address where they are causing harm.
- Households where social services have child protection concerns and would wish that one parent or party is not in the home.
- Civil court- injunctions/ non molestation orders, as there is a requirement of suitable alternative accommodation in order to give an occupation order.
Feedback from our members indicates that in the majority of cases, they have not yet experienced a significant spike in referrals, however this does not mean that there has not been a rise in VAWDASV, nor does it mean these cases will not become visible in the future.
We will continue to advocate the refuge is the best option, and that Local Authorities first instinct should be to continue their statutory duty to house. However, we recognise there must be a safe and thoroughly considered back up plan for if these options become unavailable.
- Safety – Referrals should come through specialist support services. Ahead of anyone entering a hotel or B&B individual safety plans produced with specialist support workers should be put in place so every person involved can be assured of what measures are in place to protect their safety.
- Support – Support from trained support staff from a specialist service must be funded and provided. Survivors must have support to meet their needs, not just assessment of risk, when accessing accommodation support.
- Support for Specialist Services – Specialist support staff must be enabled to do their job. They must have access to child-care (the VAWDASV sector is almost 100% women led sector and many have additional caring responsibilities at present). Support staff need personal protection equipment, services are currently reporting minimal access.
- Alarms & means of contact – Survivors being accommodated in hotels and B&Bs to be supplied with alarms and mobile phones to assure they have access to 24hr support and protection.
- Police partnership – Liaising closely with regional police to ensure the right markers are in place, arranging constant check ins and ‘drive bys’, and issuing alarms.
- Rented Social Landlords (RSLs) – We are encouraging RSLs to make available any voids they have, some of our members are already utilising this option.
- Clear guidance for refuge – There should be clear Welsh Government guidance for refuge made available as soon as possible.
- Funding directed to providers – All VAWDASV specialist service providers need direct funds to ensure they can adapt their provision of support to survivors and maintain provision now and beyond the pandemic. This needs to be directly provided to providers to ensure there is no delay in them receiving it and allow them the flexibility to meet the needs of survivors at this dynamic time.
- Perpetrators – In the case of perpetrators being accommodated, appropriate safeguards should be in place for all who are accommodated, assessing their risk of harm: and to whom they pose that risk. Consideration should be given to other vulnerable individuals potentially at risk from the perpetrator such as others accommodated in the property, or individuals in the locality.
For more information, please contact Jordan Brewer, Policy and Research Officer on [email protected]