Unjustifiably, many women suffering from domestic abuse end up fleeing their homes. While the abusive partner keeps the house, any survivor who is not financially independent – often with children – may lose everything. She is rewarded with her safety alone. It can be incredibly difficult to start a new life and domestic abuse is a major cause of homelessness in Scotland.
In 2018/19, 80 out of the 330 single women who made homelessness applications in North Ayrshire cited domestic abuse as a reason, an appalling 24%. Of these women, 45 had children. It is upsetting that any woman should have to choose between her home and safety.
Earlier this year, backed by the Chartered Institute of Housing and Women’s Aid, I wrote to Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf MSP and Communities and Local Government Secretary Aileen Campbell MSP, urging implementation of Recommendation 23 of the report on the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group which addressed this matter and was pleased to receive a positive response, indicating that the SNP Government was working on it.
At last week’s SNP Conference I was therefore delighted when the First Minister announced that her government will introduce a Bill to Parliament to create new protective orders to keep a suspected perpetrator away from the household of someone at risk of abuse.
In contrast with existing civil measures such as Non-Harassment Orders and Exclusion Orders, protective orders will not require the person at risk to make the application to the court themselves. Police would be able to impose a short-term order directly and apply to a court to put in place a longer-term order.
The First Minister’s announcement was welcomed by Dr Marsha Scott, Chief Executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, who said:
“This Bill, if passed, would be an immediate and significant improvement, offering children and women a breathing space as they seek safety. Without this legislation, women experiencing domestic abuse in Scotland will continue to have to choose between staying in the home with an abuser or making themselves and their children homeless to get away from the abuse.
“As survivors have asked for years, why should those being abused, rather than the perpetrator, have to leave their homes, pets and belongings?
“We very much welcome today’s announcement and look forward to engaging with Scottish Ministers on the detail of the legislation going forward.”
The Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Communities and Committee, of which I am a member, carried out an extensive enquiry into homelessness. Our 2018 report heard evidence that in 2015/16 of 34,662 applications a “dispute within household: violent or abusive” was the reason given for a homeless application by 4,135 applicants across Scotland. In 2018/19, this number was still 3,350.
However, research highlights that these figures significantly underestimate the problem, as women may not disclose that they are experiencing domestic abuse when making a homeless application. Families experiencing domestic abuse are four times more likely to lose their home due to arrears. This evidence emphasises just how vital it is that we get this right.
Recommendation 23 is that all social landlords have clear policies on domestic abuse and ensure experience of abuse or violence does not lead to losing their tenancy. For example, arrangements should be put in place so that tenancies can transfer seamlessly to the person who experienced abuse to ensure continuity of tenancy.
Of course, many social landlords, including housing associations and local authorities, already supporting victims of abuse in line with the above recommendation. Nevertheless, we need a legal basis to adequately underpin this. The SNP Government will deliver that, preventing abuse victims them from becoming homeless whenever possible.