Domestic abuse affects both men and women and often remains a hidden crime that is not reported. In fact, it is more common that ongoing domestic abuse remains hidden within the household setting as opposed to being reported to the police and the abuser being prosecuted.  

Domestic abuse is so inextricably linked with housing as this is where abuse most often occurs. Likewise, a lack of alternative housing is also a key barrier to people escaping domestic abuse. Those suffering domestic abuse often find themselves at risk of homelessness if they are to escape their abusers. For individuals fleeing a domestic abuser, access to safe housing is so important. Without stable accommodation, there is a major risk that the individual will be left with no option but to return home to a dangerous situation or become homeless and sleep on the streets, putting themselves at risk of further abuse and exploitation.  

Official statistics for England show that in 2018, 5,380 people and families were accepted as homeless by their local authority because of a violent relationship breakdown. However, many individuals who are homeless or at risk of homelessness do not necessarily show up in official statistics as they are sofa surfing, living in squats, or sleeping rough in various locations. This is known as hidden homelessness. Additionally, those facing domestic abuse may be reluctant to report such. Therefore, the data and research figures provided to the public only gives a partial picture of the level of domestic abuse occurring throughout the country. The true figures are definitely much higher.  

In 2019, Heather Wheeler, Conservative MP, stated: “Domestic abuse is an abhorrent crime that nobody should have to suffer. The government is absolutely committed to protecting victims of domestic abuse and their families. A victim of domestic abuse already has priority need under the homelessness legislation if they are vulnerable as a result of having to leave accommodation because of violence from another person”. However, a greater availability of alternative stable housing and accommodation is required for those facing domestic abuse and homelessness.  

In November 2020, the Office for National Statistics shared an article titled “Domestic abuse during the Covid-19 pandemic, England and Wales”, which assessed the impact of the pandemic on domestic abuse in England and Wales specifically. According to the article, “the police recorded 259,324 offences (excluding fraud) as domestic abuse-related in the period from March to June 2020. This represents a 7% increase from 242, 413 in the same period in 2019”.  

Similarly, the leading charity Women’s Aid England carried out several surveys during the Covid-19 pandemic to look at how it had affected female victims of domestic abuse in England. Though the number of women and girls answering the June 2020 survey was relatively small (sixty-nine in total), the research and data provided an insight into the impact of the pandemic as reported by the victims themselves. 91% of the victims said the pandemic had impacted their experiences of abuse in one or more ways, where 58% said that they felt they had no one to turn to for help, 52% felt more afraid and 51% reported that the domestic abuse had worsened*.   

Research has shown that there has generally been an increase in demand for domestic abuse services during the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly affecting helplines as lockdown measures eased. This does not necessarily indicate an increase in the number of victims, but perhaps an increase in the severity of abuse being experienced, and a lack of available coping mechanisms such as the ability to leave the home to escape the abuse, or to attend counselling and/or other support services.  

Lack of housing availability is a key barrier to people escaping domestic abuse and often results in homelessness for those most in need of support. There is clear evidence that domestic abuse is a common cause of homelessness. Therefore, providing access to safe, sustainable and secure housing is vital to support domestic abuse survivors rebuild their lives.  

If you or anybody you know are affected by the issues discussed within this article, please contact our partner organisation Creating Change Housing Management (CCHM) on 0333 366 1159. Their team of support specialists is always available to provide bespoke support to meet your needs.  

*For more information on the impact Covid-19 has had on domestic abuse since the pandemic spread throughout the country last year, please read the Office for National Statistics article – Domestic abuse during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, England and Wales – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk).