Flight to safety?

Legal Advice Proving you need emergency secure accommodation is not that straightforward, writes Ed Mitchell

When a person has to flee domestic violence, their immediate need is for safe accommodation. In many cases, a local housing authority (LHA) will have to provide this under homelessness legislation (Housing Act 1996).

An applicant needs to possess three characteristics to be entitled to accommodation: to be homeless, to have “priority need”, and not to be intentionally homeless.

When will a victim of domestic violence be “homeless”?
A LHA will be asking whether an applicant has accommodation that it would be reasonable to continue to occupy. The act specifically provides that it is not reasonable for a person to continue to occupy accommodation “if it is probable that this will lead to domestic violence”.

The key question, therefore, is whether it is probable that domestic violence would have occurred if the person had not left. Some LHAs do approach domestic violence applications with suspicion, so the more supporting evidence the better: for example, police crime reports, statements of support workers, GP notes.

It should be noted that all that matters is whether it is probable that domestic violence would have occurred: it is irrelevant that a person might have put up with years of abuse or that they might have some legal right to the former accommodation, and the presence of an injunction is not conclusive.

Who has a priority need for accommodation?
An applicant who appears to be homeless and has a priority need must be provided with interim accommodation by the LHA to which they apply while it looks into the application more fully. So it is vital for a person to have an apparent priority need in order for them to access immediate alternative accommodation.

A person with whom dependent children might reasonably be expected to reside automatically has a priority need. A victim of domestic violence without children, however, will have to show that they are “vulnerable” for the special reason that they have had to leave home to avoid violence. Under the 1996 act, “vulnerable” means that a person is less able to fend for themself than an “ordinary” homeless person so that injury or detriment will result (Pereira v Camden LBC).

 What does it mean to be intentionally homeless?
A person can only be intentionally homeless if they cease to occupy accommodation which it would have been reasonable to continue to occupy. Similar considerations arise here as with the question of whether a person is homeless because of domestic violence.

What if a person wishes to remain within their home area but wants to be housed away from the perpetrator of violence? An LHA must provide accommodation that it considers suitable. And the Court of Appeal recently confirmed that the location of accommodation near to the home of a perpetrator of domestic violence can make it unsuitable (Slater v Lewisham LBC).

This article relates to the law in England and Wales and assumes the applicant is not from abroad and is statutorily ineligible for assistance.

Ed Mitchell is a solicitor and consultant editor of the Journal of Social Housing Law

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