The vital role housing providers can play in responding to domestic abuse.

The vital role housing providers can play in responding to domestic abuse.

Kelly Henderson and Gudrun Burnet, Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA)

An estimated 1.9 million adults aged 16 to 59 years experienced domestic abuse in the last year, according to the year ending March 2017 Crime Survey for England and Wales (1.2 million women, 713,000 men). At least seven women are killed every month in England and Wales. The Women’s Aid and Nia Femicide Census has shown that 75% of women killed by current or ex-partners in 2016, were killed in their own homes.

Over the last forty years there has been increasing awareness of domestic abuse as a social issue (Pizzey; 1974; Dobash and Dobash, 1979; Walby 2002). It is widely acknowledged that feminists have worked tirelessly to transform domestic abuse from a ‘private matter’ into a social issue which now is, to varying degrees, on the agenda of local, national and international governments (Hague and Malos, 2005).

One of the concerns of the feminist movement in the 1970s was the need for safe, emergency accommodation in recognition that domestic abuse was a legitimate reason for homelessness (Morley; 2000), and that housing was an issue to women fleeing domestic abuse (Binney, 1981; Mama, 1989). This continues to be an important issue today. Research has consistently shown that housing is a key resource enabling women to end abuse from partners and ex-partners, and that a major reason why women stay in or return to violent relationships is lack of access to safe, long-term, independent, affordable accommodation. (Pahl,1985; Malos and Hague, 1993; Charles; 1994). Mooney, 1994; Morley, 2000)

We also know that a large proportion of women living in hostels report having experienced domestic abuse. St Mungo’s (2014) reported that nearly 50% of their female clients had experienced domestic abuse and 19% had experienced childhood abuse. Domestic abuse contributed to the homelessness of a third of women in their study.

One of the biggest issues around tackling domestic abuse is that it is often a hidden crime. People are too afraid to speak out and the availability of safe, affordable and stable housing has been shown to make a difference to the ability to escape an abusive partnership and remain safe and independent (Morley, 2000; Menard, 2001). If you have nowhere to go, what are you supposed to do?

SafeLives research has revealed that 85% of victims of abuse sought help five times on average from professionals in the year before they got effective help to stop the abuse. Safelives found that tenants of housing provider Gentoo accessed support from their specialist domestic abuse team a year earlier (3 years) than the national dataset of organisations (comprising specialist domestic abuse services) of 4 years; demonstrating the unique role that housing providers can have with their customers.

We know that Housing Providers are in a unique position to identify and respond to domestic abuse in their communities. Furthermore, through publicity and campaigns they can raise awareness of the issue to ensure communities show zero tolerance to perpetrators of domestic abuse and can support and help those that need it.

One innovation in the sector is an initiative developed 3 years ago by Gentoo, Peabody and Standing Together Against Domestic Violence, who formed the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA). The partnership brings together combined best practice and is the UK benchmark on how the housing sector can improve its response to domestic abuse.

DAHA is underpinned by eight priorities including policies and procedures, case management, risk management, partnership working, equality and diversity, staff training and publicity for customers in the support a housing provider can offer. They were also funded in 2017 by the UK Home Office to create a free online toolkit which any interested housing provider can access here.

In addition to the toolkit DAHA are running free workshops all over the UK to increase awareness, covering the eight priority areas in more depth to support housing providers to attain accreditation. The accreditation brings together best practice in relation to domestic abuse and housing and examines key elements of service delivery. It is an assessment tool enabling organisations to analyse and assess existing practice and implement an improvement plan. It is the benchmark for how housing providers should respond to domestic abuse in the UK.

At Peabody and Gentoo, two of the founding partners of DAHA, this approach has had a significant impact on reporting rates and understanding of domestic abuse and its dynamics. At Peabody over 9 years there has been an increase in reporting of 1,425% with a new case reported to them, on average, every 3 days.

Recently DAHA launched, in partnership with Alison Inman the President of the Chartered Institute of Housing and Women’s Aid, the Make a Stand campaign asking housing providers in the UK to make a pledge to implement four key activities that would make a difference to their tenants and staff which are to:

  • Put in place a policy on domestic abuse for your residents
  • Put in place a policy on domestic abuse for your staff
  • Publish information on local and national domestic abuse services
  • Appoint someone in your organisation at a senior level to lead this

The momentum from this initiative is incredible and DAHA accreditation is becoming widespread across housing providers the UK, helping more women access help sooner. If you would like to find out more, please visit our website or follow us on twitter @DAHAlliance


1 Binney, V., Harkell, G. and Nixon, J. (1988) Leaving violent men: A study of refuges and housing for battered women. Women’s Aid Federation England (first published 1981.)

2 Hague, J & Malos, E. (2005). Domestic Violence – Action for Change, E 3rd Edition New Clarion Press.

3 Harwin, N; Hague G; Malos E. (1997) Multi-Agency Approaches to Domestic Violence: New Opportunities, Old Challenges. Women’s Studies International Forum Volume 20, May-June 1997, Pages 397-409.

4 Hutchinson, S; Page A and Sample, E. (2014) Rebuilding Shattered Lives Final Report, St Mungo’s.

5 Morley, R. (2000). Domestic violence and housing. In J. Hanmer & C. Itzin (Eds.), Home truths about domestic violence (pp. 228–245). London: Routledge.

6 Safelives (2015) Getting it Right First Time, Bristol: Safelives.

7 Safelives Insights Gentoo Report (2015) unpublished.

8 Brennan, D. The Femicide Census 2016 (2017)

9 The Crime Survey for England and Wales (2017)


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