Domestic abuse is not a fringe issue; it ruins families, permeates communities and is happening on many of our streets up and down the country. Since the lockdown, the number of domestic abuse cases has rocketed, and teams across the housing sector are having to learn and adapt quickly.
In 2017/18, two million adults across England and Wales experienced domestic abuse, and in the UK today, two women each week are killed by an abusive partner or ex-partner. The criminal aspect of incidents can make it easy to view as a matter for the criminal justice system to solve in partnership with specialist responders, but that is exactly where survivors of domestic abuse can fall through the cracks.
The role of technology
Housing providers are uniquely placed to intervene in suspected cases of domestic abuse by establishing relationships with victims and ensuring their safety. 85 per cent of domestic abuse victims will seek help an average of five times during the year leading up to when they finally receive effective support to stop the abuse; having clear records of these interactions is key to protecting those involved. Technology has a role to play in addressing suspected cases, being used by housing providers to show a clear trail of evidence, disseminate information and report on incidents.
Dr Kelly Henderson, co-founder of Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA) and co-author of ‘Domestic Abuse – Policy into Practice’, identified one of the main hurdles that housing providers need to overcome in order to tackle domestic abuse in their homes as the reporting and strategy implementation of the issue. Her research found that 65 per cent of housing providers didn’t treat domestic abuse as an issue in its own right. It often sits within the same remit as antisocial behaviour (ASB), opening it up to be viewed as a nuisance, in which the victim and perpetrator are effectively treated as equals.
Case management software
Establishing patterns of behaviour and ensuring a clear trail of evidence are essential for housing officers and safeguarding teams. Case management software is a key tool for recording incidents and building up a fuller picture of an individual or household; information that can then be delivered to third-party organisations such as the police.
Poplar HARCA has adopted a proactive and victim-led approach to domestic abuse, which prioritises removing perpetrators of abuse from their homes and their estates by seeking injunctions in partnership with the police.
Chelsea Kelly, head of community safeguarding, Poplar HARCA, said, “We know that survivors are often faced with the option of leaving their own home and seeking emergency accommodation which can be highly disruptive to their lives. We feel that there should be a better alternative.
“By working with survivors of domestic abuse, we help them to obtain legal orders to remove the perpetrators from their home. These could be a non-molestation order or an occupation order, allowing the survivor to remain in their home and meaning the perpetrator has to find alternative accommodation.”
Spotting behavioural patterns
To evidence its decisions, Poplar HARCA uses complaints from neighbours, criminal damage reports and community impact statements, as well as its own records to ensure that the abuser is removed, but the victim doesn’t need to go through the trauma of giving evidence unless they choose to. The MRI Streetwise system gives housing officers the tools they need to join the dots in patterns of behaviour and keep in contact with the victims regarding how their cases are progressing. By centralising ‘isolated’ incidents and flagging up repeat disturbances, officers have the tools at their disposal to create safer communities and homes.
Lesley Westwood, director of finance, MRI Software, said, “One of the many negative impacts of coronavirus has been the increase in domestic abuse. Lockdown has and will continue to intensify tensions within homes; one of our customers told us that domestic abuse cases have nearly tripled since the start of the first lockdown.
“Our Streetwise solution supports housing providers by keeping records and enabling them to evidence when interventions need to be made. Domestic abuse risk is not static, and Streetwise offers a chronological record of incidents, enabling housing officers to adopt a personalised approach to support.”
From April 2021, there will be new legislative obligations for local authorities to support victims of domestic abuse. For housing providers, the time to act is now in order to stamp out this toxic behaviour which has lasting ramifications for those who experience it and reverberates through entire communities.
Greg Andrews is the head of customer experience at MRI Software.