Homelessness due to violence or domestic abuse
A person is homeless if it is not reasonable to continue to occupy their accommodation because of the probability of violence or domestic abuse.
- Homelessness due to risk of domestic abuse or other violence
- Definition of domestic abuse
- Definition of other violence
- Applications by someone at risk of violence or domestic abuse
- Inquiries where there is a risk of domestic abuse or violence
- Proof of abuse or violence not required
- Harassment that falls short of violence or abuse
- Relationship breakdown where there is no abuse or violence
Homelessness due to risk of domestic abuse or other violence
An applicant is homeless if it is not reasonable for them to continue to occupy accommodation because it is probable that this will lead to domestic abuse or other violence directed against:
someone who lives with or is reasonably expected to live with them
This means a person at risk of violence or domestic abuse is automatically homeless, regardless of availability and legal rights to occupy accommodation.
A person whose accommodation is unreasonable to occupy because of violence or domestic abuse cannot be found intentionally homeless from that accommodation.
A person who is homeless as a result of domestic abuse is automatically in priority need.
Chapter 21 of the Homelessness Code of Guidance contains guidance on providing homelessness services to people who have experienced or are experiencing domestic abuse.
Chapter 26 of the Code of Guidance contains guidance on providing homelessness services to people who have experienced or are at risk of violence.
Definition of domestic abuse
The definition of domestic abuse local authorities must use is set out in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.
Domestic abuse is defined as abusive behaviour towards another person who is personally connected to the perpetrator.
Abusive behaviour can consist of a single incident or a course of conduct. It can be classed as domestic abuse even if the conduct is directed at another person, for example the child of the personally connected person.
Behaviour is classed as abusive if it consists of:
physical or sexual abuse
violent or threatening behaviour
psychological or emotional abuse
controlling or coercive behaviour
economic or financial abuse
The Homelessness Code of Guidance states that domestic abuse is not limited to physical violence or confined to instances within the home. It can include any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse. 
Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.
Coercive behaviour is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.
Economic abuse is behaviour that has a substantial negative effect on the victim’s money, property, goods or other services.
The government has issued statutory guidance for public authorities to support the understanding of domestic abuse and personally connected.
Meaning of personally connected
Abusive behaviour is classed as domestic abuse if the perpetrator is personally connected to the victim.
Personally connected means they are, or have:
been married to each other
been in a civil partnership with each other
agreed to marry one another (whether that agreement has ended or not)
entered into a civil partnership agreement (whether that agreement has ended or not)
been in an intimate personal relationship
had a parental relationship to the same child
Relatives are also classed as personally connected. Relatives include parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. Step and half relations are included.
The perpetrator and victim must be aged 16 or over for the definition to apply.
Children as victims of domestic abuse
Children under the age of 18 are victims of domestic abuse if they see, hear or experience the effects of abuse, and are related to the perpetrator or the person experiencing the abuse.
Decisions the definition applies to
This definition of domestic abuse applies in relation to homelessness decisions, including decisions on review and appeal, made on or after 5 July 2021. For decisions made before that date a different definition applied.
Definition of other violence
Violence means violence from another person or threats of violence from another person which are likely to be carried out.
This can include:
violence from neighbours
violence directed at a person based on race, sexuality, gender, disability or age
The Court of Appeal held that the word 'likely' means a real or serious possibility.
The term violence should be interpreted in a broad way to include not just physical violence, but also threatening or intimidating behaviour, and any other form of abuse which is aimed at the applicant and is of such seriousness that it, directly or indirectly, may cause physical or psychological harm. Psychological harm means something more than 'transient upset or distress'.
Conduct that is merely anti-social, however persistent or frequent, is not equivalent to 'violent' behaviour. The threshold at which threatening or intimidating behaviour may be held to be 'violent' is when it is liable to make the victim afraid, as opposed to merely upset or offended.
Where a woman's neighbour subjected her to prolonged and extreme racial abuse, regularly spat at her, and on one occasion made a 'throat slitting' gesture while saying 'watch what I'm going to do', the fact that there was no physical violence was not sufficient to justify the council's decision that she was not homeless.
The phrase 'whether it is reasonable to continue to occupy' means the legislation is concerned with future risk. As such a random act of violence near the home might not mean that the applicant would be considered homeless. If the applicant was traumatised by remaining in the area, eg where a rape had occurred, it might be considered not reasonable for them to continue to occupy under the general test.
Applications by someone at risk of violence or domestic abuse
The local authority should offer safe options for a person at risk of violence to make a homeless application - for example if they are at risk of violence in the district, the authority should offer assessments over the phone or by another method for safety purposes.
Authorities should accept applications from other parties where appropriate and where the applicant has consented. The authority should confirm the information provided by the third party with the applicant.
Applicants must not be asked to return to an unsafe property or locality to collect documentation such as ID if returning would put them in danger. Housing authorities should work with other agencies such as police, domestic abuse services, probation and social services to help recover or replace documentation.
The Code of Guidance states that delays in obtaining ID and other documentation should not prevent the provision of interim accommodation where there is reason to believe an applicant at risk of violence is eligible for assistance, homeless and in priority need.
Housing authorities should have procedures in place to keep all information on victims of violence safe and secure and should not disclose any information outside of the organisation without the person's consent.
Inquiries where there is a risk of domestic abuse or violence
A local authority must address the question as to whether the applicant is homeless because violence or domestic abuse is probable if they remain in the home.
The local authority cannot avoid its duty to carry out inquiries under the Housing Act 1996 by reference to other measures, such as injunctions, that might be open to the applicant.
Case law has established that:
the correct legal test in cases involving violence is for the authority to ask only if it is probable that further occupation will lead to violence or threats of violence that are likely to be carried out
a local authority cannot make value judgements about what an applicant should or should not have done
the mere availability of injunctions in cases of violence cannot make it reasonable to continue to occupy the accommodation
The Code of Guidance states that applicants may be informed of the option to seek an injunction but that such action may not be effective, and an applicant should not normally be expected to return home on the strength of an injunction.
The Code also states that local authorities must not make value judgements about what an applicant should or should not have done to mitigate the risk of any violence and abuse. For example an applicant should not be refused help because they have not sought help from the police.
Where the local authority is the landlord, it should consider the scope for evicting the perpetrator to allow the victim to remain in their home. However if there is a probability of violence or abuse if the applicant remains, the authority must treat the applicant as homeless and should not expect them to remain in the accommodation.
Assessing perpetrators of violence
The Homelessness Code of Guidance acknowledges that in some cases a person who has perpetrated violence might themselves become homeless due to risk of violence. The Code states that applicants in this situation should be assessed and supported in the usual way.
Proof of abuse or violence not required
Nothing in the legislation requires an applicant to provide proof of violence. The 1996 Act refers to violence or threats of violence that are likely to be carried out. The Code of Guidance makes the point that the likelihood of a threat of violence being carried out should not be based on whether there has been violence or abuse in the past.
The authority might wish to seek further evidence where it is appropriate to do so, but the alleged perpetrator must not be approached.
The authority should not have a blanket approach which requires police evidence to be provided and should recognise that in some cases corroborative evidence may not be available, for example because there were no adult witnesses to the violence.
Case law has established that a local authority does not have to carry out police-style inquiries. If there is no evidence or corroboration available, as is often the case in domestic violence cases, the applicant must be given the benefit of the doubt and accepted as a homeless person.
The Homelessness Code of Guidance states that a lack of corroborating evidence could reflect that the applicant was fearful to approach to the police. Authorities should not necessarily give additional weight to the existence of or absence of evidence from the police or other statutory services.
Harassment that falls short of violence or abuse
Local authorities should consider whether it may not be reasonable for a person to continue to occupy accommodation where they are experiencing non-violent forms of harassment.
The Code gives examples of verbal abuse or damage to property. Verbal abuse that is sufficiently serious as to cause psychological harm can meet the definition of violence.
Local authorities should give careful consideration to people who are at risk of witness intimidation. In some cases the police might provide alternative accommodation only for the duration of the trial. Witnesses may feel unable to return home after the trial has ended. A local authority should consider whether that accommodation is unreasonable to continue to occupy.
Relationship breakdown where there is no abuse or violence
Neither the 1996 Act nor the Code makes any reference to situations where a relationship breaks down but no violence or abuse is involved. In such a situation it would be necessary to argue that the authority should consider whether it would be reasonable to expect the applicant to remain in the home if the stresses and strains were too great.
However, in such cases it is open to the authority to suggest alternatives and be influenced by the general housing circumstances in the area. In one case, where a woman said her husband was not violent but had treated her badly, the court accepted that the authority could suggest the use of legal remedies. In another case the applicant was found not to be at risk and therefore not homeless.
Last updated: 8 February 2023