Homelessness due to violence or domestic abuse

The definition of homelessness where it is not reasonable to continue to occupy accommodation because of the probability of violence or domestic abuse.

This content applies to England

Homelessness due to risk of domestic abuse or other violence

An applicant must be treated as 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:[1]

  • the applicant

  • 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, and cannot be treated as intentionally homeless.

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.

Definition of domestic abuse

The definition of domestic abuse local authorities must use is set out in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.[2]

Domestic abuse is defined as abusive behaviour towards another person who is personally connected to the perpetrator.[3]

The Homelessness Code of Guidance states that domestic abuse is ‘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 dependant'.[4]

Behaviour is classed as abusive if it consists of:[5]

  • physical or sexual abuse

  • violent or threatening behaviour

  • psychological or emotional abuse

  • controlling or coercive behaviour

  • economic or financial abuse

Economic abuse is behaviour that has a substantial negative effect on the victim’s money, property, goods or other services.

The behaviour can consist of a single incident or a course of conduct. Abusive behaviour can be classed as domestic abuse even if the conduct is directed at another person, for example the child of the personally connected person.[6]

Meaning of personally connected

Abusive behaviour is classed as domestic abuse within the meaning of the legislation, if the perpetrator is personally connected to the victim.

Personally connected means they are, or have:

  • been married to 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

Relative are also classed as personally connected. Relatives include parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. Step and half relations are included.[7]

The perpetrator and victim must be aged 16 or over for the definition to apply.[8]

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.[9] 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.[10]

This can include:

  • gang violence

  • 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.[11]

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'.[12]

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.[13]

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.[14]

Chapter 6 of the Homelessness Code of Guidance says that authorities should refer to Chapter 21 on domestic abuse when determining whether a person is homeless due to other violence.

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[15]

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.[16]

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.[17] For example an applicant should not be refused help because they have not sought help from the police.

The relevant chapter of the Code refers specifically to domestic abuse. However it states that local authorities should also refer to this chapter when determining whether an applicant is homeless due to other violence. [18]

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.[19]

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.[20] 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.[21]

The authority should recognise that in some cases corroborative evidence may not be available, for example because there were no adult witnesses to the violence.[22] Case law has established that a local authority does not have to carry out police-style inquiries.[23] 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.[24]

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.[25] 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.[26] 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.[27]

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.[28] In another case the applicant was found not to be at risk and therefore not homeless.[29]

Last updated: 7 October 2021

Footnotes

  • [1]

    s.177(1) Housing Act 1996.

  • [2]

    s.177(1A) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.78 Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

  • [3]

    s.1(2)(b) Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

  • [4]

    paras 21.2 to 21.9 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [5]

    s.1(3) Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

  • [6]

    s.1(5) Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

  • [7]

    s.63(1) Family Law Act 1996.

  • [8]

    s.1(2)(a) Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

  • [9]

    Art 2(1)(b) The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 (Commencement No. 1 and Saving Provisions) Regulations SI 2021/797.

  • [10]

    s.177(1A) Housing Act 1996.

  • [11]

    Bond v Leicester CC [2001] EWCA Civ 1544.

  • [12]

    Hussain v Waltham Forest LBC [2015] EWCA Civ 14.

  • [13]

    Hussain v Waltham Forest LBC [2015] EWCA Civ 14 paras 30-32.

  • [14]

    s.175(3) Housing Act 1996.

  • [15]

    Bond v Leicester CC [2001] EWCA Civ 1544.

  • [16]

    para 21.38-39 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [17]

    para 21.26 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [18]

    para 6.24 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [19]

    para 21.40 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [20]

    s.177(1A) Housing Act 1996.

  • [21]

    para 21.26 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [22]

    para 21.24 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [23]

    Lally v Kensington and Chelsea RBC (1980) The Times 27 March, ChD.

  • [24]

    R v Thurrock BC ex parte Williams (1981) 1 HLR 129, QBD.

  • [25]

    para 6.39(c) Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [26]

    para 6.39(c) Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [27]

    s.175(3) Housing Act 1996.

  • [28]

    R v Wandsworth LBC ex parte Nimako-Boateng (1983) 11 HLR 98, QBD.

  • [29]

    R v Purbeck DC ex parte Cadney (1985) 17 HLR 534, QBD.