Council settles challenge over placing of women fleeing domestic abuse in accommodation shared with men

A London borough has settled a legal challenge over the placing of homeless women fleeing domestic abuse in accommodation shared with men.

The Women’s Aid Federation of England, which intervened in the case, claimed the practice was prevalent across many local authorities. 

Public Interest Law Centre (PILC) brought the case on behalf of an unnamed claimant.

It said Camden Council had agreed as a result to take account of the arguments it made when officers assess whether any homeless applicant is a survivor of domestic abuse.

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The council will also review its use of mixed gender accommodation in emergency cases when commissioning accommodation for homeless people.

PILC said its client was a vulnerable survivor of serious domestic violence, who also suffered from significant mental ill-health.

When she became homeless Camden accommodated her in a shared hostel with men.

The woman challenged the lawfulness of that placement, and PILC cited evidence from various women’s groups that “very clearly demonstrated that survivors of domestic abuse, and gender-based violence more generally, have particular needs and it will therefore very often be inappropriate and indeed damaging for women to live in mixed-gender hostel accommodation with men”.

PILC said the case was settled shortly before trial, with Camden paying the claimant a sum in compensation.

A spokesperson for Camden said the council had taken a lawful approach in the case.

Submissions made subsequently to the council’s policy review by the claimant and the Women’s Aid Federation of England argued Camden must presume mixed accommodation is not suitable for survivors of gender-based abuse and that such an offer will fail to meet the interim housing duty under s188 of the Housing Act 1996 unless the applicant consents to it.

They further argued that the council must anticipate the need for single-sex accommodation and make advance provision accordingly.

Helen Mowatt, a solicitor at PILC, said: “The council’s response to the litigation is a step in the right direction.

“However, we know that accommodating homeless women fleeing abuse with men is an issue across the majority of boroughs in the country. All councils must presume that mixed accommodation is unsuitable for homeless applicants that have any history of domestic abuse.”

Barristers Stephanie Harrison QC and Nick Bano from Garden Court Chambers appeared for PILC.

A Camden Council spokesperson said: “Tackling domestic violence and providing the best possible support to survivors is a key priority for the council and, while the law in the Housing Act 1996 does not require local authorities to offer same-sex accommodation to female survivors of domestic abuse, we will carefully consider the needs of each individual before they are offered accommodation and tailor our support to their needs – working in partnership with Camden SafetyNet to always ensure that they have a safe environment to rebuild a life away from abuse.

"This reflects the lawful approach that we took in this case, which has been settled on a consent order allowing the Claimant and the Intervenor, Women’s Aid, to make representations that will be considered as the council prepares to conduct a routine review of its policies on homeless accommodation.”

Camden Safety Net provides specialist services to survivors of domestic abuse and/or sexual violence as well as to children affected by violence.

Mark Smulian

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