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We strive to support every victim in the way that is right for them

Karolyn Barta, Group Community Safety Manager at Homes for Cathy member Abri, explains its person-centred approach to supporting domestic abuse victims and how its ‘See Something, Say Something’ process is encouraging disclosures from colleagues across the organisation.

As a social landlord, we’re really pleased to confirm that we have a dedicated team of Community Safety Officers, that are trained to support all disclosures of domestic abuse (DA) from either our customers or colleagues alike. We’re aware that one in four women and one in six men will experience DA at some point in their life and as a housing provider, and an employer, we’re uniquely placed to deal with a disclosure both sensitively and with knowledge.

A perpetrator may use a tenancy agreement as an extension of control

It’s very apparent that a perpetrator of DA may use a tenancy agreement as an extension of control over a victim, and many victims will unfortunately find themselves having to choose either homelessness or staying in an abusive relationship. At Abri, we work very closely with our local authority (LA) providers to support victims as best we can and this could include management moves but also offering target hardening (to make a property safer) should an LA nominate someone fleeing abuse to one of our properties.

At Abri, we regularly raise awareness of DA to our customers via social media, our website and through customer newsletters. The Community Safety Team made a pledge to put our customers at the heart of any decision-making, as we strive to support every victim in the way that is right for them. Support may include completing risk assessments, offering target hardening (which could include supplying addition bolts, window or personal alarms, security lighting to name a few), discussing housing options, working with partner agencies such as the police, fire service, DA support workers, the LA and attending multi-agency meetings, sometimes known as MARAC.

Concerns by colleagues are reported through to a specific number

As a landlord, we know that we have an opportunity to carry out home visits for any number of reasons. We have developed a process called ‘See Something, Say Something’ where any concerns by colleagues are reported through to a specific number and triaged to the appropriate team, which at times, might mean coming through to Community Safety. One of our officers will then complete a desktop review to establish if there has been a history of DA and may make contact with the customer, if it’s safe to do so, to offer further support. Even if there hasn’t been a history of DA, we may still visit the customer, using a different reason for the home visit, as this may then lead to a victim feeling able to share their experience with us. Although we would never pressure a victim to make a disclosure to us, we have a duty to report any concerns in order to safeguard an individual or other people. In doing this, we always put the person at the centre of those referrals and with consent wherever possible.

Throughout the various lockdowns, and challenges that we faced during the pandemic, we had to adjust how we supported our customers. However, Abri made a firm decision that supporting victims of DA was a priority. The Community Safety team continued to work with victims, in-line with appropriate risk assessments and PPE. We continued to coordinate management moves, to allow customers to move more quickly, to a safer area. As a team, we did rely more on email, providing the victim was happy and felt their email account was safe.

We do not consider rent arrears to be a barrier to moving

One area that I believe is best practise is that if a disclosure is made either on a mutual exchange application or nomination from the LA, the Community Safety team are notified, so that once the move is agreed, the incoming customer is contacted and an Officer will offer to meet and discuss any additional security measures and provide the contact details of the relevant DA support. Not all housing providers do this, but I believe that it may stop a situation reaching crisis point. Furthermore, if a victim has rent arrears, we would continue to support the customer if they wanted to move, and at Abri, we do not consider rent arrears to be a barrier.  

The most challenging situation that the team faces is when a victim needs to move out of area. Some LAs have refused to accept an application if the customer is from another area. We do our best to support victims that do need to move out of area, and one of the tools we use is a supporting letter from either the police, social services or DA support agency, for example. It’s fantastic that the new Domestic Abuse Act is insisting that LAs review their current guidance for dealing with DA victims.

As previously mentioned, we do have a host of safety options to help a victim stay safe within their home, if they choose to remain. We may ask the police to ‘flag’ the property (with the victim’s consent) so that any 999 call is treated with complete urgency. The police also offer ‘cocoon watch’ where they may consider talking to neighbours in the locality, which could mean a neighbour calling the police if they have concerns, again this is with the victim’s consent.

Our colleagues in Home Care recently attended our Community Safety team meeting and talked through additional property safety measures which was really informative and has helped to give a broader understanding of other options available. Something that we’re currently working on is ensuring that our Abri vans have the right stock on them so that they can complete DA repairs and target hardening as a priority.

As a team, we’ve recently had DA refresher training to ensure that every colleague in the team can offer the best service to our customers, as we appreciate it can be incredibly stressful for a victim, particularly when a lot of agencies are involved.

Looking ahead, we’ll be looking to arrange some further training, with a focus on male victims and also victims within the LGBT community. It’s vital that every customer of Abri that is a victim of DA receives a tailored approach, and we do offer visits where possible, that reflect a customer’s protected characteristics.

And finally, the team will be organising some internal training to our colleagues across Abri, to give everyone the opportunity to learn more about DA, so that if a disclosure is made to them, they give the best possible response possible and with empathy. It’s vital that our customers trust us, as there is so much that we can do to help a victim take control and have their voice heard.

Karolyn Barta is Group Community Safety Manager at Abri, one of the largest housing associations in the south of England, managing 35,000 homes with 100,000 residents living in them.