On 29th April 2021, the Domestic Abuse Act received Royal Assent. This has been long awaited. National Statistics (ONS) reported that in mid-May 2020 (the week that the first lockdown eased), there was a 12 per cent increase in the number of domestic abuse cases referred to victim support services compared with the previous week, and between April and June 2020, there was a 65 per cent increase in the number of calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, compared to the first three months earlier of that year.
This Act amends the Housing Act 1996 and Priority Need Order to extend priority need for homelessness assistance to eligible persons who are homeless as a result of being a victim of domestic abuse.
Section 78 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 has been brought into force by Commencement Regulations, 1. From today, 5 July 2021. This section amends the Housing Act 1996 and introduces the new category of priority need for people who are homeless as a result of being a victim of domestic abuse.
This means that from today local authorities must assess eligible persons who are homeless as a result of being a victim of domestic abuse as having priority need. Before the 5th July 2021, victims of domestic abuse who did not have priority need for another reason for example as a result of pregnancy, had to be ‘vulnerable’ as a result of ceasing to occupy accommodation by reason of violence (including domestic violence) or threats of violence which were likely to be carried out, in order to be assessed.
The good news is that as a result of the changes brought into force today mean when applying as homeless under Part VII of the Housing Act (HA) 1996, victims of domestic abuse will automatically be in ‘priority need’ and will not have to establish/prove that they are also vulnerable as a result of the abuse suffered (DAA s78 amends HA 1996 s189). This is a major shift from how council’s previously assessed cases of domestic violence.
For further details please refer to Chapter 21: Domestic abuse – Homelessness code of guidance for local authorities – Guidance – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).this sets out the what constitutes ‘Domestic Abuse’
21.6 The 2021 Act definition is set out below. For the purpose of the legal definition “A” is referred to as the perpetrator and “B” is referred to as the victim.
1. 21.7 Behaviour of a person “A” towards another person “B” is domestic abuse if “A” and “B” are each aged 16 years, or over, are “personally connected” to each other and the behaviour is abusive. A’s behaviour may be behaviour “towards” B despite the fact that it consists of conduct directed at another person (for example, B’s child). Behaviour is “abusive” if it consists of any of the following:
1. (a) physical or sexual abuse
2. (b) violent or threatening behaviour
3. (c) controlling or coercive behaviour – controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/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.
4. (d) economic abuse – economic abuse means any behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on B’s ability to – (a) acquire, use or maintain money or other property, or (b) obtain goods or services.
5. (e) psychological, emotional or other abuse
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