Could landlords be the first line of defence against domestic abuse?

When you become a landlord, you understand and accept that you are taking on a responsibility to ensure the safety of your tenants. 

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However, most would assume that this responsibility would extend only to the key property-based safety measures – electrics, gas, supply of safe water and heating etc. However, calls have been made by the government for landlords to step up when it comes to recognising the signs of domestic abuse. 

A new document entitled ‘Delivery of support of domestic abuse’ urges landlords (and private housing associations) who spot abuse to report their concerns, and help address this growing problem. The Government hopes that the progress being made by authorities to implement awareness will be monitored by the National Expert Steering Group. This will be led by Eddie Hughes MP, the minister responsible for homelessness and domestic abuse, as well as the Domestic Abuse Commissioner.

Domestic abuse can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, class, religion, disability, or socio-economic situation. Domestic abuse can be performed against parents or siblings by intimate partners or family members, such as husbands or wives, partners or ex-partners, adolescent or adult children.

In England and Wales, an estimated 1.6 million people aged 16 to 74 years suffered domestic abuse last year. Through a freedom of information request, Mashroom has discovered that in England and Wales, the police receive 100 calls every hour on average about domestic abuse. Clearly this is something that we all need to play our part in tackling, but not everyone is trained to spot the signs, which can be difficult to notice, and tricky to broach. So as a landlord, what should you be looking for and how can you help? 

What should I be looking out for? 

The government document describes domestic abuse as; ‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence, or abuse between those aged 16 and over, who are or have been intimidated by partners, or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.’

The Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA) notes that it may be possible that your tenant will wish to notify you about the violence, but they may not state the obvious to you, like “I’m experiencing domestic abuse.”

According to DAHA, they may be more likely to say something like “I don’t feel comfortable at home”, or  “I’m afraid of my (ex) partner/family member”, or “my (ex) partner/family member won’t allow me to leave the house”. 

It is also possible that your tenant may not be willing to disclose an abusive situation at all. This is very often the case. DAHA notes that there are some other potential red flags that you may wish to be aware of – (although to be aware that these will not signal an abusive home life in every situation):

  • Regular reports of antisocial behaviour, such as noise complaints (shouting/screaming), crashes or bangs
  • Rent arrears: Financial abuse is a common form of domestic abuse, and unexpected rent arrears could be a sign that something isn’t right 
  • Damage to property: signs of violence can sometimes be noted by damage to property or belongings
  • Requests for additional security or changes of locks: Is your tenant trying to keep someone away from them?

How can I help?

If you have any concerns, it is important to tread very carefully. There is a possibility that saying the wrong thing to the wrong person could lead to the victim being put in very real danger. 

DO: 

  • Let your tenant know that you are a safe person for them to speak to, if they want to
  • Remember that the decision whether to confide in you or not is theirs alone – don’t push anything
  • Speak to your tenant alone, but always remember that they may not actually be alone
  • Ask questions that only require yes/no answers, and don’t ask for specific details
  • Continue as normal, until your tenant asks for something to change

DON’T

  • Take it upon yourself to take action. It HAS to be the victim who makes that decision. 
  • Push for unnecessary information
  • Inform the police or specialist agencies under your own steam, unless you believe that someone is in immediate danger (or children are involved, see below)
  • Break your tenant’s confidence if they have confided in you
  • Treat your tenant any differently – suspicion can be a real red light to progress

Under no circumstances confront the abuser. This is likely to do nothing but add fuel to the fire. 

What about if children are involved? 

You should not escalate to external agencies without permission of the victim unless you think someone is at real risk of physical harm. However, although you have no legal duty to do so, if there are children living at the property it is wise to consider alerting the relevant authorities so that they can help safeguard them – we are all responsible for safeguarding children, and this is a prime time to play your part. 

DAHA suggests the following options:

  • Calling Childline on 0800 1111 
  • Calling the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 
  • Calling your local Children’s Safeguarding Team (details available online)

You do not have to alert the child or the parents that you are notifying any of these agencies, and it may be wise that you do not – as this could alert the perpetrator. 

If you are not comfortable with any of these options, you could also contact the child’s school (if you know where they go). All schools have a dedicated safeguarding team, who can speak with the child and ask if there are any concerns at home. They will not pass on where this information has come from, and may already have concerns of their own – they will liaise directly with specialist agencies, and act as the middleman. 

Further guidance is available via DAHA here: Guidance for Private Landlords.

Contacts

If you, or anyone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, remember that you are never alone. 

There are countless round the clock support services across the UK available, who can help you through this time.

Pick up the phone today:

  • The National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247
  • The 24 Hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline (Northern Ireland): 0808 802 1414
  • Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline: 0800 027 1234 (24/7)
  • Live Fear Free Helpline (Wales): 0808 80 10 800 
  • Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327
  • Abused Men in Scotland: 03300 949 395
  • The ManKind Initiative: 01823 334244 (Mon-Fri 10am-4pm)
  • National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Domestic Violence helpline: 0800 999 5428
  • Victim Support: 0808 16 89 111
  • Victim Support Northern Ireland: 028 9024 3133
  • Victim Support Scotland: 0800 160 1985
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