A council’s policy of placing vulnerable women in mixed-gender accommodation has been successfully challenged. The case was brought by a woman who had a history of domestic violence and trauma. Upon becoming homeless, she contacted the Camden Council, who accommodated her in a mixed-gender hostel. Relying on evidence from medical practitioners and various organisations, it was argued that this form of accommodation would be detrimental for any survivor of gender-based violence, due to the risk of triggering trauma.
The case settled before trial, with Camden Council agreeing to pay compensation. The council also agreed to review its procedures in relation to its emergency homeless accommodation provision. This commitment to review included an agreement to hear representations from the interested parties about the provision. The Public Interest Legal Centre (PILC), who represented the woman, made three recommendations in order for the Council to ensure that it complied with the Equality Act.
First, they recommended the development of a questionnaire to determine whether homeless applicants have a history of gender-based violence and require single-sex accommodation. Secondly, if an applicant confirmed such a history, then the council must presume that mixed accommodation would be unsuitable; and thirdly, the council should develop facilities in anticipation of the need for single-sex accommodation. Camden Council have indicated that they will consider each of these recommendations.
This outcome may have a considerable impact for housing policy across the United Kingdom. Helen Mowatt, a Solicitor at PILC noted that ‘accommodating homeless women fleeing abuse with men is an issue across the majority of boroughs in the country’. Olivia Anness, a solicitor at Bhatt Murphy, said: ‘For too long homeless women fleeing domestic abuse have been placed in unsuitable mixed-sex accommodation by their local authorities. This case has highlighted the devastating impact that this practice has on a survivor’s ability to recover. It’s time for all local authorities to review their practice and ensure that women fleeing abuse have access to single-sex accommodation when they need it most.’
The Government has committed to some reform through the pending Domestic Abuse Bill, which will grant homeless victims of domestic abuse ‘priority need’ for homelessness assistance. However, the scope of single-sex accommodation remains unclarified. Lucy Hadley, head of policy and campaigns at Women’s Aid Federation of England, called for ‘the government guidance to clarify that all homeless women escaping domestic abuse should be routinely offered women-only accommodation for their safety’, to avoid ‘devastating impacts on women escaping from trauma and abuse’.