It’s easy to understand morally why we should respond to domestic abuse, but as a housing provider, do you know the true cost to your organisation?
Zou Kouache is a Business Analyst at Gentoo Group
31 May 2018
Gentoo has recently been working with SafeLives to produce a piece of research that demonstrates the vital role housing providers can play in tackling domestic abuse.
Housing providers have always had a social purpose, which could potentially be viewed as above and beyond their role as a landlord. Now more than ever, we need to measure and demonstrate the value of activities we carry out. It’s easy to understand morally why we should respond to domestic abuse, but as a housing provider, do you know the true cost to your organisation?
Why are we doing this?
Although it might look like it, those five words above aren’t just a bad title! I am hoping by the end of this you might join me in this thought experiment.
I’ll let you into a little secret, there’s a knack to how you ask it. You ask it not once, but three times. You may think three times is a touch excessive, but I can assure you there’s method to the madness. Each time you ask, emphasise a different word. Consider the process a bit like a funnel, narrowing focus each time you ask.
Firstly, ask ‘why are we doing this?’ You’re looking for broad answers, moral, legal/regulatory, business reasons – you name it, stick everything you can muster on paper as to why it’s an important topic.
Secondly, ask ‘why are we doing this?’ Narrow it down now. Consider why as an organisation or individual it’s something that you need to care about, tackle or resolve.
Lastly, ask ‘why are we doing this?’ Concentrate on the activities you are carrying out in relation to domestic abuse in as much detail as possible.
Then look at this information and ask yourself if the activities you’re carrying out actually link back to the reasons for doing it in the first place.
You might have a list of performance measures as long as your arm assigned to those activities, but when you step back and look at them differently, there’s a big difference between doing ‘things right’ and doing ‘the right thing’.
At a time where budgets are squeezed and pressure is on to do more for less, various iterations of this question will have been asked by housing providers across the country. With an immense balancing act to deal with, it’s all too easy to get drawn into the world of stock numbers, voids and arrears and to lose sight of that broader picture and to stick to what we think we know works.
What we do know from years of experience is that providing a house is simply not enough to enable many people to sustain their tenancies, so we carry out other activities to help. Consequently, we can begin to answer the ‘why’ and ‘we’ parts of the question in relation to these activities. However, what if in some cases ‘how’ we support people to sustain their tenancy, was actually a case of us doing what we think is right rather than doing the right thing?
Henderson (2016) undertook the largest domestic abuse and housing questionnaire in the UK to date, she discovered that 65% of housing providers categorised domestic abuse as anti-social behaviour (ASB). Domestic abuse may present to you as reports of ASB, repairs jobs or an increase in rent arrears, but when you look at the root cause, something else is actually going on in that household.
In that vein, if you respond to domestic abuse with an ASB response, it’s a response we’re comfortable with using and we’re good at it (i.e. we think we’re doing things right), but this response is fundamentally the wrong tool for the job.
According to the research we carried out with SafeLives nearly a fifth of all repair costs experienced by Gentoo are potentially related to domestic abuse, with the average cost of repairs at households experiencing domestic abuse coming to £1,200 (compared to the average cost of £860 where no domestic abuse has been identified). Analysis of the types of repairs carried out also revealed that in households experiencing domestic abuse 16.8% of their repairs are ‘emergency out of hours’ (compared to 7.5% households when no domestic abuse has been identified).
So as a housing provider, if you ask yourself why we need to respond to domestic abuse, my answer would be that we’re already responding. We’re dealing with repairs we might not have to, rent arrears we might not have to chase, or ASB where the root cause is domestic abuse. This all bears a cost to us as a business, society as a whole and most importantly the victims experiencing it day in, day out. What is most important is how we respond.
In the May 16 episode of our podcast Housing Matters, we talk to Senior Business Partner at Peabody Guddy Burnett and President of the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) Alison Inman about DAHA (Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance) and how housing can support survivors and victims of domestic abuse. We also visit Centre 56 in Liverpool, which provides childcare and support for women and children who have experienced or are at risk of domestic abuse.