The Covid-19 pandemic had a huge impact on domestic abuse cases, with police recording over a quarter of a million cases in the first lockdown.[1]

Housing associations need to know how to recognise potential signs of domestic abuse and any other safeguarding concerns in their properties. Some residents in social housing are at risk of abuse, harm, or neglect. It is the service provider’s duty to protect them. We heard from Sarah Andrews, Head of Housing Response Services at Sovereign Housing Association on how they identify and help adults at risk of abuse.[2]

In 2020 Sovereign received the Tenant Engagement Award at the Tenant Participatory Service awards.[4]The award recognised how the association listened to resident concerns and feedback. It recognised the support given to residents to help ensure their homes are safe places.

The Impact of Covid-19

Covid-19 made identifying safeguarding concerns more challenging. Trusted referral systems like housing officers completing housing checks could not take place in person so practices needed to be adapted. Adapting practices ensured that residents felt they were looked after by service providers and could go to them for help during restrictions.

Living situations changed with lockdown and many safeguarding concerns arose as a result of the pandemic. Some residents were:

  • Trapped in environments of domestic abuse
  • At higher risk of self-neglect
  • More isolated due to living alone

Frontline teams required training to recognise these safeguarding risks, both in person and on the phone, to provide residents with the support they needed.

Housing and Resolutions Services

Housing and resolution services are the first points of contact once safeguarding concerns have been raised. They assess concerns to understand how best to provide residents with support. These assessments work to understand safeguarding concerns by engaging with customers and inspecting properties to develop safeguarding approaches to handle the concerns.

Safeguarding concerns then are either escalated into a case or passed on to the local authority. Over lockdown, any risk assessments and advice had to be provided over the phone instead of being conducted in person as they would normally be. This meant that staff needed to know how to recognise signs of abuse without seeing the property or resident in person.

Training

Staff were trained to recognise the signs of safeguarding risks in reports that were not originally flagged as safeguarding concerns. By listening to anti-social behaviour complaints, staff were able to identify signs of abuse and help residents in need. This improved the service and gave staff the confidence to spot safeguarding concerns and how to report them to the relevant authorities.[5]

  • Call Listens – Frontline workers were trained to recognise signs of abuse in calls reporting antisocial behaviour, as most reports come in over the phone.
  • Challenging the status quo – Staff were trained to recognise signs of abuse they may have been unaware of before.
  • To listen to residents and question noises in the background of calls. Raise questions as to why doors may be broken or what is the reason for rent arrears.
  • Specialist Training – Staff received specific training from the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance to understand how to improve the aid provided to domestic abuse victims.

Starting Conversations with People at Risk of Abuse

Not everyone is aware they are at risk of abuse, and domestic abuse is a crime that often goes unreported to the police. It is important to have conversations with individuals when there are signs of an abusive relationship because they may  be unaware that their circumstances are abusive.

These conversations can be difficult, but can be the starting point in people accessing support. Some key tips for starting these conversations include:

  • Understand the resident’s world – Residents may be unaware they are at risk of abuse, so staff need to listen and understand why they are calling.
  • Remove the fear – Make safeguarding and aid provided personal to the individual. This is so they feel comfortable talking to staff about the concern.
  • Change the language – Residents calling are usually scared and using technical language can harm the support process. Simplify technical terms to help put them at ease.
  • Equip residents with tools to change behaviours – Listen to and provide the resident with the tools they need to change their behaviours.
  • Encourage curiosity – Listen to the resident and question circumstances, such as why there might be a repair issue or rent arrears.
  • Support staff – Have conversations with those working on the frontline to help them know how to challenge common perspectives.
  • Challenge perspectives – Help people challenge cultural perceptions and have conversations about acceptable actions and behaviours with residents. 

These conversations are important when helping people leave abusive environments. They provide vulnerable adults with the opportunity to safely engage with safeguarding services and get the help they need.

Strategies to use when helping adults access safeguarding services

It is important to provide staff with relevant training to handle safeguarding concerns and provide them with the tools to help people. There are some simple procedures that everyone in the housing association can follow:

  • Ask simple yes or no questions on the phone to determine the resident’s safety and the best times to contact them.
  • Ensure an easy communication point with the resident to establish a connection and provide them with a place to get help.
  • Use existing systems to support the safeguarding concern by forwarding it to the relevant local authority or filing it as a case report.
  • Ensure staff are aware of national helplines and tools in place to help with safeguarding concerns.

Building partnerships to help people at risk

Housing associations are not experts in abuse. They need to engage with external organisations to best support their residents. By engaging and building partnerships with expert organisations, they give staff the tools to safeguard residents at risk of abuse.  

Working with other organisations has helped Sovereign provide better support and services to residents. With the assistance of Womenkind, they have been able to help over 100 women access domestic abuse services since 2020. The association is also working towards DAHA accreditation which is a benchmark for how housing providers should respond to domestic abuse concerns.

DAHA accreditation was recognised as part of the Government’s Ending Violence against Women and Girls strategy. This both highlights the frontline role housing associations have in providing support to victims and the importance of associations becoming DAHA accredited.

Through making these changes and establishing partnerships, Sovereign has been able to help more people access the safeguarding services they need. In 2020-21, there was a 25% increase in people approaching them for domestic abuse support. [5] This increase in reports highlights the impact the training has had on the staff and residents, demonstrating that residents felt more comfortable, and knew where to access support.

Conclusions

Building partnerships is essential for providing the best support to residents. Partnerships equip staff with up to date expertise required to support those at risk of abuse. . These connections also help residents get the support they need to leave abusive homes. There needs to be open communication in and between organisations to ensure adults don’t have to stay in abusive environments.

[1]Office for National Statistics, Domestic Abuse in England and Wales Overview, (2021)
[2] Sarah Andrews, Head of Housing Response Service Sovereign, (2021)
[3] Sovereign, We stop we listen to you and we learn, (2020)
[4] Sovereign, Safeguarding Policy, (2019)
[5] Sovereign, Creating Safer Homes and Communities, (2022)

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Housing providers have a duty to safeguard at risk adults in their homes. The pandemic challenged how they safeguard people at risk of domestic abuse and trained staff to spot the signs. This case study looks at how Sovereign Housing Association adapted safeguarding services for residents throughout the pandemic.

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