Pan-Sussex Strategy for Domestic Abuse Accommodation and Support 2021-2024
Accessible and inclusive
Ensuring services are accessible to all victims/survivors and meet the specific needs of those with the full range of protected characteristics
This Strategy is committed to ensuring that individuals with the full range of protected characteristics have equal access to safe accommodation support services, as outlined in the Equality Act 2020 and Public Sector Equality Duty. The Duty requires public bodies to consider the needs of and impact on, all individuals when delivering policies and commissioning services. The Equality Act enables public bodies to deliver specific and dedicated services where these would meet the needs of different groups of victims/survivors, including single-sex services.
Sussex local authorities recognise that individuals can have multiple protected characteristics, and these can intersect to form additional barriers to accessing support. Having safe accommodation services and staff that can respond to such intersecting issues is essential.
As is reflected nationally, the local needs assessment highlighted that domestic abuse disproportionately affects women. However, there was considerable feedback from groups that have traditionally been excluded from refuge regarding the barriers they faced. This Strategy aims to highlight these gaps in provision, to enable consideration around how to ensure that all victims/survivors have access to accommodation and support that suits their needs.
There were 117 Children and Young People (CYP) living in Sussex refuges during 2020-21. Only four refuges have dedicated CYP workers. East Sussex refuges are lacking this kind of specialist support.
Since children have now been recognised as victims of domestic abuse in their own right under the Domestic Abuse Act for the first time, local authorities are required under law to provide them with appropriate support. Current provision of dedicated workers for children and young people in safe accommodation is lacking in East Sussex. Introducing CYP support workers within existing refuges should be a priority; providing dedicated and personalised therapeutic, psychoeducational and emotional support for the duration of a child’s stay in safe accommodation. As soon as a wider range of safe accommodation options is available, floating dedicated CYP support should also be included in the service offer to people accommodated in the additional units. These floating CYP workers should link up with wider social services to ensure that longer-term support for children is in place, beyond their stay in safe accommodation.
During interviews with survivors, refuge residents shared that there were not enough suitable provisions for children, including toys and garden equipment. Children at one refuge said that having a good Wi-Fi connection was an important feature for them.
- Sussex local authorities should ensure that every form of domestic abuse safe accommodation that accepts children is suitable for their needs, offering dedicated, personalised and holistic support for children and young people, including those with disabilities.
Victims/survivors aged 16-25 represented 19% of all Sussex Police domestic abuse incidents in 2020-2021.
Young adult victims/survivors (16-25) may face specific experiences of domestic abuse, including digital abuse and coercive control using technology. Younger people are also less likely to understand their experiences as domestic abuse and may be less willing to seek support, than adult victims/survivors. With some harmful practices, such as forced marriage and so-called honour-based violence more likely to take place at a younger age, service provision must respond to the specific cultural challenges faced by younger people from some BAME communities. Specialist support for victims/survivors aged 16-25 would help Sussex better respond to a particularly vulnerable group of people.
- Specialist safe accommodation and support for victims/survivors aged 16-25 should be established and be culturally appropriate for anyone fleeing forced marriage and so-called honour-based violence, including couples accommodation where needed.
People aged over 65 represent 25% of the Sussex population, but only 6% of police domestic abuse incidents. In 2020-21, 260 people aged 65 and over were referred to Adult Social Care services across Sussex due to domestic abuse. Only 5 people aged over 65 were living in Sussex refuges in 2020-21.
A specialist service for older people advised that very few domestic abuse safe accommodation and support providers have specific policies for older people. Creating such policies would enable services to better understand the particular needs of older victims/survivors and any barriers they may face in seeking support.
Stakeholders told us that older people often do not see themselves as victims of domestic abuse, due to the longer-term experience of often decades of abuse and would not consider specialist domestic abuse services as suitable for them. Offers of support must therefore be more generic rather than framed as ‘domestic abuse’ and promoted in places older people are more likely to attend, including GP surgeries and befriending services. Service offers must also be longer-term for older people in order to combat the longer-term dynamics of abuse, although this may require contract variations in East Sussex and Brighton & Hove, where provision is currently commissioned for a maximum of six months. Domestic abuse support must be linked in with other services, including Adult Social Care and Health, due to the frequent overlap in older people’s needs.
- Offers of support should be tailored more directly to older people across Sussex, including more generic language, broader promotion of support, linking in with other support services and targeted training for front-line professionals who routinely come into contact with older people.
Gender identity and sexual orientation
In 2020-21, women represented 71% of police domestic abuse incidents, reflecting the gendered nature of domestic abuse. Men represented 29%. Non-binary and transgender people represented 0.02% and 0.11%, respectively. There is no specialist male safe accommodation in Sussex or the South East. Brighton & Hove safe accommodation providers are currently able to accept referrals for transgender women. Clarion Housing Group in East Sussex will accept and assess referrals from transgender people and will seek the most appropriate accommodation for them, including self-contained units.
This Strategy acknowledges that gender identity and sexual orientation are separate characteristics and would be worth discussing in isolation. However, due to the frequent cross-over in support services for people in the LGBTQ+ community, these characteristics have been discussed together.
Women are the primary victim/survivors in cases of domestic abuse and are more likely to experience repeat victimisation. Women have the greatest need for domestic abuse safe accommodation and support, a trend reflected in the needs assessment findings. Most services in Sussex are accessible for women and girls, but improvements to service provision can still be made. Existing safe accommodation providers must ensure that therapeutic, holistic and trauma-informed support is readily available for women, both individually and in groups. Any new safe accommodation services that are introduced in Sussex should also include specialist support offers.
The needs of women and girls must continue to be met alongside the needs of other groups for whom services are currently lacking. Funding for current and future services for women and girls must be sustainable, long-term and independent from the funding for the other specialist services identified within this Strategy. New funding will not be used to replace existing investment into domestic abuse services and local authorities will continue to provide single-sex provision.
All victims/survivors and their children in safe accommodation in Sussex should receive a minimum standard of care and support, to include legal aid, move-on assistance and longer-term IDVA and psychological support.
Research shows that male victims/survivors of domestic abuse are often under-represented in the data. Stakeholders told us that male victims of domestic abuse do not often seek alternative accommodation and they often become homeless to escape abuse at home. This may be due to the lack of specialist male safe accommodation locally and men not knowing where to seek support. Despite almost one third of police incidents involving male victims/survivors of domestic abuse in Sussex, there is no specialist male safe accommodation across the South East. To fill this regional gap, Sussex should explore options for specialist safe accommodation for male victims/survivors. Stakeholders told us that dispersed, self-contained units would be most appropriate, with an offer of floating support and provision for children if required. Support offers should acknowledge that the needs of men can be different, for example some male victims/survivors have reported that they may prefer 1:1 support to group settings or not be placed in refuge type accommodation.
- Sussex local authorities will explore options for the provision of specialist, dispersed and self-contained units of safe accommodation that can accommodate male victims/survivors of domestic abuse.
In 2020-21, 74% of victims/survivors residing in safe accommodation in Sussex identified as heterosexual. 1% identified as gay/lesbian and 3% identified as bisexual. Data was unknown for 22%. One Sussex refuge has an LGBTQ+ specialist worker role. There is one LGBTQ+ specialist dispersed accommodation in Brighton & Hove. Funding has been secured to recruit additional LGBTQ+ IDVAs (Independent Domestic Violence Advisors) in West Sussex, Brighton & Hove and East Sussex.
Research has shown that LGBTQ+ individuals are historically under-represented in data and reporting, particularly around violence and abuse. The low numbers of LGBTQ+ individuals within the needs assessment may also reflect this under-representation, and low figures do not mean that abuse is not happening. A recent LGBTQ+ Public Health survey conducted in East Sussex found that 4% of respondents have experienced bi/homo/transphobia in the home in the past 12 months – while this figure is also low, it represents a higher number than was captured in the needs assessment and indicates that more must be done to reach these groups.
Stakeholders have highlighted the importance of good quality data analysis and LGBT Foundation guidance recommends consistent use of inclusive questions so that comparative data becomes more available. As an example, the ONS has been flagged as not having a succinct way of collecting data on non-binary people as this is not recognised in legislation. Likewise, other statutory services, for example the police, also struggle to collect data on Trans, Non-binary, Intersex (TNBI) communities and often are categorising equality and diversity data by sex, not by gender identity. This reportedly leads to people within the community having to categorise themselves as the sex they were assigned at birth, not their gender identity and leaves individuals feeling overlooked and underreported even when they are coming forward for support.
There are four LGBTQ+ specialist accommodation units in Brighton & Hove, important given the large LGBTQ+ community in the city. However, via this Strategy, more such specialist accommodation should be provided in East and West Sussex. Such accommodation units would benefit from being dispersed and self-contained, with an offer of floating support included. Dedicated support for children should be included if required.
“Victims/survivors need to know that a service will understand them and their identity, will be able to cater to them as an individual, and that they will be accessing a service that is safe.” – specialist IDVA
Service provision for LGBTQ+ victims/survivors should also extend to increased awareness training for housing officers and other frontline practitioners, including intersectionality awareness. East and West Sussex will explore recruiting specialist LGBTQ+ support roles within existing safe accommodation and support services.
- Sussex local authorities should increase specialist floating support and dispersed and self-contained units of safe accommodation that can accommodate LGBTQ+ victims/survivors and invest in LGBTQ+ awareness training for frontline practitioners.
Following an incident in which the police attended, Mike (not real name) contacted support services. Despite being the victim and on a joint tenancy, Mike had been removed from the property and supported to make a homeless application immediately so had already been placed in emergency accommodation in another local authority area.
Unfortunately, Mike experienced significant homophobic abuse from other residents. This had a major impact on his mental health. Mike suffered from PTSD and night terrors exacerbated by the abuse and his current living situation. He also had mobility issues due to a knee injury. Mike was moved into safe emergency accommodation in his original local authority area. Mike was assigned a Homeless Prevention Officer who supported him to find private rented accommodation through the Direct Lets Scheme and began to view available properties. Unfortunate, despite looking, Mike was unable to secure accommodation in the time but was thankfully provided with long term temporary accommodation. Mike was pleased and felt safe being in his own place. He continued to receive support to find more permanent housing and was closed to the service.
People with disabilities represented 10% of police domestic abuse incidents in 2020-21. Data for disabled people living in Sussex safe accommodation was limited. Five Sussex safe accommodation facilities do not have wheelchair access or any other kind of disability support, including specialist equipment for deaf people. Two of these units were in East Sussex, two were in West Sussex, and one was in Brighton & Hove.
The Equality Act defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on one’s ability to do normal daily activities.” “Substantial” is defined as “more than minor or trivial,” and “long-term” is defined as longer than 12 months.
The limited accessibility and disability support currently in Sussex refuges is a clear gap in service provision. Equipment for deaf victims/survivors is lacking in refuges and the whole housing system is often inaccessible for those with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) or Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN). Sussex should consider adapting and extending service provision for disabled victims/survivors to reflect a range of additional needs. Introducing specialist teams with varied backgrounds to support staff, adapting existing units and sourcing more accessible accommodation would transform current and future offers and ensure that safe accommodation is accessible for everyone who needs it.
Stan (not real name) is a 45-year-old TNBI (Trans, Non-Binary, Intersex) disabled person. They had an adapted council flat, which was solely in their name, and they lived there with their non-binary spouse, Jordan (not real name). Stan contacted the service as they had fled their property after 4 years of domestic abuse. Stan was currently staying with a friend in the local area but could only stay there for one more night. Stan had been in touch with a local housing authority, but they said they did not have a duty to help them. Later that day, Stan was offered an alternative accommodation place, but it was a ground floor flat out of area that hadn’t been adapted. Stan was not offered any way of getting to the property or any way of collecting their possessions.
The following day, Stan was informed that Jordan had been hospitalised overnight after a visit from the crisis team. Stan was then able to return home and inform the hospital that Jordan could not be discharged there, Jordan was then supported to approach the council for emergency accommodation.
- Support and accessibility for disabled victims/survivors in safe accommodation should be improved, by introducing relevant training, multi-agency in-reach teams where needed, developing new facilities or adapting existing facilities, with measures such as installing ramps, increasing ground-floor and step-free units and installing visual fire alarms to assist deaf people.
- Housing application processes should be accessible for those with disabilities, including those with special educational needs or speech, language and communication needs, and include optional in-person appointments and interpretation for a range of languages, including British Sign Language.
Race and Ethnicity
In 2020-21, 77.1% of victims/survivors in safe accommodation in Sussex identified as white; 9.1% identified as Black or Black British; 5.8% identified as Mixed or multiple ethnic groups; 5.1% identified as Asian or Asian British; 2.5% identified as “Other” and 0.4% identified as Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT). There is no specialist safe accommodation for Black and minoritised women in Sussex, although there are community based services, including a specialist BME IDVA in Brighton & Hove and a new specialist service, Hersana, is being established in Sussex, based in Crawley. Six safe accommodation providers in Sussex can accept women with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) and four cannot (three in West Sussex, one in Brighton & Hove). 15% of national domestic abuse helpline calls to Friends, Families and Travellers (a national organisation advocating for GRT communities) come from Sussex.
Black and minoritised women can access community-based support and can access existing refuges should they need to do so. However, the lack of specialist and culturally-specific refuge is a gap in provision across Sussex. Such safe accommodation would ensure that victims/survivors receive the specific support they might need for their particular life experiences. Stakeholders suggested that this accommodation should be composed of dispersed units that can accommodate various cultural needs, including proximity to cultural centres or places of worship, with outside space more suitable for GRT families, which a specialist stakeholder advised would be more suitable. These accommodation offers should include wraparound specialist support with interpretation services if required.
- Sussex local authorities will investigate specialist safe accommodation options for victims/survivors from marginalised ethnic groups, including Black and minoritised ethnic groups, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities and those with No Recourse to Public Funds.
The client was moved to a town 1.5 hours away from her friends and family, resulting in her feeling like she had been separated from her culture and the support system she had. She felt she could not eat her traditional foods or engage in cultural traditional practices with anyone. The client felt isolated and did not feel like the service providers understood her feelings or took her seriously.
Training on the specific needs of various ethnicities and marginalised groups, including how experiences can intersect, would enable staff to better understand the particular barriers certain communities might face. Specific immigration rights awareness training would allow frontline practitioners to feel more confident in seeking Destitution Domestic Violence Concessions and supporting particularly vulnerable victims/survivors.
- Cultural and immigration rights awareness training should be increased for frontline staff and commissioners to better understand the needs of marginalised groups. Training packages must acknowledge the intersection of race, class and gender, amongst other protected characteristics.
 Government Equalities Office. (2011). Equality Act 2010: Public Sector Equality Duty What Do I Need to Know? A Quick Start Guide for Public Sector Organisations. Available at: equality-duty.pdf (publishing.service.gov.uk), p.9.
 Mankind Initiative. (2021). Making Invisible Men, Visible. Available at: Making-Invisible-Men-Visible-Guide-Final.pdf (mankind.org.uk), p.2.
 Mankind Initiative, p.3.
 LGBT Foundation (2021) Good practice guide to monitoring sexual orientation and trans status 2021. Available at: LGBT Foundation Good Practice Guide to Monitoring Sexual Orientation and Trans Status 2021
 Brighton & Hove City Council. (2009). LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Trans) People’s Housing Strategy. Brighton. Available at: Microsoft Word - LGBT Housing Strategy _Final Draft Oct 2009_.doc (brighton-hove.gov.uk).