Local housing authorities must allocate housing accommodation in accordance with part 6 of the Housing Act 1996. Among other things, this requires authorities to publish a scheme for determining their priorities, and defining the procedures to be followed, in allocating housing. The scheme must be framed so that reasonable preference for an allocation is given to certain groups of applicant, but it is for individual authorities to decide on the priorities to be given to people within these groups. The reasonable preference groups are based on housing need and include people who need to move on medical or welfare grounds (including grounds relating to a disability) and people owed a homelessness duty. The scheme may also be framed so that additional preference is given to people within the reasonable preference categories who have urgent housing need. The Department has issued statutory guidance to local housing authorities on how they should discharge their functions under part 6. This gives examples of people with urgent housing needs to whom housing authorities should consider giving additional preference including those owed a homelessness duty as a result of domestic violence.
Under the homelessness legislation (part 7 of the 1996 Act), local housing authorities must secure that suitable accommodation is available for housing applicants who are eligible for assistance, homeless through no fault of their own and who fall within a priority need group. Accommodation must be secured until a settled home becomes available. The priority need groups include people whose household includes a dependant child or a pregnant woman and, in 2002, the Government extended the priority need groups to include, among others, people who are vulnerable as a result of leaving their home because of violence or threats of violence likely to be carried out. Jointly with the Secretaries of State for Education and Skills and for Health, the Secretary of State has issued statutory guidance to local authorities which they must have regard to when exercising their homelessness functions. The guidance reminds authorities that, under the legislation, a person is homeless if it is not reasonable for them to continue to live in their home and it would not be reasonable for someone to continue to live in their home if that was likely to lead to violence against them or against a member of their family. The guidance also encourages authorities to offer people who have experienced domestic violence a range of accommodation and support options, including the option of remaining in their home with additional security measures provided under a sanctuary scheme.
The Government have signed and ratified the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. It has also recently signed the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. This will build on our strategy to combat human trafficking by providing minimum standards of protection and victim support, whilst also providing a framework for enhanced provision.
Details on how implementation will be taken forward are currently being developed. These will involve close co-operation with non-governmental organisations, law enforcement agencies and other Government Departments. Progress will be monitored by the Inter-Ministerial Group on Human Trafficking of which Communities and Local Government’s Deputy Minister for Women and Equality is a member.
The London-based POPPY Project, run through “Eaves Housing for Women”, was launched in 2003 and provides a highly regarded combination of safe accommodation and support for victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation, which meets Council of Europe Convention requirements. Additionally, as a result of Operation Pentameter there are now a number of independently funded organisations (Salvation Army, CHASTE, the Medaille Trust), who also provide accommodation.
The Government are currently considering a pilot scheme to test the level and type of support required for victims of forced labour trafficking.
The UK Human Trafficking Centre was launched on 3 October 2006, the first of its kind in Europe. This is becoming a centre of excellence for dealing with human trafficking and will promote the expansion of victim support services. The Government also published the UK Action Plan on Tackling Human Trafficking on 23 March. This aims to strike the right balance between protection and assistance for all victims of trafficking, and prevention and enforcement activity to crack down on criminals.
Through its recently published Gender Equality Scheme, the Department has also initiated a number of actions aimed at supporting those women who are victims of domestic violence or who have been trafficked. These include co-ordinating and joining up Government actions on violence against women, and monitoring the impact of changes in local government funding on locally delivered support for vulnerable women. Communities England will also ensure that gender issues are taken into account in exercising functions delivering local strategies for regeneration, housing growth and affordable housing.