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Housing officer's visit uncovered tenant's 33-years of domestic abuse

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Housing officer's visit uncovered tenant's 33-years of domestic abuse

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Communities

elderly hands elderly hands

By Sara Hales, housing officer, Sovereign Housing Association

It seemed like a routine visit – an inspection at the West Berkshire home of an elderly couple. He was a hoarder and I was simply going to check that some of the junk he had accumulated had been cleared.

The first alarm bell sounded when the 84-year-old wife answered the door and warned us that her husband was not in a good mood. I noticed a thumb-shaped bruise on her wrist and yellowing bruise under her eye; she admitted that he had been hitting her and she wanted to get away.

I entered the flat to carry out the inspection, and in the bathroom noticed that the bath was full of boxes. I got a further insight into her life when she explained that to have a bath she had to physically lift everything out of it, and then put it back afterwards. Not noticing that her husband had walked up behind her, she remarked that he had not bothered to bathe for months.

Suddenly, he hit her in the ribs – right in front of me. I immediately told him that he had committed assault on his wife and that I would be reporting it to the police.

This was no isolated incident – this woman had endured more than three decades of abuse from her 77 year-old husband. I couldn’t begin to imagine the ordeal she had suffered at his hands, but was determined to help her.

When I got back to the office, I phoned the police, and the next day they arrested the husband. I had also done a safeguarding referral for the lady and social services went to visit her the same day. They contacted her sister, with whom she went to stay so she would not be at home when her husband returned from the police station.

Fortunately, we had a vacant one-bedroom flat in a nearby village and, having completed the necessary paperwork, I took her to see it. She loved it and signed up to the new tenancy there and then. She gladly ended the joint tenancy she had with her husband and signed her old home over to him.

The woman had left her property in a hurry and had just a few clothes and no furniture. One of our partners in Berkshire is the Community Furniture Project in Newbury, and they stepped in at our request to furnish her flat with reconditioned items, free of charge.

It’s sometimes a cliché to talk about partnership working, but in this case it achieved a speedy and valuable outcome: in the space of less than a week, our resident was embarking on a brave new start at the age of 84, away from the abusive husband she had been with for over 30 years.

It must have been frightening and unsettling to make such a drastic change at that stage in her life, but she tells me she feels 10 years younger and has been making friends with her neighbours and going to social events. Her family are no longer uncomfortable about visiting her.

We housing officers have a privileged position – we enter the homes and lives of other people, some of whom are at very real risk. It’s vital that we can spot the signs of problems like domestic abuse. I didn’t think twice about acting to protect our resident and I wouldn’t hesitate to reach out and support a victim of
domestic abuse like this again.

As for the husband, we are seeking possession of his home, not only because of his appalling behaviour towards his wife, but for other assaults he has committed against neighbours.

This article orginally appeared in the January issue of 24housing magazine.

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