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Opinion: Bedroom tax sufferers not the only victims looking to swap their homes

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Opinion: Bedroom tax sufferers not the only victims looking to swap their homes

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

Opinion: Bedroom tax sufferers not the only victims looking to swap their homes Opinion: Bedroom tax sufferers not the only victims looking to swap their homes

Image: Housing via Shutterstock

By Christine Land, solicitor, Croftons Solicitors LLP

With the controversial ‘bedroom tax’ under review for “pushing people into rent arrears” (David Orr, NHF), the attractiveness of downsizing in social housing appears never to have been higher.

According to figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions, 1 in 5 affected tenants are currently registered to downsize. It comes as no surprise therefore that the ‘home swap system’ which allows tenants to mutually exchange their homes through an online gateway, is being promoted and funded by social landlords as part of the solution to long waiting lists.

A quick internet search of these home swap programmes reveals hundreds of thousands of properties just waiting to be swapped, quickly and easily.

But are tenants looking to downsize the only people who may find the home swap an attractive prospect? What about tenants who have suffered years of harassment, stalking or abuse? Swapping homes may seem like the perfect solution with safety being achievable through the click of the button.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Every time a tenant mutually exchanges their property they will leave a trail behind them. It would only take the perpetrator turning up at the victim’s previous address and asking where the victim is now living. The current tenants will know the answer as it will be their previous address.

Eve Thomas, herself a victim of domestic abuse for over 20 years and champion of the #SAFE campaign to keep victims of domestic violence safe gives an example:

“A victim contacted me to tell me that their safe address had been compromised. Her abuser had dressed in a suit and pretended to be a solicitor. They had turned up at the victim’s previous home and the current residents divulged where she was now living...”

While this may seem like only one small part of a bigger issue in combating domestic violence, it is crucial to never underestimate the importance of a tenant’s safe address or the lengths perpetrators of domestic abuse will go to find a victim.

According to statistics, at least 76% of all women killed by their intimate partners have been stalked before they were killed. Fleeing to an address where the perpetrator is likely to find the victim can only serve to aggravate the situation.

Social landlords and home swap providers need to be carefully considering who may be using the home swap and how these tenants can be protected. A number of major home swap providers have now confirmed their commitment to providing a warning on their webpage for victims of domestic violence, stalking and harassment.

This warning will alert the tenant that the home swap might not be the safest option available to them and will refer them to specialist advice. I would urge social landlords and other home swap providers to quickly follow suit.

The more difficult question is, of course, if home swap is not the answer, what is? The home swap system is a great initiative which makes the most of our technological era, but technology is not always a substitute for old-fashioned conversation and getting to know tenants.

A victim of domestic violence will always be in the best position to advise on his or her safety. I appreciate it is not always achievable to quickly facilitate a transfer due to a shortage of stock but would it ever be feasible for social landlords to develop a national ‘safe home swap’ for vulnerable tenants?

Especially as, financial issues aside, there may be a lesser demand for larger properties in the current climate. This safe home swap could involve social landlords managing transfers between them rather than by the tenant arranging a mutual exchange.

I would be extremely interested to hear the views from social landlords and home swap providers on this issue and can share the feedback received anonymously. The key point being that if a victim does decide to flee, they can swap their abusive past for safety.

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