Legal Services Crucial for Domestic Violence Victims

By Andrew Heaton

(Image via Alpine Legal Services)

Family or domestic violence is a critical factor behind women who have experienced homelessness, according to a new report which suggests that women who experience homelessness often experienced legal challenges and require legal support.

Following in-depth communications with 23 women who had experienced had experienced homelessness over the past two years as well as a review of casework data and case studies from its Homeless Persons’ Legal Service, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre found that family violence was a common factor in women who experience homelessness.

Many had also experienced legal problems.

These included family law issues such as property and custody disputes, housing and tenancy problems such as being held accountable for unpaid rent along with landlord discrimination against domestic violence victims and debt problems such as being held accountable for unpaid bills and unpaid debts incurred jointly or by the ex-partner.

Of the 23 women interviewed:

  • Eighteen reported recent experience of family violence, with twelve indicating that this was the predominate reason for them becoming homeless
  • Sixteen said they had experienced three or more legal problems in the previous two years
  • Fourteen of the women who had experienced family violence had also experienced housing and tenancy problems, and twelve had legal problems relating to outstanding debts.

In one of the typical types of cases ‘S’ lived in social housing before taking her baby and moving in with relatives in Castle Hill after escaping an abusive relationship.

After her ex-partner subsequently caused $9,000 worth of damage, Housing NSW told her that she was responsible for repair costs as she was the tenant – subsequently labelling her as an unsatisfactory former tenant when she refused and refusing to accept her application for priority housing.

In another case, R was forced through domestic violence to flee to a women’s refuge with her two-year-old son.

After he subsequently refused to pay rent and damaged the unit, R (being the tenant) was assessed as an unfit tenant because of an outstanding rental debt of approximately $13,000.

Roselyn Cook, Senior Solicitor of PIAC’s Homeless Person’s Legal Service, said problems being experienced by many women who experience homelessness are multi-faceted.

“Many of the women who visit our clinics have experienced violence, and family violence is often the reason they became homeless in the first place,” Cook said.

“When they come to see us, these clients may identify a single legal problem – they are seeking our help with a family law problem, an AVO, or to deal with a tenancy issue.”

“But as we work with them we find that multiple factors emerge. Many of our clients have a mix of problems relating to tenancy, debt, fines, and a whole range of other civil legal issues.”

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