Women who stay in refuges first after fleeing abusive partners are looked upon as being "adequately housed", and may be making themselves "intentionally homeless" if they leave the refuge.
The decision comes after Shelter and barristers set Kings Chambers fought the case of Ms Moran, a mother of two children who stayed in a city refuge after all three fled the family home. When she left the refuge she applied to the city council as homeless, but after spending three weeks in temporary accommodation, her application was refused.
Adam Fullwood, member of the public law team at Kings Chambers, acted for Ms Moran from the county court through to the House of Lords.
He said: "The decision in Moran v Manchester City Council has clarified the law and overturned the previous ruling from the Court of Appeal. This is a just decision for victims of domestic violence and vital for the refuge movement as a whole. Ms Moran was extremely vulnerable and her case is illustrative of the extreme difficulties that women, often with children, have to face when fleeing from an abusive partner."
Shelter and Kings Chambers said that often it is not the woman who determines where she is taken. She could be moved directly to a refuge by the police, or referred by a hospital following an incidence of domestic violence. If it’s the woman’s decision it’s usually taken during a moment of great stress that could determine her accommodation status for years for both her and her children.
Shelter solicitor Helen Jackson, who acted on behalf of Ms Moran, said: "Many already vulnerable women who have turned to local authorities for help after fleeing violent partners have been told they are not homeless or have made themselves homeless.
"(Today’s) ruling means that in most cases a local authority can no longer refuse a homelessness application because she is staying in a refuge or other emergency accommodation. Local authorities must now offer women priority housing to help them rebuild their shattered lives."
Figures from the Women’s Aid Federation of England (June 2007) show the level of domestic violence is shocking, with an incident reported to the police every minute, and on average two women a week killed by a male partner or former male partner.
Baroness Hale, giving the leading judgement, said: "The important principle here is that in most cases a woman who has left her home because of domestic, or other, violence within it remains homeless even if she has found temporary haven in a women’s refuge."
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