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Women’s Aid calls on the government to protect refuge services

Wed, 30th Jan 13

Women’s Aid is asking the government to take action to ensure that changes to the benefits system will not have a detrimental impact on the UK’s network of refuge services.

Both the introduction of Universal Credit and the benefit cap could seriously threaten the survival of refuge services if they are not specifically protected.

The Government has stated that if refuge services fall within the definition of ‘exempt accommodation’ under current Housing Benefit rules, housing costs for residents will be met locally, outside of Universal Credit, and will not count in the calculation of the benefit cap..

However, there is concern that many refuges do not currently fit the criteria for ‘exempt accommodation’ and will therefore be under threat from the changes.

Women’s Aid spokesperson Nicki Norman said:

“Government must ensure that all refuge services are protected. In 2011/12 over almost 20,000 adults and a further 20,000 children were supported by our national network of local services in England.

If this network is dismantled as an unintended consequence of changes to the benefits system, lives could be lost. It is essential that all these services are able to continue to provide their vital and live-saving work.

If all refuge services are not exempt, they could close, and adult and child survivors of domestic and sexual violence may be unable to access remaining services because they won’t be able to pay the rent out of their Universal Credit because of the cap on their benefits. “

The cap will particularly affect those with larger families and higher living costs, and those who need to claim for two rents for both the refuge service they are living in and the house they have fled from, but eventually hope to return to.

The situation is further complicated by the way in which Universal Credit will be administered.

As payments will be made to the individual, rather than the landlord, refuge services will no longer receive payments directly, and will have to spend time and resources chasing individuals for payment.

The introduction of a new monthly assessment (with calculation of entitlement based on the circumstances at the end of the monthly assessment period, not pro-rata across the month) could mean there may be no pay for a short stay, where a survivor enters and leaves a refuge within their monthly assessment period.

This loss of income will then impact on refuge services which rely on this income from rent to pay staff and provide the safety and support for service users.

Mary Mason is Chief Executive Officer of Solace Women's Aid, a specialist service provider in London supporting over 5,000 women and children a year fleeing domestic and sexual violence:

"Refuges are safe, emergency spaces for women and children who are fleeing the most severe violence. Without them more women and children will die and many more will be living in very dangerous situations.

Yet under the new benefit cap women with a current tenancy or women with three or more children will simply be unable to afford to go into a refuge and will probably stay at home with their abuser. Under the Universal Credit regulations, we as a specialist service provider stand to lose up to 50% of our rental income and refuges will be forced to shut their doors to all women. Some supported housing providers are exempt from these changes. Most refuges are not and until the rules are changed women and children will be unsafe and the network of refuges, which has taken 40 years to develop, will shut their doors."

The closure of refuge services will not only endanger the lives of individual adult and child victims, it will also impact badly on the public purse in the medium and longer term. By keeping adults and children safe in refuge and outreach services, more expensive interventions by other services such as police, health and Adult and Children’s Services are significantly reduced. The closure of refuge services will mean that more expensive interventions will be needed.

Sign our e-petition to save refuge services.

For further information, contact:
Sylvi King, Media Officer, Women’s Aid:
0117 9157454



Notes to Editors

1. About Women’s Aid
Women's Aid is the national domestic violence charity that co-ordinates and supports an England-wide network of over 500 local services working to end domestic violence against women and children. Keeping the voices of survivors at the heart of its work, Women's Aid campaigns for better legal protection and services, providing a strategic "expert view" to government on laws, policy and practice affecting abused women and children. In partnership with its national network, Women's Aid runs public awareness and education campaigns, bringing together national and local action, and developing new training and resources.   Women's Aid provides a package of vital 24 hour lifeline services through its publications (available in 11 languages including English), websites (www.womensaid.org.uk and www.thehideout.org.uk), and running the Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline in partnership with Refuge.  Women's Aid is a registered charity no 1054154.

2. 0808 2000 247: Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge).

3. The Women’s Aid Website can be found at: www.womensaid.org.uk. This is a comprehensive website about domestic violence and its impact on women and children.  The website has help sections for women experiencing domestic violence, as well as policy briefings and research findings. The website, built in 1999, has around 2 million hits a month. Women’s Aid also runs a website for children and young people experiencing domestic violence www.thehideout.org.uk