Women’s refuges are at risk of closure if the universal credit is implemented with no further amendments, says Elizabeth Clarson
Losing a lifeline
Women’s organisations are extremely worried about the changes to housing benefit rules and the detrimental impact they will have on women and children escaping domestic violence. If the proposed rules are implemented, refuges like those run by Housing for Women may close.
Refuges are a lifeline for women and children who are facing very difficult and challenging circumstances. Each year 50,000 women and children flee their homes, often with nothing but the clothes on their backs. A refuge provides an essential crisis service in a safe and supportive, homely setting.
Basic essentials have to be provided, such as furniture, cooking facilities and play space for children, to help women and their children come to terms with the trauma of their abuse and get back on their feet.
All this is likely to change if the proposed universal credit regulations remain unamended. At present, refuge tenants can claim housing benefit for rent and amenities. Under new regulations phased in next year, these amenities will no longer be covered and women will have to find alternative methods of payment. Some women will still be responsible for the rent or mortgage on their existing home. As a result, women are likely to spiral into deeper financial difficulties or won’t be able to pay the refuge for vital services.
As a provider we face critical issues over income collection. The assessment, payment cycle and direct payment of universal credit bear no relation to the emergency nature and high turnover of a refuge service. We envisage losing a significant amount of income if these proposals are implemented. They threaten the viability of our refuges and raise the spectre of closure.
More importantly, these proposals are likely to increase the number of lives put at risk, both women and children. On average, a woman suffers 35 attacks before she will seek help, and two women are killed each week through domestic violence. Without refuges to escape to, women will be forced to remain with their abusers. The impact on children is also significant. They are at risk of behavioural problems, emotional and psychological trauma if they are not removed from abusive situations.
As a specialist housing association that provides gender sensitive support services for women, we urge the government to reconsider the regulations relating to refuges and draft ones that are appropriate to this crisis provision. This is essential to preserve vital services and save the lives of women and children suffering from domestic violence.
Elizabeth Clarson is chief executive of Housing for Women