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Two-thirds of women’s shelters risk closure under housing benefits cap

A cap on housing benefits could force two-thirds of shelters for domestic abuse victims to close unless they are exempted, new figures suggest.

The charity Women’s Aid said that if domestic abuse refuges were not exempted from the government’s plans to cap housing benefit, 87% of refuges would have to reduce their level of service, and 67% of specialist domestic abuse refuges in England would be forced to close.

Based on sample analysis of services, the charity said that in Wales  the figures were even more startling, with 69% of refuges facing closure and 100% having to cut services. Refuges could also be forced to use funding intended to deliver services in order to cover their housing costs.

The government has suspended the cap for supported accommodation – including housing for the homeless, elderly and disabled and ex-offenders, as well as abuse victims – for a year.

Housing benefit covers over 90% of rental costs and service charges for some women’s shelters. Women’s Aid called on the government to permanently exempt refuges from the reforms and find a sustainable national funding solution for them.

Polly Neale, chief executive of Women’s Aid England, said:  “Women who flee to a refuge are running for their lives. Refuges provide specialist support to help women and their children truly recover from domestic abuse, and rebuild their lives with a view to long-term independence. We urgently call on the government to exempt refuges, and other forms of supported accommodation, from these welfare reforms.

“This latest crisis is just one crisis too many. We urge the government to make a public commitment to securing the future of refuges with a sustainable long-term funding solution.”

Charlotte Kneer, manager of Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid, said: “If my refuge is not exempted from these changes, we will be forced to close. It is a dire situation; the uncertainty means we cannot plan for the coming months. We don’t know if we’re going to be here. More women will die. As a survivor myself and now a refuge manager, I cannot stress enough how high the demand is for refuges. I dread to think what will happen if we have to shut our doors.”

Earlier this year the national Housing Federation suggested that over 40% of specialist homes could be forced to close under the government’s proposals. The LGA has called on the government to permanently exempt all sheltered housing from the cap in order to allow new accommodation to be built.

A Department of Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “We fully support the valuable work carried out by domestic abuse refuges and other supported accommodation providers.

“That is why we deferred this measure for this sector while we conduct a review to ensure it is sustainable in the long term. We will continue working with providers to ensure the right protections are in place and will set out our plans in the autumn.”

(Image c. Dominic Lipinski from PA Wire)

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