Domestic violence refuges need more not less support

Councillor Lizzi Collinge.
Councillor Lizzi Collinge.

Labour councillors have come together to condemn the Government’s proposed changes to housing benefit funding for survivors of domestic abuse.

The proposals would see housing benefit money currently available to fund housing costs in refuges replaced by a grant to local authorities for all forms of short-term supported accommodation. The proposed grant to local authorities to provide short-term supported housing does not exclusively cover refuges and, according to the councillors, is not an appropriate replacement.

The councillors have written to the responsible Government Ministers to express their deep concerns that the changes will lead to the closure of refuges and the reduction of safe places for people fleeing abuse.

Coun Lizzi Collinge, Lancaster East, who coordinated the letter, said: “Refuges are already struggling following previous Government cuts. Housing benefit makes up 50% of refuge funding and these changes risk the closure of over a third of refuges. Given that two women a week are killed by their partner or ex-partner, these refuges need more, not less, support.”

“Any threat to funding is worrying as last year 60% of referrals to refuges were declined due to lack of beds. We hope the Government will rethink these proposals and ensure steady funding for refuges.”

The councillors are also asking the County Council, as a commissioner of domestic abuse services, to officially express concern to the Ministers. Cllr Collinge and her colleague Cllr Jean Parr, Skerton, will propose a motion at full council urging action.

This council notes with concern the recent proposed changes to use of housing benefit to fund accommodation costs of survivors of domestic abuse.

The changes would see the end of housing benefit monies currently available for people, primarily women and children, to fund their housing costs while in a refuge. Housing benefit is the last guaranteed source of income available to refuges and makes up about 50% of their revenue. The proposed replacement of this with a grant to local authorities to provide short-term supported housing does not exclusively cover refuges and is therefore an inappropriate replacement.

This council, as a commissioner of domestic violence services, believes that the proposed changes will have a detrimental impact on the ability of refuges to operate. As such, council instructs Chief Executive to write to Sajid Javid MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and David Gauke MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions raising our concerns.