Warning not to cap payments
Wo m e n fleeing domestic abuse could be turned away from Women’s Aid refuges if a planned change in housing benefit is introduced, the charity has warned.
The organisation, which supports hundreds of Rutherglen and Cambuslang women every year, says it could be forced to close refuges as the benefits shakeup would create a funding shortfall of thousands of pounds.
This is because housing benefit women receive is used to cover the cost of Women’s Aid supported accommodation, owned by social landlords.
The UK Government’s proposal to extend the local housing allowance rate to social landlords in April 2018 would effectively cap the amount of money awarded to those in crisis and Women’s Aid would be tasked with fulfilling the funding gap.
A study conducted by the charity suggested that in urban areas like Rutherglen the annual loss for a onebedroom refuge flat would be £ 7,100, and in another semi- urban area the loss on a three-bedroom refuge would be £11,600 per year.
With 26 refuges in South Lanarkshire alone, the loss to the local Women’s Aid branch could be more than £200,000 per annum.
Heather Russell, CEO of Women’s Aid South Lanarkshire and East Renfrewshire, said: “We have serious concerns about the impact this will have on our services. Providing and managing refuge accommodation for women and children fleeing domestic abuse costs more because of the crisis nature of admission, the special vulnerability of the women and children concerned, variable lengths of stay and rapid turnover. Extra safety and security measures is an ongoing and core cost to the service. We aim to provide a comfortable and safe refuge service which includes providing basics such as bedding, furniture and equipment because women and children often come to us with only the clothes they stand up in.
“We are desperately worried about the impact that these proposals will have on our ability to continue to provide refuge in the area at a time where Scottish domestic abuse show a consistent increase.”
The Department of Work and Pensions has suggested the funding shortfall could be filled by local authorities via the Discretionary Housing Payments scheme but Women’s Aid argue those fleeing safety should not be relying on the “discretion” of housing and welfare officers.
A UK Government spokeswoman said it was still looking at how the changes would work. She said: “We value the work supported accommodation sector does to protect the most vulnerable members.”