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We must protect our refuges for women and children

Women’s refuges have provided invaluable protection, as well as emotional and practical support, for some of the most vulnerable clients that I have dealt with as a family solicitor. Refuges also enable children to remain safely with their mothers, at a time when the only other alternative may be for a Local Authority to become involved and place a child in foster care.

Women’s Aid are reporting that 17% of specialist refuges in England have closed since 2010, and a third of all their referrals have to be turned away, usually due to a lack of available places.

Closure of these safe havens is a huge concern. For a significant number of women and children turned away from a local refuge, the only option available to them is to return to the home where they are being abused, or are at risk of being abused.

Women’s Aid are also reporting:

  • two thirds of the refuges they are affiliated with are under threat of closure due a proposed reform to the way that housing benefit is paid.
  • 67% of the refuges operating in England would be forced to close if they are not exempted from the reform, and 87% would be forced to reduce the support they give to families.

These figures were released by Women’s Aid after the Government revealed plans in November 2015 to cap the amount of rent that housing benefit will cover in the social sector.

The research conducted by Women’s Aid suggested that in the case of one English refuge this would dramatically reduce its income from around £300 per room per week to £60. The Government is deferring this change until 2018, but it is essential that if the reform goes ahead, alternative funding is found, as housing benefit can provide up to 90% of a refuge’s funding.

It is hard enough for the victims of domestic violence to make the decision to leave their abuser, and on average a woman experiences 35 incidents of domestic violence before contacting the police. Family solicitors can provide confidential advice about the support available to the victims of domestic violence, and can assist by obtaining Non-Molestation Orders and Occupation Orders to protect their clients. However, in some cases these orders are not sufficient and the protection of a refuge remains essential.