Two-thirds of women’s refuges in England are facing closure due to a change in the way housing benefit is paid to supported and sheltered housing, according to the national domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid.
Government plans to cap housing benefit in the social sector at the same levels paid to private landlords risks destroying the finances of the refuges, which take in women and their children who have been victims of violence at the hands of their partners, the charity says.
A survey of Women’s Aid-affiliated refuges shows that 67% of those operating in England would be forced to close if they are not exempted from the reform, while 87% would be forced to scale down the support they give to families.
Polly Neate, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “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. These women and children have been through enough, and they deserve better than services which are continually on the brink of closure.”
The warning comes after plans were revealed in former chancellor George Osborne’s autumn statement last November to cap the amount of rent housing benefit would cover in the social sector to the same level offered to private landlords in the same area.
Women’s Aid said in the case of one English refuge this would slash its income from about £300 to just £60 per room per week. Some refuges cover 90% of their costs from housing benefit, the charity said.
A spokeswoman said it would more than reverse £33m worth of government support for the sector, promised after the closure of 17% of refuges since 2010 sparked a major outcry.