Women’s refuges in the UK are poorly funded – there are not enough places for the number of women needing help. One source of income they have relied upon until now is housing benefit. The women staying at the refuges pay housing benefit to the organisation during their time there. On average, refuges receive 53% of their funding from this source. However, the government is planning to change housing benefit rules so that it can no longer be paid for this type of accommodation. Councils will instead receive a sum of money that is to be used for short-term, supported accommodation. This includes housing for the elderly, homeless people, those with mental health issues, and drug addicts as well as women’s refuges. Councils can decide which type(s) of supported accommodation to fund. Typically, these are all areas where provision of services is not enough to meet demand, so councils will have to make difficult decisions. Since more than a tenth of women’s refuges currently receive no council funding, there is concern that they will not begin to receive any once the new restrictions on housing benefit are introduced.
Katie Ghose, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “The government’s proposed reforms to supported housing will dismantle our national network of lifesaving refuges and put the lives of women and children trying to escape domestic abuse at risk. This is a matter of life or death.”
The government have committed to examining how refuges are funded in November 2018. But with no alternative plans yet on the table, refuges are understandably concerned.