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Women and children forced to sleep rough after fleeing domestic violence

Housing authorities are turning victims of domestic violence and their children away forcing them to sleep rough or sofa surf

Published on 27th June 2018

Survivors of domestic violence and their children are being forced to sleep rough due to some housing teams failing to support them, Women’s Aid has warned.

The No Woman Turned Away project supported 264 women between January 2017 and January 2018 after they were left with no support when most vulnerable, leaving women and children at risk of homelessness and further abuse from the perpetrator of violence.

Of the women supported by the project, 97 women approached their local housing team for support. Over half of these women were prevented from making a valid homeless application, meaning they were refused assistance with emergency accommodation.

The charity warns that:

  • Over one in ten women supported on the project (11.7%) were forced to sleep rough during their search for a refuge.
  • Three of those women were pregnant and five women had their children with them.
  • Almost half of women (46%) were forced to sofa-surf, of which 65 women sofa-surfed with their children.
  • Nearly one in ten women (8%) gave up their search and stayed put with the perpetrator.
  • One in five women (21%) were accommodated in a suitable refuge space through the support of the specialist caseworkers.

The charity adds that of the women who approached their housing team, nearly one quarter of these were told they were not a priority need despite having multiple vulnerabilities. More than 15 were told to provide proof that they had experienced domestic abuse while one in 10 were told they had made themselves intentionally homeless and 5.8% were told to return to the perpetrator.

Housing teams are failing to follow their statutory duty to assist those in priority need who are vulnerable due to fleeing domestic abuse. This is set against the backdrop of cuts to local authority budgets and a social housing sector which is in crisis, the charity adds.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said: “Statutory agencies need to stop putting obstacles in the way of women fleeing domestic abuse and start supporting them to safety. It is no wonder that women and their children who are literally fleeing for their lives end up sleeping rough or returning to an abusive partner if they are turned away from services who should be helping them.

“Our report clearly shows that survivors need the specialist expert support provided by domestic abuse services to help them when they are most vulnerable and assist them in overcoming barriers to getting the support they need. We’re calling on the government to give survivors a cast-iron guarantee that their dangerous planned changes to how refuges will be funded are firmly off the table and that refuges will be protected. We want to work with the government to develop a sustainable funding model for all domestic abuse support services so that every woman and child can receive the support they need to help build a life free from abuse,” she added.

Women’s Aid highlights that the women who were supported by the project often had multiple support needs with half of the women supported by the project were from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) women, almost two in five women (37.5%) had mental health support needs, nearly one third of women (30.3%) had one or more disabilities, and just less than one quarter of women (23.1%) had no recourse to public funds as a result of their immigration status.

The government’s Domestic Abuse Bill will only increase demand for specialist support yet this comes at a time when domestic abuse services face an uncertain future. Already domestic abuse services have been operating on short-term shoestring budgets. Yet the government’s planned changes to the way that refuges will be funded – removing refuges’ last secure form of funding, housing benefit, and devolving housing costs to local authorities to “fund services that meet the needs of their local areas” – threaten these specialist support services with closure, the charity warns.

The report calls for victims of domestic abuse to always be considered in priority need by local authorities by bringing forward legislative changes in the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill to ensure priority need legislation always covers individuals fleeing domestic abuse.

Local authority staff should be provided with specialist training on domestic abuse to ensure all survivors of domestic abuse receive an effective response when they reach out for help.

A sustainable model of funding for all domestic abuse services should be developed and refuges should be able to continue to operate as a national network and meet the needs of women and children seeking help. There should be sufficient refuge spaces nationally that provide specialist support for survivors, including support for Black and Minority Ethnic women, and for those with mental health, disability, substance misuse or language needs, and those with children.

Finally, the charity calls for women with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) to not face discriminatory treatment when escaping domestic abuse by expanding the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession to all migrant women who have NRPF who are fleeing abuse so they can access support from statutory agencies and funding for a place in refuge.

Read the report here.

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