Campaigners have welcomed a move by the government to drop plans for an overhaul of funding for women’s refuges.
Survivors of domestic abuse will now be able to continue to pay for places in the life-saving accommodation through the welfare system. Plans had been drawn up for these payments to be funded by a new grant managed by councils.
The proposals, outlined by the Government last October, would have left vulnerable people unable to pay for short-term emergency accommodation using housing benefit.
Critics including opposition MPs, charities, people working in the sector, and survivors of domestic violence, had argued the shake-up would make funding less secure. They added that it could have caused the “collapse of refuge provision across the country.”
Women’s Aid had warned that if the changes went ahead, as many as 600 beds in refuges across England could be at risk and that more than half of all refuges would be forced to scale back their services or shut down entirely.
Thankfully this disaster has been averted
Sandra Horley, Chief Executive of Refuge.
The charity set up a petition urging MPs to change their minds on the move, which gained more than 175,000 signatures. Its chief executive Katie Ghose said the latest announcement would be “warmly welcomed” by survivors of domestic abuse.
Announcing the reversal, the Housing Minister, Kit Malthouse MP, said that he’d listened to views “from providers, stakeholders and councils.”
The MP for North West Hampshire continued: “Protection of the most vulnerable has always been our primary concern, and following our consultation, the case for keeping supported housing in the welfare system became clear.”
Justin Tomlinson, Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance, said: “We are committed to ensuring that vulnerable people have access to the supported housing they need to live safely and independently.”
Housing Minister Kit Malthouse, and Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance, Justin Tomlinson. Credit: UK Parliament
Sandra Horley, the chief executive of charity Refuge, welcomed the Government’s dropping of the move, saying that a collapse of refuge provision across the country would have been a “national travesty”.
She added that housing benefit “is an essential source of income for women’s refuges” and that the proposals would have “devolved this critical funding to local authorities which have no obligation to fund refuges[…]thankfully this disaster has been averted.”
A separate plan to replace housing benefit for elderly people in sheltered accommodation with a new “sheltered rent” scheme has also been ditched.
The government says it will now go ahead with a review of housing-related support, in the hope of gaining a better understanding of how housing and support currently fit together.