Government u-turn has avoided ‘disaster’ for women’s refuges, says charity

The UK’s largest provider of women’s refuges has welcomed ministers’ decision to ditch plans to devolve funding for the network to local councils.

The charity Refuge said that the proposal could have led to the collapse of provision of accommodation for women fleeing violent partners across the country.

Plans were announced last year to take short-term supported housing, such as refuges for battered women or those in danger of homelessness, out of the welfare system by halting housing benefit payments to residents and covering costs instead through a new local grant fund for councils.

After lobbying from campaigners including Refuge, the Ministry of Housing has now announced that housing benefit payments will continue.

A separate plan to replace housing benefit for elderly people in sheltered accommodation with a new “sheltered rent” scheme has also been dumped.

Refuge chief executive Sandra Horley (pictured) welcomed the decision: “Housing benefit is an essential source of income for women’s refuges, previous proposals would have devolved this critical funding to local authorities which have no obligation to fund refuges.

“This could have led to the collapse of refuge provision across the country; a national travesty. Thankfully this disaster has been averted.”

But Ms Horley urged the Government to step up financial support for refuges to meet an “ever-growing” demand, at a time when two women a week are killed by domestic violence in England and Wales alone.

The local grant fund was a key part of a shake-up of supported housing funding unveiled last October, after Theresa May abandoned former chancellor George Osborne’s plan for a cap to cut housing benefit costs in the sector.

Under revised plans announced by the Ministry for Housing, housing benefit will be kept in place for all those living in supported accommodation, believed to number around 716,000 people in 651,500 properties in Britain.

Around £4.12 billion is spent each year on housing benefit payments for supported housing, representing around 17% of total expenditure on the benefit, which is being rolled up in the new universal credit.

Housing minister Kit Malthouse said: “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.”

Family support minister Justin Tomlinson added: “We value the expertise of stakeholders and have listened carefully to their concerns during the consultation.

“As a result we will continue to pay housing benefit for all supported housing, making sure safe homes are provided for those that need it most.”

The Government also announced that it will work with providers, local authorities, membership bodies and resident representatives over the coming months to develop a robust oversight regime for the sector.

The chair of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, Izzi Seccombe, said: “This announcement will give councils and housing providers the certainty to sustain and invest supported housing for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

“A sustainable funding model for supported housing is critical to ensuring councils can reduce homelessness and help older and other vulnerable people.

“It is, however, crucial that councils have the leading role in overseeing and ensuring the provision of housing for vulnerable groups is good quality, value for money, and fits in with the wider local services offered in places.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Refuge.