Survivors of domestic abuse and their children are being forced to sleep rough or sofa surf as some council housing teams fail in their duty, findings from Women’s Aid’s latest report ‘Nowhere to turn’ report show.
The report reflects findings from the second year of the No Woman Turned Away project which supported 264 women between January 2017 and January 2018 left at risk of homelessness and further abuse.
Women’s Aid is calling on the government to give survivors a “cast-iron guarantee” that their 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,” said Chief Executive of Women’s Aid Katie Ghose.
Over one in ten women supported on the project (11.7%) were forced to sleep rough during their search for a refuge, of which three women were pregnant and five women had their children with them.
Almost half of (46%) were forced to sofa-surf, of which 65 sofa-surfed with their children.
Nearly one in ten women (8%) gave up their search and stayed with the perpetrator.
One in five (21%) were accommodated in a suitable refuge space through the support of the specialist caseworkers.
Of the women supported by the project, 97 approached their local housing team for support.
Over half (53.6%) were prevented from making a valid homeless application.
This meant, they were refused assistance with emergency accommodation.
Nearly one quarter (23.1%) were told they were not a priority need despite having multiple vulnerabilities; 15.4% were required to provide proof that they had experienced domestic abuse; one in ten (9.6%) were told they had made themselves intentionally homeless and 5.8% were told to return to the perpetrator.
Woman’s Aid cites the findings as evidence of housing teams failing to follow their statutory duty to assist those in priority need who are vulnerable due to fleeing domestic abuse – with the findings set against the backdrop of cuts to council budgets and a social housing sector in crisis.
Ghose 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, Ghose said.
The women who were supported by the project often had multiple support needs and faced at least one barrier to accessing a safe space.
Half of the women supported by the project were Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) women (49.6%), 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.
Women’s Aid says the government’s Domestic Abuse Bill will only increase demand for specialist support at a time when domestic abuse services face an uncertain future.
Already domestic abuse services have been operating on short-term shoestring budgets.
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 specialist support services with closure.