Women and children fleeing domestic abuse 'forced to sleep rough'

By agency reporter
June 27, 2018

Survivors of domestic abuse and their children are being forced to sleep rough as some local authority housing teams fail in their duty, findings from Women’s Aid’s latest report Nowhere to turn 2018: Findings from the second year of the No Woman Turned Away project shows.

The No Woman Turned Away project supported 264 women between 12 January 2017 and 11 January 2018 who were left with nowhere to turn at a time when they were at their most vulnerable. This left some of them at risk of homelessness and further abuse from the perpetrator.

Over one in 10 women supported on the project (11.7 per cent) were forced to sleep rough during their search for a refuge, of whom three were pregnant and five had their children with them. Almost half (46 per cent) were forced to sofa-surf, of which 65 sofa-surfed with their children. Nearly one in 10 women (8 per cent) gave up their search and stayed put with the perpetrator. One in five (21 per cent) 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 of these women (53.6 per cent) were prevented from making a valid homeless application. This meant, they were refused assistance with emergency accommodation. Nearly one quarter of these women (23.1 per cent) were told they were not a priority need despite having multiple vulnerabilities; 15.4 per cent were required to provide proof that they had experienced domestic abuse; one in ten (9.6 per cent) were told they had made themselves intentionally homeless and 5.8 per cent 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.

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.”

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 per cent), almost two in five (37.5 per cent) had mental health support needs, nearly one third (30.3 per cent) had one or more disabilities, and just less than one quarter (23.1 per cent) had no recourse to public funds as a result of their immigration status. This highlights that women fleeing domestic abuse need specialist support as well as safe and secure accommodation to help them recover from the abuse.

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.

Women’s Aid has five key recommendations:

  • Ensure victims of domestic abuse are always 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.
  • Provide specialist training on domestic abuse for local authority staff to ensure all survivors of domestic abuse receive an effective response when they reach out for help.
  • Work with Women’s Aid to develop a sustainable model of funding for all domestic abuse services and ensure that refuges can continue to operate as a national network and meet the needs of women and children seeking help.
  • Provide 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.
  • Ensure women with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) do 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.

If you are worried about your relationship or that of a friend or family member, you can contact the Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge, on 0808 2000 247

* Read Nowhere to Turn 2018 here

* Women's Aid https://www.womensaid.org.uk/

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