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Survivors of domestic violence and their children forced to sleep rough

Sixty five women and their children were forced to sofa surf last year after fleeing domestic violence due to a lack of support, Women’s Aid has warned.

Over one in ten women supported by The No Woman Turned Away project 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.

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.

The No Woman Turned Away project supported 264 women between January 2017 and 2018. Of the women supported by the project 97 women approached their local housing team for support.

  • Over half of these women (53.6%) were prevented from making a valid homeless application, being refused assistance with emergency accommodation.
  • Nearly one quarter of these women (23.1%) were told they were not a priority need despite having multiple vulnerabilities.
  • 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
  • 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, Women’s Aid warns.

Further, the women who were supported by the project often had multiple support needs and faced at least one barrier to accessing a safe space including mental health problems, disabilities or no recourse to public funds as a result of their immigration status.

The charity is making a number of recommendations, saying 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Read the report here.

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