SWINDON Women’s Aid has welcomed a change in the law meaning the refuge will now be exempt from the benefits cap.
The recently introduced cap has limited the amount of benefits people can receive to reduce the overall welfare benefit. However, it had the unintended consequence of hitting victims of domestic refuge who had been forced to flee their homes.
The law has now been changed so refuges are not covered by the cap.
Olwen Kelly, the director of Swindon Women’s Aid, said it was good the government had brought in the change that could in the end save lives.
She said: “When a victim of domestic violence is making the decision on whether they are leaving home, whether they can afford it should not be a consideration they need to take into account.
“Many victims will have to pay rent for their home and then the refuge. “The cap on the benefit meant it would not cover both which means the victims are left deciding whether they need to get rid of their flat.
“A lot of the time victims arrive at our door in the middle of the night, in the back of police cars, with children. In those circumstances it is not right that finances should be considered.
“At the end of the day, if they are forced to stay in an abusive relationship then their life could very well be in danger. If this happens then a full review will cost far more than anything which could be saved by the cap.”
Olwen has also praised Swindon Council for their approach in helping with the financial issues. Under legislation over council tax, all the apartments in the refuge would each have been liable to council tax, leaving the refuge with a potentially crippling bill of £22,000 per year.
With cross party support, the council took the refuge out of council tax and made moves to make them exempt from the benefit cap.
“There is no chance we could have found the money to pay for council tax on all the properties,” said Olwen.
“I am delighted with the unanimous support the council have given in being the first authority in the country to do this. I think the actions of all the parties in the council have meant that other authorities around the country have been able to look at themselves and start to take appropriate action.”