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Refuge’s fears over change to benefits
A CENTRE that offers refuge to victims of domestic violence are hoping changes to the benefit system won’t affect them.
Swindon Women’s Aid is working with Women’s Aid nationally in asking the government to take action to ensure that the changes will not have a detrimental impact on the UK’s network of refuge services.
Both the introduction of Universal Credit and the benefit cap could seriously threaten the survival of local refuge services if they are not specifically protected.
The Government has stated that if refuge services fall within the definition of ‘exempt accommodation’ under current Housing Benefit rules, housing costs for residents will be met locally, outside of Universal Credit. This will not count in the calculation of the benefit cap.
However, there is concern that many refuges across the country do not fit the criteria for ‘exempt accommodation’ and will therefore be under threat from the changes.
Swindon Council, who offer exemption on council tax, have said they will be awaiting the outcome of the pilots which will begin in four boroughs of London in April and are waiting further guidance from Government DWP in relation to implementing this later in the year.
Speaking about concerns for refuge services Olwen Kelly, director of Swindon Women’s Aid said “The implementation of Universal Credit in April 2013 will negatively impact on the ability of victims and their children to flee violence and access emergency refuge accommodation.
“Universal Credit will impose a cap on benefits which will mean victims will not be able to pay rent for both an emergency refuge space and the property from which they are currently fleeing, but hope to return to.
“To complicate issues further, the government’s introduction of a monthly assessment – which only calculates entitlement at the end of each month, will mean those staying in refuges for a short period of time and who leave before the end of a month will potentially not get any payment.
“This will mean the refuge won’t receive any income, which they rely on to provide staff and support services to victims.
“The introduction of Universal Credit will potentially close many UK refuges and support services and put victims and children at greater risk of violence and homicide.
“While the council has been gracious by exempting us from council tax , the universal credit is a separate matter.
“Unless locally they choose to protect domestic violence victims from the rules of capping, we will suffer through loss of income.”
Swindon Women’s Aid is urging local people to sign the Women’s Aid national petition for government to make all UK Refuges exempt accommodation so they can continue to protect and support victims and children fleeing violence.
Visit the Swindon Women’s Aid website at www.swindonwomenaid.org for more information and to sign the petition.