Changes to the way housing benefit is allocated will impact services run by women's refuges
Planned changes to housing benefit could signal the death knell for vital women’s refuges across Scotland.
Scottish Women’s Aid (SWA) has warned refuges face shortfalls amounting to tens of thousands of pounds if a proposed cap on social housing rents goes ahead.
Chancellor George Osborne set out plans to extend the local housing allowance (LHA) rate to social landlords in his Autumn Statement.
The move, which will come into force on April 2018 for tenancies commencing 1 April this year, restricts the amount of housing benefit housing associations and council tenancies receive, which includes those living in supported accommodation.
Research by SWA shows that in rural areas the cap would result in an annual loss of £5,800 for a two bedroom flat in a refuge. The annual loss for a one bedroom flat would be £7,100, while in a semi-urban area the loss on a three bedroom refuge would be £11,600 per year.
Without the existing level of housing benefit to cover costs, refuges will be forced to close - Dr Martha Scott
Equally worrying the charity says women will be forced to stay in abusive relationships because of moves to introduce a shared accommodation rate to claimants under the age of 35.
The organisation says the rates paid by the DWP in benefit bears no relation to the actual cost shouldered by Women’s Aid groups when service charges are considered.
Costs are also increased by added security measures required by the refuges.
SWA has written Lord Freud, minister for state for welfare reform, calling for an urgent rethink.
Chief executive Dr Martha Scott wrote: “This will have a devastating impact on the future provision of refuge accommodation in Scotland, where all refuge accommodation is in the ownership of either housing associations or local authorities.
“As you are aware there are a range of additional costs involved in providing and managing refuge accommodation for women and children fleeing domestic violence.
“LHA rates bear no relation to the actual cost to Women’s Aid groups of leasing accommodation from social landlords and the associated service charge costs.
“Without the existing level of housing benefit to cover costs, refuges will be forced to close.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “We value the work of the supported housing sector extremely highly and are working closely with them to ensure they are supported as effectively as possible in advance of the policy taking effect.”