Children fleeing domestic violence 'forced to sleep rough'

By Joe Lepper

| 26 June 2018

Women and children fleeing domestic abuse are being forced to sleep rough or "sofa surf" due to a lack of support from councils, research has found.

One in 10 women (11.7 per cent) were forced to sleep rough while searching for a refuge place. Picture: Alex Deverill – Posed by model

report by Women's Aid, analysing the experiences of 264 women supported by its No Woman Turned Away project in the 12 months to January 2018, found that 121 women (45.8 per cent) fleeing domestic abuse were forced to sofa surf. Of these 65 women had their children with them.

Meanwhile, more than one in 10 women (11.7 per cent) were forced to sleep rough while searching for a refuge place, including five with their children and three who were pregnant.

Women's Aid said councils are failing in their statutory duty to support women and children fleeing domestic abuse.

Among those supported by the charity's project, 97 had approached their local authority's housing team for support. However, more than half (53.6 per cent) were prevented from making a valid homeless application, which means they were refused emergency accommodation.

Of those turned away just under a quarter (23.1 per cent) were told they were not a priority need, 9.6 per cent were told they had made themselves intentionally homeless, while 5.8 per cent were told to return to the perpetrator.

In addition, 15.4 per cent were told they needed to provide proof they had experienced domestic abuse.

One in 10 women gave up their search for a refuge space and stayed with the perpetrator, placing themselves at continued risk of harm, the report found.

"Statutory agencies need to stop putting obstacles in the way of women fleeing domestic abuse and start supporting them to safety," said Women's Aid chief executive Katie Ghose.

"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."

Statistics published last month show that teenage girls and single parents with children are among the most likely victims of domestic abuse.

The Office for National Statistics figures show that 7.6 per cent of 16- to 19-year-old girls had been the victim of abuse by a partner or ex-partner over the previous 12 months.

That is the largest proportion among all age groups, with the next largest (7.4 per cent) among 20- to 24-year-olds.

An estimated 130,000 children in England and Wales live in homes where there is a "high risk" of domestic abuse.

The government has introduced a draft Domestic Abuse Bill that aims to better support victims and more effectively deal with perpetrators. A consultation on the bill closed last month.

Women's Aid said this is likely to lead to an increase in demand for support and has urged the government to ensure it boosts funding for refuge places and ensures councils are effectively helping victims.

The charity wants all victims of domestic abuse to be considered a priority need for accommodation by councils. It also wants council staff to receive specialist training in supporting domestic abuse victims.

Women's Aid's No Woman Turned Away project is now in its second year and involves specialist caseworkers helping women find a refuge place.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: "Refuges are more than just a bed for the night, they support women when they are at their most vulnerable and fleeing desperate and often dangerous situations.

"We are committed to developing a sustainable model for refuges and are currently reviewing the way in which they are delivered. We have been clear no options are off the table."

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