Government U-turns on ‘disastrous’ housing benefit reform amid warnings it could hit most vulnerable
The Government has said it is dropping plans to overhaul the way women's refuges and hostels are funded after critics warned it risked put women fleeing abuse at risk.
Theresa May last year announced that responsibility for funding emergency accommodation, including homeless shelters, would be handled by councils through a grant, rather than through housing benefit.
However ministers have now said housing benefit will continue to fund supported housing after fears were raised that delegating it to local authorities meant making provision of the services less secure.
Charity Womens' Aid said taking away the benefit would have meant removing refuges' "last guaranteed form of funding", which currently makes up more than half of their income.
A separate plan to replace housing benefit for the elderly in sheltered accommodation with a new "sheltered rent" scheme has also been ditched.
Housing minister Kit Malthouse said: “Protection of the most vulnerable has always been our primary concern, and following our consultation, the case for keeping supported housing in the welfare system became clear.
“The sector also recognised that our aim of improving the quality of homes must be addressed, and we look forward to now working with partners to make sure we have strong measures in place.”
Opponents to the changes, including a raft of women’s charities, welcomed the move to keep funding for refuges within the welfare system.
Refuge charity chief executive Sandra Horley said: "Thankfully this disaster has been averted."
Katie Ghose, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “Women’s Aid is delighted the government has listened and acted to keep refuge doors open for survivors of domestic abuse. Rent in refuges will continue to be funded through housing benefit.
“This will be warmly welcomed by survivors and our member services – housing benefit makes up, on average, around half of a refuge’s income.”
Shadow housing minister Sarah Jones said: “Thousands spoke out against the ill-conceived proposals for supported housing funding which would have left some of our most vulnerable people without a safe place to stay.
“But it begs the question why ministers put people through this pain and uncertainty in the first place. Three wasted years have strained our supported housing stock at a time when the need is higher than ever, a result of austerity and the disastrous roll out of Universal Credit.
“The Government must now urgently guarantee housing benefit funding and increase the provision of supported housing. Only this sort of decisive action could begin to make up for the delays and damage that has been inflicted on providers and people living in supported housing.”