|MP Blasts Council's Policy on Domestic Violence
Mary Macleod wants victims to get housing priority as refuges feel the pinch
Hounslow Council's policy of pushing domestic violence victims down the waiting list for emergency accommodation, has come under attack from local MP Mary Macleod. The charity Refuge, which marks its 40th anniversary this month, and which was founded in Chiswick, has also warned that local authority cuts are putting extra pressure on their centres.
Mary Macleod, the MP for Brentford and Isleworth said it was "shocking" that people living in abusive relationships were not a given higher priority by Hounslow Council.
" I have been approached by women who live in constant fear of violence and yet their need for accommodation is not treated with the urgency it deserves.” she said.
The issue of domestic violence has a special significance for Chiswick because it was where the first Women's Aid Centre was set up by campaigner Erin Pizzey in 1971.
Hounslow Council recently came in for criticism from the Local Government Ombudsman for failing to give adequate support to one woman in the borough fleeing domestic violence.
"Priority for those seeking emergency accommodation is based on which housing band they fall in. Hounslow Council presently has domestic violence victims in ‘Band C’ where the majority are never offered accommodation and the minority that are typically have to wait for several years, but this contrasts greatly with ‘Band A’ where the waiting time can often take just months." according to Mary Macleod who is organising a tea party to raise funds for Refuge on its 40th anniversary.
She has urged the Council to prioritise domestic violence victims as ‘Band A’ especially in cases where children are involved or where they are currently living in a temporary refuge.
“This is incredibly important as domestic violence is a major issue locally. We need to support those who have experienced this type of abuse and I have written to the Council to ask them to urgently review and change their housing band policy.” she added.
It is estimated that 1 in 4 women will suffer domestic violence in their lifetime. Refuge, which provides emergency accommodation and specialist support for women and children fleeing domestic violence, currently supports more than 80,000 women and children every year throughout the country.
But the organisation says it needs vital funds to continue its work.
"Securing Refuge’s funding is becoming more and more challenging – with worrying local authority cuts looming and an austere economic climate we are concerned about the future of our services" says the charity.
Women's Aid founder Erin Pizzey (72) who has published her autobiography' This Way for the Revolution' said the 40th anniversary of women's refuges was a time to celebrate but another 20 big 'open-door' refuges were needed across England. Refuges for men were also needed as there were virtually none for the gay community.
Ms Pizzey, a mother-of-two, helped set up the first battered women’s refuge in 1971 after meeting, and subsequently inviting into her home, a victim of domestic abuse at a community centre project in Belmont Terrace, Chiswick. The founding of Women's Aid inspired others to set up women's refuges across the country and even worldwide.
The Local Government Ombudsman , Dr. Jane Martin recently criticised London Borough of Hounslow for failing to provide " adequate help" to a homeless woman fleeing domestic violence.
The woman and her two small children left her mother-in-law’s property, where she had been living for six years, because of domestic violence involving her partner. She moved to her mother’s home in east London (where her two brothers were also already living), and continued to take her children to school in Hounslow – a four-hour round trip – and work three days a week in central London.
The Ombudsman criticised the Council on a number of issues relating to the case, and recommended that the complainant be compensated for rent and paid £500 for distress. She also recommended that the Council review its procedures, keep proper records, and make sure officers dealing with homelessness cases were aware of their statutory responsibilities, particularly relating to temporary accommodation.
Hounslow Borough Council defended its record dealing with homeless victims of domestic abuse and said it was finalising a new Domestic Violence Housing Policy.
Cllr Steve Curran, cabinet member for housing, said: “We take our role in supporting those who suffer from domestic abuse very seriously, and offer help in a number of ways.
“When someone approaches us looking for help to escape domestic abuse, our first priority is to make sure they are found somewhere safe to stay. Depending on the individual case, this may be in a refuge, in out-of-borough accommodation or at the home of a family member.
“We operate the Hounslow Safer Homes Project which has helped 379 people who fear their abuser may return to their home by changing and/or improving locks, and installing a sanctuary area within the home since 2008.
“The Hounslow Domestic Violence Service in partnership with housing has been offering a weekly drop in session for residents needing support regarding domestic violence and housing, and has so far already helped 38 people since April.
“We are always looking at how we can improve, and are currently finalising our new Domestic Violence Housing Policy to make sure those looking for help receive the support they need. This is being supported by more training for frontline officers to ensure they are aware of recent changes in legislation and case law. We also accept the findings of the Local Government Ombudsman, and will be setting out an action plan in response to this at Borough Council in due course.”
November 22, 2011