Refuges 'under threat' from shake-up of benefit rules
A charity that runs refuges for victims of domestic violence has warned it will have to close every one of its centres, and that women will die, because of planned changes to benefit rules.
The charity - Refuge - says the closures will put thousands of women and children at serious risk of harm.
In a submission to a policy review body seen by the BBC it says: "As things stand, two women a week are already being killed by domestic violence. This figure will inevitably rise if vital services close."
A similar body, Women's Aid, says many of its refuges could close, with others left unable to offer emergency, short-term accommodation.
The government has dismissed claims that refuges could shut as "nonsense".
The groups are worried about the way Housing Benefit payments will be calculated under the Universal Credit - a new combined benefit to be phased in from next year.
They say current rules let refuges charge for security measures, children's play areas and white goods in a tenant's rent. The costs are then covered by housing benefit payments.
They fear draft regulations explaining how housing benefit will work when it is wrapped into the Universal Credit will leave tenants unable to claim for many services.
Cuts in refuges' income will then, they fear, force closures.
Refuge says: "The impact of the service charge measures will mean the closure of all our refuges, resulting in the loss of 297 units of refuge accommodation across the country."
Women's Aid says it is also concerned a cap on benefits may leave women with several children unable to use refuge services and that changes to the way housing benefit payments are paid could make it more difficult to collect rent.
The deputy chief executive of Women's Aid England Nicki Norman said: "Women will not be able to leave their home when they are in an abusive relationship. They are likely to stay in an abusive relationship. So therefore the likelihood of the two women a week who are killed as a result of domestic violence seriously risks increasing."
The charities set out their concerns in submissions to the social security advisory committee, which is scrutinising the new rules.
Housing benefit is one of the benefits to be paid as part of the new Universal Credit, alongside others like Jobseeker's Allowance and Income Support. The Universal Credit is intended to make the benefits and welfare system much simpler and improve incentives to work.
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said claims refuges could close were nonsense that did not take into account new funding arrangements.
The government is consulting on funding for refuges, although a detailed scheme has not yet been published.
The DWP spokesperson said: "Domestic violence is a dreadful form of abuse and the government is committed to providing better support for victims and has set aside £40m specifically for these services.
"Universal Credit will continue to support victims of domestic violence and we are working closely with refuges to ensure this is the case.
"Claims that refuges may close due to regulation changes are nonsense and do not take into account plans for new funding arrangements under the new benefits system.
"We will announce details of these in due course."