Artwork by Julia Giles

Women’s Refuges now exempt from benefit cap

Women’s refuges are now exempt from the benefit cap, following legal action and campaign by women’s rights groups.

This week new Regulations have come into force which exempt women’s refuges from the benefit cap.  The change in the law comes shortly before two women who are domestic violence survivors, and their children, are due to have their case heard by the Supreme Court.  It follows a campaign by a number of specialist charities and organisations, including Women’s Aid who have provided evidence in support of the women’s legal challenge.

The Housing Benefit and Universal Credit (Supported Accommodation) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 came into force on 10 April 2014.

Until this change in the law, most women’s refuges were not exempt from the benefit cap.  Some women’s refuges were already exempt from the benefit cap, but only if the landlord and the organisation providing support were the same.  Women’s Aid’s evidence before the courts has shown that most refuges did not meet this requirement, because the landlord was different to the organisation providing support.  Women receiving housing benefit in most refuges were therefore liable to the benefit cap if their overall benefits exceeded the limit.  This caused serious problems for domestic violence victims, given the high cost of refuge accommodation.  This is because rents for supported accommodation, including refuges, are generally higher than rents for non-supported accommodation. 

Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform, acknowledged the problem over a year ago. He wrote to Women’s Aid on 4th April 2013, recognising “the problem... that much of the existing provision does not meet the ‘precise’ definition of exempt accommodation.”  He stated that the DWP would bring forward proposals to change this “at the earliest opportunity.” 

Rebekah Carrier of Hopkin Murray Beskine represents the women and their children in the Supreme Court case.  She said:

“I welcome the Secretary of State for Work and Pension’s belated decision to exempt women’s refuges from the benefit cap. However this mistake should never have happened in the first place, and it should not have taken over a year and a legal challenge reaching the Supreme Court to sort this out.  Lord Freud recognised the problem on 4th April 2013. Why was the law not changed until 10th April 2014?

The Secretary of State has yet to address other discriminatory aspects of the benefit cap policy, including other measures which adversely affect domestic violence victims and lone mothers.  We are delighted that the Supreme Court is hearing my clients’ appeal on these important issues so speedily.” 

The Supreme Court appeal is being heard on 29 and 30 April 2014.  It is being brought by two single mothers who fled domestic violence, and their young children.  They challenge the Regulations which implement the benefit cap, on the basis that they discriminate against domestic violence victims and lone parents (both groups which consist overwhelmingly of women).  The children also argue that the cap is unlawful because of the risks of child poverty, destitution and homelessness, and that the Secretary of State has failed to ensure that the best interests of children are protected.



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