Northampton South MP pens letter to Secretary of State over refuge closures

Andrew Lewer MP has penned an open letter to the Secretary of State for Housing to ask for assurance over refuge closures in Northamptonshire.

Friday, 21st December 2018, 2:18 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th January 2019, 10:40 am
MP for Northampton South Andrew Lewer.

An urgent £100,000 stopgap is needed to halt the closure of five refuges that house 72 of Northamptonshire's most vulnerable men and women after the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MCHLG) said it will not renew the grant for the Northamptonshire Domestic Abuse Service next year.

Andrew Lewer MP for Northampton South has written an open letter to Secretary of State James Brokenshire to ask why his department has not awarded the grant.

The letter was penned after the Chronicle & Echo held a meeting with Andrew about the situation NDAS is facing.

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Andrew Lewer MP called the response from the councils "piecemeal".

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In his letter he wrote:"I would like to query with your department the decision not to award the grant the county sought.

"The situation facing domestic abuse services is serious and worrying and I would like to make you aware of two other factors that are compounding the funding crisis.

"The first is the precarious financial position of the county council and secondly, the vast amount of work needed to undertake the upcoming unitary authority programme has shifted to focus."

If five out of six refuges close the impact of this is that the county will only be left with five specialist spaces for women with substance misuse issues.

He went on to say that local authorities "can bridge any national funding shortfall, but in the present circumstances highlighted above, the response has been uncoordinated and piecemeal. Some councils have contributed, some have not."

Northamptonshire Domestic Abuse Service (NDAS) currently provides six refuges within Northamptonshire to men and women fleeing domestic abuse but five out of six of these refuges will have to close if alternative funding is not found by the end of March 2019.

The bid to central Government was led by Northampton Borough Council. Councillor Anna King, Cabinet member for community engagement and safety, said: “The feedback we received from central Government was that Northamptonshire produced a good, solid bid.

"However, it received and scored more than 90 bids and there was only enough funding available to help 63 of the highest scoring bids.

The letter was penned after the Chronicle & Echo spoke to Andrew about the situation NDAS is facing.

"Unfortunately, other organisations were able to better evidence how the funding would help create sustainable and long term approaches to supporting people affected by domestic violence, and also how the services would continue after the funding ends in March 2020.

"The feedback we have received will inform our future plans for supporting Northampton’s domestic abuse services and ensuring that their valuable work continues.”

This means that 21 spaces for adults and 34 spaces for their children will be lost, which includes three spaces in the male refuge, which is one of nine refuges solely for male victims in the UK.

The impact of this is that the county will only be left with five specialist spaces for women with substance misuse issues.

Staff and volunteers at Northamptonshire Domestic Abuse Service have issued a plea for more money to fund staff and their refuges. Pictured L-R: Jolene Taylor, Zoe Tatham, Natriece Westwood, Pierre Ellson, Coleen Brown and Sue O'Sullivan.

Between 2017-18 Northamptonshire Domestic Abuse Service supported 72 clients and their families in refuge and had to turn away about 150 families who they did not have room to shelter.

Zoe Tatham of Northamptonshire Domestic Abuse Service (NDAS) said: "NDAS are extremely grateful for the support we have received from MP Andrew Lewer, as well as other MPs within the county.

"We are pleased to see that the letter has outlined issues within Northamptonshire, which are affecting the services we are able to provide to those suffering from the effects of domestic abuse.

"Currently NDAS, and organisations like us are existing year to year, dependant on annual grants and funding opportunities.

"Moving forward we are very keen to see the current district and borough councils working together to develop a domestic abuse strategy that will help to ensure that the support provided to these vulnerable clients is sustainable."

The concern now is the loss of these refuges will have a knock on effect with many other agencies, including Northampton Borough Council who will have to provide temporary housing if the victims are made homeless and Northamptonshire County Council will need to safeguard the children.

A spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council, the authority who led the bid last year, said: "The county council takes domestic abuse very seriously and is committed to supporting vulnerable people in our communities and reducing risk in families.

“A robust joint application was made for funding of domestic abuse services with partner organisations in the county and we’re disappointed this was not successful.

“Interpersonal violence continues to be a priority and with our partners we continue to fund services that deal with domestic abuse and sexual violence in the county including the Sunflower Centre which provides specialist support to victims of domestic abuse.”