Abused women face homelessness after eviction notice is served on St Albans refuge

Domestic abuse is being targeted by Essex Police and Essex County Council in a joint campaign launch

Domestic abuse is being targeted by Essex Police and Essex County Council in a joint campaign launched this week. - Credit: Archant

Abused women and escapees from arranged marriages face being made homeless following the eviction of a St Albans refuge.

Victims of domestic violence face being evicted by Hightown Housing Association.

Victims of domestic violence face being evicted by Hightown Housing Association. - Credit: Photograph: Dani Rodriguez/Alamy

Hightown Housing Association served notice on St Albans and Hertsmere Women’s Refuge (SAHWR) after losing out on the contract to accommodate its clients.

The 90-day notice expires on Wednesday, October 4, by which time the refuge will have to vacate 12 beds.

Chair of the refuge’s management committee, Maralyn Pollard, said: “I do not know where the families will go. If we have to leave, they will have to go into a bed and breakfast.

“It’s just frightening. There has been no consideration for our residents, who have already been traumatised.”

The crisis began when Herts county council gave funding for refuge services to domestic abuse support charity Safer Places, instead of Hightown.

In response, Hightown served notice on SAHWR, giving them 90 days to move residents out.

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Although the contract with Safer Places starts before the notice expires, Mrs Pollard says this still does not give the refuge enough time.

She claims Hightown’s chief executive David Bogle told her the strict notice period should serve as an example to Herts county council for continually cutting services.

He added he wanted the contract with Safer Places to fail so it could be inherited by second place bidder Hightown.

Mrs Pollard said: “They are sore losers.

“I just cannot take it in, because we have had a really good relationship with them.

“The houses we took from them have had value added to them. We spent £57,000 having a house altered, and had donations for play equipment of around £20,000.

“But I doubt Hightown will be refunding us.”

Fellow SAHWR volunteer Liz Perry said: “It’s a devastating loss.

“Maralyn has been running the refuge for 30 years, and others have been around for 20 years, working towards providing a service of very high quality.”

The refuge has been based in St Albans for the entirety of its 30 year history, taking in victims of domestic abuse and other crimes against women and helping them get back on their feet.

They work closely with the police and St Albans council, who provide an additional seven beds.

Among its many supporters is St Albans MP Anne Main, who said: “I am always thoroughly impressed when I visit the refuges. They are not simply a temporary service. Our local refuges are a wonderful, caring support lifeline to vulnerable woman and children.

“SAHWR feel as though they’ve had the rug pulled from them. This will cause immense worry to those families who use this vital service, and it is a huge blow to SAHWR, who have done such a great job nurturing the right environment with excellent living conditions.

“I hope that a resolution can be found and that the future provision can be secured as quickly as possible.”

In a statement, Hightown said: “Hightown has served notice on the lease as the charity will now be in partnership with Safer Places.

“The 90-day notice period will end on October 4 2017, by which point Safer Places will have taken over responsibility for services.

“Hightown is committed to working closely with SAHWR, Herts county council, and Safer Places to ensure a smooth transition over the coming months and is prepared to be flexible regarding the final date.”

County council health lead Colette Wyatt-Lowe said: “When the contract for existing lead service providers Hightown was due to come to an end, we took the decision to go through a transparent and accountable procurement process.

“As a result of this process, Safer Places were awarded the lead provider contract and will work in partnership with SAHWR and Welwyn and Hatfield Women’s Refuge to provide domestic abuse refuge services across the county.

“We are working to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible, and doing everything possible to minimise disruption to victims, their families and staff, and have accommodation arrangements in place.”