Those who work in the charitable sector, supporting women who've fled violent relationships and precarious living situations, are concerned about the number of landlords entering the supported housing market, with their focus seemingly being all about profit – as opposed to ensuring people get the help and care they need.
Following a new BBC Panorama investigation, which put one particular organisation, My Space Housing Solutions, and its multi-millionaire founder, in the spotlight, Ruth Davison, CEO of Refuge (a women's charity that supports thousands of women and children, and runs the National Domestic Abuse Helpline) said this a trend they're aware is happening on a wider scale.
"There is a worrying trend of non-specialist providers entering the domestic abuse space and setting up so-called ‘safe accommodation’," she explained. "Refuge is extremely concerned that an increasing number of landlords are entering the supported housing market without due regard to the quality of support that needs to be provided to people when they are at their most vulnerable and often in crisis."
Davidson added that Refuge is seeing more examples of companies setting up supposedly 'safe' accommodation for those in need, and yet have "no specialist experience of working with survivors of abuse and without the necessary safeguards in place". These providers often provide the bare minimum level of support, are keen to take advantage of exempt accommodation status (an uncapped amount of Housing Benefit) and charge often-extortionate rents, all while putting survivors (and their children) at considerable risk..
“Profits should never be a motivation for operating a refuge," Davidson stressed to Cosmopolitan UK. "We believe there are some newly formed Community Interest Companies who are taking without providing adequate support, placing their desire to make money above the interests of survivors at an acutely vulnerable time in their lives.
"Accommodation like this is not suitable for women fleeing abuse, who need specialist support and not just a roof over their heads. Expert service providers like Refuge provide safe accommodation, at a confidential address, where survivors can receive the support they need to rebuild their lives, free from abuse."
One former employee of My Space spoke to the BBC about their concerns regarding the mix of people being funnelled into supported housing without due care and consideration, saying business owners and landlords seeking profit have essentially shoved together large numbers of people with addiction or substance abuse issues, or large numbers of people previously convicted of violent crimes (which can be a recipe for disaster).
Both Refuge and Crisis, the UK national charity for people experiencing homelessness, are speaking out and airing their concerns, hoping the government will respond and act accordingly.
"We echo the calls of Crisis to improve the regulation of exempt accommodation. They have rightly pointed out that the current system is leaving vulnerable people without support and living in dangerous accommodation while providers profit," said Davidson.
"Fleeing to a refuge should mean safety and security, but sadly with non-specialist providers in the market this is not always the case. Refuge will continue to sound the alarm on these issues at the heart of Government."
If you need help or support leaving a controlling or abusive relationship (be it physically, emotionally or verbally abusive), Refuge have a support line (0808 2000 247) that is open 24/7
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