Domestic abuse survivors say £500 government flee fund doesn’t go far enough

Rachel Williams with her former partner Darren (left) and in hospital after being attacked by him. Credit: Rachel Williams

By Anna Georgevic, Producer

Domestic abuse survivors in England and Wales will be able to apply for a one-off payment of up to £500 in a new initiative launched by the Home Office and Women’s Aid from Wednesday.

The ‘flee fund’ will help victims of domestic violence escape a violent partner or help support them so they do not have to return to an abusive relationship.

The £2 million scheme builds on Women's Aid successful pilot scheme last year, which helped more than 600 vulnerable women find safety.

Women’s Aid CEO Farah Nazeer welcomed the new flee fund along with a future fund of up to £2,500 per individual. However, she said: "What the fund doesn’t do, and what it will never do, is compensate for the gaps that survivors face that make the funds necessary in the first place."

She told ITV News: "We don’t want silver bullets anymore. What we want is a whole system response. So ultimately, we don’t need sticking plasters."

Some survivors also believe the new funding doesn’t go far enough.

Lisa* who fled from her abusive partner during lockdown says: "For me, five hundred pounds is going nowhere. It’s all well and good if you don’t really have a lot to pay for, but it would never be enough."

In 2021, when faced with life threatening conditions, Lisa managed to escape to the charity, Refuge. Being stalked by him, she says, "was like being a prisoner".

Lisa had to travel some distance to move as far away as possible from her perpetrator. She says fleeing her abusive partner cost her nearly £2,000 and that the new funding for some "wouldn’t even cover the train ticket."

She says: "I think this is a good step in the right direction to help survivors I just think that there's more that could be done surrounding this to make it better."

Like Lisa, another survivor of domestic abuse, Rachel Williams, also believes the flee fund is not enough to ensure survivors reach a safe location.

Rachel told ITV News, when escaping her perpetrator the funding "would not have been the lifeline” she needed.

She says the new initiative does not take into account "how perpetrators operate"

"If you’re fleeing, it’s not just about being in a different house, you can’t even stay in the same area because they will find you, follow you and stalk you. The perpetrator will find you in a heartbeat.”

Rachel's son Jack Williams died by suicide shortly after his mother was shot by Darren.

After 18 years in an abusive relationship, Rachel was shot and severely injured by her violent partner in 2011. He died by suicide. Her 16-year-old son Jack took his own life shortly after the attack on his mother. Rachel spent months in hospital and now lives with life altering injuries.

Rachel went on to establish Stand Up to Domestic Abuse and campaigns tirelessly for victims.

Rachel Williams now campaigns for domestic abuse victims.

Had her former partner not taken his own life, she says she would have had to leave the country, but argues the new flee fund would not have been enough for her to do so.

She told ITV News: “Say I’ve accessed this funding, I’ve got to leave and get a flat. I’ve got to kit the whole flat out. I’ve got put down a month’s deposit and rent. What if I want to make it safer with cameras and a ring doorbell? And what do I do next month? Where’s my food coming from? What is that funding really going to do?”

Rachel also raises concerns over access to the funding.

From 31st January 2024, survivors of domestic abuse who do not have the financial means to leave their abusers will be able to apply for a one-off payment of up to £500 via one of Women's Aid's 470 support services.     

The fund will be delivered via referrals from a network of local frontline services in England and Wales including organisations, helplines and caseworkers who have a specialist understanding of domestic abuse.     

However, Rachel says: "If the funding is in the form of a bank transfer, that’s a fierce hurdle and barrier as a lot of domestic abuse victims don’t have a bank account, so how are they going to access the funds? And we know it’s a hassle if it’s a joint account trying to kick the perpetrator off the account.”

Survivors can access the new flee fund from January 31 until March 2025. Credit: PA

Funding may also come in the form of a voucher or cash payment. But Rachel stresses the practical problems with vouchers, as she told ITV News: "Can you imagine going to a landlord, using a voucher for a deposit? It’s absolutely ridiculous. And are there enough places that would even accept these vouchers?"

Like the survivor community, the charity Refuge also believes the funding doesn’t go far enough.

Abigail Ampofo from Refuge says: “This fund is only a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed.  An extra £2 million, which is expected to last until March 2025, will barely touch the sides.”

Refuge is now calling for funding of £238 million per year to be allocated to domestic abuse services.

Advice and support links:

  • Police are reminding people that they can report incidents via 101, online or by calling 999 in an emergency.

  • If someone wants to make a report online, the force will talk people through how to delete it from their web history so it can’t be traced.

  • Calling 999 and pressing 55 will automatically put calls through to the police if someone is unable to speak.

  • My Safe Space Sussex website offers confidential guidance and advice for anyone who is facing or knows someone who faces controlling, coercive, threatening or violent behaviour.

But, members of the survivor community ask if funding is the real issue.

Survivor Rachel believes the real problem lies in our justice system. She says: "Why does a victim have to flee? For me, the lifeline would have been getting the perpetrator and locking him up and keeping me safe."

Retired magistrate Jane* agrees. She told ITV News: "Why aren’t the perpetrators taken and put somewhere else? It’s a ludicrous situation and a ludicrous sticking plaster to give something that completely needs to be rethought and challenge the way we deal with perpetrators. The court needs to not fail the victim. The court needs to stringently deal with those perpetrators.”

Jane* is now calling for mandatory specialist training for all magistrates when it comes to dealing with domestic abuse cases.

Women’s Aid CEO Farah Nazeer also recognises this issue.

She told ITV News: "As we stand, none of the systems that wrap around survivors actually support survivors in the way that they deserve and need to be supported. The family courts are still not responding to the needs of domestic abuse survivors. Survivors are not believed still and they’re having to do horrendous things to try and prove their experience."

Despite the new funding, she’s calling for systemic change.

She said that while she is delighted with the new flee fund: "There’s real work that needs to be done to the whole system. There needs to enough services and enough police support in the criminal justice system to support and respond to survivors. There’s a huge contextual issue here, the systems that support survivors are not yet there to support them."

*Not their real names

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