The Victims’ Commissioner and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner call for Government to bring empty hotel rooms into use as refuges fill

The Government should act urgently to implement a scheme for suitable hotel rooms to be made available for victims of domestic abuse who need to escape in areas where refuges are full.

That is the joint message from Dame Vera Baird QC, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales and Nicole Jacobs, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales.

The emergency measure is required following an increase in complains of abuse caused by the Covid-19 lockdown which is impacting on refuge capacity.

It follows calls from Southall Black Sisters and Compassion in Politics who proposed the idea at the end of March, and who contacted hotels directly.

The two commissioners, who are supportive of the plan, have themselves sent a letter to hotel Chief Executives asking for them to help, with several indicating they would be receptive to the concept.

In their letter the commissioners said: “Refuge remains the best place for victims and their children to flee to, but where forced to close due to Covid-19, or where demand outstrips supply, it is vital that victims have safe accommodation away from their abuser.

 “Therefore, we call on you to offer a hotel in a publicly undisclosed place, free of charge, to women fleeing domestic abuse where they have been unable to access refuge.”

Dame Vera said: “We have support for the premise from the charity sector and from the hospitality industry. I raised this with the Home Secretary last week, because it will only realistically work if the Government gets involved in helping to overcome any problems and prioritises this to protect those at serious risk from domestic abuse.

“I was impressed with the speed by which they acted to secure accommodation for homeless people, and we are calling for equally speedy action now to house those experiencing domestic abuse.

“Many victims will be worried that the social distancing rules prevent them from leaving their homes or that there is nowhere they can safely go. The Government must now to get involved now to make this plan a reality,” she said.

Nicole Jacobs said: “Refuges remain the best place for victims and their children, but as the pressure mounts on these services during the current pandemic – with many being full or forced to shut – alternative accommodation is required to help house domestic abuse victims fleeing abuse.

“The hospitality industry, with hotels across the UK with empty rooms, could work together with us to mitigate an escalating crisis in domestic abuse.

“Whilst we welcome the Government’s current and ongoing discussions with multiple hotel chains, a fast and appropriate resolution in these unprecedented times is a high priority.

“I encourage the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to seek expertise from the specialist Domestic Abuse sector to help shape this initiative.

“We need to communicate to victims experiencing abuse during lockdown that there are options and support available to them,” she said.

During the daily Coronavirus news conference on Saturday the Home Secretary Priti Patel said she looking at ways to help victims who need to flee their homes saying: “Where a victim and their children need to leave we will ensure that they have a safe place to go to and… we are looking at alternative accommodation to support those in need at this difficult time.” Although no further detail has been provided.

Ms Patel also announced that the Home Office was making £2m available to support Domestic Abuse helplines as well as launching a new awareness campaign and urging anyone who suspects that someone may be at risk to contact the police.