Councils all over the country are setting up “panic rooms” in private homes to help women protect themselves from abusive partners, the Guardian has learned.
The scheme to create high security rooms for women who have been victims of domestic violence has been adopted by 120 local authorities in England and 165 more are planning to follow suit, John Prescott’s office confirmed.
The council installs a solid door with mortice locks, steel hinges, bolts and a spy glass to transform a bedroom into a “sanctuary”. Some women are offered intercom systems and barred windows. They are advised to lock themselves in the room and phone the police if an abusive partner turns up.
Any victim of domestic violence in a participating council area can apply for a panic room to be installed.
But some domestic violence campaigning groups say women are being strong-armed into accepting the additional security measures to cut councils’ bills for rehousing them.
Deborah McIveen, the policy officer at Women’s Aid, said: “Councils have a statutory duty to protect people at risk but there is anecdotal evidence from local Women’s Aid projects across the country that women are being given less of a choice than they should when it comes to sanctuary schemes. They’re being told the only option is security measures, or years living in temporary accommodation.
“We’re not against the scheme if women can make an informed choice and holistic support is provided.”
Previously most victims of domestic abuse who were driven from their homes by an abusive ex-partner would be offered temporary housing.
Many local authorities are keen to cut their bill for temporary housing and meet targets to cut the number of people without a permanent home.
Barnet in north London was one of the first to introduce the scheme and now 91 women in the borough have sanctuaries. Temporary housing costs the council £16,000 a year for each family compared with ?1,000 for reinforcing a person’s home.
Alvin Wade, Barnet’s homelessness protection manager, said the council had saved £600,000 under the scheme in the first year and higher savings were expected this year. Their research shows that 90% of women have backed the scheme.
A spokeswoman for John Prescott’s office, said: “The idea is that women can stay within their own homes rather than having to go into temporary accommodation. It helps their children stay in their schools and prevents them having to run away. Sanctuaries are only used where it’s the clear choice of the woman and safety can be guaranteed. Every case is looked at individually.”
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