Domestic violence affects one in four women in their lives. Two women a week are killed by a partner or former partner and three quarters of a million children in the UK witness domestic violence every year.
The tax reduces the amount that individuals can receive in housing benefit benefit if they are in accommodation regarded as too large for their family size. But women living in properties with sanctuary scheme measures, where support is provided for victims of domestic violence, are not exempt.is aware of cases where women's housing benefit has been reduced or they have to leave the only place where they can be safe, because a safe room is regarded as spare.
Women's Aid are working with a woman named Julia, who lives with her 10-year-old son in a three bedroom house that has been specially adapted to enable them to live safely in light of the risk posed by Julia's abuser who has threatened to kill them both.
A sanctuary system has been installed in their home, including reinforced doors and windows, alarms, and a room where Julia can go to safely with a hotline direct to the local police.
Under the bedroom tax rules, Julia is only entitled to receive housing benefit for a two-bedroom house for herself and her son. She either has to pay the extra rent and go without essentials such as food or heating, or move to a smaller property. If she can't pay the extra rent she faces eviction.
There are very few two-bedroom council houses available, and none with the safety features the family needs.
The threat of eviction – particularly on top of the complete upheaval of escaping a violent relationship – is causing Julia and women like her considerable stress. Her situation also has knock-on effects for providers of services.
Every woman evicted becomes a vulnerable homeless person whom the council has a duty to house. She may then needlessly join the more than 2,000 families having to live in emergency accommodation due to a lack of housing.
Frequently this will be a room in a bed and breakfast which is completely unsuitable for family life, traumatic for many families but intolerable for those who already fear for their safety, and which local councils must fund at extortionate rates.
Some women may end up living on the streets or "sofa-surfing". A recent survey by St Mungo's suggested 39% of women who sleep rough were made homeless by domestic violence.
In many cases the only way women will be able to get a roof over their heads is to return to the men who abused them in the first place. The costs for the police, the NHS, and other services when his violence continues are obvious. For Julia, she fears any independence she has built up will be demolished.
There is an option: councils must take action for protect women like Julia. Swindon Women's Aid has successfully obtained cross-party support in Swindon borough council to exempt all sanctuary scheme properties in Swindon from the bedroom tax.
Women's Aid calls on all other councils in England to follow Swindon's lead and place the needs of women and children at the heart of their policy decisions.
If they don't, we will see more vulnerable women returning to or staying with abusive partners, more homeless women and children with multiple needs, more suicides, and more murders.