A law to protect renters could be having a devastating impact on survivors of domestic abuse who are seeking refuge, the Senedd heard.
Mark Isherwood raised Welsh Women’s Aid concerns about the impact of the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 on refuge provision.
The Conservative shadow minister told the Senedd the charity believes the legislation, which came into force in December 2022, may break the system.
Jane Hutt, the social justice minister, said she has met the chief executive of Welsh Women’s Aid and an evaluation of the legislation is under way.
“They’ve raised concerns about the operation of the Act and we do have to look at this,” she said. “I think it’s about balancing the rights and interests of those living in refuge.”
Mr Isherwood said: “Refuge provision is never intended to be a home, and survivors reside there whilst fleeing risk of imminent serious harm or death.
“Refuge relies on flexible tenancies, such as licences, so that the survivor can be moved on quickly when refuge is no longer appropriate for them.
“This legislation, they say, has inappropriately treated the emergency accommodation that refuge provides as a home….
“It has already caused lasting and devastating consequences for survivors and service provision, they state, since its implementation.”
Welsh Women’s Aid has called for an exemption for refuge accommodation.
The charity said a family in refuge for longer than six months will need an occupation contract which could stop survivors from being able to access homelessness support.
Plaid Cymru’s Sioned Williams echoed concerns about the Renting Homes Act.
Mr Isherwood said the domestic abuse commissioner found that only 37% of victims and survivors in Wales had access to counselling – lower than any part of England.
The report also found that only 3% of perpetrators in Wales were able to access support to change behaviour compared with 16% in north-east England.
Sioned Williams raised concerns that a £7 million cut to the minister’s portfolio could impact work to end violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence in Wales.
She asked: “What is the Welsh Government doing to ensure that children and young people who are impacted by domestic abuse can access the specialist services that are so crucial for them, and which may now be under threat because of budgetary cuts?”
The shadow minister told the Senedd that a lack of Wales-specific statistics, due to justice not being devolved, makes it difficult to get a full picture of what is happening in Wales.
Ms Hutt said the Welsh Government is seeking the staged devolution of justice powers, including greater access to data sources.
She pointed to funding for Childline Cymru Wales, the Live Fear Free helpline and the Meic service, adding that Stori Cymru is developing resources on relationships and sex education.
Ms Hutt also raised examples of the Welsh Government funding non-devolved services, including a South Wales Police pilot of conditional cautions.
During a statement to the Senedd on Tuesday November 7, the minister highlighted a 2022-23 progress report on domestic abuse.
She said: “Wales has made significant progress in tackling violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, and we should be proud of our record.
“Nevertheless, there is still much more to do.”
Ms Hutt raised the publication of an action plan in March and said more than 340,000 professionals accessed domestic abuse training last year.
She also highlighted funding for Bawso to support migrant women fleeing abuse who have no recourse to public funds.
Ms Hutt said: “In 2023-24 we will continue to work together in the spirit of co-production and collaboration to further develop the blueprint and deliver against the national strategy.
“Our commitment is to ensure everyone can live fear free, and Wales will not be a bystander to abuse.”