Domestic abuse campaigners say a new refuge provider is failing victims, and is calling for investigations into their concerns to be made public.
Brighton Rise Up! says it has been told by residents in the city’s refuge that it lacks specialist support for mothers with children and people with health issues.
The group also alleges the refuge’s flats were left without hot water and heating for eight days over winter.
And it is also concerned a domestic abuse advocacy post based at Royal Sussex County Hospital remains vacant despite council funding.
Brighton and Hove City Council says it is investigating their concerns.
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The group, which was launched after Brighton-based domestic abuse support charity RISE lost its council contract to run a helpline and services last year, held a protest at the West Pier on Thursday (9 June).
It also plans to submit questions about refuge and domestic abuse services to the council’s Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture (TECC) Committee when it meets on Thursday, 16 June.
The city’s refuge services were taken over by national housing provider Stonewater last April, at the same time Victim Support took over running helplines and other specialist support.
The change from using RISE followed a joint commissioning of domestic abuse services by Brighton and Hove City Council and East Sussex County Council.
Campaginer Ali Ceesay has attended council working group meetings discussing domestic abuse services and has heard from women in the refuge.
She said: “The conditions in the refuge are far worse than we ever thought they would be.
“I’ve been in working groups with women who are unfortunate enough to stay there, and the stories they’re coming out with are horrific.
“There is no specialist support to help with challenging behaviour around children. Also, stories about no hot water, heating or signposting.”
Ms Ceesay said the council needs to listen to women in the refuge and bring the services “home”.
Campaigner Nicola Benge said Stonewater is based in the north of England and does not have “relevance” to the city or social investment to take ownership of the service.
She said: “We’re asking the council, the TECC Committee and the council’s working group to factor in the really important aspect of social value.
“The issue with having dual procurement processes with East Sussex County Council is they do not factor in the impact of all the things the pre-existing organisation RISE did.”
Ms Benge wants to see the contracts re-tendered.
Dani Ahrens is frustrated the council has not come back with answers to the questions first raised in February 2021, when RISE lost the refuge and helpline contracts.
She said: “We’ve been asking questions for 18 months, and as far as we’re concerned, we still don’t understand how this has happened, and we don’t understand how this has gone on and how we’ve ended up in this terrible situation for women in our city.”
A council spokesperson said: “It is vital that survivors of domestic violence are believed, and their stories heard.
“As a council, we continue to put the safety of service users first.
“We take very seriously the concerns reported to us from domestic abuse survivors.
“With this in mind, council officials visited the Stonewater refuge in the last few days after survivors raised issues through our cross-party working group of councillors.
“Council officials are thoroughly re-checking the standard and management of the accommodation provided and the quality of the support offered to residents.
“The council has also checked the relevant protocols and procedures that Stonewater use and their specific information on repairs and services offered to residents.
“Quarterly monitoring of the contract is undertaken, and any concerns that are identified will be raised with the providers of the service.”
A spokesperson for Stonewater said: “We’re committed to providing a safe, nurturing environment, as well as personalised support to women and children that live in our refuge.
“This includes trauma-informed, recovery-focused support, which is delivered by our team of experienced specialist caseworkers.
“We work hard and are 100 per cent committed to helping survivors.
“As a result, we push ourselves to continually improve and we know our approach works, as we receive continued positive feedback from our service users and partners – assuring us that we are delivering a high-quality and safe service, that meets the needs of the local community.
“We are concerned about the ongoing impact this negative dialogue – about our service – is having on current and future survivors, and safeguarding them is our main priority.
“Our specialist team have and will continue to champion the voices of domestic abuse survivors, ensuring that they are at the heart of our service at the Brighton and Hove Refuge.”
Victim Support’s spokesperson said it is struggling nationally to fill independent domestic violence advocate roles and is launching a third recruitment drive for the Royal Sussex County Hospital based post.