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Housing body insists women fleeing domestic violence are exempt from coronavirus regulations

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Justin Cartwright from the Chartered Institute of Housing

Justin Cartwright from the Chartered Institute of Housing

Justin Cartwright from the Chartered Institute of Housing

Women fleeing domestic violence are exempt from coronavirus regulations, a housing body has said.

The Chartered Institute of Housing said the UK government's latest guidance allows victims to move home, with help from people outside their household if they need to.

Justin Cartwright, the organisation's Northern Ireland director, said the organisation had been asked to clarify the regulations for a UK woman escaping a perpetrator.

She had secured a new home to move into - but was afraid of getting pulled over by police for breaching coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Cartwright, whose association represents UK housing professionals, said any person assisting would be considered to have a "reasonable excuse" for leaving their home.

He added: "If I say to you someone is experiencing violence or domestic abuse, it's an emergency.

"It's just making sure that people understand that and professionals have best practise, best guidelines to facilitate that."

The government's latest guidance says: "The household isolation instruction as a result of coronavirus does not apply if you need to leave your home to escape domestic abuse."

Mr Cartwright said the lockdown had brought home the need for everyone to have a safe place to live.

He said: "I think with the current pandemic that is highlighting more than anything the importance of homes so we still want to maintain standards, particularly in an emergency context, whether that's facilitating the move in [the case of] domestic abuse or emergency repairs."

Meanwhile, domestic violence services are looking to hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation for families to quarantine in so they can move into refuges.

Women's Aid Federation NI currently has three "crash pads" in Northern Ireland, but it needs more self-contained units so new admissions can isolate before they go into communal homes.

Sonya McMullan, regional services manager, said the organisation is working with partner agencies, including the Housing Executive, to get more accommodation. She continued: "In a lot of our refuge accommodation you'd be sharing a bathroom, you'd be sharing a kitchen.

"We're looking at B&Bs, hotels all sorts of options - but the key is they have to link in with Women's Aid services."

Ms McMullan said women fleeing domestic violence would have the same support as before the pandemic.

She added: "There are pathways into emergency accommodation for those people who need it and women's refuge and accommodation is very much open - it just looks different."

Ms McMullan added that domestic violence services were preparing for demand to triple after the lockdown, as it has in China and Italy.

If you or someone you know are experiencing abuse, you can access support from national online and telephone services or connect with a local service via the website at www.womensaidni.org. In an emergency, call 999

Belfast Telegraph