Domestic violence
Refuges for victims of domestic violence are in decline in the UKFlickr

Closures of refuges for victims of domestic abuse are causing a "crisis" that could leave them with the choice of living on the streets or with their abuser, women's charities have warned.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Women's Aid, said that support for vulnerable women and children could be set back four decades in terms of a lack of provisions and support for domestic violence victims.

Specialist safe houses for abuse victims were developed out of the feminist movement in the 1970s, but are now being forced to close by some local authorities because they do not take in male victims.

In other areas, refuges are facing closure in favour of preventive work and support in the community or being replaced with accommodation provided by housing associations.

Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, added that specialist refuges offered more than alternative measures.

The warning comes after figures released by Labour showed police forces were increasingly using community resolutions, which can include apologies or compensation, to deal with cases of domestic abuse.

An investigation by the Guardian found refuges in Gloucestershire, Leeds, Cheshire, Devon, Dorset, Sheffield, Nottingham, Somerset, Coventry and Leicestershire were either closed or under threat of closure.

"We are at crisis point," Horley told the paper. "Without adequate provision, women experiencing domestic violence will be faced with a stark choice: flee to live rough on the streets or remain with their abuser and risk further violence or even worse."

Key concerns raised by women's groups include the breakdown of the national network of refuges through local authorities imposing limits on the numbers of non-local women able to stay in them, as well as time limits on the length of stay.

Other issues include funding cuts because refuges do not take in men and closures without alternative accommodation being provided.

Data compiled by Labour, from 15 of the 43 police forces, showed there were 3,305 uses of community resolutions for domestic violence in 2013 - up from 1,337 in 2009.

Horley said the figures were "deeply disturbing" and called for a public inquiry into police and state responses to the issue.

Neate commented: "There are areas where there aren't any refuge, other areas are specifying beds must be for local women only and some areas are commissioning so-called refuges which are not refuges.

"We thought we had won the argument that refuges need to be a national network, but we are having arguments of 40 years ago all over again."

Last week, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper announced new laws would be introduced by a Labour government to prevent perpetrators of abuse from avoiding prosecution.

Cooper said a commissioner would also be appointed by Labour to oversee "national standards" in such cases.