AN independent review raising concerns about women’s refuges across Somerset has led to the county council appointing a new company to run them.

Somerset County Council awarded the contract to run women’s refuges to national housing charity Chapter 1 with a contract set to last three years, but it will be ending in the New Year after the review revealed serious problems with how the refuges were being run.

Chapter 1 remains contracted until April, but is working towards a quicker handover.

The women’s refuges offer somewhere safe for women and children to go who may be suffering domestic abuse or be at risk of domestic violence.

The county council commissioned the review after complaints and concerns were made.

In the county town alone, cases of domestic abuse reported by women have risen by 9% in the past year, according to Fiona Davies, of Taunton Women’s Aid.

The Bournemouth Churches Housing Association charity has been appointed to take over the contract.

A spokesman for the county council said: “We awarded the contract to a nationally recognised provider with no reduction in funding.

“The specifications were developed by a multi-agency panel including police and NHS colleagues.

“When awarding this contract we were aware that it would be challenging and difficult with Chapter 1 asked to bring in modernisation and development.

“We weren’t satisfied with progress early on and worked with Chapter 1 to improve.

“Despite this we felt the need to commission an independent report on performance, and carry out an unannounced inspection and a further inspection.

“We’ll be working with Chapter 1 and the BCHA in the coming weeks to ensure that there’s a smooth transition as early as possible in the New Year with users of the service continuing to receive the care and support they need.”

Chapter 1 was asked to design a new service which they said some staff and clients found unsettling with some clients choosing to leave.

A Chapter 1 spokesman said: “There’s an experienced team in place and the service is running smoothly.

“The decision to transfer the contract was mutual and amicable.

“Chapter 1 is working closely with SCC and the BCHA to ensure that there’s no impact on the services provided to clients during the handover.”