WOMEN in low paid jobs are being put at risk of abuse, according to a Teesside a domestic violence charity.

Many have to suffer in silence due to changes in the Legal Aid system and because they cannot afford to seek sanctuary in a refuge, say staff at My Sister’s Place support centre in Middlesbrough.

“People imagine that the group most at risk are those on benefits, but if you are a low paid worker, such as a cleaner doing two or three jobs, you are most in need because you will not get legal aid or free accommodation in a refuge which can cost up to £140 a week,” said chief officer, Becky Rogerson.

“You either have to be earning enough to pay for yourself or not earning anything at all."

Unemployed victims can usually claim housing benefit to pay for their refuge stay if they flee violence at home but changes to the Legal Aid system, which came into force in April, mean that women must now show evidence to receive free legal help.

The Ministry of Justice now needs to see proof such as a police caution or a letter from a GP, social services or domestic violence refuge.

The charity is so concerned that employed women may not have equality and access to safety and justice that it has devised a one-minute survey on its website in partnership with Unison Women’s Group to find out the views of working victims.

“The workplace is very important and it’s often a refuge in itself," she explained. "We see quite a lot of women who work, at times over 40 per cent and the majority are on low incomes.”

The feedback from the surveys could be used to create a work-based policy, but Ms Rogerson is unsure whether or not victims would want their employers to know if they had been abused.

“Victims are often late for work and there are high absenteeism rates that impact on their performance,” she added.

My Sister’s Place, which was award £2,000 recently in the National Lottery’s ‘best charity’ scheme, receives more than 1,200 referrals each year and has helped more than 6,000 women in ten years.

The one-stop-shop offering advocacy such as do-it-yourself referrals, counselling and women’s groups is seeking larger premises in the town centre to expand its services to include support for child victims.