LEADING charities have taken the unprecedented step of refusing to co-operate with a Westminster policy that requires women to prove they have been raped before they receive child benefits.

Their refusal is supported by the Scottish Government.

Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland have said that they will not "collude" with the policy that would force women to disclose rape in order to receive Child Tax Credits.

Last night Scottish Minister for Social Security Jeane Freeman wrote to her counterparts in London describing the move as a "fundamental violation of human rights" and echoing the charities' call to shelve the implementation of the contentious policy.

The policy and attached "rape clause", due to be implemented on Thursday, will cap Child Tax Credit entitlement at two children, and deny women financial support for any subsequent ones unless they can prove that the children were a result of rape.

Reliant on a third-party reporting system, this policy would put local Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis groups in a position where they must certify to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) that a child had been born of rape or coercion in order for women to receive appropriate benefits.

This would, the charities state, fundamentally change the relationship between vulnerable women and those working to support them – a risk Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid are not willing to take.

The policy is already in turmoil as it is yet to have any third party referrer confirmed in Scotland to support its operation.

The two charities together with policy organisation Engender Scotland have condemned both the family cap and rape clause, stating that local charities that also "refuse to collude" with the "cruel" policy have their "full and unwavering support".

Marsha Scott, of Scottish Women’s Aid, said that "forcing a woman to disclose that her child was born of rape or coercion in any circumstance is ethically unjustifiable".

She said: “The numerous unanswered questions about how this disclosure might be understood and used by other actors in the benefits and criminal justice system are really worrying.

"If a woman later goes to police with a rape charge, will failure to apply for the exemption be seen as evidence that she is lying about the rape? What will disclosing that information mean for the child?

“Local Women’s Aid groups are independent charities, and we know they will be struggling with these same issues.

"We recognise that they will need to make their own decisions and continue to support women in ways that make sense to the woman and the service they provide.

"This may include accompanying women to another third-party referrer, should such an organisation emerge.”

Sandy Brindley, of Rape Crisis Scotland, said: "We have severe concerns both about the direct impact of this policy on rape survivors, and the risk of a fundamentally changed relationship between women and those who work to support them should local centres participate.

"This policy has been dreamt up and developed based on a complete lack of understanding or empathy for rape, domestic abuse and coercion. Consequentially it is absolutely unworkable.

“A choice between potential poverty or being forced to disclose rape is no choice at all, and this is why the rape crisis movement in Scotland is unable to support this policy.”

Emma Ritch, of Engender, said: “The so-called ‘family cap’ amounts to state intervention in women's reproductive rights – limiting child tax credit or the child element of Universal Credit to two children will impoverish women already hit by ‘welfare reform’.

“In addition to being a clear breach of women's rights, the clause which allows an exemption for children as a result of rape is unworkable.

"We applaud the principled decision that Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid have taken to refuse to comply with a policy that is coercive and damaging to women."

Freeman has written to Damian Hinds, Minister for Employment, and David Gauke, Chief Secretary of the Treasury saying: "As you know the Scottish Government remains deeply opposed to this policy, especially as families with young children will be among the worst affected by changes being introduced from April 6.

"In particular, we consider the exemption involving a woman having to prove that she was raped in order to access benefits to be a fundamental violation of human rights.

"I note what you say about careful and sensitive implementation, but we have grave concerns that at this late stage, there is no suitable infrastructure or training to support the implementation of the policy which can only have a negative impact on the women who go through this process as well as their children.

"I also note no agreement has been reached with local authorities or public services on the provision of such a function and it is highly likely that some of the specialist support services in Scotland will refuse to participate."

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "We have always been clear these changes will be delivered in the most compassionate way and have ensured the right exemptions are in place.”