ACT Minister for Women Joy Burch. Photo: Jay Cronan
Advocacy groups and academics are fighting to save the Women's Information and Referral Centre in Civic, slated to close in December, saying it provides an important hub of information for vulnerable women.
And the Community Services Directorate's annual report reveals that there were thousands of visits to the centre each year, not the 398 first quoted by the ACT government.
But some experts say Canberra's women would be better served under the government's plans, which base services in the suburbs rather than Canberra's CBD.
The 35-year-old centre provides personal development courses for women, support groups for victims of domestic violence, free computer and internet access services and publishes the twice yearly ''What's On for Women'' guide.
The government would still offer the services through other government and community organisations, including Children and Family Centres, First Point and Multicultural Women's Advocacy Inc.
When contacted on Wednesday evening a spokesman for ACT Minister for Women Joy Burch said last financial year 70 per cent of client interactions with staff at the centre were via telephone or email and 398 were face-to-face visits.
The 2012-13 annual report for the Community Services Directorate shows of the 12,300 contacts staff responded to last financial year, 1690 were drop-in visits to the centre.
There were 380 instances of internet and library use at the centre and 720 people attending courses and support groups.
A spokesman for the minister said the figure, which is the correct number of scheduled face-to-face visits, had been provided by mistake and the decision to close the centre had been based on the correct number of staff-client interactions, which was still considered to constitute low usage of the service.
The spokesman said the decision to close the centre had been policy-based, but $76,000 would be saved each year from not leasing the shopfront in Civic, and $325,000 from the cost of employing five staff at the equivalent of 3.45 full-time salaries.
Staff would be moved into existing vacant positions within the directorate, so their salaries could be considered a saving.
ANU academic Merrindahl Andrew said the centre was a concentrated location of expertise on how to address the needs of women. ''With the removal of this centre we're taking a step back to the kind of era where it's just presumed that mainstream services can work in an effective way for everyone, and I think that's still not the case,'' she said.
Women's Electoral Lobby national secretary Emma Davidson said the centre was a one-stop shop for women with information on how to access services to deal with violence, health problems and family relationships, and without it vulnerable women may miss out on the help they need.
Ms Davidson said she would contact Ms Burch's office to discuss the issue. ''There are still massive numbers of women who are impacted by gender-based violence and have difficulty accessing housing and healthcare services, women still have lower incomes than men and women often end up being the carers for other people,'' she said.
''The impacts on women can sometimes be different to the impact on men, of things like losing access to housing or having a healthcare problem.''
But Libby Lloyd, chairwoman of the former National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, said vulnerable women may find it difficult to get to Civic, so it was a good idea to locate services in town centres. ''What we really need these days are responsible, flexible, localised joined-up services, and stand-alone, separate services don't really happen much any more,'' she said.
''It seems to me that the intention is not ill-conceived, usually the implementation in Canberra is pretty able, so I think we should just be watchful and not damn it as a model, because I think the model has merit.''
An online petition to save the centre had 83 signatures on Thursday night.