Fear of homelessness prevents women leaving their abuser 

Research by Womens Aid shows homelessness can be the price survivors pay for escaping domestic abuse 

Today the domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid publishes two reports showing that homelessness is a real risk for the majority of women escaping living with domestic abuse.  

According to The Domestic Abuse Report 2020: The Hidden Housing Crisisnearly 70% of women responding to a survey by Women’s Aitold the national charity that their housing situation and concerns about future housing, including fears of homelessness or lack of safe housing, prevent them from leaving an abuser.  

Tess* (not her real name) a survivor of domestic abuse said

“If you leave an abuser it’s to be safer. If you’re leaving for a life different but equally bad and unsafe, you might as well stay.” 

The Nowhere to Turn 2020 report provides ainsight into what happens to those women who are unable to access refuge services after having to give up their homes to escape abuse. Many survivors supported by Women’s Aid’s caseworkers said that since leaving their home they had faced homelessness whilst looking for refuge space. Just under 40% of survivors had been sofa surfing – staying temporarily with friends or family while homeless – and 7% (17 women) had been forced to sleep rough.  

As one survivor explained, housing insecurity and upheaval was “…the price I paid for getting out of the terrible relationship.” 


Nicki Norman Women’s Aid acting CEO said:

“Often, we are asked why survivors don’t just leave abusive relationships. The two reports we are publishing today both show clearly that fear of homelessness is a key barrier. While some women are forced to sleep rough, more become the ‘hidden homeless’ – sleeping on the sofas of their friends and families or in other insecure forms of accommodation. It is completely unacceptable that women feel they have to choose between staying with an abuser or be faced with homelessness or unsafe and unsuitable housing.

“As the domestic abuse bill progresses through parliament, it could not be a more important time to act on these findings. The bill must ensure all survivors, including migrant women, can access refuge services and other forms of safe housing and support.  All survivors must be in ‘priority need’ for housing and the legislation must end ‘local connection’ restriction on women who need to cross local authority boundaries to escape domestic abuse.

“The bill’s statutory duty to fund support in refuges could be lifesaving. But the duty must be delivered with national oversight to ensure that councils fund quality, specialist women’s refuges which offer a full range of support to all women and children who need them, including specialist refuges run ‘by and for’ BME women. These changes in the law must be backed with long-term funding to secure our national network of refuges for the future.”


Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said:  

“Through our frontline services and work with women fleeing domestic abuse, we know how difficult their journey can be, from leaving their abuser to securing affordable and safe accommodation. Many women have to make complex decisions in the face of serious trauma – juggling finances, their children’s safety, and major disruption to their lives.

“A survivor who has fled their abuser should not be punished further by finding themselves homeless or becoming trapped in grossly unsuitable temporary accommodation. There must always be somewhere safe for survivors to go – be that a specialist refuge or a secure social home.

“But social housing and specialist domestic abuse services are both chronically lacking in proper long-term investment. This is putting lives at risk. Urgent and sustained government funding is needed not only to save lives, but to help rebuild them, by giving survivors a safe, secure and genuinely affordable place to call home.”


Hannah Gousy, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Crisis, said: 

“At Crisis we constantly hear about the heartbreaking situations people face when they flee their abuser with nowhere to go, often having to face a life on the streets or drifting from sofa to sofa. That’s why we’ve been campaigning to ensure that, through the domestic abuse bill, survivors are guaranteed a safe and stable home where they can rebuild their lives away from abuse. By righting this wrong, we have the opportunity to remove one of the biggest barriers preventing people from fleeing domestic abuse.”


Read The Domestic Abuse Report 2020: The Hidden Housing Crisis & Nowhere to Turn 2020 here



Notes to Editors

  1. The Domestic Abuse Report 2020: The Hidden Housing Crisis examines the housing experience of survivors. It is based on the survey responses of 136 women: 98 women had moved on from the relationship referenced in responses and 38 were still in the relationship with an abusive partner. Of those 38 survivors responding to our survey who were still living with an abuser, 68 % indicated that concerns around future housing were a barrier to leaving. 
  2. According to The Domestic Abuse Report 2020: The Hidden Housing Crisis, women who had left a relationship with an abuser felt they paid a price to pay for their escape: over a third of survivors (3%) moved home twice or more in the first year. (This is out of 46 survey respondents who were no longer in a relationship with the perpetrator, where the relationship had ended over a year ago and who had answered this survey question). Foothers it meant living in overcrowded or unsuitable housing, enduring post-separation abuse or severely reduced finances, and mounting debt.
  3. Nowhere To Turn Report publishes the results of No Woman Turned Away (NWTA) project which supported 243 women from January 2019 to January 2020. No Woman Turned Away has been funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) since 2016 to support women who face considerable obstacles to accessing refuge services. The obstacleinclude are mainly ties to a local area, mental health support needs, disabilities, feeling with four or more children and/or having no recourse to public funds (due to immigration status). 
  4. All of the women supported by No Woman Turned Away had support needs around housingseven % (17 women) had slept rough, two of whom had a physical disability, and one slept rough with her son. Of the women supported, 38 % (93 women) had to stay with friends or family temporarily as they had no home.
  5. Out of these 243 women, 16 (39 women) experienced further abuse from the perpetrator whilst waiting for refuge space and 18 % (43 women) said they were scared to go outside because of the risk of being seen by the perpetrator. 

© 2022 Women's Aid Federation of England – Women’s Aid is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No: 3171880.

Women’s Aid is a registered charity in England No. 1054154

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