Domestic abuse services

Domestic abuse services

Domestic abuse services provide a wide range of information and support including refuge accommodation, helplines, outreach support, floating support, resettlement support, specialist children and young people services, Domestic Abuse Prevention Advocates and drop-in support.

In May 2019, there were 220 providers running 368 local services throughout England. These local services between them run 269 refuge services and 213 dedicated services for children and young people.

Respondents to the Women’s Aid annual survey with community-based services supported 57,423 women in 2018-19. This number would increase to an estimated 156,169 women for all community-based services in England.

Refuge services responding to the Women’s Aid annual survey supported 5,071 women in 2018-19. Based on the number of refuge spaces available on Routes to Support* directory, we estimate that all refuge services in England supported 11,489 women during the year.

The demand for domestic abuse services is high. It is difficult to exactly demonstrate demand as the only numbers available are for those referrals declined. There are likely to be many women who could have benefited from a referral but are not counted in these figures. This is perhaps because the woman was too frightened to disclose the abuse she was experiencing or a referring agency already knew a service was full or not able to support that particular woman’s needs, so did not make the referral. Findings from our annual survey showed that:

  • Of all referrals received in 2018-19 by refuge services responding to Women’s Aid’s annual survey, 64.1% were declined. 
  • The main reason for declining refuge service referrals for respondents was lack of space/capacity to support the survivor. 20.3% of all refuge referrals received were declined for this reason, an increase from 17.1% from the previous year. 
  • There is a 30% shortfall in the number of refuge spaces available, compared with the Council of Europe recommendation of one family place per 10,000 head of population. 
  • Of all referrals received in 2018-19 by community-based services responding to Women’s Aid’s annual survey, 33.1% were declined.
  • Less than one in five (16.7%) vacancies posted to Routes to Support in 2018-19 could accommodate a woman with three children, and less than half (43.4%) could accommodate a woman with two.
  • During 2018-19, only 5.4% of vacancies posted to Routes to Support could consider accepting women with no recourse to public funds.
  • Of the vacancies posted to Routes to Support during 2018-19, only 0.9% had full wheelchair access.
  • Only 16% of refuge services and 11.8% of community-based services posted to Routes to Support in 2018-19 had a specialist mental health support worker.
  • In England on 1st May 2019, there were 32 refuge services run specifically for black and minoritised women. Half of these were located in London.
  • Women often have to travel many miles and uproot their lives in order to escape a violent perpetrator. There are around 10, 000 migration journeys a year, across local authority boundaries, to access services in England because of domestic abuse.
  • There were 10,161 migration journeys in 2008–2009. (Bowstead, 2015)

Recent analysis from a project on “Justice, Inequality and Gender Based Violence” showed the value and impact of specialist advocacy for victims of domestic and sexual violence. It found that specialist advocacy increases victims’ and children’s safety and decreases violence; and improves criminal justice outcomes for victims/survivors.

The project analysed 400 cases of domestic abuse reported to the police and found that cases where the victim was supported by a specialist domestic violence advocate were significantly more likely to be crimed (48% compared to cases without such support). These cases were also slightly more likely to have a charge brought (13% compared to 10%) and for there to be a conviction (11% compared to 6%). (Bates et al, 2018)

Women’s organisations have been disproportionately impacted by recent and current public spending cuts and efficiency savings.

  • 48.8% of organisations responding to the Women’s Aid annual survey in 2019 had been running an area of work without dedicated funding during the previous financial year.
  • Funding cuts and uncertainties was the most commonly mentioned theme in responses to a question about services biggest challenges in 2018-19. 53.5% of respondents to this Women’s Aid annual survey question commented on funding challenges.
  • 13.3% of service providers responding to the Women’s Aid annual survey 2019 received no local authority funding for their refuge service(s) and 23.2% of respondents said they received no local authority funding for their community-based services in 2018-19

Further information and support for survivors 

If would like more information about domestic abuse go to:  The Survivor’s Handbook

Our support information is here.


Bates, L., Lilley, S-J., Hester, M. and Justice Project Team (2018) Policy Evidence Summary 3: Specialist advocacy for domestic and sexual violence. Bristol: University of Bristol. Available online 

Bowstead, J.C. (2015) ‘Why women’s domestic violence refuges are not local services’, Critical Social Policy, Vol. 35(3): 327–349, p. 335

Women’s Aid (2020) The Domestic Abuse Report 2020: The Annual Audit, Bristol: Women’s Aid. Available online

* Routes to Support is the UK violence against women and girls directory of services and refuge vacancies, run in partnership by Scottish Women’s Aid, Welsh Women’s Aid, Women’s Aid Federation of England and Women’s Aid Federation of Northern Ireland.


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