Many refuge spaces have no local authority funding

Existing shortfall in refuge spaces would increase to 42% without non-commissioned services

A new report published today by Women’s Aid reveals that a significant proportion of spaces in refuge services are run without any local authority commissioned funding. Furthermore, a disproportionate number of these spaces without funding are run by specialist ‘by and for’ services for Black and minoritised women.

The fragile funding landscape: the extent of local authority commissioning in the domestic abuse refuge sector in England 2020 report looks at the levels of local authority commissioned funding for refuge services in England. Examining the amount of funding available through local authority domestic abuse contracts, the report finds that, taking account of inflation, 59% of local authorities implemented a real-time cut to their domestic abuse funding in 2019/20.

Imkaan’s research has shown that specialist ‘by and for’ domestic abuse services for Black and minoritised women, with their crucial expertise in supporting women who face racism and structural inequality, have been disproportionately impacted by cuts and competitive tendering processes [1].

The fragile funding landscape report found:

  • More than 1 in 5 refuge services running in November 2020 (60 out of 269 refuge services) were not commissioned by the local authority and were surviving on emergency government funding pots, charitable grants, trusts and other fundraising activities
  • 18.5% of all refuge spaces in England in November 2020 were not funded through local authority commissioning
  • 57.5% of spaces running in November 2020 that were provided by specialist ‘by and for’ services for Black and minoritised women were not funded through local authority commissioning
  • In November 2020 there was a 24.5% shortfall in the number of refuge spaces that should be available [2]. Without the non-commissioned spaces, the existing shortfall would increase from 24.5% to 42.5%.

Sarika Seshadri head of research and evaluation at Women’s Aid said

“There is a competitive tendering crisis which pits specialist women’s domestic abuse services against large, business-like organisations who can compete on cost, but never on quality. With the cuts we’ve seen over the past decade, this has been toxic combination for domestic abuse services and has disproportionately impacting organisations led ‘by and for’ Black and minoritised women.


Services that are de-commissioned by local authorities are now propping up the national network of refuges for women and children. While the new statutory duty is a welcome step forward in securing a sustainable funding settlement, it is vital that the value of all specialist domestic abuse service providers, including non-commissioned services and in particular, specialist ‘by and for’ services for Black and minoritised women, is recognised by councils when delivering the duty. Once funding for the new legal duty comes in, local authorities must reach out to non-commissioned services to ensure they are part of the new local funding and partnership arrangements. These services will also still need their alternative funders to continue to invest in their life-saving support, meaning it is essential other funding streams continue to be available.”

Maia Samuel senior research and evaluation officer at Women’s Aid and report author said

“Refuges are a vital lifeline for those fleeing domestic abuse. As well as safety, they provide specialist support to empower survivors to recover and rebuild their lives free from abuse. The current system for funding refuges is not sustainable, with the national network of refuges being propped up by a significant number of non-commissioned services. Without these non-commissioned services, the current shortfall in the number of refuge spaces would increase, and greater numbers of survivors would find there are no suitable spaces available. Refuge services have continued to offer their life-saving support amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to increased demand for their help. Now more than ever, secure funding is urgently required.”

© 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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