Women and children fleeing domestic abuse sleep rough; failed by local authorities


Tuesday 26th June 2018


“I was just running in the streets… trying to survive”
– Anonymous survivor


Survivors of domestic abuse and their children are being forced to sleep rough as some local authority housing teams fail in their duty, findings from Women’s Aid’s latest report ‘Nowhere to turn 2018: Findings from the second year of the No Woman Turned Away project’ shows.

The No Woman Turned Away project supported 264 women between 12th January 2017 and 11th January 2018 who were left with nowhere to turn at a time when they were at their most vulnerable. This left some of them at risk of homelessness and further abuse from the perpetrator. Over one in ten women supported on the project (11.7%) were forced to sleep rough during their search for a refuge, of which three women were pregnant and five women had their children with them. Almost half of women (46%) were forced to sofa-surf, of which 65 women sofa-surfed with their children. Nearly one in ten women (8%) gave up their search and stayed put with the perpetrator. One in five women (21%) were accommodated in a suitable refuge space through the support of the specialist caseworkers.

Of the women supported by the project, 97 women approached their local housing team for support. Over half of these women (53.6%) were prevented from making a valid homeless application. This meant, they were refused assistance with emergency accommodation. Nearly one quarter of these women (23.1%) were told they were not a priority need despite having multiple vulnerabilities; 15.4% were required to provide proof that they had experienced domestic abuse; one in ten (9.6%) were told they had made themselves intentionally homeless and 5.8% were told to return to the perpetrator. Housing teams are failing to follow their statutory duty to assist those in priority need who are vulnerable due to fleeing domestic abuse. This is set against the backdrop of cuts to local authority budgets and a social housing sector which is in crisis.


Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said:

“Statutory agencies need to stop putting obstacles in the way of women fleeing domestic abuse and start supporting them to safety. It is no wonder that women and their children who are literally fleeing for their lives end up sleeping rough or returning to an abusive partner if they are turned away from services who should be helping them.

“Our report clearly shows that survivors need the specialist expert support provided by domestic abuse services to help them when they are most vulnerable and assist them in overcoming barriers to getting the support they need. We’re calling on the government to give survivors a cast-iron guarantee that their dangerous planned changes to how refuges will be funded are firmly off the table and that refuges will be protected. We want to work with the government to develop a sustainable funding model for all domestic abuse support services so that every woman and child can receive the support they need to help build a life free from abuse.”


“Survivors can be placed in our homeless accommodation – staff do not have the skills or resources to support emotionally. Clients will continue to return to perpetrator.”
– Homeless charity worker


The women who were supported by the project often had multiple support needs and faced at least one barrier to accessing a safe space. Half of the women supported by the project were Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) women (49.6%), almost two in five women (37.5%) had mental health support needs, nearly one third of women (30.3%) had one or more disabilities, and just less than one quarter of women (23.1%) had no recourse to public funds as a result of their immigration status. This highlights that women fleeing domestic abuse need specialist support as well as safe and secure accommodation to help them recover from the abuse.

The government’s Domestic Abuse Bill will only increase demand for specialist support yet this comes at a time when domestic abuse services face an uncertain future. Already domestic abuse services have been operating on short-term shoestring budgets. Yet the government’s planned changes to the way that refuges will be funded – removing refuges’ last secure form of funding, housing benefit, and devolving housing costs to local authorities to “fund services that meet the needs of their local areas” – threaten these specialist support services with closure.


Women’s Aid has five key recommendations:

  1. Ensure victims of domestic abuse are always considered in priority need by local authorities by bringing forward legislative changes in the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill to ensure priority need legislation always covers individuals fleeing domestic abuse.
  2. Provide specialist training on domestic abuse for local authority staff to ensure all survivors of domestic abuse receive an effective response when they reach out for help.
  3. Work with Women’s Aid to develop a sustainable model of funding for all domestic abuse services and ensure that refuges can continue to operate as a national network and meet the needs of women and children seeking help.
  4. Provide sufficient refuge spaces nationally that provide specialist support for survivors, including support for Black and Minority Ethnic women, and for those with mental health, disability, substance misuse or language needs, and those with children.
  5. Ensure women with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) do not face discriminatory treatment when escaping domestic abuse by expanding the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession to all migrant women who have NRPF who are fleeing abuse so they can access support from statutory agencies and funding for a place in refuge.

Read the report here.

If you are worried about your relationship or that of a friend or family member, you can contact the Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge, on 0808 2000 247 or visit www.womensaid.org.uk.

For more information or to arrange interviews with Women’s Aid spokespeople or case studies, please contact the Women’s Aid press office: 020 7490 8330 / [email protected]

Notes to editors:

  1. ‘Nowhere to turn 2018: Findings from the second year of the No Woman Turned Away project’
    This report examines data collected by specialist caseworkers employed by Women’s Aid to support women seeking a refuge space. Since 2015, Women’s Aid, commissioned by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, has been working with women facing difficulties accessing a refuge space through the No Woman Turned Away Project. Women are referred to the specialist No Woman Turned Away project caseworkers via the National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge). The report analyses the casework data of 264 women who completed their support between 12th January 2017 and 11th January 2018. Additional data was collected through a survey of the East London Housing Partnership, and a survey and interviews with survivors.
  2. Women’s Aid is the national charity working to end domestic abuse against women and children. Over the past 44 years, Women’s Aid has been at the forefront of shaping and coordinating responses to domestic violence and abuse through practice, research and policy. We empower survivors by keeping their voices at the heart of our work, working with and for women and children by listening to them and responding to their needs. We are a federation of over 180 organisations who provide just under 300 local lifesaving services to women and children across the country. We provide expert training, qualifications and consultancy to a range of agencies and professionals working with survivors or commissioning domestic abuse services, and award a National Quality Mark for services which meet our quality standards. We hold the largest national data set on domestic abuse, and use research and evidence to inform all of our work. Our campaigns achieve change in policy, practice and awareness, encouraging healthy relationships and helping to build a future where domestic abuse is no longer tolerated. The 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247 (run in partnership with Refuge) and ¬our range of online services, which include the Survivors’ Forum, help hundreds of thousands of women and children every year.

© 2020 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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