Women who become homeless because of abuse, violence or threats may be able to get a place in a refuge at a secret address. If you don't feel safe in your own area, you may be able to go to a women's refuge in another part of the country.
How to get a place in a women's refuge
Call the National Domestic Violence Helpline for advice and support and to get a refuge place. You can call at any time of day or night and calls are free. Calls can be translated.
National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 2000 247
Many refuges are run by Women's Aid or Refuge, who jointly run the helpline. They can either give you telephone numbers of refuges so you can call them directly, or helpline staff can try to find a vacancy for you. You can also search the Women's Aid website for services who can help you. It's not possible to book a place in a refuge in advance.
If you are worried that the person who has been violent or abusive towards you may find you, you might prefer to go to a refuge in a different part of the country. If you need help with travel costs, the social services department at your local council may be able to help.
It's important to make sure you are in a safe place when you call, as they may need to ring you back.
The Women's Aid Survivor's handbook offers lots of useful information and advice about domestic violence and staying safe after you've left your partner.
If you can't get a place in a refuge
Due to the high demand for a limited number of places, you may not be able to get a place in a refuge straight away. You can:
- call 999 if you are in immediate danger
- contact a local housing advice agency or a law centre – use Shelter’s advice services directory to find an adviser or law centre in your local area
- apply as homeless to your local council – they have a duty to find safe accommodation for families fleeing domestic violence
- apply as homeless to a council in another area where you would feel safe, for example near family and friends
- call Shelter's helpline on 0808 800 4444 (8am-8pm weekdays and 8am-5pm weekends) if the council won't give you emergency accommodation.
Who can stay in a women's refuge?
Refuges are safe houses open to any woman who needs to get away from violence, threats, intimidation or bullying from a partner, ex-partner or a relative. There is no age limit and you don't need to have left the violent person permanently.
You can usually bring your children with you, however not all refuges are able to accept boys over the age of 12.
Many refuges have disabled access. Some refuges are specially for women with particular cultural backgrounds, such as Asian or Irish women. A few refuges offer places for women who are using alcohol or drugs.
You can stay in a refuge for as long as you need to – whether that's a few days or a few months.
Do you have to pay to stay in a women's refuge?
You will have to pay rent while you are staying in a women's refuge. You may be able to claim housing benefit to help cover the cost. If you still have to pay rent on the home you had to leave, you may be able to get housing benefit for two homes for up to four weeks.
What to take when you leave your home
Even if you have to leave quickly, try to take some essentials with you, such as:
- money, bank account details, cheque books and credit cards
- some form of identification including birth certificates, passports, driving licence and welfare benefits letters
- your mortgage details or tenancy agreement
- clothes and, if you have children, their favourite small toys.
See the Women's Aid safety plan for more information on making a plan to leave.
What are women's refuges like?
Most refuges are ordinary houses but some are larger, purpose-built buildings. Some have self-contained family-sized accommodation but that is unusual.
In most refuges you will get a room of your own (or to share with your children) and will share a living room, kitchen and bathroom with other residents. You will be asked to sign a licence agreement, which includes any rules, for example bedtimes for children and when you can use washing machines or telephones. You can come and go as you please.
You won't be allowed to have male visitors and you must keep the address a secret to protect everyone living there.
Staff at the refuge are usually all women and will provide you with support. Women's Aid Survivor's handbook will give you more details about what refuges are like. Most refuges can't accept pets but they may be able to put you in contact with a local pet fostering scheme.
Your rights to your home if you move to a refuge
The refuge should be able to put you in contact with a specialist legal adviser who can explain your long-term legal rights in relation to your former home and help you take whatever steps are necessary.
Do not agree to anything the abusive person suggests or sign any papers until you have spoken to a solicitor or a specialist housing adviser. Even if the person who has been violent towards you owns all or part of your home, you may be able to establish long-term rights.
Planning longer term housing
Workers at the refuge can help you decide what you want to do in the future.
If you want to return to your original home, they could help you to take steps to protect your long-term rights to your home. They could help you take legal action against the abusive person to stop being abusive or stay away from you and your home.
Women staying in temporary refuges after fleeing domestic violence are legally classed as homeless. Support staff at the refuge can help you with applying to the council as homeless.
They may be able to help you find longer term housing by providing help and support with putting your name on the waiting list for a council home or help you to find a private rented home.
Read Shelter's guide Homeless? Read this (32 pages) for more information on homelessness.
Last updated: 17 April 2014