This content applies to England only.
Housing laws vary between England and Scotland. Get advice relating to Scotland
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 refuge in another part of the country.
Who can stay in a women's refuge?
Refuges are open to any woman who needs to get away from violence, threats, intimidation or bullying. There is no age limit. It doesn't matter whether the violent person is your husband, partner, ex-husband, ex-partner or a relative. You don't need to have left the violent person permanently.
If you want to bring your children with you, contact the National Domestic Violence Helpline to ask about somewhere where you can all stay together. Not all refuges are able to accept boys over the age of 12, so talk to the National Domestic Violence Helpline about other options you may have.
Some refuges are especially for women with particular cultural or religious backgrounds, such as Asian or Irish women. Many have disabled access.
How to get a place in a women's refuge
Women's Aid and Refuge jointly run the National Domestic Violence telephone helpline to advise and support women facing domestic abuse. This helpline can help find a place in a refuge:
National 24 hour Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247
It's not possible to book a place in a refuge in advance but they will try to help you find somewhere to stay as soon as possible. They can either give you telephone numbers of refuges so you can call them directly, or a Women's Aid or Refuge can find a vacancy for you.
It's important to make sure you are in a safe place when you call, as they may need to ring you back. When they give you the address of the refuge, you must keep it a secret.
If you can't get a place in a refuge
You may not be able to get a place in a refuge straight away, as there can be a high demand for places, and they are limited. If you can't get a place in a refuge and have nowhere else to go, contact your local council and tell them that you need to apply as homeless.
If the council don't agree to house you, call Shelter's helpline immediately.
Where are women's refuges?
There are refuges all over the country. Many are run by Women's Aid or Refuge. You can go to one in your own area or you can go to one in a different part of the country if you are worried that the person who has been violent or abusive towards you may find you.
What are women's refuges like?
Refuges are shared accommodation for women who have experienced violence, threats or abuse from someone who lives with them or used to live with them. Other residents who have been through similar situations can provide friendship and emotional support.
The staff at the refuge are usually all women as well. They may be able to:
- give you advice about your situation
- help you claim benefits
- help you find other housing
- help you access nurseries and schools for your children
- offer counselling for you and your children
- put you in touch with other agencies such as the police, solicitors or the council's housing department.
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. Some have rules about bedtimes for children and when you can use washing machines or telephones.
You won't be allowed to have male visitors and you must keep the address a secret to protect everyone living there.
How long can you stay in a women's refuge?
You can stay in a refuge for as long as you need to - whether that's a few days or a few months.
If you are not working or have a low income, the refuge workers can check if you are entitled to any benefits (including housing benefit) and help you claim. They can help you find somewhere more permanent to live if you don't want to go home.
Paying to stay in a 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 have fled, you may be able to get housing benefit for two homes.
What to take when you leave your home
Even if you have to leave quickly, try to take some essentials with you, such as:
- toiletries and any medication you need to take regularly
- money, bank account details, cheque books and credit cards
- birth certificates, passports, driving licence and welfare benefits identification
- important telephone numbers you may need, such as schools and doctors
- your mortgage details or tenancy agreement
- clothes and, if you have children, their favourite small toys.
Most refuges can't accept pets but they may be able to put you in contact with a local pet fostering scheme.
Planning longer term housing
Workers at the refuge can help you decide what you want to do for the future. Depending on your circumstances, they may be able to:
- help you to take steps to protect your long-term rights to your home
- help you apply for an occupation order, so that you can return home
- help you get a court order (an injunction) telling the abusive person to stop being abusive or ordering her/him to stay away from you and your home
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 permanent council home
- applying as homeless if that’s appropriate
- finding local bond schemes that may be able to help if you don't have money for a deposit
- applying for a grant or loan to cover rent in advance, furniture or other essential items.
Applying as homeless when living in a refuge
An important court case that Shelter took to the House of Lords in July 2009 confirmed that in most cases, women staying in temporary refuges after fleeing domestic violence are legally classed as homeless. This landmark case also confirmed that in most cases the council cannot say that you are 'intentionally' homeless if you leave a refuge voluntarily when you don’t have to.
If the council says anything that contradicts this decision, you should get in touch with a housing adviser immediately – use our directory to find one.
Your tenancy rights in a refuge
When you move in, you'll be given an occupancy agreement which will explain your rights and responsibilities, as well as any rules the refuge has. For example, you won't be able to act in a disrespectful way towards other residents.
Your rights to your home if you move to a refuge
The refuge should also 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 to protect them.
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. See our sections on relationship breakdown and domestic abuse for more information about the law.