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.
What is a 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's no excuse for violence and you don't have to put up with it.
How to get a place in a women's refuge
To get a place in a refuge, you can contact the police or social services, who will refer you, or you can call the National Domestic Violence Freephone Helpline for advice and support and to get a refuge place. You can call at any time of day or night.
There are refuges all over the country. Many are run by Women's Aid or Refuge, who jointly run the helpline. You may want a refuge place in your own area. If you are worried that the person who has been violent or abusive towards you may find you, you might prefer to go to one 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 not possible to book a place in a refuge in advance but the police, social services or helpline 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 try to 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 and telephone number of the refuge, you must keep it a secret to ensure the safety of everyone living there.
Who can stay in a women's refuge?
Any woman who needs to get away from violence, threats, intimidation or bullying from a current or ex-partner or a relative. There is no age limit and you don't need to have left the violent person permanently.
You can stay in a refuge for as long as you need to – whether that's a few days or a few months.
You can usually bring your children with you, however not all refuges are able to accept boys over the age of 12. Discuss alternative housing options with the National Domestic Violence Freephone Helpline on 0808 2000 247.
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.
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.
If you can't get a place in a refuge
You may not be able to get a place in a refuge straight away. There can be a high demand for a limited number of places.
If you can't get a place in a refuge and have nowhere else to go, contact your local council and say you need to apply as homeless. They have a duty to find safe accommodation for families fleeing domestic violence. This may be in a different area to keep you safe.
If you don't feel safe in the area you are currently staying, you can apply as homeless to a council where you would feel safe, for example near family and friends.
If the council won't give you accommodation, call Shelter's helpline on 0808 800 4444 (8am-8pm weekdays and 8am-5pm weekends).
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.
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.
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 won't be allowed to have male visitors and you must keep the address a secret to protect everyone living there. Many refuges don't allow you to drink alcohol on the premises.
The staff at the refuge are usually all women. 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.
Other residents who have been through similar situations can provide friendship and emotional support.
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