Leaving the home after domestic abuse

Options for people experiencing domestic abuse who need or want to leave their home.

This content applies to England

Advice and support for survivors of domestic abuse

Advice and support for survivors of domestic abuse is available from Refuge.

Women's Aid provides the following definitions of domestic abuse: an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer.

Surviving Economic Abuse provides information and support to people experiencing economic or financial abuse.

The Domestic Abuse draft statutory guidance framework contains a list of organisations that can support domestic abuse survivors.

The House of Commons Library has a list of contact details for organisations that give advice and support to people experiencing domestic abuse and domestic violence across the UK.

Finding a place in a refuge

People escaping domestic violence can access a refuge place by contacting the National Domestic Abuse Helpline. There are not enough refuge places for everyone who needs one, especially if the person has specific needs.

Refuges can be paid for by housing benefit, or the housing costs element of Universal Credit. There are some spaces available for women who have no recourse to public funds.

Some refuges have wheelchair access and rooms adapted for hearing or sight impaired residents.

Women's refuges

Women's Aid refuges provide temporary accommodation for women who have to leave home because of domestic violence.

While living in the refuge, women can get support and advice on welfare benefits, housing and legal remedies. This can provide an important breathing space for women who may not have decided what permanent course of action they wish to follow.

Children

Refuges accept women with and without children and there are some specialist refuges which cater specifically for the needs of certain groups, for example Jewish or Asian women.

Information about refuges and help on finding a space is available from Women's Aid.

Refuges for men

There are currently very few refuges for men who need to leave home because of domestic violence.

Information about refuges for men can be obtained from Men's Advice Line.

Dogs and pets

The Dogs Trust's Freedom Project gives details of organisations that provide temporary foster care for dogs and pets whose owners are unable to look after them because fleeing domestic violence.

Local authority duty to assess housing needs

From 1 October 2021, every relevant local authority[1] must plan and provide accommodation based support for victims of domestic abuse in its area.[2]

Accommodation based support means support in housing provided by a:[3]

  • local authority

  • housing association

  • charity which provides domestic abuse support

It can also mean support provided in various types of temporary or emergency accommodation set out in the legislation, including refuge accommodation and designated emergency domestic abuse accommodation.[4] Bed and breakfast accommodation is excluded, unless it is owned or managed by a local authority, housing association or voluntary organisation.[5]

Meaning of accommodation based support

Accommodation based support includes:[6]

  • advocacy support

  • domestic abuse prevention advice

  • specialist support for victims , for example faith services, translators and interpreters

  • support designed for victims with additional or complex needs

  • support for children

  • housing-related support

  • advice services, for example advice on financial, legal, and benefits issues

  • counselling and therapy

For detailed information, including the ways that each type of support might be provided, see the statutory guidance on the delivery of support to victims of domestic abuse.

Every local authority must publish a strategy for the provision of accommodation based support before 5 January 2022.[7]

Homelessness applications

A person who leaves their home because of domestic violence can apply for homelessness assistance from the local authority and cannot be treated as intentionally homeless.

A local authority has a duty to accommodate a person if they meet certain basic requirements. These include that they are:

  • homeless

  • eligible for assistance

  • in priority need

  • not intentionally homeless

Some people who have restrictions on their immigration status are not eligible to make a homeless application.

A person fleeing violence can apply to be housed by the local authority on an emergency basis on the grounds that it is not reasonable to continue to occupy the accommodation. This would be the case if it is probable that their continued occupation of their last accommodation would lead to actual domestic abuse against them, or to a threat of domestic abuse that is likely to be carried out.

Priority need for people homeless because of domestic abuse

From 5 July 2021, a person who is homeless as a result of domestic abuse automatically has a priority need. The abuse must meet the definition in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.[8] This applies to local authority decisions made on or after 5 July 2021.

Bringing a joint tenancy to an end

A domestic abuse survivor who leaves a joint tenancy has options for ending it, so their rental liability does not continue.

Social tenancy

The departing tenant could give a notice to quit, ending the tenancy on behalf of both joint tenants.

Where a domestic abuse survivor leaves their social rented home as a result of domestic abuse, the housing association or local authority landlord can start proceedings for possession of the property.[9]

For the claim to succeed, the property must have been occupied by a couple who were married, civil partners, or living together. One partner must have left because of violence or threats of violence towards them or a member of the family living with them, and be unlikely to return.

For the landlord to satisfy the court that possession should be granted, it is necessary to show that violence was the real immediate cause of the person leaving, and not just one of a number of contributory factors that led to an eventual relationship breakdown.[10]

Private tenancy

To end the tenancy by mutual surrender or exercising a break clause, all the joint tenants need to agree.

A departing joint tenant is jointly liable for the rent due until the end of any fixed term. At the end of the fixed term, they could give a notice to quit, ending the tenancy on behalf of both joint tenants.

Last updated: 7 October 2021

Footnotes

  • [1]

    relevant local authority is defined in s.61 Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

  • [2]

    Part 4 Domestic Abuse Act 2021; reg 2(e) The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 (Commencement No. 2) Regulations 2021 SI 2021/1038.

  • [3]

    s.57(2) Domestic Abuse Act 2021; reg 2 The Domestic Abuse Support (Relevant Accommodation and Housing Benefit and Universal Credit Sanctuary Schemes) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 SI 2021/991.

  • [4]

    For definitions of different accommodation types see reg 2(5) SI 2021/991.

  • [5]

    see the definition of ‘relevant accommodation’ in regs 2(2)(c) and 2(5) The Domestic Abuse Support (Relevant Accommodation and Housing Benefit and Universal Credit Sanctuary Schemes) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 SI 2021/991.

  • [6]

    para A4.3 Delivery of support to victims of domestic abuse in domestic abuse safe accommodation services, DLUHC 1 October 2021.

  • [7]

    reg 3 The Domestic Abuse Support (Local Authority Strategies and Annual Reports) Regulations 2021 SI 2021/990.

  • [8]

    Reg 2 The Domestic Abuse Act 2021. (Commencement No.1 and Saving Provisions) Regulations 2021 SI 2021/797.

  • [9]

    Ground 2A, Sch.2 Housing Act 1985; Ground 14A, Sch.2 Housing Act 1988.

  • [10]

    Camden LBC v Mallett [2000] LTL 17/3/2000 Extempore CA, unreported elsewhere.