1. Main points

  • Survivors reported staying in a range of temporary safe accommodation (TSA) types for varying lengths of time and with differing levels of support, including refuge accommodation, hotels, hostels and local authority-provided self-contained and shared accommodation. 

  • Survivors experienced barriers accessing and moving on from TSA, including a lack of available accommodation and suitable options, lack of information on accommodation types and available support, having to navigate complex processes, and not feeling involved in decisions affecting them. 

  • In contrast to hotels and mixed-needs hostels, survivors spoke positively about TSA that was most similar to a traditional home setting (for example, a self-contained flat in a refuge with a suitable number of beds and washing and cooking facilities) and with access to high quality emotional and practical support. 

  • Survivors described the importance of both physical and emotional safety throughout their TSA experiences; TSA that did not feel physically safe because it lacked features such as CCTV and security systems to prevent unauthorised entry was described as having a considerable negative impact on well-being, mental health and emotional safety.  

  • Personalised and empathetic practical and emotional support from service providers helped survivors feel that their individual needs and circumstances were taken into consideration during their journeys through TSA; this created a sense of emotional safety and aided their domestic abuse recovery. 

  • Survivors suggested priorities for future service provision, which included offering flexibility in recognising and addressing accommodation and support needs, better availability of accommodation with safe and appropriate facilities for day-to-day living, and better mental health provision for survivors within TSA and after they leave. 

In this report, "survivors" and "participants" refer to the 40 women who have survived domestic abuse who took part in this research, with current or previous (within the last five years) experience of temporary safe accommodation in England. Some quotes have been edited for language and grammar to improve accessibility, without changing content or meaning.

To receive a summary poster of this article, email the research team equalities@ons.gov.uk. This summary poster is also available in Bengali, Farsi, Portuguese, Punjabi and Urdu.


This article contains themes that some may find distressing.

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2. Overview of the research

Background to our research 

In October 2021, the Inclusive Data Taskforce (IDTF) published a report which included research and recommendations on how to improve the inclusivity of data and evidence in the UK. The IDTF identified several priority groups among those who are under-represented in UK statistics. This included victims of intimate partner and domestic violence, residents of communal establishments and the hidden homeless, among others, because these groups are "largely invisible" in published statistics. 

For example, many domestic abuse survivors who access temporary safe accommodation (TSA) may fall within non-private residential household populations, which means they might not be picked up by surveys which sample from Royal Mail's Postcode Address File, such as the Office for National Statistics' (ONS) Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW). 

Existing ONS data on domestic abuse largely reflect the experiences of survivors within household settings. For our definition of domestic abuse, see Section 9: Glossary. While there are some data available on the experiences of survivors in temporary accommodation, including data on victim services, there are gaps relating to the breadth and depth of survivors' experiences within these settings.  

The IDTF encouraged innovative and flexible approaches to data collection to enhance our understanding of the experiences of relevant groups and populations, and to enable the inclusion of voices of groups currently underrepresented or missing from existing data sources. 

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 outlines support that survivors of domestic abuse should receive, placing a statutory duty on Tier One Local Authorities (LAs) to support domestic abuse survivors and their children within identified safe accommodation. Our research captures the experiences of women survivors entering TSA both before and after the Act was introduced, and is designed to provide insights into women's experiences of these settings rather than as a policy evaluation.For our definition of temporary safe accommodation, see Section 9: Glossary.

Most conceptions of support in the context of emergency and temporary accommodation focus on physical safety. However, some researchers suggest it is important to consider "more-than-safety", such as in Janet Bowstead's Spaces of safety and more-than-safety in women's refuges in England article (PDF 634KB). This concept includes recovery, survivors' autonomy, freedom and preparing for independence beyond temporary accommodation settings, as well as protection.  

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Focus of the research  

This research focuses on the experiences of 40 women who have survived domestic abuse. 

ONS statistical data collected in 2023 suggest that women are more likely than men to experience domestic abuse. Additionally, women seek refuge in TSA at a much higher rate than men. For more information, see our Domestic abuse victim characteristics, England and Wales article and Domestic abuse victim services, England and Wales: 2023 article.  

Research suggests that men's service needs are different. Men are less likely to relocate, less likely to have children accompany them, and more likely to have additional support needs. For further details, see Women's Journeyscapes research findings.  

The experiences of men and those with other gender identities would benefit from additional focused research to enable their unique experiences and needs to be meaningfully explored and evidenced. 

This research focuses on: 

  • experiences of accessing TSA and domestic abuse support  

  • journeys navigating TSA settings 

  • the impacts of intersectional characteristics and circumstances on experiences of TSA  

  • needs and experiences of support within and after accessing TSA  

  • experiences of "moving on" from TSA 

  • survivors' conceptions and needs for safety throughout their TSA journey 

  • survivors' recommendations to improve TSA and the processes around accessing support 

This report follows survivors' broad journey through TSA, using participants' own words.  

Experiences of TSA varied among participants. Some survivors experienced more complex, non-linear pathways involving different forms of provision and multiple moves from one accommodation to another. Differences in pathways might have been influenced by how survivors found help and who they received it from, alongside individual characteristics and circumstances. 

This research explores survivors' journeys through different types of TSA, including: 

  • refuge accommodation (including specialist "by" and "for" refuges) 

  • hotels and bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation 

  • hostels  

  • local authority-provided self-contained and shared temporary accommodation 

While this is not an exhaustive list of all accommodation types available to survivors, these are the accommodation types reported by participants in this research. For more information on accommodation types, see temporary safe accommodation in Section 9: Glossary.

We have attributed participant quotes used in this report to the types of TSA they had experienced and their ethnic group. Those who had experiences of different types of TSA have been attributed as "multiple types of TSA" to avoid disclosure regarding specific experiences. Because of the diversity of the sample and associated disclosure concerns, high-level ethnic group categories have been used. For more information on participant characteristics, see Section 8: Sample information.

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3. Accessing and transitioning into temporary safe accommodation

Survivors can take multiple routes to access temporary safe accommodation (TSA) support and services, such as interactions with domestic abuse support organisations, police or local authorities. Some survivors described unexpectedly having to flee their home because of emergency situations, while others described being in contact with services to develop a safety plan prior to leaving. Therefore, the time it took participants of this research to access TSA ranged from less than a day to over a year. Survivors highlighted the importance of having emergency situations dealt with quickly.  

No matter what, any trauma or abuse that women report should be attended to as quickly as it can be.

(Hotel, Black African)

As routes to access vary, so do access barriers and needs. Survivors discussed various aspects of their experiences of accessing and transitioning into TSA, including:  

  • the invisibility of accommodation support services 

  • the complexity of systems and processes, and perceived inflexibility towards individual needs and circumstances 

  • survivors' preferences and experiences of involvement in the TSA decision-making process 

  • the importance and availability of practical and emotional support from service providers 

  • survivors' experiences of leaving belongings behind and travelling to TSA  

  • survivors' thoughts and feelings around moving into TSA, including their experiences with children 

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Invisibility of accommodation support services 

When reflecting on TSA access journeys, many participants mentioned not being initially aware of the existence of emergency or temporary accommodation, including not knowing who to contact for help or what their rights were. As a result, survivors sometimes remained longer in a domestic abuse situation. 

I didn’t even imagine that there is [anywhere] that can accommodate women, so I was always thinking, if I left my ex-husband, I would be a homeless woman with a child.

(Multiple types of TSA, Other ethnic group)

For survivors born outside the UK, a lack of general domestic abuse support and services available in their home countries, as well as the lack of visibility of accommodation support services, led to some participants being unaware of their rights and what support they could be entitled to in England. 

It’s harder coming from a different country … you don’t know the rules and the rights here. Plus, there’s no one to talk to. It’s just so difficult.

(Translated interview, refuge, Asian or Asian British)

Participants emphasised the importance of increasing the visibility of support available for survivors of domestic abuse so they can be more aware of who they can contact and how. Participants observed some initiatives for raising awareness of domestic abuse support services, including posters placed in doctors' surgeries, schools, and libraries. 

Those posters are really helpful. For [support services], it might be putting the bullet points, and just hanging them. But for us, it’s a huge help ... making people aware of how the system works … Some people, their English is not that good. They are not fluent or spontaneous. So, they were also reading those posters.

(Self-contained temporary accommodation, Asian or Asian British)

Pre-existing knowledge or preconceptions of what to expect from TSA could affect how survivors felt about accessing it. A lack of information or negative preconceptions about refuges worried some survivors. Participants said it was important for organisations and service providers to be aware of these preconceptions and how they affect survivors’ views about accessing their services. Additionally, it was suggested that, alongside greater awareness of available accommodation support services, there could be better initial information about specific types of accommodation and what they provide.

The first thought … about refuge was, ‘It’s going to be like a prison.’ ... But when I got there it was nothing like [it] … Maybe posters or leaflets about refuge life [are needed]. You don’t really know until you get there, and I was really scared and nervous.

(Refuge, White British)

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Complex processes and inflexibility

Gaining access to TSA could be challenging for survivors; they described having to navigate complex processes with some negative experiences of dealing with services.

Participants felt that individual persistence and proactiveness was important for navigating complex processes. Survivors felt like they were “going around in circles” trying to find the right person who could provide accommodation support. The processes for accessing help could sometimes be seen as lacking in empathy, which could take an emotional toll on survivors when they were feeling particularly vulnerable.

Sometimes people can forget, when filling out forms, that there’s a person there not just a process. They’re not … seeing a person, they’re just seeing a statistic and, ‘We need to do this, we need to do that.’ It’s … like a process, rather than processing the person.

(Multiple types of TSA, White British)

When accessing help, survivors described difficulties having to explain the domestic abuse they had experienced to service providers. This could lead to survivors reliving the effects of their abuse without being fully supported. Some participants described how some of the questions asked made them feel like they had to justify their request to access TSA.

The questioning that you had to go through, to see if you were eligible for help, made you feel like you were the one in the wrong.

(Multiple types of TSA, White British)

Some disabled survivors experienced barriers accessing accommodation, including feeling like they had to be “validated” by service providers in order to access appropriate, accessible accommodation.

I would have to go to a doctor and say, ‘Can you write down, justify to the council why I’m using a wheelchair?’ When I wouldn’t otherwise ask for their validation for it … You are forced into a position where you have to document everything, because they won’t believe you otherwise. That just put a huge extra stress on everything. It just made the entire process more urgent.

(Hotel then self-contained temporary accommodation, White British)

Limited English-language proficiency was also seen as a barrier to accessing support and services for those who did not have English as a main language. Participants felt they had fewer options because of their limited English, especially where requests for interpreters were declined.

I don’t have anyone to support me and I can’t speak English very well … A few times I called the officers to talk about the housing issue, and they didn’t provide an interpreter and they said that I needed to speak for myself, but I couldn’t, so I hung up. I don’t have any help here, sometimes I feel under too much pressure that I can’t deal with it … I just cry because I can’t do anything else.

(Translated interview, hostel, Other ethnic group)

Some survivors with insecure immigration status and no recourse to public funds (NRPF) expressed worries about how accessing TSA support and services would affect their right to remain in the UK. For our definition of no recourse to public funds, see Section 9: Glossary. The process was described as stressful, and some survivors did not know what support they were entitled to.

Although there are organisations providing support for survivors with NRPF, survivors were not always referred to them. This could leave survivors feeling they had limited options.

I was totally uncertain. Because of my immigration status, it was totally daunting. I was always scared that, ‘What will I say if they send me back [to the country I came here from]? … Shall I reveal everything, or disclose everything to them? Will it be safe?’ So, then the social workers, they from time to time made me realise that it’s confidential. ‘We don’t have any relationship with the immigration officer or anything. Just because you have a child, it’s our duty to provide you with a safe place, but you need to be honest’.

(Self-contained temporary accommodation, Asian or Asian British)

Participants suggested that support services and accommodation service providers should take the time to consult with survivors to understand their individual needs and circumstances to access TSA. For example, those who were referred to specialist “by” and “for” services expressed gratitude for having their specific cultural needs and preferences met, including language services to help survivors fully articulate their needs. For our definition of specialist “by” and “for” services, see Section 9: Glossary.

It makes it easier that they speak the same language. It makes life a lot easier.

(Refuge, Asian or Asian British)

Additionally, participants suggested that mandatory training on domestic abuse awareness and survivors’ needs could help improve understanding among professions likely to encounter domestic abuse survivors, and therefore enable them to better meet survivors needs.

Improved understanding, you know, mandatory domestic abuse training for police, social workers, local authority housing departments, … mental health charities as well.

(Experts by experience discussion, refuge and self-contained temporary accommodation, White British)

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Preferences and experiences of involvement in temporary safe accommodation decision-making

When being allocated TSA following domestic abuse, some survivors described feeling excluded from the process, which could be disempowering. A lack of available TSA and the emergency nature of TSA meant that survivors were not always given options about where they could be moved to. Some participants described being moved to the first place available without much information or discussion about the accommodation.

I was just given one option, because everywhere was full basically. It’s wherever they’ve got spaces.

(Refuge, White British)

In circumstances where there was no available accommodation, some participants explored self-funded accommodation or staying with friends and families while waiting for TSA to become available. This was not seen as a long-term solution, particularly for those with children or limited access to funds.

She doesn’t have the facilities ... My mum can’t help me much as I can’t stay longer than two days with her.

(Shared housing, Mixed or Multiple ethnic group)

The emergency nature of many survivors’ experiences also meant that survivors were not always given the time to look at available options. Some participants described the allocation to accommodation as being quick with limited time to make decisions or evaluate options.

When you’re desperate, you don’t have many options and all the options that you do have are bad, it just makes the whole thing much more difficult than it needs to be.

(Multiple types of TSA, White British)

Pressure to make decisions in short timeframes was noted by some to have negatively affected survivors’ ability to fully process information and reflect. Given the coercive nature and impact of domestic abuse, some participants were not used to being given options and felt unable to make decisions because of their emotional and mental state.

I don’t know what to do. I’ve got an hour’s decision. And when you’re in that situation you’re so low anyway, your self-esteem, you’re used to asking the perpetrator for permission to do things, and now someone wants you to make that decision, but you can’t, you just have to ask permission for everything, so it’s hard to make that decision.

(Hostel, White British)

While not having time to be consulted about options was not ideal for some participants, others described being grateful that a decision was made for them quickly.

I wasn’t critical about it. I just needed someone to save me … I am happy that they took a very quick decision.

(Self-contained temporary accommodation, Asian or Asian British)

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Importance of early support and shared decision-making 

Among survivors reporting positive experiences of support in accessing TSA, a range of different people supported and facilitated their access or referred them on to others who did. These included: 

  • police 

  • those working in domestic abuse organisations 

  • hospital and health workers 

  • school staff 

  • existing social or support workers 

  • friends and family 

  • neighbours 

  • colleagues 

  • strangers 

The support survivors received to access TSA could come in many forms. This included emotional support for mental health and well-being, and practical support to help them navigate systems and processes. Both were seen as important in helping to access suitable accommodation and to feel that their needs were better understood. This was especially important at a time when survivors were processing what had happened to them and the implications for their lives.

I had to admit to myself I was actually homeless, and I knew I had nowhere to go ... So that realisation took a while for me to process first … I was in a position where I really did need help. I needed someone to listen.

(Refuge, Mixed or Multiple ethnic group)

Some survivors, particularly from some ethnic minority groups, described being isolated from their families and communities because they spoke out about the abuse they faced, contrary to cultural norms. They particularly valued connecting with others who understood and empathised with the issues they faced.

[She] understood where I was coming from. She’s not even from our community. It’s just like she understood the problems that I was facing, or when I’ve spoken to her about my relationship, as well, she’s understood that.

(Refuge, Asian or Asian British)

Overall, survivors noted the importance of early high-quality, proactive and empathetic support in helping them to feel heard and helped.

I just felt like someone was helping me, there was support right from the beginning. It’s almost like, handing stuff over to somebody for them to just, not take control, but just deal … that felt nice.

(Refuge, Mixed or Multiple ethnic group)

Working with support workers to access TSA could also help participants feel more involved in decisions affecting them. For example, by being guided through different accommodation options and locations, and other information to help with decision-making.

I knew I couldn’t choose exactly where I could go, but she would phone me up and say, ‘There’s this area, or this area’. So … the clock was ticking and then somewhere came up and it was close enough to everybody I knew that we were like, ‘Yes, yes, please’.

(Refuge, Mixed or Multiple ethnic group)

When navigating complex processes, participants felt the involvement of professionals could also provide “leverage” in having their needs and preferences recognised.

[Support workers] tend to have a bit more leverage and get fobbed off less than we do because they can write down who you are and what you’ve said and … a professional email footer seems to make all the difference, which is stupid. I might just add one to my Outlook. (Laughter).

(Refuge, White British)

A recurrent theme was that survivors wanted to be given a bigger range of options which better suited their needs and preferences, and to feel more involved in the decisions affecting their housing and lives going forward. They suggested survivors should be asked about their needs and preferences for TSA, alongside timely, accurate and comprehensive information to help inform their decision.

I feel like the experience would have been better if [I was given] options of where, where I want to stay, or options of where to live in.

(Hotel, Black African)

Survivors suggested it was important for service providers to communicate with them openly and transparently while trying to access TSA. They felt this would promote better understanding of what to expect in terms of processes and their challenges, as well as where and why there may be limited or no options available. While having more information could be daunting, it was seen as important in managing anxieties about the unknown.

If you have an idea of where you’re going to be placing them … even if there’s not much of an option for them … try to explain to them it’ll be dealt with as soon as possible.

(Experts by experience discussion, hotel and refuge, Asian or Asian British)

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Leaving belongings behind and travelling to temporary safe accommodation

After gaining initial access to TSA, survivors experienced a transition period leaving their existing homes and moving into TSA. For some survivors, much like during the process of accessing TSA, this could happen quickly. Survivors described being moved within a day, sometimes with very little information about geographical location or the type of accommodation they would have.

I was told ‘Be ready tomorrow ... we’ll phone in the morning to give you the postcode’.

(Refuge, Mixed or Multiple ethnic group)

In the urgency of moving into TSA, survivors described not having much time to pack belongings and bring their possessions with them. This meant they had to prioritise essentials to sustain them for a few days over valuable and sentimental items. Those who needed to pack and move possessions for their children as well as themselves found this particularly challenging.

I had to get together as much of our belongings as possible, as much as I could get on a pushchair and carry … And I had to make decisions on sentimental things … Shall I take them? Can I carry everything? I can’t carry everything.

(Refuge, White British)

Some survivors described being supported by police to collect additional items when they felt it was safe to do so. However, many participants had no opportunity to revisit their previous homes to collect their belongings. Participants compared the loss of belongings to losing “everything in a house fire”.

I came here with the clothes on my back, and I wasn’t allowed to go back and collect anything else. So, I just lost everything. You know, that’s the case for a lot of people that come into here.

(Refuge, White British)

This loss also affected children, with some participants describing difficulty in explaining to their children why they could not bring everything with them.

He wasn’t really aware of anything that was going on so, to him, he just didn’t really understand. He didn’t know whether he was going to see his stuff again.

(Multiple types of TSA, White British)

A deep sense of loss was also felt by those who had to leave behind cherished pets.

Obviously, you’re not allowed pets in here, so either way, you lose again. It’s like leaving a child behind.

(Refuge, White British)

For those who did not leave their homes with assistance from the police or social workers, it could be dangerous to pre-pack bags or prepare to leave while the perpetrator was also in the home.

I know they say, ‘Prepare yourself, make a bag and hide it up’, or something. That’s what they were telling me on the programme, but sometimes it’s just impossible. Some things are really, really impossible and you just can’t do it, especially if you’ve got no one that you trust around you.

(Refuge, White British)

Welcome packs with some essentials, as well as age-appropriate packs for children, were provided upon arrival at some refuges or through support workers. These were praised for helping survivors and children to settle in and feel cared for.

I didn’t have clothes, I didn’t have food, I didn’t have anything. And the support workers gave me food bank details, they gave me clothes, and they helped me with my child, having some nappies, toys. I was so sad, at the time. It was very good that they had toys, and they let us use those toys.

(Multiple types of TSA, Other ethnic group)

Experiences of travelling to TSA were mixed. Transporting themselves and whatever belongings they had to a different location, sometimes hours away, was a stressful experience. For those with no or limited access to funds, finding the money for public transport was particularly challenging.

I hadn’t got any access to money. The refuge said they would be able to help with cost of my train ticket but, between trying to sort out the red tape, by the time they could sort out the money for my train fare I then couldn’t leave because he was already home … I actually borrowed money to get here. I assume the person I borrowed it off is very annoyed now because I’ve not been back but, you know, it was that or risk not getting here again.

(Refuge, White British)

Those who had help from friends or family to drive them to TSA, or support from social workers, police, or domestic abuse organisations to pay for and arrange travel, described feeling fortunate and grateful. Being escorted to TSA also helped survivors feel at ease as they did not have to travel alone.

The women’s network helped me to go to the hotel … they paid for the taxi for me … So, if I didn’t have them, I don’t know how I could have left.

(Multiple types of TSA, Asian or Asian British)

Survivors travelling to TSA appreciated the connection and communication from accommodation support staff during their journey.

There was lots of … communication through the phone. They called me to check I was on my way. And I’d got away okay. And I was safe and … there was constant communication … all the way on the journey … They knew what time to expect me and just to check there were no delays or anything had happened, and I was still coming obviously, but not changed my mind or anything like that.

(Refuge, Mixed or Multiple ethnic group)

Survivors felt that it was crucial to provide support for travelling to TSA, such as making it easy to organise or access funds for travel, especially for those with limited or no access to money.

Access to transport should be quite easily accessed. You know, especially when it’s out of your control.

(Multiple types of TSA, Mixed or Multiple ethnic group)

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How survivors felt about moving into temporary safe accommodation

Survivors described a range of intense emotions when they arrived at TSA. This included shock, sadness and self-doubt, as well as feeling lucky or a sense of relief to be out of physical danger.

It didn’t really sink in until I actually got to the refuge, like what was going on. When we got on the train, I was really nervous, but it was when I was actually there and I thought, this is it now, there’s no going back.

(Refuge, White British)

For many survivors, it took time to adjust, working through a new situation slowly and becoming more familiar with it.

When I first came to the refuge; I was very confused, very worried. I didn’t know, and because it was my first day here; I was very nervous. And over time, I adjusted.

(Refuge, Asian or Asian British)

Not all TSA included domestic abuse support, as is the case with hotels, hostels and local authority shared housing, for example. This meant some survivors felt unsupported in their first few days in TSA.

You feel like no-one is really going to help … Yes, that definitely wears you down and makes you feel like it was a bad decision. Like, ‘Oh. Why have I sort of put myself through this?’ Was it really worth all this trouble?

(Multiple types of TSA, White British)

In contrast, refuge accommodation, which specifically caters for the needs of domestic abuse survivors, was described as offering emotional support and being welcoming when survivors arrived. Participants expressed gratitude towards refuge staff for allowing them to settle in at their own pace.

I was told that if I needed anything, to go to the office, which was always accessible. It was more or less like, ‘We’ll give you a little bit of space to get settled in, and then we’ll come up and see you’.

(Refuge, White British)

Being welcomed on arrival and shown around the accommodation and facilities was important to help create a more positive early experience of TSA. When this didn’t happen, it could lead to feelings of isolation and being “abandoned” by the service providers who had helped them up to this point.

There was no friendly face, there was no welcome … It was almost like, ‘Right, you’re here, there’s your room, off you go.’ And at that point, I was going through so many emotions. Contemplating going back, because I’d got the ex-partner on the phone, telling me he’s sorry and he won’t ever do it again. And I’m in all this emotion, but nobody is there to talk to.

(Refuge, White British)

The early days in TSA could also be difficult for those who felt they lost their existing support networks by accessing TSA far from home.

I feel like being away from … my family support network is very hard as well. Like some days if I was struggling at home, I’d have my sister around the corner who would come and [say] ‘Come on, come with me. I’ll take them to the park for an hour for you’.

(Refuge, White British)

It was suggested that providing support for settling into TSA and allowing time to process the changes in their lives should be considered an important part of the transition process. Survivors also felt it was important for service providers and staff in the TSA to understand what they had been through so they could be practically and emotionally supported, especially during the early days.

At least for the first day, they should support women that have arrived from other cities, and just ask them, in general, ‘Do you need anything fetching? Would you like me to take you there?’ Just to settle them in … They need to understand that, when you’ve taken the hardest step, they need to be very compassionate, and they need to be onboard with supporting women through that situation. It is very important that you offer that emotional support.

(Refuge, Asian or Asian British)

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Experiences of moving into temporary safe accommodation with children

Survivors with children, including those who were pregnant at the time of accessing support and TSA, suggested that making the decision to leave could be particularly hard because of having to consider the impact on their children as well as themselves. 

I didn’t have to just think about me, I was thinking about my … children as well. And I felt bad for them because I was taking them away from everything they know. Everything, all the family, … I had to keep reminding myself, why we couldn’t go back, why we were doing it.

(Refuge, White British) 

However, the move was easier for some survivors when their children were aware of a lack of safety in their home and wanted greater security.

I think the situation would have been a lot harder if they didn’t want to leave. I would have found it so much harder … knowing that I would have still had to go, because we weren’t safe, but knowing that I then had … children that I had to try and make believe that this is what we had to do. Whereas the fact that I was, not fortunate, I think that’s probably the wrong word to use, but the fact that they all felt so unsafe, for us leaving, it was a lot easier for me to be able to do that.

(Refuge, White British)

Survivors described the challenge of looking after their children’s well-being alongside their own during this transition period. Participants could find it difficult to explain what was happening, especially to young children.

When we arrived at the first refuge and he’s saying, ‘Mummy, when are we going home?’ it’s so hard to try and explain to a four-year-old that we’re not going home.

(Refuge, White British)

Survivors shared their concerns about the impact on their children of the transition to living in TSA.

You worry about whether your child is going to get on with the other children, or what if he has an argument with them? Is he going to do okay at school? It’s challenging. It’s so challenging when you’re also dealing with other life challenges.

(Refuge, White British)

Among those whose children had additional needs, the transition and new context of living in TSA could be particularly challenging.

I have one child who has autism. So now, oh my days, he was shouting, he was shouting, ‘Mum, we need to leave this house. I don’t want to live here. Argh.’ You know what I mean? But I had to deal with it.

(Self-contained temporary accommodation, Black African)

As well as challenges associated with transitions into TSA with children, being with family members could also add a sense of support and familiarity that was helpful to survivors. 

I got scared in the hotel at night. I could not sleep the whole night, but my child would stay awake with me … My child supported me a lot during that time.

(Translated interview, refuge, Asian or Asian British)

Survivors also noted that there should be better emotional support from trained counsellors for children in these circumstances.

I think she needs somebody to at least talk to her. She is confident, she is sociable, but at the end of the day she’s a vulnerable kid who … You know, she is witness of her parents’ separation.

(Self-contained temporary accommodation, Asian or Asian British)

It was also suggested that more support for mothers, particularly those with babies, was needed to help with their emotional well-being. 

I feel like a lot needs to be put in place for women who’ve just had babies, especially without their partner’s support, or without any support, just them and the baby. Basically, a lot needs to be done to ensure that we don’t get depressed.

(Hotel, Black African) 

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4. Experiences of living in temporary safe accommodation

Survivors discussed various aspects of their experiences of living in temporary safe accommodation (TSA), including: 

  • the types of TSA survivors lived in and thoughts on the length of their stay 

  • aspects of TSA provisions that did not work well for survivors

  • aspects of TSA provisions that worked well for survivors

  • the importance of support from accommodation staff and other service providers while in TSA

  • the impacts of living in communal establishments on survivors and the importance of private spaces within TSA

  • the financial impacts of living in TSA for survivors and the importance of economic support 

Types of temporary safe accommodation and length of stay 

Survivors who participated in this research described living in several different types of TSA. These included refuge accommodation, hotels, hostels, and local authority-provided self-contained and shared temporary accommodation. For further details on accommodation types, see temporary safe accommodation in Section 9: Glossary.

Survivors described living in TSA for timescales ranging from a few weeks to several years. Hotel provision tended to be a more temporary solution, whereas hostels and some refuge stays were generally for a few months. However, some survivors stated that they had been in the same refuge or local authority-provided refuge accommodation for several years.  

Length of stay differed on an individual basis but tended to relate to the suitability of the accommodation for longer-term living. Hotels, for example, were rarely used for longer than a few weeks because the facilities provided were very basic. A local authority-provided flat or a specialist refuge generally contained necessities such as a washing machine and cooking facilities, and were therefore seen as more suitable for a longer period of time. 

Having experience of multiple accommodation types was not uncommon, particularly if participants had initially been placed in a hotel, hostel or other provision recognised by the sector and the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 as a less suitable type of TSA. 

The temporary nature of their accommodation provision served as a reminder to survivors that TSA was not a permanent solution to their circumstances. There were mixed feelings and thoughts about how long "temporary" meant and what implications this had for the future. 

The information provided prior to arrival about how long they would stay in TSA sometimes differed to what was experienced, or the advice given from staff. Survivors described the uncertainty and unpredictability of how long a stay might be as having a negative impact on well-being, which for most participants related to having to stay in TSA longer than they had originally expected.

I got told that, ‘When you come in here, you’re only here for a few weeks,’ and then when I got in here, I was told, ‘It’s only a few months’. So, it’s like the time just kept upping and upping.

(Refuge, White British)

For those who had experience of living in multiple types of TSA, having to move multiple times could have a negative impact on their mental health.

It affected me a lot, because I had depression before that, and with this moving, again, finding friends, building, getting clothes, getting toys, for then everything to disappear, again start life, again disappear, again start life. It was very horrible … I knew that they were temporary, and that they were not for always, and to be patient.

(Multiple types of TSA, Other ethnic group)

Participants stated that it is important to have a clear idea of what they could expect from services and service providers, and what next steps might look like and when. This can enable survivors to have a sense of control over their lives.

Let the person know ‘this is how much, this is how long we can help you; this is this, this is that’ … you know sometimes it’s fear of the unknown. You don’t know … what’s going to happen tomorrow … there’s a limit to how much you can always complain, because as someone who is being helped, you know, there is a limit.

(Hotel, Black African)

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Aspects of temporary safe accommodation that did not work well for survivors

Participants described some of the TSA provided as lacking basic facilities. This was mostly experienced by those placed in hotels.

This situation was most commonly experienced by survivors who did not have immigration status to remain in the UK. These survivors often had no recourse to public funds (NRPF) and limited possessions with them when arriving at TSA. For our definition of no recourse to public funds, see Section 9: Glossary.

I had two pyjamas, one jacket, one pants, one top. And there was no washing machine in the hotel. So, I had to wash my clothes in the bathroom, and then wait two days for them to dry on the heaters, and then I could go out.

(Multiple types of TSA, Asian or Asian British)

While hotels could lack basic facilities for more than short-term stays, survivors also described experiences of local authority-provided accommodation that lacked basic amenities and offered poor living conditions. These included having no furniture, no access to hot water, infestations of mice and bedbugs, broken fire alarms, and no external lock on the door. Survivors identified these conditions as having a detrimental impact on the sense of safety and recovery from the domestic abuse they had experienced.

It should be two-bedroom, for both of us, because my child is 8 years old, but it was one bedroom with lots of mould and dirt and horrible stuff there. There wasn’t even bedding, there was just a plain bed with no pillow or duvet ... It was so scary because even from the window, living in the first ground, you could see mice. They look at you and they stare at you like that by the window. My child and I, we are scared … I suffer a lot. Every single day, I cry.

(Self-contained temporary accommodation, Asian or Asian British)

Across all accommodation types, survivors sometimes had to share a room, and occasionally a bed, with their child or children, which was described as not being helpful for recovery. This was particularly the case for those with older children or children with additional needs.

We're just living in one small room, with … one double bed. So, we have to share a bed. He sometimes didn't like me to sleep with him … I told the council, ‘This is the situation. It's very narrow, and I don't know what to do’ … They were like, ‘You have to make him sleep on the floor, and you sleep on the bed.’ ... How can I do that? He's a disabled child. He's autistic. How can I make him sleep on the floor, while I'm on the bed?

(Multiple types of TSA, Other ethnic group)

Participants flagged accessibility as another issue in some TSA. Participants with pushchairs and wheelchairs described being placed in accommodation that could only be accessed via multiple flights of stairs, without access to a working lift.

Because this one is on the third floor, it is very hard to bring the shopping upstairs, with the baby and the buggy.

(Self-contained temporary accommodation, Black African)

Survivors who were placed in emergency accommodation, such as hotels or hostels, were more likely to say that they felt unsafe in the TSA provided. However, this was also experienced by survivors in other accommodation types. Those who described being unable to lock their door securely, which was experienced by some living in local authority-provided accommodation, said they lived in constant fear, and this could be amplified for those with children.

Safety means that I, my child, in a house where we live, if I close the door, the door is locked in such a way that I don't have the fear that the door will be kicked in or broken by something … [and] I become insecure … [when] the door would not close. We have been sitting in the house with the door open for hours, and for someone who is afraid, threatened to death, what security was this? This cannot be called security.

(Translated interview, self-contained temporary accommodation, Asian or Asian British)

However, even when participants said that they did not feel entirely safe in TSA, they generally felt safer than when they were living at home and experiencing domestic abuse.

When basic physical safety needs went unmet, survivors expressed not being able to focus on safety in other areas of their lives, including emotional well-being and future prospects. Survivors said suitable and safe accommodation played a critical role in ensuring they felt more than just physically safe.

Just need a suitable accommodation, for stable and calm, like, two or three years. Then my mind is relaxed to plan and other things, about working, about my future, about my daughter’s future, about helping her to improve her situation.

(Refuge, Asian or Asian British)

For survivors who had relocated from one geographical area to another to access TSA, this move could mean disruption to the services survivors had received prior to entering TSA. Some participants described feeling penalised by mental health services that did not continue to provide support after moving into TSA outside of the providers’ catchment area.

Because it was out of area and they said, ‘Well, you should be able to get counselling through your refuge. It’s their responsibility to do it now.’ But there’s over a six-month waiting list here for counselling ... Nothing has been offered.

(Refuge, Mixed or Multiple ethnic group) 

For survivors requiring access to healthcare during their stay in TSA, such as for ongoing health conditions or pregnancy, moving location could create new challenges. For example, one participant who was pregnant while living in TSA described being allocated to a refuge far from any hospital services. This created additional worry and expense for her to access maternity care.

I had to spend extreme funds, £25 each way to the hospital. That week, I must have spent about £100 on taxis. There and back, there and back. Then, the week after that, I had problems with my pregnancy. I thought my waters had gone. Being so far from the hospital, it was quite scary.

(Multiple types of TSA, Mixed or Multiple ethnic group)

It was suggested that provisions should be in place to support survivors’ access to healthcare, such as transport or funding for transport, especially for those with ongoing healthcare needs. 

If they’re put in temporary accommodation that’s out of their control and it’s miles away, not near a hospital, and they have a social worker, then the social worker really should be funding that if they feel that they need to be getting to the hospital and stuff.

(Multiple types of TSA, Mixed or Multiple ethnic group)

For survivors with children, relocation sometimes meant having to change children’s schools and nurseries. Depending on when TSA was needed and accessed, some children were moved mid-term with little notice, which could result in having to wait before they were able to enrol. In one instance, a survivor said it took up to three months to get her child enrolled in school. 

Then it has been three months my child is not going to school. My daughter’s school, they were also concerned. They’ve been phoning me that, ‘You know your child is not coming to school. It has been two months. Why don’t you change your [council]?’ So, there was either a miscommunication or they failed to [ask] something, but initially I was told that maybe they will try to shift me somewhere near to my daughter’s school. But they couldn’t arrange it.

(Self-contained temporary accommodation, Asian or Asian British)

For another participant, the decision to move her children to a different school felt out of her control.

They told me it was my decision, but then it felt like it wasn’t … I wanted them to stay at their old school because that was their little bit of normality they had left … But they just kept saying, ‘It’s better if they move school. It’s better for them,’ … they’ll be like, ‘Can we go back to our old school? We don’t like it here. Please can we go back?’ and every time they say that it’s like part of me breaks and everyone goes, ‘Oh no, it’s for the best that you’re here.’ Best for who? It’s literally, who is it the best for?

(Refuge, White British) 

Some survivors worried about the impact of changing schools on the quality of their children’s education. For participants whose children had additional needs, changing school or nursery could be seen as detrimental to their progress and learning.

I said to the social worker, ‘Please don’t move me far away, because I don’t want to change the nursery’. My son is settled, and they are working on his speech and language, as well.

(Multiple types of TSA, Asian or Asian British) 

Survivors with children with special educational needs described the exhaustion and frustration they felt trying to navigate the system to get additional support for their children in addition to the difficulties they faced personally in TSA.

I don’t know what’s wrong, but with the mental health support or the support about my child … I struggle a lot ... Because we parents, we already go through a lot, because our children are on the spectrum. Already we are mentally really exhausted.

(Self-contained temporary accommodation, Asian or Asian British)

Missing education and socialisation opportunities were also concerns for participants whose children had not been allocated a space in school. Participants suggested that there should be more assistance for all survivors with children in TSA to find school places for children and young people in their new locations or, where possible, to take steps to enable them to remain safely in their existing school. 

I got really worried, because I needed a space for my child … they could have provided me accommodation which is nearer to my daughter’s school, so that my daughter could have been in the school.

(Self-contained temporary accommodation, Asian or Asian British) 

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Aspects of temporary safe accommodation that worked well for survivors

The optimum standard of TSA was nearly always described as accommodation which most closely resembled a traditional home, with the addition of “wrap-around” support including access to emotional and practical support. This type of accommodation included, for example, a self-contained flat with a sufficient number of bedrooms for a survivor and her children, and access to cooking and washing facilities.

I think they should all be separate units. Even if it's a one-bedroom, you know, one-bedroom, apartment or studio apartment, but just, you know, separate but … with support on hand.

(Experts by experience discussion, refuge and self-contained temporary accommodation, White British)

Survivors described proximity to public transport, local amenities and green spaces as important elements of a positive experience of living in TSA. In particular, having access to a park contributed to emotional well-being.

It's in a really good place. I’m within walking distance from the town centre should I need anything. You know, any of the supermarkets, everything's walking distance. I haven't had to get taxis, buses, and there's a bus stop outside as well. I haven't even had to get a bus while I've been here. Wonderful. I can walk everywhere. And another thing as well, I quite enjoy the outdoors so I found all the local parks that I can find because I like going for walks in the parks.

(Refuge, Mixed or Multiple ethnic group)

Survivors emphasised the importance of the physical safety of TSA. They described security measures as reassuring, such as CCTV, lockable doors and gates, and 24-hour staffing.

We’ve, obviously, got cameras here, and we’ve got panic alarms in every doorway, so that, obviously, makes you feel safe. Having someone checking in on you every day, bar the weekends, makes you safe. Being around people, I suppose, makes you feel safe ... Although it’s a bit backward in the way that I’ve had to be moved and be taken away from the situation, being taken away has, obviously, made me feel a lot safer.

(Refuge, White British)

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Support from accommodation staff and other service providers

The presence and availability of caring, non-judgemental support staff in TSA was reported to have a considerable positive impact on survivors’ experiences. Participants more commonly reported experiences of “wrap-around” support if they had been in refuge accommodation, where there was an emphasis on aiding recovery.

You don’t realise … how much support you actually get when you’re in refuge. You do get a lot of support. I mean, I feel so much better. This is probably the best I’ve felt in 30 years.

(Refuge, White British)

Those with TSA experience of hotels described an absence of staff, and they were generally only able to speak to hotel receptionists if they needed anything. Staff in hostels, where present, were described as disengaged and sometimes not empathetic to survivors’ needs. This was attributed to the mixed-need nature of this type of accommodation. Survivors who had experienced hotels and hostels described having to rely on support from social workers or Independent Domestic Violence Advocates (IDVAs), where they had been allocated them.

You couldn’t really go and see them, they'd lock themselves in [the office] drinking coffee or whatever. They didn't want to be bothered by people. And I think it was because of the type of people that were in there. I think we were the only ones in there that have fled domestic [abuse]. So, they weren't really understanding of it, really.

(Hostel, White British)

Survivors with young children noted that support provided by staff in refuge accommodation made a positive difference to their experiences. This included providing toys, paper and pens for drawing, or childminding for a short time so survivors could have some time to themselves.

They’d got a play area, so the kids thought it was great ... To be able to stand outside with the kids, while they played, gave me that little bit of time to just gather myself.

(Refuge, White British)

Survivors with young children who were unable to access childcare support in TSA identified this as a substantial gap in provision. The lack of childcare support affected their ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.

We’re not allowed to babysit each other’s children. Again, I get that. It’s safeguarding. We don’t know what everybody’s background is here. A lot of people have social services’ involvement, so it is safeguarding. But there’s no facility to get any help in terms of childcare at all. You have no respite … Not even the staff here can watch them for 10 minutes, so you can take a phone call. Yes, there’s no support.

(Refuge, Mixed or Multiple ethnic group)

Survivors highlighted the provision of professional emotional support as being crucial for their recovery, as well as their children’s. This included consistent mental health support, such as counselling from a trained provider. Generally, participants felt this element of support had been lacking for themselves and their children in all types of TSA.

In my opinion, it is not possible that all the calamities that we have experienced in all 20 years can be cured within 8 sessions. It is really impossible for someone to come and talk to a person for 1 hour in 8 sessions and give them hope and support, and the truth is that all the threats and damages can’t be faded away by 8 sessions.

(Self-contained temporary accommodation, Asian or Asian British)

Survivors also emphasised that support with accessing services was an important role of accommodation support staff. This included medical care, children’s education and financial support.

[The TSA employee] helped me to do the Universal Credit, to do the food bank, to register for an appointment at the GP, things like that. Because English is not my first language, so I find it difficult to do these things.

(Multiple types of TSA, Asian or Asian British)

In this research, survivors with children who accessed refuges largely described feeling that they had received adequate practical support in gaining school places and resources to support their children to attend school. They also mentioned the involvement and support they felt their children had received from social workers and teachers. This discrepancy in the levels of support received was particularly highlighted by those who moved to refuges from other forms of emergency accommodation, such as hotels.

They support everything. They help you. The children start going to school straight away, because that one month the children never went to school. I was struggling from hotel to hotel, and no one helped me. You don’t see anyone ... But since I moved [to refuge], it was a big difference. Straight away my children got [a school place], they get support here.

(Multiple types of TSA, Black African)

Both survivors with the right to reside in the UK and those who had NRPF required support to access funds. Some participants received practical support with benefits applications, such as Universal Credit, while others received support applying for the right to remain in the UK. Receiving support helped reduce the perceived burden of administrative and practical concerns, which meant survivors could focus on processing their trauma and recovery.

It was the way they stepped in, the staff at the refuge … to take the reins for a while. Let you know that you’re not alone … so you could sort yourself out a little bit, have a little bit of time to really process stuff.

(Refuge, Mixed or Multiple ethnic group)

The support offered was viewed as an important aspect of helping survivors to feel safe and more settled. 

So, my social worker helped me a lot, to change my email address, password for my banking, everything. She helped me with changing everything. So then, slowly, slowly, I got used to it. Before, I was scared; then I got used to it. Then I felt, I am safe here, then I got used to it, and I was very happy.

(Refuge, Asian or Asian British) 

Participants reported that the intervention of refuge staff, through facilitating communication and peer group support, had a positive impact on relationships between residents. Opportunities to take part in organised group activities helped develop bonds between survivors with shared experiences and provided distraction from thinking about their past. Where these opportunities weren’t available, survivors discussed feeling isolated and having too much time to reflect on negative experiences.

The problem with refuge that I find, is that you’ve got a lot of time to think … I wasn’t sleeping. My brain was not switching off, because I wasn’t using up any energy during the day, and obviously, they don’t push you to do anything. But because I wasn’t doing anything, I was just awake all night and overthinking. It’s constantly, certain incidents, ‘Why did this happen? Why did that happen?’.

(Refuge, Mixed or Multiple ethnic group)

Where participants identified a lack of “wrap-around” services in their accommodation, such as emotional support, this was generally attributed to a lack of funding and resource, meaning staff time was limited.

They’re supposed to meet up with us and do things like sort out the council tax, or sort out anything we qualify for, help us find property, do forms for us. I think they’re supposed to check on our mental health, but there’s no time for that. (Laughter). So, there has been a lot of sickness, where they have time off, because I think they’re like teachers, like most essential workers. They’re understaffed, underpaid, overworked.

(Refuge, Mixed or Multiple ethnic group)

Participants identified the importance of service providers making it clear exactly what support they offer, so that survivors can access what they need and are entitled to.

They need to list all that support so that they are aware that they can receive that sort of support. I’m sure there are women [in refuges] that don’t even understand what sort of support they should be getting

(Refuge, Asian or Asian British)

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Support from other survivors in temporary safe accommodation

Some survivors, generally those born outside of the UK and those who had experience of specialist “by” and “for” refuges, described the importance of building relationships with other survivors living in the same TSA who had similar experiences. They discussed participating in activities together, such as cooking and going shopping.

In some cases where survivors had no family in the UK, they referred to other TSA residents and support workers as their “new families”. Survivors also described making friends in refuge who remained their friends after leaving the accommodation. For our definition of specialist “by” and “for” refuges, see Section 9: Glossary.

There are a lot of things to consider for a woman if her first marriage does not work out. The society does not accept you. They called from back home and scolded me. All the people from my age, stepped away from me. I had to face a lot. They even made up a story back home among my relatives that I’d ran away with someone … [Here] there is a feeling like home, there is no feeling of being in a refuge here. We get together in the evening time. Having cup of tea together and do some gossips.

(Refuge, Asian or Asian British)

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Importance of access to private space in communal establishments

Being able to access private space while living in TSA was linked to perceptions of emotional and physical safety, particularly for survivors who had experiences of hostels and shared housing.

For survivors with experience of refuges, being able to access private space was linked to their ability to choose whether or not to socialise with other residents and, ultimately, on their perception of emotional safety. Having some degree of choice and control in this regard was important because survivors described relationships with other residents as a source of emotional support, but they could also be problematic and potentially challenging.

If you’ve got contained units with a communal area, you can still access the support of the other residents, you know, and your kids can play together if you want to. But it’s being forced into that situation [where you don’t have access to private space]. You just feel like helpless again. It’s coming from one living situation where you’re controlled. Your life is restricted, controlled and impacted greatly by one person; you move into this next place and your life is still controlled, restricted and impacted by other people.

(Experts by experience discussion, refuge then self-contained temporary accommodation, White British)

Survivors described living with “strangers” as difficult and they could sometimes feel unsafe because they did not know who they were sharing their space with or others’ circumstances.

It reached a point where I did not feel like I was safe. Because you come through the door, you are living in the same house with these people, because you share the kitchen, you share communal areas. But these are strangers. And you don’t know what has brought them there. You know that probably they are in the same situation, because of [domestic violence], but you don’t know who that person is, as a character.

(Refuge, Black African)

Participants described some instances of conflict with other residents, and how conflict between children could compound and exacerbate existing tension between mothers.

So, they started playing with each other again, until it then got to a point that it was like, ‘No, this is now going to stop,’ and then it caused conflict between you and the other mum, because now it’s not all happy families and they’re all playing and they argue one day and play the next. It was like, ‘Okay, I’m now putting a stop to it and they’re not to play with each other at all.’ Then … you’re back to this feeling where you feel like there’s conflict again and that’s that feeling that you’re not wanting. That’s what you’ve come from.

(Refuge, White British)

Participants described the importance of having the privacy associated with a self-contained flat with an adequate number of bedrooms for the family, stating that this promoted well-being and emotional recovery from the trauma of domestic abuse. Survivors highlighted the importance of having space to try to create some form of “normality” in a new situation and routine which could be very difficult to navigate.

Although you had your communal areas, you had your own space, which I think is actually quite vital … I feel, as a family, you need that time to be able to recuperate and start that healing process of being away, being together, but knowing that you can come out the other end. I think you need that time where you can have that privacy and, once you shut that door, it’s your family again.

(Refuge, White British)

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Financial impacts of living in temporary safe accommodation and the importance of economic support

Survivors commonly experienced financial hardship throughout their experience in TSA, across all accommodation types. Survivors described struggling to live on the amount of money received through benefits payments. This situation was described as particularly difficult for those in hotels, who often had no recourse to public funds (NRPF) and who tended to have less access to other support. These participants discussed going without food at times.

For those three weeks, I didn’t eat anything. I was breastfeeding. And it was COVID, and the hotel didn’t give too much, just gave a cereal, a juice, and a cake. That was all my food for three weeks, while I was breastfeeding. And I didn’t have money to buy anything.

(Multiple types of TSA, Other ethnic group)

A lack of basic provisions in some accommodations resulted in survivors having to access food through a charity, food bank, or other religious or community organisations. Participants described having to go to a place of worship to ask for food as distressing; some survivors felt they were being judged by people of their faith or culture for the situation they were in.

The next day, I went to this mosque, and trust me, I was hungry. My daughter was hungry and there was food in the mosque. I was so happy. Finally, I will get something to eat. Finally, my baby will eat. In that mosque, what they did, I couldn’t understand ... They were very rude. ‘Okay, stand here. Don’t enter the mosque, where people are in prayer’ … They gave me food. Lots of fruit. All of them were expired. I was crying.

(Self-contained temporary accommodation, Asian or Asian British)

Hotels and hostels were described by participants as commonly lacking basic necessities, including food and water. Like mixed-need hostels, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 considers hotels to be unsuitable for survivors who are fleeing domestic abuse situations. If survivors had to be placed in hotels as an emergency measure, participants highlighted that adequate drinking water and food should be provided as a minimum.

I felt that they should have put some more support in the hotel, such as water or basic[s] which are needed; they were not there.

(Refuge, Asian or Asian British)

Participants, particularly those with NRPF, suggested that better initial financial support should be available to help survivors access and live in TSA. This was highlighted as particularly important during the early access stages.

The charity that gave me support, money, at least for the time that I didn’t work, they were very brilliant. That made a huge difference to me.

(Refuge, Black African)

Financial support from domestic abuse organisations and public funds was seen as “really helpful” and could make a “huge difference” for survivors in all sorts of circumstances. Financial support from domestic abuse organisations was particularly helpful for those who had NRPF, with many survivors having to rely on charitable organisations or friends and family. For our definition of no recourse to public funds, see Section 9: Glossary.

There was a time I was in the hotel, I had no money, I was just there … Thank God for the charitable organisation who came through for me at the time you know.

(Hotel, Black African) 

Being unable to share the address of refuge accommodation for safety reasons also meant that survivors who had the right to work in the UK were unable to do so. Some described being discouraged from seeking work by accommodation staff as it would mean having to pay for their accommodation. According to some participants who worked while living in TSA, the costs associated with staying in refuge were extremely difficult to meet and, in some cases, prevented them from saving the money needed to move out of TSA and into permanent accommodation.

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5. Moving on from temporary safe accommodation

Survivors discussed several aspects of their experiences relating to moving on from temporary safe accommodation (TSA), including: 

  • accessing move-on accommodation privately and through the bidding system

  • barriers faced when navigating access to move-on accommodation through the bidding system

  • the importance of support for survivors when transitioning out of TSA and into move-on accommodation

  • feelings about moving out of TSA 

  • aspirations and thoughts on their futures 

Accommodation beyond TSA is often referred to as move-on accommodation. For our definition of move-on accommodation, see Section 9: Glossary. Under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, local authorities are required to provide secure accommodation for survivors who have experienced domestic abuse and are given priority under a local authority's allocation scheme to enable them to move into more settled accommodation beyond TSA. However, there is no official policy on the timing of when permanent accommodation should be provided. 

Bidding systems to secure housing may apply to both local authority housing and accommodation secured through housing associations. Most participants who reported their experience of the bidding system secured housing through local authorities, however there was a small minority who secured housing through housing associations or private rental. For our definition of bidding systems, see Section 9: Glossary

Participants who were not in a financial position to rent privately after moving on from TSA had experienced trying to access permanent accommodation through the "bidding system". This is an online process to access local authority-provided accommodation. Experiences of the bidding system varied based on the availability of properties and the level of support received from service providers or support workers. Some survivors reported bidding for years, while others had bid on properties and moved into permanent accommodation within a few months.

But I basically didn’t hear anything from the council after I moved [into temporary safe accommodation]. It was kind of no contact, really. I was on the housing register to look for a permanent place ... in that time period that I was there, nothing had come up. It felt like it was an indefinite kind of thing; ‘We can’t give you timescale. Something might not turn up’.

(Hotel and self-contained temporary accommodation, White British)

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Barriers to accessing move-on accommodation

Survivors in a financial position to do so also described moving directly into private rented accommodation, because they saw themselves as less likely to be eligible for local authority-provided move-on accommodation through the bidding system. This was experienced particularly by survivors without children or with no registered disabilities.

To be honest with you, I was not even put on the list. Because I just wanted help to get a place that I could pay for, I was happy to go and rent my own place … Because I was fully working, I’m on my own, I don’t have children, and I was not going to be anyone’s priority.

(Refuge, Black African)

Some survivors described using the bidding system to access move-on accommodation as a slow, frustrating process that often took months to complete.

When I first came in, my queue position was like 120, 130 each week in my position for a house. I’ve been bidding since September and my bidding number is still at between 60 and 70 each week. So it’s a very long process.

(Refuge, White British)

Participants who experienced trying to access move-on accommodation through the bidding system described a perceived lack of availability and choice of properties. Survivors reported feeling as though a lack of appropriate property options had been offered to them and their families.

One of my children has additional needs, so we’re going to need a three-bedroom so … each child can go away from the other for safety. So, yes, three bedrooms are very hard to come by. Sometimes there’s only one that comes on the list per week and obviously a lot of people here have bigger families.

(Refuge, Mixed or Multiple ethnic group)

Participants with physical disabilities sometimes expected to remain in TSA longer than others as they believed it would take longer to find a suitable move-on property for their needs. For others, particularly those with dependent children, accepting the first move-on property offered was seen to be the only option.

After [the housing officer] talked to the authorities, they introduced the house to us. They told me that you have to move very quickly. However, because our conditions here are really difficult and also because my daughter had to commute a long distance every day … I was left with little alternative but to accept.

(Translated interview, self-contained temporary accommodation, Asian or Asian British)

Survivors who did not have children or a registered disability described feeling that they would not be prioritised over someone who had children or a disability.

Because I didn’t have children, and I was single on my own, it felt like nobody was going to prioritise me, because they were prioritising this word ‘family’, but I think much of the mental health side of it, or the well-being side of it, was being ignored. But I could see women who had been there with 12-week-old babies, 6-week-old babies, and I came to a reality check, and I thought, ‘There is no chance I’m going to get a house before them’, and some of them had been there for seven, eight months before I was there, or a year.

(Refuge, Black African)

For those using the bidding system, turning down a property considered to be unsuitable for their needs could be a source of anxiety. They worried this would move them further “down the list” for housing, therefore extending their stay in TSA, particularly in the context of limited availability of accommodation. There may be penalties for those who refuse a property, however, this is dependent on their local council or housing association rules. If the local council or housing association disagree with a woman’s reasons for refusing the home, they can move them down the waiting list or remove them from the list.

The way the system works is that if you see something that you think you like or that might be suitable, you put your name down for it. If you’re the highest priority person who puts your name down for it, then you’ll be offered it. But you don’t get to see the property until after you are offered it. If you are offered the property, you have to take it unless you have a good reason not to. What I was told, a few times, is that if you turn down a property that the council considers suitable, they can remove their housing duty to you, completely.

(Multiple types of TSA, White British)

The lack of choice or autonomy described in relation to moving on from TSA was likened to feelings experienced while living in the domestic abuse context.

I definitely feel that it’s very difficult when you don’t know where you want to go. You may [not] like the house or you may [not want to] go there to live, but you may have to accept it. We don’t have the right to choose, it’s like my life that I never had the right to choose. I had no choice when I was with my ex-husband. It means that I have to accept the worst whether I want it or not. I feel the same way, I feel that it is being imposed on me.

(Translated interview, self-contained temporary accommodation, Asian or Asian British)

Impacts on mental health, such as anxiety and stress, were attributed to the uncertainty and lack of control experienced while navigating the bidding system. This was particularly related to expected timescales for housing decisions and the location of their move-on accommodation.

I’ve got no real control over where I’m going to be either. Basically, once you’ve started bidding, you have to bid every week, otherwise they bid for you. Then they could bid in a horrible area, or on a property that isn’t suitable.

(Refuge, Mixed or Multiple ethnic group)

This uncertainty could also be compounded by a perceived lack of communication from housing officers, and by a sense of being “passed around” between different service providers, making it difficult to know their status for move-on accommodation or who to contact for information.

I’m just waiting on the council. They’ve got a 20-week backlog. They haven’t even given me a bidding number. So, I’m stuck in limbo. The council are not very good at all. They don’t keep you informed, I just have to keep checking.

(Refuge, White British)

Survivors with insecure immigration status faced additional challenges with moving on from TSA, such as having to wait for applications for right to remain in the UK to be decided, during which time they may also lack access to financial resources and be ineligible to apply for public housing.

I did not have my indefinite leave to remain, I was on a visa … My support worker kept on saying, ‘We can get a grant, we can look for this’, and she kept applying, but it kept on getting declined.

(Refuge, Black African)

For survivors with no or limited English proficiency, contacting housing officers was described as difficult. One participant noted that she wished someone could have helped to aid her access to move-on accommodation during this stage.

I wish I could find someone to help me with the housing calls, because each time I am calling [the council], I don’t understand what they mean. I know that I know English, but they are speaking very professionally.

(Multiple types of TSA, Other ethnic group)

Self-reliance and self-advocacy appeared to be the only options available to those dealing with the bidding process without the benefit of support workers.

So, I thought, shortage of staff, you know, I have got my help, time to get my own self, and pick myself up. So that’s what I’ve been doing.

(Refuge, Black African)

Ultimately, much like at the stage of initial access, survivors felt that they should be supported to have a choice in their move-on accommodation to ensure their needs and those of their children were met.

I would have loved to come and see where I'm being moved again. Was it a decent area; whether it’s safe for the children. They said no. […] It’s either you say yes and if you don't take it at that time, they’ll put your name on waiting list again. You don't know when another space will come up.

(Experts by experience discussion, multiple types of TSA, Black African)

Survivors staying in specialist “by” and “for” refuges did describe receiving support with accessing move-on accommodation, alongside assistance with immigration applications. Those who received these types of support felt it had helped them to access move-on accommodation.

They told us that when it’s time to bid, then they will tell us about it all and guide us … The support workers will teach us and guide us how we need to bid.

(Refuge, Asian or Asian British)

Those with experience of other accommodation types highlighted the importance of having help to navigate the bidding system to gain access to move-on accommodation, describing a lack of help in their own situations. Survivors explained how the quality of assistance from a support worker was important to navigate the bidding system, not just the allocation of a support worker.

The support worker wasn’t even bothered about the housing side of things. I thought it was a priority to look at rehousing women and sort benefits out, for example. It was just left down to me.

(Refuge, Asian or Asian British)

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Importance of support when transitioning into move-on accommodation

Survivors who secured move-on accommodation reported that financial and practical support for furnishing their new accommodation (mostly accessed through local authorities or charitable organisations) helped it feel like “home”.

So honestly, I know so many people who have had such bad experiences, but I’ve had such an amazing experience. I got given food vouchers, so that I can stock up my fridge when I move out. Honestly, I was in tears for about three days, just because I couldn’t believe how generous and how lucky I was. There are nice people out there, the council and my key worker, for getting me back on my feet ... The council gave me £1,000 worth of vouchers for white goods.

(Refuge, White British)

However, the experience of receiving such support varied across participants.

You can give me a voucher, go to that second-hand shop and just get whatever you need. But no, nothing. So, I had to, step by step, slowly, slowly just get the things and start finding lots of things on Facebook Market, which is a very good place. So, just slowly, slowly, getting there, and building everything up.

(Multiple types of TSA, Other ethnic group)

Perceptions of the process of transitioning from TSA to move-on accommodation were mixed and depended largely on the level of support survivors received with their move. Access to transport and removals services varied among participants. Survivors who had their own cars described an expectation from others that they should be self-sufficient in their move.

I think it should be everyone gets that same help with moving out of refuge rather than if you drive, you’re expected to do it yourself, whereas if you don’t, you get to do it in one trip in one big van.

(Refuge, White British)

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Survivors’ feelings about moving out of temporary safe accommodation

The extent to which survivors recalled feeling prepared to move out of TSA often depended on the perceived quality and suitability of the TSA they had been placed in. Participants who felt supported in their recovery journey while in TSA generally described feeling more positive about moving on. The level of support received during the move-on process also contributed to feeling “prepared” to take the next step.

Some survivors described feeling “unprepared” to leave TSA because of the uncertainty of change and more upheaval for themselves and their children, as well as having to rebuild their lives again. This was particularly the case for those who had experienced living in multiple types of TSA, because each move could involve having to leave behind established support networks and education.

I actually feel unprepared … because although I’ve had six months, it also has happened really quickly. Six months ago, I had to start again, and you then have to start again … again, again. It’s daunting, isn’t it? You’re moving into a neighbourhood where you then don’t know anyone again, and you don’t know your neighbour … and you’re starting a new life. It’s similar emotions that you’re then having to go through. They do try to help prepare you for that, but I don’t think anything really prepared you until you’re sort of in the deep end, and you haven’t got a choice.

(Refuge, White British)

There were also worries about their physical safety when moving out of TSA, especially if this meant moving away from higher security measures in TSA to less secure accommodation.

I feel prepared, but I think I’d still feel anxious for a bit. But I know we can get help with extra security and stuff, locks on the doors, windows, alarms, stuff like that, so that makes me feel a bit more comfortable knowing I can get cameras and stuff put up. I think I’ll always be a bit nervous or anxious but it’s going to have to happen to get us back into stability for the kids, a stable life.

(Refuge, White British)

Feeling “prepared” to move on to more permanent accommodation was often attributed to survivors’ own actions in aiding their recovery and feeling ready to take the next step. This was often linked to support from staff which acted as a springboard.

I’d probably say 30% of it was the support I had, but I’d probably say the other 70% was me, myself, it came from me. I felt strong, I felt ready, I felt confident.

(Refuge, White British)

However, concerns about losing this support and existing networks could lead to feeling unprepared, with fears of increased isolation after transferring to move-on accommodation.

It didn’t just improve a little; my whole life was changed. I found a purpose in life. I felt that I had some value. I would never want to move into a house. I’d much rather stay here … Whoever goes from here is crying when leaving. They pray that they don’t have to leave here, we will become alone. All the people that are here, every morning we go around saying ‘Hi’ to each other and ask if everything is okay in their homes. When someone goes out, they ask others if they need anything. We support each other like that.

(Translated interview, refuge, Asian or Asian British)

Assurances that assistance from support workers would continue following their departure from TSA were important in helping survivors feel more comfortable with accessing move-on accommodation.

I do feel really unprepared, but then, at the same time … my key worker will still work with me for three months after me leaving, and still support me on anything I need, or advise on anything. So that makes me feel a little bit better, that I have got some sort of help. Because obviously, not knowing anyone around here is quite hard.

(Refuge, White British)

Despite challenges associated with moving on, the perceived stability afforded by more permanent accommodation, in comparison with TSA, was described as appealing and could help survivors feel ready. This was particularly the case for those with dependent children.

At the moment now, I think, she's more ready to move on than I am, to be honest. She's very, very, very excited about it. We've spoken about it quite a lot. We've talked about what we can do for her new room, and how we can get her a little bed and all these different things.

(Refuge, White British)

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Survivors’ aspirations and thoughts on their futures

Participants who had accessed move-on accommodation, or would be doing so in the near future, described aspirations for the next stage in their life. Survivors wanted safe, peaceful properties which they could “make their own”, with access to amenities such as schools, and enough living space for themselves and their families. This was described as somewhere they could make a “fresh start”.

Having my own bedroom ... A three-bedroomed house. A garden. Just somewhere like we can call home, have our own space and … have our pictures up and stuff and decorate it myself. So, a nice family quiet life … I just want my own house … Like, before I used to have everybody’s children around in my back garden, playing with my kids ... normal family life with my children happy and safe.

(Refuge, White British)

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Some participants wanted a property in a different location, at a distance from where they had lived with their perpetrator or where they had stayed in TSA, while others wanted to remain close to support networks and their children’s schools.

I want to live far away from [previous location] as I never want to face him again

(Translated interview, refuge, Asian or Asian British)

Just where we know, people we know. My support network, basically. That’s all. And be in our own home, where we don’t have to share.

(Refuge, White British)

Those who had navigated the move-on process and were now in their permanent accommodation described feelings of relief relating to their new surroundings. Reaching this stage in their journey meant being able to focus on their recovery, particularly if their experiences in TSA had been difficult to navigate.

It’s a two-bedroomed property and … It’s just amazing. It’s taken a whole load of pressure off me, and that weight has just been lifted, honestly, I feel amazing, knowing that I’m going to move forward, into our own home. No one is going to be coming in and out of the home, it’s just going to be our space.

(Refuge, Asian or Asian British)

Accessing move-on accommodation was associated with survivors being able to “move on” with their lives: having a stable home, being able to build new support networks with neighbours, accessing education for themselves and their children, and being able to find work and be financially independent.

So, with a child, I want stability in terms of living. So, if I can get stability in terms of living, I can focus on other things. Because I can’t rely on the government forever. I don’t want to rely on Universal Credit and the funds and everything. I want to work.

(Multiple types of TSA, Asian or Asian British)

Some survivors spoke about aspirations to work in the domestic abuse sector to help others who had also experienced domestic abuse.

I want to build the life that I had in my mind before all these unfortunate incidents. And I want to become a member of [domestic abuse organisation], I love [domestic abuse organisation], I want to be the voice of the girls like me.

(Translated interview, hostel, Other ethnic group)

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6. Survivors’ feelings on safety throughout their journey

When asked what “safety” meant to them, survivors provided reflections on their safety needs throughout their TSA journey, describing the need for different types of safety at different points in time.

I think it’s a difficult term because when I was living in the [emergency accommodation], then the temporary accommodation, if you’d asked me if I felt safe, I probably would have thought about it as being a more physical, ‘Do you feel under threat?’ … That’s how I would have approached the question at the time. So, I probably would have said, ‘No, I feel safe’. But reflecting on it now … My ability to manage my mental and physical health was not in a safe place. My health was at risk. So, realistically, it was an unsafe place for me to be. I think it’s a language issue there, maybe, that there isn’t really a way to divide that sense of feeling under physical safety threat versus the more vague sense of something could be unsafe.

(Multiple types of TSA, White British)

For participants, initial discussion of notions of safety centred around physical safety. Putting physical distance between them and their perpetrator was universally described as necessary to feeling safe. For some, this was linked to wanting their new location to be confidential so they were assured their perpetrator would not find them. This aspect of physical safety was desired throughout the recovery process but was particularly important during the very early stages of fleeing and accessing TSA.

I think for me, safety is being away from the environment, actually taking yourself out of the environment, that’s the first aspect of safety for me. Knowing that nobody knows where you are.

(Refuge, Mixed or Multiple ethnic group)

Physical security measures were an important part of feeling physically safe throughout the TSA journey and could include CCTV, securely locked and gated properties, and 24-hour staffing.

I felt safe knowing that there were cameras everywhere and that there was a locked gate that you had to get in before you could even get to us, and even through that gate, another locked secure system to get into the building.

(Refuge, White British)

Despite the distance and safety features of most types of TSA, survivors often described a lingering feeling of insecurity. Survivors described feeling they were “always looking over their shoulders” because of anxiety about being located by their perpetrator. Some measures helped to reduce this worry somewhat, such as having a panic alarm or direct line to the police.

Yes, there is always going to be a part of me that thinks that there’s no getting away from it. I can’t help but think that. But I don’t look over my shoulder so much as what I used to do.

(Refuge, White British)

Feeling physically unsafe had a considerable impact on well-being and mental health.

When you’re feeling unsafe, you lose every ‘oomph’ in your body to do what you would normally be doing because the fear takes over your whole life.

(Refuge, White British)

Further discussion of notions of safety also revealed the importance of emotional safety, and how physical and emotional safety are closely related. Most survivors felt that living in TSA in another town or city from the perpetrator was crucial for their physical safety. However, some participants also described having support networks nearby, such as friends and family, as an important element of safety; moving far away could limit access to such support. Feeling unable to return to their local area or tell loved ones their new location could also lead to survivors feeling unsafe because they felt isolated or unable to seek help when needed.

I don’t know if I’ll ever feel 100% safe, but I will probably feel 90% safe. I know I can get my number flagged up to police. So, if I ever needed to ring the police and I couldn’t talk, they would just come to me. Having family around me [could make me] feel safe, but I can’t go back to … where all the family live. I have to stay so many miles away.

(Refuge, White British)

Feeling more physically safe in TSA enabled survivors to start eating and sleeping properly, and to “feel like themselves again”.

Well, there’s so many different factors to making you feel safe … For us, it was being able to know that we could go to sleep and feel safe … Feeling safe, you see [your children] laugh, you see them smile, you see them start to flourish again within themselves, and even for you.

(Refuge, White British)

Some survivors described feeling safe as “freedom”.

All of a sudden, I have the freedom and the space to be, to just be. When we were talking before about safety as well, that’s important to me. The fact that you have the space and the freedom to be; that I feel safe … just being myself.

(Refuge, Mixed or Multiple ethnic group)

Alongside physical safety, emotional safety was facilitated by having the support of others throughout the recovery process. This included continuous practical support from service providers, such as refuge support workers, Independent Domestic Violence Advocates (IDVAs), TSA staff and charity workers.

Receiving practical support with completing administrative forms, accessing other services, or attending appointments were all identified as freeing up space in survivors’ minds to be able to concentrate on their emotional recovery. Professional mental health support from a trained counsellor was also described as an important factor in feeling emotionally safe, however this was often not available to survivors.

There was always somebody there, [so] that I could go and say, ‘I’m not feeling great’ … So, emotional safety. To know that I can openly talk if I want to. And be understood and not judged.

(Refuge, White British)

Although survivors placed different levels of importance on different aspects of safety, they noted that feeling safe was a basic human value.

Every human, not just the woman, every human needs safety or physical safety or all forms of safety actually, no matter what … it has nothing to do with your situation, it’s for every human being.

(Hotel, Black African)

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7. Looking back on survivors’ journeys and towards solutions

Thinking retrospectively about their journeys, survivors suggested improvements for services and processes, and offered advice for others considering accessing temporary safe accommodation (TSA) in the future.

Preferences towards location differed. Some participants preferred to move further away for safety, while others wanted to stay closer to their previous homes for existing services or schools, or other social and local networks. 

To know that you’re in a position where you now have to leave everything, it’s quite difficult when you only have a certain amount of options as to where you can go. Obviously, each option is quite far away. So, you’re then being taken away from your support networks, your friends, your family, but obviously to get you the help and to feel safe, you have to go.

(Refuge, White British)

Feelings of frustration were expressed at the injustice of survivors having their lives disrupted in order to remove themselves from the abusive situation, rather than the perpetrator being removed. To address this, participants suggested that more needed to be done to remove the perpetrator from the home so that survivors and their children could safely remain.

I think this is the big thing, survivors have to relocate to be safe. And it should be the perpetrator has to reallocate [to] start a new life.

(Hostel, White British)

Survivors acknowledged that the need to access TSA could happen to anyone and that everyone who arrived at TSA had unique circumstances and needs. It was noted that a “one-size-fits-all” approach did not work for all survivors and that each person needs to be listened to and considered as an individual, acknowledging any existing barriers women face.

[Service providers] can't just have one approach ... they're unable to understand people with a bit more different situation. And then the suggestions that they come up with and the advice, it's like, you’re totally not getting the point, you're not understanding. I've clearly seen that they've dealt with a particular type of women and I'm like ‘I can see where she's coming from’ and I'm like ‘mine's a whole different case’. What [other women have] experienced is not what it is for me. For me it's … having to be really considerate, not to be doing tick boxes at all.

(Experts by experience discussions, multiple types of TSA, Asian or Asian British)

While the decision to access TSA support and services was universally recognised by participants to have been the right decision, not all participants looked back positively on their experiences in accommodations, particularly those in hotels, bed and breakfast accommodation and hostels. It was important for accommodation to be fit for purpose and have appropriate facilities to accommodate day-to-day living.

I felt like it was a privilege for me to be in somewhere like that, but I look at it now and I think … I should never have been grateful to be somewhere like that.

(Multiple types of TSA, Mixed or Multiple ethnic group)

Among those who felt they had received empathic support, survivors described such support as making a big difference to their experiences in TSA and to their domestic abuse recovery. Participants suggested that more mental health support was needed to help survivors deal with the ongoing impacts of domestic abuse.

As much as women have help, particularly speaking for myself, you have the support, you have your key worker that comes to see you every week, but one side that I thought was not looked … into is people’s mental health … accessing even mental help was very difficult … Because I felt suicidal a lot. But my key worker was very good, she was really brilliant. She made loads and loads of referrals.

(Refuge, Black African)

After escaping an abusive situation, survivors saw their lives improving and had the space to build personal strength and confidence. They offered thanks to those who supported them along the way. There was appreciation of both the services they had received during their TSA journeys and of the staff who provided support to regain their confidence and begin their journey to recovery.

I lost my life; I didn’t have a life but [domestic abuse organisation] gave me another life. It let me to live again. Now [domestic abuse organisation] is my second family, the family that caused me to continue living. It gave me another life.

(Translated interview, hostel, Other ethnic group)

Survivors’ positive reflections of their TSA journeys and any feelings of gratitude towards support workers and other service providers do not diminish the difficulties they experienced throughout. Nonetheless, participants generally had positive messages for others who may be in similar situations, encouraging them to access TSA as a first step to ending the domestic abuse and starting their recovery.

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8. Women who have survived domestic abuse and their experiences of temporary safe accommodation, sample information

Women who have survived domestic abuse and their experiences of temporary safe accommodation, sample information
Dataset | Released 10 January 2024
Sample information for qualitative research on women who have survived domestic abuse and their experiences of temporary safe accommodation in England.

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9. Glossary

Domestic abuse 

Domestic abuse is not limited to physical violence and can include a range of abusive behaviours. It can also be experienced as repeated patterns of abusive behaviour to maintain power and control in a relationship. 

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 defines domestic abuse as any incident or pattern of incidents between those aged 16 years and over who: 

  • are a partner  

  • are an ex-partner  

  • are a relative  

  • have, or there has been a time when they each have had, a parental relationship in relation to the same child  

The Act recognises children aged under 18 years who see, or hear, or experience the effects of the abuse, as a victim of domestic abuse if they are related or have a parental relationship to the adult victim or perpetrator of the abuse.  

The Act outlines the following behaviour as abuse:  

  • physical or sexual abuse  

  • violent or threatening behaviour  

  • controlling or coercive behaviour  

  • economic abuse  

  • psychological, emotional, or other abuse  

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Move-on accommodation and bidding system 

"Move-on" accommodation describes the type of accommodation, mainly permanent accommodation, that women in this research described either applying for or moving into following their time in temporary safe accommodation (TSA). This included council properties, housing association properties, or private rental properties. Council and housing association are where properties are secured through the housing register.  

According to Shelter's housing advice web page, policies vary across councils, and in some areas, homes are directly offered. The term "bidding system" describes a choice-based scheme in other areas where people who meet the criteria for the properties on the list express their interest in a home, usually online. The council then offer the property to the person on the housing register with the most priority, usually decided based on points or banding. 

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Non-private residential household populations 

While there is no formal definition of non-private residential household populations, for the purposes of our research, this population includes people living in communal establishments and those who have a "temporary" household status. 

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No recourse to public funds 

The House of Commons Library notes that migrants in the UK on visas, illegally or seeking asylum are usually ineligible for most social welfare benefits and public housing. This is referred to as having "no recourse to public funds" or "NRPF". Most temporary migrants have no recourse to public funds, with human rights exceptions. 

Under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, people who do not have any immigration permission, or whose visa comes with an individual NRPF condition, are excluded from benefits and housing. An NRPF condition is mandatory for most types of visas. Citizens Advice's No Recourse to Public Funds web page notes that this condition excludes eligibility to vital benefits like Universal Credit and Child Benefit, as well as a range of other support like homelessness assistance or access to refuges that rely on public funds to operate. 

A few categories of people, including those granted permission to remain in the UK for human rights reasons, can apply for a "change of conditions" granting them recourse to public funds.  

The list of public funds covers a wide range of social security benefits, tax credits and housing assistance. Local authorities have some statutory duties to support people with NRPF, in particular families with children. 

While making a claim for indefinite leave to remain, people who have come to the UK on a spousal visa are entitled to access accommodation and benefits through the Domestic Violence Destitution Concession for three months.  

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Specialist "by" and "for" services 

Specialist "by" and "for" services are services that are designed and led by those that share the same characteristic or characteristics as the people they aim to serve, such as ethnic group, country of birth or religion. 

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Support workers 

In this research, the term "support worker" covers a variety of different support staff who supported women who had survived domestic abuse. These include Independent Domestic Violence advocates (IDVAs), family support workers, social workers, voluntary and charity staff, accommodation staff, and any other staff allocated by services providers to give "support". 

The term "support worker" was used by many survivors and often without detail about the capacity in which they provided support or through which organisation they accessed the support worker. For clarity, where survivors gave explicit information about the professional role of their "support worker", this has been included within the report. 

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Temporary safe accommodation 

Adapted from the "safe accommodation" outlined in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, the term temporary safe accommodation (TSA) in this research refers to the temporary accommodation that participants described accessing after fleeing domestic abuse. The focus on the temporary nature of accommodation seeks to include those who may be considered part of the non-private residential household population. 

Academic researchers and sector experts have focused on the concept of "more-than-safe" in accommodation for domestic abuse survivors. This involves providing protection, supporting recovery, enabling autonomy and freedom, and preparing survivors for independence beyond temporary accommodation. 

Accommodation is considered safe by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 if it is "secure and dedicated to supporting victims of domestic abuse". However, these elements were not always experienced by participants in this research.  

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 identifies types of "safe accommodation", which include: 

  • refuge accommodation 

  • specialist safe accommodation 

  • dispersed accommodation 

  • second stage accommodation  

  • and other forms of domestic abuse emergency accommodation 

Some administrative terms set out by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, such as "dispersed" and "second stage" accommodation, were not used by participants. Throughout this report, we use terms that participants used to refer to TSA, rather than the administrative terms included in the Act. Participants, including those accessing TSA following the implementation of the Act, also noted they had been placed in accommodation types not listed under the identified "safe accommodations" in the Act, such as hotels and mixed-need hostels. 

The main types of accommodation this research focuses on are: 

  • refuge accommodation, including specialist "by and for" refuges provided by charitable organisations, and local authority-provided refuges 

  • hotels and bed and breakfasts (B&B), primarily used as emergency accommodation 

  • hostels, including single-sex, mixed-sex, and mixed-needs hostels 

  • self-contained temporary accommodation, mostly provided by local authorities 

  • shared housing, provided by local authorities 

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The term "refuge" was most often used to describe single-sex accommodation provided specifically for survivors of domestic abuse. This accommodation often featured services, such as counselling, workshops and activities for survivors to participate in, and was mostly provided by specialist charities. However, some refuges were provided by the local authority. 

The refuges described most often had individual bedrooms with shared communal spaces, such as kitchens and living room areas, while others were self-contained with their own kitchen and bathroom. The refuges ranged from housing a small number of single survivors to multiple families across 20 flats. 

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Hotels were a form of "emergency accommodation" that were generally said to consist of an en-suite room in a large building. Some hotels were also open to members of the public. Survivors who stayed in hotels were sometimes caring for young children and described not having access to cooking facilities other than a kettle. 

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Hostels, which were sometimes considered to be "emergency accommodation", were mostly described as "mixed-need", meaning they were also used to house other "at-risk" groups, such as those with a history of homelessness or substance misuse. Hostels were often described as requiring residents to share a kitchen and sometimes a bathroom, but were sometimes self-contained except for a laundry room. 

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Shared and self-contained local authority-provided accommodation 

Local authority-provided properties varied between self-contained and shared housing. Self-contained accommodations were generally described as flats or studios in mixed-need buildings but did not require residents to share facilities. Shared housing was described as a room within a mixed-need shared house where facilities such as bathrooms, kitchens, living areas and washing facilities were all shared. 

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Trauma-informed practice 

Trauma-informed practice recognises that individuals' responses are a way of adapting and coping with symptoms of trauma. It requires understanding of the effects of trauma, recognising trauma triggers and trauma responses, and integrating trauma-informed practice into professional conduct or a programme of work, or both.  

Trauma-informed practice is based upon strengths and the principles of safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration and empowerment alongside respect for diversity, as outlined in Fallot and Harris's Creating Cultures of Trauma-Informed Care (CCTIC): A Self-Assessment and Planning Protocol (PDF 201KB)

Trauma-informed practice:  

  • prevents trauma 

  • contributes to, and supports, recovery from trauma 

  • provides professionals in a wide range of settings with knowledge and confidence when working with people affected by trauma 

  • enables physical and psychological safety for those affected by trauma and for those working with them 

  • reduces the risks of re-traumatising 

  • builds reparative relationships that support engagement and recovery 

  • supports practice to achieve what it sets out to do  

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Women who have survived domestic abuse 

"Survivors of domestic abuse" refers to the women aged 18 years and over who took part in this research and who have experienced domestic abuse and have experience of living in temporary safe accommodation (TSA) within the last five years. Civil society organisations and service provider gatekeepers facilitated participation in this research by identifying women survivors of domestic abuse with relevant experience of living in TSA.

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10. Methodology

From January to March 2023, Interventions Alliance conducted 40 in-depth interviews with women who have survived domestic abuse across England on behalf of the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Interventions Alliance are a specialist provider of justice and social care, with a dedicated in-house research team with previous experience researching domestic abuse. 

Approach to sampling and recruitment  

A maximum variation purposive sampling approach was used to gather a wide range of perspectives relating to experiences of temporary safe accommodation (TSA). The sampling frame for this research focused on achieving a diverse sample of women who have survived domestic abuse and who either had current experience or previous experience, or both, of TSA within the last five years and:  

  • had lived in different types of TSA accommodation  

  • currently lived in different areas of England (including rural and urban areas)  

  • were of different ages and ethnic backgrounds  

We used this approach to explore how these different characteristics may shape access and engagement experiences. The sample information in our accompanying dataset provides aggregate information on the characteristics of participants for the planned and achieved sample. Most survivors had experience of TSA within the last five years, with the exception of one participant.  

Participants were recruited through referrals from civil society organisations and are referred to as either "currently in TSA" or "previous experience of TSA" based on their situation at the time of their interview. 

Design and materials  

The design of the research and the research materials were developed using trauma-informed practices (see Section 9: Glossary). These practices seek to: 

  • prevent traumatisation or re-traumatisation  

  • contribute to and support recovery from trauma 

  • enable physical and psychological safety for those affected by trauma and for those working with them 

The research also received approval from the National Statistician's Data Ethics Advisory Committee (NSDEC). 

A 10 to 15-minute pre-interview briefing call was held with participants prior to the main interview. This was to outline the research process in detail, ensure informed consent, and provide an opportunity for the participant to ask any questions. 

A participant-led approach was taken in the interviews, which lasted approximately 75 minutes, to allow participants to discuss their journeys and what was most important to them. The flexible, trauma-informed interview format accommodated the specific needs and preferences of each participant, such as checking in with participants during the interview and taking breaks whenever needed. Participant preference for interview mode was discussed during the pre-briefing call, with most interviews conducted online using Microsoft Teams (38), and the remainder in person (2). 

A translation service was offered for those who preferred to participate in a language other than English. Where participant interviews were conducted in a language other than English, translated quotes used in this report have been attributed accordingly. 

Two expert advisory groups guided the research to ensure that all research materials reflected the diverse experiences of survivors. The "experts by profession" advisory group included academics, policy colleagues, domestic abuse charities and regional stakeholder networks. The "experts by experience" advisory group included women who had survived domestic abuse and had experiences of living in TSA.  

The participant materials used in the in-depth interviews are available on request from equalities@ons.gov.uk.  

Approach to analysis  

In-depth interviews were audio recorded following participants' consent and then transcribed verbatim. Interview transcripts were analysed thematically using coding to identify themes, patterns and concepts within participants' accounts. 

Initial interview transcripts were coded using open, descriptive coding, with codes subsequently organised into a coding framework. This formed the basis of continued analysis in NVivo 12 (QSR, Australia), with codes being further developed and adapted as analysis progressed. 

Findings were constantly compared within and between cases to test and explore initial themes, and differences were actively sought. 

Strengths and limitations  

Strengths of the research include: 

  • a flexible, participant-led approach to interviews, which enabled a nuanced understanding of how survivors experienced their journeys through TSA, what was important to make them to feel safe, and what could help improve TSA experiences for survivors in future 

  • the familiarity and rapport built during a pre-briefing call used to introduce the participant to the research and the researcher, providing an opportunity for questions prior to the interview, and to gain an understanding of participant needs for the interview  

  • the purposive sampling strategy which achieved a spread of participant characteristics; this encouraged a wide range of participant experiences and accounts to emerge 

  • participant recruitment through civil society organisations, which meant that survivors already connected with services could access relevant support following the interview if needed, as well as facilitating trust and encouraging participation by working with trusted sources 

  • support from advisory groups throughout the research process, which ensured the appropriateness and relevance of the research and the research materials, maximising the potential benefit and minimising risk of harm  

Limitations of the research include: 

  • the generalisability of the research findings, because these are limited to the concepts presented by participants; findings may not apply in different contexts or settings, and may change over time  

  • the recruitment being heavily reliant on civil society organisation gatekeepers to identify and invite eligible participants; this may have unintentionally excluded potential participants from taking part 

  • the variation of language used by participants and within policy documents when referring to types of accommodation and services, making it difficult to compare or contrast experiences directly 

  • the ability to collect details about accommodation and service providers; this was limited because participant recruitment was carried out by a third party 

  • the ability to capture experiences and barriers which contribute to some survivors not accessing accommodation support, because all participants in this research had accessed TSA

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11. Acknowledgements

This publication represents the outcome of a collaborative effort. The Centre for Equalities and Inclusion Qualitative Research Team are grateful for the expert advice, contributions and assistance provided by many people throughout this research. Most notably, our "experts by experience" and "experts by profession" advisory groups.

Our experts by profession group comprised Sarah Davidge (Women’s Aid), Michaela Bruckmayer (Refuge), Baljit Banga (Imkaan), Hannana Sidiqui (Southhall Black Sisters), Janet Bowstead, Nicky Stanley (University of Central Lancashire), Nancy Lombard (Glasgow Caledonian University) and Michele Burman (University of Glasgow).

We would specifically like to acknowledge the help provided at important stages of the research by:  

  • Kerry Ellis Devitt and Jess Lawrence (Interventions Alliance, part of the Seetec Group) 

  • Stacey Musimbe-Rix (Freelance researcher) 

  • Ravi K. Thiara (University of Warwick) 

  • Emilie Smeaton (Independent trauma-informed research advisor)

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12. Finding help

If you or someone you know has experienced abuse, help is available: 

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13. Related links

Domestic abuse in England and Wales overview: November 2023
Bulletin | Released 24 November 2023
Figures on domestic abuse from the Crime Survey for England and Wales, police recorded crime, and other organisations. 

Domestic abuse victim services, England and Wales: 2023
Article | Released 24 November 2023
Information on services that are available to victims of domestic abuse in England and Wales. 

Domestic abuse prevalence and trends, England and Wales: year ending March 2023
Article | Released 24 November 2023
Prevalence, long-term trends and types of domestic abuse experienced by people aged 16 years and over, based on findings from the Crime Survey for England and Wales, and police recorded crime. 

Violence against women and girls: research update November 2023
Article | Released 29 November 2023
An update of our current and future research and publications relating to violence against women and girls (VAWG). 

The lasting impact of violence against women and girls
Article | Released 24 November 2021
Violence against women and girls can lead to significant and long-lasting impacts such as mental health issues, suicide attempts and homelessness, ONS analysis shows.

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14. Cite this article

Office for National Statistics (ONS), released 10 January 2024, ONS website, article, Women who have survived domestic abuse and their experiences of temporary safe accommodation in England: January to June 2023

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View all data used in this article


Siannan Kerrigan and Alex Buckley
Telephone:  +44 1329 447359