Pan-Sussex Strategy for Domestic Abuse Accommodation and Support 2021-2024

Diverse and appropriate

Providing a wide range of appropriate safe accommodation and support options

This strategic priority is informed by the demand on and current provision of safe accommodation in Sussex. These factors highlighted the need for a more diverse and appropriate range of safe accommodation and support options, a common finding throughout the needs assessment and stakeholder engagement. 

Demand in Sussex

Homelessness Case Level Information Collection (H-CLIC) collects homelessness data and indicates the level of demand on local housing authorities. The following table, largely based on H-Clic submissions, shows the number of households owed either a prevention or relief duty where the reason for the loss of their last settled home was domestic abuse.[1] Where data is missing, figures for the whole year could not be obtained from the relevant council in the timeframes and so totals are likely to be higher than stated here. Data reporting must be improved to capture an accurate picture of demand on housing authorities for future refreshes of the needs assessment, as previously discussed.

Table 4: Homelessness data for 2019-20 and 2020-21

Local authority District/Borough 2019-20 2020-21
East Sussex Eastbourne 53 -
Hastings 104 120
Lewes 24 -
Rother 54 -
Wealden 57 59
West Sussex Adur 10 26
Arun 33 49
Chichester 17 -
Crawley 49 83
Horsham 26 12
Mid Sussex 50 47
Worthing 46 49
Brighton & Hove Brighton & Hove 11 53
Total Sussex 534 498

Another component of analysing service demand is looking at out-of-area referral numbers. Victims/survivors moving between areas is a common response to abuse. For example, over a 12-month period, 72% of refuge referrals where a postcode was provided were from out of area in East Sussex and 85% in West Sussex.  This figure was 64% in Brighton & Hove for a three month period. Service providers and housing authorities also provided anecdotal evidence about people from other areas outside Sussex, approaching them for help with housing due to domestic abuse. With national and local evidence highlighting this common trend, Sussex must consider the demand of out-of-area referrals when commissioning future services. 

Provision in Sussex

According to national refuge referral mechanism for women, Routes to Support (RtS), as of 1 September 2021, there were eight providers offering domestic abuse services in Sussex.[2] This figure refers to the biggest commissioned and non-commissioned services. There are many smaller organisations also working across Sussex - please see Appendix 5 for a full service list.

Single sex, women’s refuge is the principal safe accommodation option in Sussex, other than four specialist LGBTQ+ dispersed safe accommodation units in Brighton & Hove. The remit of refuge accommodation is to provide a safe place for a victim/survivor to receive emotional and practical support and to start their recovery. Interviews with survivors at a Sussex refuge suggested that staff can have a positive impact on a victim/survivor’s recovery and that peer support and companionship is also a valuable component of having shared facilities.


Case study

A refuge referral was received from London for a woman with two young children. Due to coercive control and emotional abuse from her husband, the woman had very low confidence in caring for her children.

Refuge staff worked to support the client in establishing routines and preparing meals. The children received dedicated support from the refuge’s children’s workers. Refuge staff supported the client with linking her up with other support services and to find school and nursery places for the children. The client attended the Freedom Programme.

The client and her children received specialist support and began to recover from abuse. The client grew in confidence in herself and in her abilities as a mother.


There are 90 refuge spaces in Sussex; 72 of these spaces (80.9%) are commissioned, 10 spaces (11.2%) are not commissioned, and data is unknown for seven spaces.[3] In West Sussex, all properties have shared facilities. One East Sussex refuge has a self-contained unit, the remaining four only have shared facilities. The Brighton & Hove and East Sussex refuges can accept teenage sons up to the age of 18, when safe to do so. West Sussex refuges do not accept male children over the age of 12. The largest proportion of referrals to Sussex refuges were self-referrals: 60% in Brighton & Hove, 40% in East Sussex and 34% in West Sussex.

The Council of Europe (CoE) recommends that there is at least one specialist violence against women shelter in every region and one family place (victim/survivor and their children) per 10,000 of the local population.[4] The CoE advises that these spaces may be dispersed and must be able to support those with additional needs. For Sussex as a whole, an estimated 171 spaces for women and their children are needed to safely fulfil this standard. The breakdown of current and target totals of refuge spaces are provided in the following table.

Table 5: Breakdown of current and target totals of refuge spaces across Sussex

Local authority area Current total CoE target based on local population
East Sussex 47 56
West Sussex 24 86
Brighton & Hove 19 29
Total 90 171
  • Sussex local authorities should provide more domestic abuse accommodation spaces for women and their children, according to the Council of Europe’s minimum standards. 

A key finding of the needs assessment and engagement was the need for a more diverse and appropriate range of safe accommodation and support options. Stakeholders emphasised that traditional refuge is not always suitable for a wide variety of victims/survivors, including older people, those with care, support needs or pets, and people with Multiple Complex Needs (MCN) as will be discussed in a following section.

Traditional refuge can be considered unsuitable for a variety of reasons:

  • Shared facilities were frequently named as a reason that victims/survivors do not access or maintain their stay in refuge. For individuals with certain mental health conditions, such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder; cultural differences from other residents, for instance, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) victims/survivors; transgender women, or those with teenage sons, shared facilities can be a major barrier to accessing or settling into refuge.
  • The strict house rules, while important for safety reasons, can often be difficult for individuals to adjust to and victim/survivors told us the rules can often feel unfair. One specialist stakeholder shared an example in which the refuge required children to be supervised at all times and when the resident left her children briefly to use the bathroom, she was told off by refuge staff. These sorts of rules can act as barriers to victims/survivors maintaining their stay in refuge.
  • Victim/survivors told us the rules can be challenging for those who may have just left the controlling environment of domestic abuse. This setting can also hinder independent living.
  • An eviction or early departure from one refuge can mean that victim/survivor is then barred from other local refuges, reducing victims/survivors’ choices even more. However, such a departure is often due to a lack of specialist support within the refuge, such as substance misuse or culturally specific support, rather than that individual being a risk to other residents.[5]
  • Refuge is often unaffordable for working victims/survivors, who do not have access to Housing Benefit to contribute to the costs of supported living.
  • Provisions for larger families are limited. The largest number of refuge rooms have two beds (29 rooms, 32.6%). Only eight rooms in Sussex refuges have four beds and no rooms in Sussex have five or more beds.[6]

Case study

The client self-referred via a domestic abuse helpline. An outreach worker visited the woman in West Sussex. She is a Gypsy woman with seven children. The client disclosed that she had previously experienced domestic abuse from a former partner and had recently experienced physical abuse from her current partner. She was scared and wanted to leave the privately rented property they shared.

The outreach worker spent a day contacting refuges across the country for the client and her children. No refuge across the United Kingdom could accommodate the client’s seven children. The outreach worker continued to contact the client and to look for alternative forms of safe accommodation.

After a week, the client disengaged and contact with the service ended. The client left the private rented property. It was suspected that she was travelling with her partner and the children elsewhere in the country.  


Another frequent finding was the lack of choice that victims/survivors are presented with when they access domestic abuse support. Survivor engagement found that either victims/survivors frequently did not know what their options were, or that refuge was their only option. Sussex refuge residents provided feedback that if their choices had been explained more clearly, they might have made different decisions. One woman shared that if she had known how long schools’ waiting lists were, she would not have moved to Sussex. Feedback suggested that providing photos of available rooms would also make the process more honest and accountable.


“It is sink or swim - if you don’t take what is offered to you, you don’t get any help” - one resident interviewed at a Sussex refuge


If refuge is not suitable or available, or there are limited other accommodation options, victims/survivors in Sussex are often placed in temporary or emergency accommodation, including Bed and Breakfasts. These sorts of placements are often mixed-gender, with no specialist support offer in place, and so are not considered appropriate domestic abuse accommodation. Although it is acknowledged that housing teams sometimes have no other option, their use for domestic abuse victims/survivors should be reduced.

Sussex should provide a more diverse and appropriate range of choices by expanding the current offer of safe accommodation. With more options, individuals will feel more empowered as they are able to select the offer that best suits their and their family's needs. 

Rather than considering different housing options in isolation, Sussex must adopt a Whole Housing Approach (WHA) when commissioning more diverse and appropriate options.  A WHA is a “framework for addressing the housing and safety needs of victim/survivors” and considers all the main housing tenure types and the pathways to maintaining or accessing safe accommodation.[7] The expanded range of offers should include:

  • Dispersed, self-contained accommodation: Such accommodation provides safe spaces to start recovery while living independently. These units must be fully furnished, accessible and varied in size to accommodate larger families and able to accept pets. This type of accommodation would also better meet the needs of various groups for which shared facilities would not be suitable or appropriate, including women with teenage sons. Support services will be linked up with these units, which should be spread across the county to ensure equality of provision, including around Crawley where there is currently a lack of domestic abuse safe accommodation.
  • Specialist safe accommodation: The need for more specialist safe accommodation will be discussed in a following section. Specialist services should be accessible to male victims/survivors with and without children; LGBTQ+ victims/survivors; and victims/survivors from Black and minoritised ethnic groups, GRT communities, those with multiple, complex needs, and those with no recourse to public funds.
  • Short-term/respite accommodation: East Sussex is currently developing a 12-month respite accommodation pilot with DLUHC funding, for women who are, or at risk of, rough sleeping. Such provision is limited elsewhere. Brighton & Hove and West Sussex will increase respite accommodation that can accommodate victims/survivors in need of short-term care and support, whether in crisis due to MCN or short-term gaps in housing.
  • Sanctuary Schemes: Schemes which allow households to remain safely in their own homes will be discussed later in the Strategy but should be included in a broader menu of safe accommodation options. Sussex will continue to invest in and raise awareness of these schemes that can enhance an individual’s physical and perceived safety in their own home.
  • Move-on accommodation: Sussex will improve the offer of move-on options for when victims/survivors are ready to leave safe accommodation. Current options are limited, slowing down individuals’ journeys into recovery and independence from services. By linking up refuge and other safe accommodation with appropriate move-on options, Sussex will ensure more cohesive accommodation offers.
  • Second-stage accommodation: Such accommodation could be used for those who have already fled abuse and are in a place of relative safety, and as such would not require a room in a refuge, but still require support.
  • Better Private Rented Sector (PRS) options: PRS is the most common move-on option in Sussex. PRS options for those leaving safe accommodation will be high-quality, affordable and linked up with support services.
  • Appropriate and accredited accommodation options: Registered social landlords will be encouraged to take a Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA) Health Check and work toward DAHA accreditation to improve their response to their residents who are victims/survivors. All accommodation units will be appropriate and quality-assured by meeting Women’s Aid,[8] Imkaan[9] or Male Domestic Abuse Network quality standards[10] and where relevant, the Government’s National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing.[11]
  • Flexible funding: Sussex will develop a flexible fund to be utilised for one-off housing and support costs in emergency situations.

 

  • A broader menu of domestic abuse safe accommodation options, in line with a Whole Housing Approach, should be developed in Sussex. Consideration should be given to reflecting rural and urban community needs in any service design and that all accommodation options are appropriate and quality assured.

 

Footnotes

[1] A prevention duty refers to individuals who are at risk of homelessness and a relief duty refers to those who are already homeless. If an individual is found to be owed either duty, that person is eligible for housing support from the local authority.  Source: Prevention and relief duties | Westminster City Council

[2] Women’s Aid, 2021a, pg.4

[3] Women’s Aid, 2021a, pg.16.

[4] Council of Europe. (2008). Combating Violence Against Women: Minimum Standards for Support Services. Available at: cover_en.cdr (coe.int). Strasbourg: Council of Europe, p.18.

[5] Women’s Aid. (2021a). Sussex: Profile of Domestic Abuse Provision. Bristol: Women’s Aid, p.26.

[6] Women's Aid (2021a), p.24.

[7] What is the Whole Housing Approach? - daha - Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (dahalliance.org.uk)

[8] Women’s Aid. (2018). National Quality Standards. Available at: National-Standards-2018.pdf (netdna-ssl.com). Bristol: Women’s Aid.

[9] Imkaan. (2014). Summary: Imkaan Accredited Quality Standards. Available at: Commissioners Pack Single Parts.indd (netdna-ssl.com).

[10] Service Standards - Male Domestic Abuse Network (mdan.org.uk)

[11] Supported housing: national statement of expectations - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)