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

Responsive to multiple disadvantages

Establishing specialist provision to support victim/survivors with specific needs, including multiple complex needs

A prominent theme throughout the stakeholder engagement was the current lack of domestic abuse accommodation and support provision for people  with specific needs, including the protected characteristics mentioned above, care leavers, ex-service personnel and their families, but particularly those with multiple complex needs (MCN). Therefore, this section focuses on the identified gap and need for a responsive approach to MCN.

Fulfilling Lives South East (FLSE), an organisation working with women with MCN across East Sussex and Brighton & Hove, stated that “MCN has a variety of meanings in services and third sector organisations, depending on the needs of the client group. In general, MCN includes people on the edges of society who are often excluded from or who cannot access mainstream services due to the complexity of their lives. For FLSE, MCN means a person who is experiencing 3 out of 4 of the following:”[1]

Homelessness: This includes those who have no safe and secure housing and are rough sleeping, sofa surfing, living in temporary or emergency accommodation, Refuge or prison.

Substance and/or alcohol misuse: Substance misuse is one of the most commonly experienced problems for people with whom FLSE work. Many either misuse or have misused alcohol or substances and this is commonly experienced in parallel with mental health problems.

Mental ill health: For most people experiencing MCN, poor mental health is very common. Access to services is often difficult due to a person’s “Dual Diagnosis”, resulting in people bouncing between these two support sectors.

Repeat offending: FLSE statistics show that people with MCN are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. These individuals are often engaged in repeat cycles of acquisitive crime, such as shoplifting and theft; their offending often being driven by active addiction. The majority of FLSE female clients in contact with the criminal justice system have experienced domestic abuse.

Through this Strategy, Sussex local authorities recognise the intersectionality between domestic abuse and MCN. FLSE reported that 93% of their clients have experienced domestic abuse.[2] Stakeholder and survivor feedback noted how in some cases victims/survivors with MCN may have to prioritise addressing other needs in order to be ready to receive support for domestic abuse.

With the Covid-19 pandemic increasing the use of digital and remote services, MCN specialists highlighted the accessibility issues faced by homeless and disadvantaged individuals in relation to housing and support assessments which are solely completed over the phone. In-person support and physical safe spaces are particularly important in ensuring accessibility for this cohort.

Case Study

Alex (not her real name) is homeless and experiencing domestic violence. As the only route into specialist services, she was referred to the local commissioned domestic abuse service; a service that delivers support initially via the telephone to take forward referrals and assess support needs. However, the client was homeless and did not have a reliable phone or a private space to take a call and so she was unable to respond to the calls from the service, and the case was closed.

  • Sussex local authorities, specialist domestic abuse accommodation providers and support services should holistically support victims/survivors with multiple complex needs and ensure accessibility of services by providing both remote and in-person assessments and support.

Women’s Aid Annual Audit 2021 stated that there are only two refuges in England exclusively for women with substance use needs or complex needs, accounting for 13 bed spaces.[3] The following table illustrates which refuge services across Sussex consider referrals from women with named support needs.[4]


Table 6: Referrals considered from women with named support needs in Sussex refuge provision

Refuge service Will consider referrals from women:
With mental health support needs With drug use support needs With alcohol use support needs With previous refuge evictions Who are ex-offenders
Refuge - Eastbourne Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Refuge - Hastings Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Refuge - Lewes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Refuge - Rother Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Refuge - Wealden Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
RISE - LGBT Service Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Safe in Sussex – Amber House Community Refuge No No No No No
Safe in Sussex - Chichester Yes No No No No
Safe in Sussex - Worthing Yes No No No No
Stonewater – Brighton Refuge Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Although the above table suggests referrals for women with MCN are considered in several refuges across the county, the lack of provision for this cohort in West Sussex is evident. Additionally, Housing Option teams and outreach support services repeatedly expressed concerns over accessibility, even for those refuges alleging they consider referrals from victims/survivors with MCN. 

The needs assessment showed that in 2020-21, of those denied access to or deemed ineligible for accommodation services across Sussex, an estimated 52% had mental health issues, 40% had alcohol misuse problems and 27% had drug misuse problems.

Stakeholders reinforced how individuals with MCN present the highest vulnerability and risk, but also have the lowest possibility of gaining access to safe spaces and are often marginalised by services. Organisations that do not hold a statutory duty to do so, reported on multiple occasions having paid out of their own budgets for Bed & Breakfast accommodation to house survivors with MCN in the short-term, due to a lack of appropriate and accessible accommodation options. This is a prominent gap in the provision of domestic abuse accommodation and support in Sussex.

The needs assessment highlighted that mental health issues, as well as alcohol and drug misuse, were amongst the most common reasons for denying a space within or evicting someone from a refuge. Referrals may be declined due to the complexity of their needs, unsuitability of facilities and the lack of specialist support. Even where spaces are provided, they are often challenging for victims/survivors with MCN to maintain due to the mismatch between strict accommodation rules and their complex lifestyles.

Feedback from complex needs IDVAs and mental health professionals suggested that traditional refuge provision is not the most appropriate setting to support women with MCN. Shared facilities, strict rules and 9am to 5pm staffing can all be problematic factors for victim/survivors experiencing complex lifestyles. As women with MCN commonly have children removed from their care, the presence of families within refuges can also be highly re-traumatising. Feedback proposed that traditional refuges should be adapted to better accommodate victims/survivors with MCN. The following case study reinforces the difficulties faced by women with MCN within refuges, in addition to the lack of alternative options available to them.

Case study

Jude (not real name) is female and has experienced significant childhood trauma and was moved around through the care system. As an adult Jude’s life has been defined by domestic abuse, self-harm, and poly drug use. DA incidents have become increasingly severe recently – some were reported to the police and her case was heard at MARAC several times. Although Jude was allocated a place in refuge, she was quickly evicted following an argument with another resident despite there not being an investigation where Jude was able to share her account of events or reflect on ways to resolve the conflict with the fellow resident.

Jude had no option but to return to the local area either living where she experienced significant childhood trauma or staying with the alleged perpetrator, as she was not allowed to move to other refuges across the local area and did not have any other housing options available to her.

When victims/survivors with MCN are denied spaces in refuges, they are often placed in temporary or emergency accommodation. Stakeholders told us that these forms of accommodation are unsuitable for MCN due to being mixed gender, with shared facilities, strict tenancy agreements and little-to-no specialist support provided. If victims/survivors are placed in these forms of accommodation, in-reach specialist teams, floating support and IDVAs should be in place to support them.

In order to meet the needs of individuals with MCN, accommodation should be flexible, longer-term, staffed 24/7, with limited shared facilities and continuing specialist wraparound support for mental health, alcohol/substance misuse and offending. This form of accommodation would reduce evictions and consequently also reduce homelessness, disengagement with services and the risk of returning to perpetrators.

To better understand the needs, in September 2021, East Sussex County Council hosted a partnership round-table event, inviting partners and providers to discuss safe accommodation options for those who experience multiple disadvantages.

Concerns around limited and unsuitable move-on options for victims/survivors with MCN were also raised. FLSE highlighted the benefits of adopting a ‘Housing First’ model, paired with specialist domestic abuse wraparound support, in ensuring accommodation is appropriate to MCN and simultaneously provides a long-term housing solution. [5]

“Housing is seen as a human right by Housing First services. There are no conditions around ‘housing readiness’ before providing someone with a home; rather, secure housing is viewed as a stable platform from which other issues can be addressed.”[6]

  • Accommodation and support options appropriate for the needs of domestic abuse victims/survivors with multiple complex needs will be explored, including short-term respite facilities, specialist housing, move-on pathways and long-term floating support.



[1] Fulfilling Lives South East. (2021). Reflecting on the Needs of Women with Multiple and Complex Needs who are at Risk of /or Experiencing Domestic Abuse, August 2021, p.2-3.

[2] Fulfilling Lives South East, p.3.

[3] Women’s Aid. (2021b). The Domestic Abuse Report 2021: The Annual Audit, 2021. Bristol: Women’s Aid. Available at: Bristol: Women’s Aid.

[4] Women’s Aid, (2021a), p.27.

[5] Fulfilling Lives South East, p.5.

[6] Housing First in England The Principles.pdf (