Former England captain Catherine Spencer has criticised the Rugby Football Union’s “lack of leadership”.
Contracts for England’s 15-a-side women were not renewed after the 2017 World Cup as the RFU focused on sevens rugby.
RFU chief Steve Brown told BBC Sport on Monday it was their “ambition” to award full-time contracts in both formats of the game this season.
But Spencer said: “The players are stuck in the middle of a lot of misinformation and they’re frustrated.”
The Times reported on Thursday that Brown’s interview with the BBC was the first players had heard about possible new contracts.
“There is a lack of effective leadership and a lack of direction,” Spencer added. “As a result of that, mixed messages are coming out from the RFU and they need to be clear with the players involved.”
BBC Sport understands contracts have not yet been offered to the players and they have been given contrasting information from senior managers at the RFU.
One current England women’s player, who wished to remain anonymous, told the BBC “it’s a mess and this isn’t fair on any of the players”.
‘It’s people’s lives’
In the women’s game, full-time contracts are awarded by the RFU based on the next major tournament – in 2017 that was the 15-a-side World Cup, followed by the Sevens World Cup in San Francisco in 2018.
Brown said this week the women’s game is top of their priority list, despite financial uncertainty and job redundancies at the RFU, and it remains their ambition to fully professionalise both formats as early as this season.
But he also admitted the RFU’s policy of switching between the two has not really worked, adding the sevens contracts were a “compromise position”.
Spencer told BBC Sport: “It’s been tough for players for the last few years and they’re trying to be as professional as possible but with a backdrop of uncertainty and anxiety over where their future lies.
“Do they need to go and get jobs or are they going to get contracts to play rugby?
“It’s people’s lives here, not knowing how to pay the next mortgage or rent and having to negotiate it with employers. It’s a really tricky time.”
‘Players need to speak out’
England’s most-capped player Rocky Clark, who announced her retirement on Monday, also urged the RFU to award full-time contracts in a bid to stop England falling behind other nations such as New Zealand and Australia after winning the 2014 World Cup.
But Spencer, who retired in 2011, believes it is time for the current players to talk.
“I would like to see some players speak out,” she added. “It’s what’s needed now.
“The players are there because they love the sport and they’ve made lots of sacrifices to get there. They don’t want to be detrimental to their own rugby careers. They worry it might affect selection or actually affect their future contracts if they do come to fruition.
“But it’s time for a collective voice and for them to give out the game message that something needs to be done.”
The Rugby Players’ Association (RPA) have also called for clarity over the contract situation, saying the England women’s rugby team “deserve certainty”.
A statement read: “While we acknowledge the RFU’s investment in the women’s game, we share the frustrations raised in the media and are seeking timely assurances so that the situation can be resolved and the players can make fully informed decisions about their futures.”