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Advising people fleeing domestic abuse

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This page looks at common housing problems faced by people with limited leave to remain who are fleeing domestic violence. References to case law and relevant legislation and regulations are included.

Partners of British citizens or of people with settled status

The page on people fleeing domestic violence deals specifically with those who have arrived to join a UK national or settled (with indefinite leave to remain) husband, cohabitee or civil partner, and can no longer stay in the relationship because of violence. Where this applies rule 289A of the Immigration Rules (‘the domestic violence rule’) allows that person to apply to get indefinite leave to remain under certain conditions.

A ‘spousal’ visa gives limited leave to remain with no recourse to public funds and is granted to the husband, wife, civil partner or cohabitee of a British citizen or person with indefinite leave to remain. A person with a spousal visa can apply to the Home Office for a three-month grant of leave outside the immigration rules where:

  • the applicant’s relationship has broken down due to domestic violence
  • they cannot accommodate or support themselves and
  • they intend to make an application to stay permanently in the UK under the domestic violence rule.

The three-month leave period is known as the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession and is intended to give that person enough time to make an application for indefinite leave to remain under the domestic violence rule. It carries no conditions as to recourse to public funds and so enables the holder to apply for universal credit or housing benefit and state pension credit (for UC guidance see ADM C1.674-76 (pdf), for HB see circular U2/2012 (pdf)). For housing and homelessness services:

  • leave granted under this policy falls within the definition of Class B (exceptional leave to remain granted outside the immigration rules with no conditions as to recourse to public funds attached)
  • If the application for indefinite leave is successful, the applicant then qualifies as a person who falls within Class C (indefinite leave to remain).

Other people fleeing domestic violence have different rights and options. Some of these are covered below.

Partners of EEA nationals who entered the UK before 1 January 2021

A person who is the partner (or former partner) of an EEA national can use their EEA family member rights provided that:

  • the EEA national they accompanied entered the UK before 1 January 2021
  • s/he (the partner) applied to the EU Settlement Scheme on or before 30 June 2021 (or their late application has been accepted); and
  • either:
    • the decision on that application is outstanding, or
    • s/he has been granted EU pre-settled status

The spouse or civil partner of an EEA national has EEA family member rights until they are divorced or the civil partnership is dissolved. A former partner who is not an EEA national themself retains her/his family member rights if the relationship ended due to domestic violence. An immigration tribunal has ruled that this should also apply to a former partner who is an EEA national: contact the AIRE centre if you have a similar case.

A former partner who is the parent of an EEA child who is in education also has the right to reside and /or if s/he is an EEA national themself may have other EEA rights.

Refugees, etc. and people who have claimed asylum

A person who experiences domestic abuse in accommodation provided by the Home Office for asylum seekers, or while she is applying for it, can get specific help to move into refuge accommodation under Home Office procedures (pdf). ASAP provides a briefing (pdf) on the help victims should expect to receive. It has an overview of the practical steps that need to be taken to secure a Home Office funded refuge placement through s98/s95 and s4 support. See the section on what other organisations can help for refugee agencies who can advise on this.

Husbands, wives, civil partners and cohabitees of refugees and people with humanitarian protection or discretionary or exceptional leave to remain usually get the same leave as their partner, and so are eligible for a housing allocation, homelessness services and housing benefit. If the relationship has ended, however, when it is time to get the leave renewed, it is important to get expert legal advice, because the ex-partner or spouse may need to make an application for a further stay based on his/her own fear of persecution, etc. or on human rights grounds.

People with limited leave to remain

A person who has limited leave is not normally entitled to housing or benefits because limited leave usually has a ‘no public funds' condition. But there are a couple of limited exceptions – a person is entitled to UC/HB/CTR (but not local authority housing) if:

  • s/he was granted leave because of a maintenance undertaking and either:
    • she has been resident in the UK for five years (beginning on the date she entered the UK or the date the undertaking was signed, whichever is later), or
    • her sponsor (or all of them if she had more than one) has died; or
  • s/he is a national of a ECSMA or ESC member state and has leave (including leave with a ‘no public funds’ condition) but only if:
    • s/he is claiming CTR, and the claim was made before 1 April 2023,
    • s/he is claiming HB, and the claim was made before 3 May 2022, or
    • s/he is claiming UC, and the claim was made before 1 January 2021.

In each case the claimant must also show that they are habitually resident.

Partners of people with limited leave to remain are expected to leave the UK if the relationship ends. If homeless and destitute they may be able to get short-term accommodation and support from social services if children or vulnerable adults are involved, and this may include assistance with returning home. If they cannot 'go home' they should get expert legal advice about options to apply to stay in the UK (on human rights grounds or through the asylum system, for example).

Parents of a British child who entered the UK before 1 January 2021

A non-EEA national who entered the UK before 1 January 2021 who is the parent of a UK child citizen and who did not possess any right to live or work in the UK had a ‘derivative’ right to reside (from EU law) if it was the only way to guarantee the right of the child to live in the UK. This right is known as a Zambrano right after the case that established it. From 1 July 2021 onwards a person who applied to the EU Settlement Scheme with a Zambrano right to reside can continue to rely on it, until:

  • his/her application to the EU Settlement Scheme is decided; or
  • after then if s/he has been granted EU pre-settled status.

A person with a continuing Zambrano right has the right to live and work in the UK, and has the right to rent, but does not have access to local authority housing and welfare benefits. After five years lawful residence s/he will usually get EU settled status and has the same rights to housing and benefits as a person with indefinite leave.

If a parent of a British child does not have Zambrano rights, it may be possible to apply for leave to remain based on family or private life (Immigration Rules, Appendix FM), and ask for such leave to allow recourse to public funds. It is important to get expert legal advice about this.

More details are provided on the page for ‘Zambrano’ carers.

Accommodation and support in other cases with children

People who cannot apply for indefinite leave under the domestic violence rule (or rely on other options such as EEA rules or refugee status) have to rely on social services (see people with social care needs for more on this) or voluntary sector provision if they become homeless or have no income.

A person looking after children can apply to the local authority social services department. They have powers to fund accommodation and support under the Children Act 1989. If there are difficulties with such an application it is best to get specialist advice from a solicitor who is expert in community care, or from a women's aid organisation or advice centre.

In general, such applications may result at best in an offer to fund the return home, unless the applicant has a strong reason to remain in the UK.  If that is the case, it is best to get good immigration advice first, since an application to stay in the UK may then either create some option for accommodation and support as an asylum seeker or be the reason why social services should accommodate while the application to stay is pending.  

Getting help from social services for a vulnerable adult

A person who needs active support and involvement because they are traumatised by the violence may be able to get help under community care provisions.

In England, section 9 of the Care Act 2014  imposes a duty on local authorities to assess the needs of any person who contacts them who appears to ‘have needs for care and support’.  This covers any needs arising from ‘physical or mental impairment or illness’ (and this may include needs arising from trauma or extreme distress).  If the person cannot achieve two or more ‘outcomes’ unaided or without pain then help must be provided, which may include accommodation and support.  The outcomes are:

‘(a) managing and maintaining nutrition;

(b) maintaining personal hygiene;

(c) managing toilet needs;

(d) being appropriately clothed;

(e) being able to make use of the adult’s home safely;

(f) maintaining a habitable home environment;

(g) developing and maintaining family or other personal relationships;

(h) accessing and engaging in work, training, education or volunteering;

(i) making use of necessary facilities or services in the local community including public transport, and recreational facilities or services; and 

(j) carrying out any caring responsibilities the adult has for a child.'

So, if the person is unable to look after him/herself, or perform the basic tasks involved in care, even temporarily, because of the violence, s/he may meet the eligibility criteria and be able to get care under the Act.  For more on this see advising people with social care needs.

In Wales, the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 applies to vulnerable adults and to children. For more, see advising people with social care needs in Wales.

Other sources of help for women fleeing violence

The women's aid network website offers a directory of organisations that can help women fleeing violence and they also help run the Domestic Violence 24 hour Helpline - 0808 2000 247.

Southall Black Sisters run a helpline for women fleeing abuse open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays 9.30 – 4.30 on 0208 571 0800. Their services are open to all. They are also able to provide small amounts of financial support for women fleeing violence with no recourse to public funds.

The Rights of Women organisation specialises in dealing with violence against women and its website offers advice and other services. It has telephone advice lines giving different types of advice - details here.

Refuge has online advice service open Monday – Friday, 3pm - 10pm. 

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