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Advising people fleeing domestic abuse

This page is for housing advisers. If you are a new arrival please click here for information more relevant to you.

This page looks at common housing problems faced by people with limited leave to remain who are fleeing domestic abuse. 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 abuse 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 abuse. Where this applies rule VDA 4.1 of the Immigration Rules (Appendix Victims of Domestic Abuse) (‘the domestic violence rule’) allows that person to apply to get indefinite leave to remain under certain conditions. For more information about applying for leave as a survivor/victim of domestic abuse see the Home Office caseworker guidance (pdf). A person should always get immigration advice from a OISC registered adviser before applying to change their leave. 

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 (LOTR) where:

  • the applicant’s relationship has broken down due to domestic abuse
  • 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 Migrant Victims of Domestic Abuse Concession (MVDAC) and is intended to give that person enough time to make an application for indefinite leave to remain under the domestic violence rule. A survivor/victim should always get immigration advice from a OISC registered adviser before applying for MVDAC as it does not mean that a grant of indefinite leave under the domestic violence rule will automatically follow.

MVDAC is granted without a ‘no public funds condition’ so the holder can apply for universal credit or housing benefit and state pension credit and being a form of LOTR the holder is exempt from the requirement to be habitually resident: see guidance  ADM C1.674-76 for UC,  circular U2/2012 for HB (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).

Spouses of UK residents re-entering the UK abandonment overseas

The spouse (or former spouse) of a British citizen or person with settled status can be given leave to re-enter the UK on the grounds that they were deliberately stranded by their British/settled spouse overseas. This is a form of domestic abuse that exploits the survivor’s weak immigration status and is called ‘transnational marriage abandonment’ – see Home Office caseworker guidance (pdf). For example, the wife of a British citizen who is forced to live with her husband’s relatives overseas and denied access to her passport and travel documents.

A survivor with this form of leave to re-enter the UK is eligible for a housing allocation and homelessness assistance (Class FJ) and does not have to show they are habitually resident. They are also entitled to universal credit or housing benefit – in this case because their residence was established before abandonment and continued because they did not voluntarily relinquish it: HB circular A2/2024.

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

Anyone fleeing abuse can get housing association accommodation but may face problems if they cannot pay the rent because they are not eligible for benefits.

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 to get access to housing and benefits provided that:

  • the EEA national they accompanied entered the UK before 1 January 2021
  • s/he (the partner) entered the UK and 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 (SI 2020/1209, regs 4, 11, 12(1)(g),(i)); or
    • s/he has been granted EU pre-settled status (SI 2020/1309, schedule 4, paras 1-2, 3(e), 4, 5(b), 6(d), 7(c))..

The spouse or civil partner of an EEA national can use their EEA family member rights to access housing and benefits until they are divorced, or the civil partnership is dissolved. A former spouse or civil partner who is not an EEA national themself can use their retained family member rights if the relationship ended due to domestic violence.

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 section 95/section 98 and after then on how to apply for section 4 support if their claim for asylum is refused. The Scottish Refugee Council can advise on this.

People with limited leave

A sponsored migrant or person who has limited leave is not normally entitled to housing or benefits because limited leave is usually only granted with a ‘no public funds' condition. But there are a couple of 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 maintenance undertaking (pdf) 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 (whatever date the claim is made); or
    • s/he has been awarded HB, on a claim that was made before 3 May 2022 and has continued without any breaks ever since; or
    • s/he has been awarded UC, on a claim that was made before 1 January 2021 and has continued without any breaks since.

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 work departments 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 British children who entered the UK before 1 January 2021

A non-EEA national who entered the UK before 1 January 2021 and who at any time before the Brexit transition period ended was  the sole parent with care of a British citizen child (known as a ‘Zambrano carer’) could apply to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) on that basis. The parent may have had sole care on the grounds of domestic abuse or other reasons. Provided the parent’s application to the EUSS was accepted their rights to live, work and access housing and benefits continue to be determined by the rules that applied before the Brexit transition period ended: see the Zambrano carer's page for details.

A person with a continuing Zambrano right has the right to live and work in the UK and in Scotland is eligible for housing and homelessness assistance, but not for universal credit or housing benefit. After five years' lawful residence s/he will usually get EU settled status and have 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 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. See also the Home Office caseworker guidance on private life.

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) will 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 work department who have powers to fund accommodation and support under the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 section 22. The same restrictions apply as for help for a vulnerable adult but it should be offered if it is necessary to avoid a breach of human rights. For more on this see the page on people with social care needs.

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 social work help for a vulnerable adult

A person who needs support or care because they are traumatised by the abuse may be able to get help under social work provisions. The Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 section 12 places a duty on every local authority to make assistance available in cash or kind 'where the giving of assistance ... would avoid the local authority being caused greater expense in the giving of assistance in another form, or where probable aggravation of the person's need would cause greater expense to the local authority on a later occasion'. This help cannot be given to migrants just because they are destitute, or suffering from the physical effects of destitution, but can be given to prevent them coming to further harm which, arguably, would cause a later drain on resources as envisaged by section 12.

Help under s12 is covered by the restrictions imposed by Schedule 3 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, which covers anyone in the UK in breach of the immigration laws; but such restrictions should not usually apply to anyone applying to stay in the UK on human rights grounds or under the domestic violence rule. 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: see the links page.

Other sources of help for women fleeing violence

Scottish Women's Aid offers a directory of organisations that can help women fleeing abuse and they also help run the Domestic Abuse 24-hour Helpline - 0800 027 1234. The helpline is one way to access services run specifically for women fleeing abuse who have no recourse to public funds, which can also be contacted directly.

Refuge has a UK-wide domestic abuse helpline, open 24 hours at 0808 2000 247, which is free of charge.

Southall Black Sisters run a helpline for women fleeing abuse open Monday to Friday 10.00am–4.00pm on 0208 571 0800. Their services are open to all. They are also able to provide small amounts of financial support for women fleeing abuse with no recourse to public funds.

Two refuges provide services specifically for black and ethnic minority women: