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CIH Scotland

Housing advisers


Advising people fleeing domestic abuse

This page is for housing advisers. If you are a new arrival please click here to go to sections 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.

What are the housing and housing benefit rights of people fleeing domestic abuse?

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 289A of the Immigration Rules (‘the domestic violence rule’) allows that person to apply to get indefinite leave to remain under certain conditions.

Before 2012, those applying for indefinite leave under the domestic violence rule were not eligible for a housing allocation, homelessness services or benefits until they got the leave. However, on 1st April 2012 the UK Government introduced a policy which applies only to people on a ‘spousal’ visa (limited leave to remain with no recourse to public funds granted to the husband, wife, civil partner or cohabitee of a British citizen or person with indefinite leave to remain).  It applies 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 policy allows the applicant to apply to the Home Office for a three-month grant of leave outside the immigration rules to enable them to make an application for ILR under the domestic violence rule.  It carries no conditions as to recourse to public funds and so enables the holder to apply for housing benefit and related passported benefits (this is made explicit in the guidance issued by the Home Office). 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 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.

Provision for women fleeing abuse

The women's aid network has been advising, housing and supporting women fleeing domestic abuse across the UK for over 30 years. 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.

Southall Black Sisters have been campaigning for the rights of black women since 1979 and run a helpline for women fleeing abuse open Mondays to Fridays 10.00 – 5.00 (except Wednesdays 12:30 - 1:30). 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:

EEA nationals

Husbands, wives and civil partners of EEA nationals retain their right to reside as family members while the legal relationship continues and also may retain it when it ends. There are special rules that enable this for those fleeing abuse: find more about them in the section on EEA family members.

Cohabitees of EEA nationals may face more difficulties, because once the relationship has ended they can no longer rely on it to give them rights. They may, however, have other EEA rights:

  • a permanent right to reside if they or their ex-partner have lived in the UK for five years or more
  • a right to reside as the parent caring for the child of an EEA worker because the child has a right to reside to complete his/her education.

See other EEA nationals for more on this.

In November 2012 an immigration tribunal ruled that the ex-cohabitee of an EEA national who had ended the relationship due to her partner’s violence is entitled to the same treatment as other non-EEA nationals and considered for leave in line with the immigration rules on domestic violence.  Contact the AIRE centre if you have similar cases.

Refugees, etc

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.

There are specific procedures to help asylum seekers who need to flee domestic abuse within Home Office asylum support accommodation. Scottish Refugee Council can advise on this.

People from Macedonia and Turkey

A person from one of these countries with any form of leave, including limited leave with a no public funds condition, are eligible for housing benefit (and related passported benefits) provided that they are also habitually resident. Temporary admission is not sufficient because it does not amount to a right to reside (Yesiloz v LB Camden).  The right to benefits arises because these countries have signed and ratified the Council of Europe Social Charter or the European Convention on Social and Medical Assistance.

Nationals of Macedonia and Turkey will only be eligible for homelessness assistance or for an allocation of housing if they have some form of leave that makes them eligible: see refugees, people with limited leave, people with indefinite leave.

All other people with limited leave to remain

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).

Domestic abuse and parents of British children

The parent/s of a UK citizen child who do not possess any right to live or work in the UK of their own must be granted a right to reside if it is 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. In some cases it may be possible to apply for leave to remain on the basis of family or private life, and also to ask for such leave to allow recourse to public funds. It is important to get expert legal advice about which of these options is suitable for each case as this is a developing area of law.

Parents with a Zambrano right can approach the Home Office and ask for confirmation of the right to live in the UK, which will be granted (a right to reside under regulation 15A(4A) of the EEA regulations), but this is not issued to parents where another carer may be available for the child (e.g. the other parent). Domestic violence may, of course, affect the likelihood of this, and parents in this situation should get expert legal advice especially as this is a new area of law and still in development.   

Parents with a Zambrano right are not entitled to means-tested benefits (housing benefit, income support, etc). The right to claim benefits ended on 8 November 2012 at the same time as the Zambrano right was included in the EEA regulations.

In Scotland, parents with a Zambrano right are eligible for housing and homelessness assistance.

Finding accommodation and support for victims of domestic abuse who cannot apply under the domestic violence rule or are ineligible for benefits or housing

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. An adult without children may apply for help under section 12 of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968. All these social services are restricted by legislation, but should be offered if it is necessary to avoid a breach of human rights. See below for more on this and also 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.

Background Topics

How can we improve housing for new migrants in the UK?

A Housing Practitioners' Guide to Integrating Asylum Seekers & Refugees

A Housing Practitioners Guide to Integrating Asylum Seekers and Refugees

Published by the Scottish Refugee Council with support from CIH Scotland

Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland