What are my rights?

Domestic abuse is a crime. You have certain rights under the law designed to protect you.

Know your rights.

Domestic abuse is a crime in the UK. You have certain rights according to the law which are designed to protect you from harm perpetrated by an abuser.

Your right to legal help

Domestic abuse is against the law. You have every right to call the police and report your abuser’s behaviour. If you are in an emergency, call 999. You can also use ‘civil’ laws to protect yourself and your children – for example, by getting a civil order that stops your abuser from contacting you, such as a Non-Molestation Order or a Restraining Order. This doesn’t require police involvement. However, if your abuser breaks a civil order it may be a criminal offence and he could be arrested.

You can get further information by talking to a solicitor, visiting websites run by lawyers, such as Rights of Women or by calling Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline, 24-hours a day, for free and in confidence, on 0808 2000 247. You can also access support online at www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk

Your right to housing

If you are experiencing abuse from a current or former partner, you and your children have the right to seek safety. You can go to a refuge, or seek support from any local council. You can also seek support to make your property safer.

There are options and support is available. However, if you are planning to leave your abuser, it is important to seek expert support. Leaving is often the most dangerous time for a woman. The abuse may become more serious, as your partner tries to maintain his control over you. 

You can call Refuge, in confidence, on our  National Domestic Abuse Helpline, 24-hours a day, on 0808 2000 247. If you are in an emergency, always call 999.

Your financial rights

Abusers may prevent you from earning or accessing your own money; spend or take your money without your consent; build up debts in your name without your knowledge or consent; damage your possessions or property. If you are separated and have children, the abuser might withhold child maintenance payments as a way to continue their abuse and control.

If you are experiencing economic abuse, here are some practical first steps you can take to protect yourself. Remember, only make them if you can do so safely:

Your right to protect your children

It is common for abusers to use children and child contact as a method of control. They might try to turn the children against you, or make threats to hurt them or take them away from you. This can continue long after a woman has left her partner and is sometimes called ‘Post Separation Abuse’.

  • Unless the child contact has been decided by a court (see below), you do not have to let your ex see any children you share together. If you feel under pressure to allow your ex-partner contact, call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline so we can talk through your options and connect you with specialist services. You can also seek advice from a family law solicitor. Try to find one with experience in domestic abuse.
  • You or your ex can apply to the family court for a Child Arrangements Order. This is a court order that sets out who your children live with and where and how much time your child spends with your ex. It can also set out other types of contact, such as through calls, FaceTime or letters.
  • The court’s decision will be based on what they think is best for the child. Where there has been abuse, the court must consider a range of factors before deciding on the appropriate level of contact for your ex. For example the court might grant reduced, restricted or perhaps supervised contact in some cases. Or the court might say your ex can only see the children in a Child Contact Centre (more below). The order can also ensure that arrangements for drop-off and collection will minimise possible contact with your ex.
  • You should tell your solicitor as soon as possible that there has been domestic abuse.
  • As part of the court proceedings, the judge is likely to request that Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) prepares a report. It is their job to safeguard and promote the welfare of children going through the family justice system. The Cafcass officer will probably visit you, your ex and the children, then write a report and make recommendations to the court. Make sure Cafcass is aware of your ex’s behaviour at the earliest possible opportunity, and any concerns you have about his contact with your children.
  • The Cafcass officer will prepare their report with reference to the ‘welfare checklist’, which shows the things they will be considering when they make a recommendation to the court. The factors include: (1) the wishes and feelings of the child (2) physical, emotional and educational needs of the child (3) the likely effect on a child of any change in their circumstances (4) the child’s age, sex, background and any relevant characteristics; (5) Any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering (6) how capable both parents are of meeting the child’s needs and (7) the range of powers available to the court.
  • If domestic abuse is raised as an issue during the court hearing, the judge must refer to ‘Practice Direction 12J’, which is part of the Family Procedure Rules. If your ex denies any allegations of domestic abuse, then the court will probably want to hear all of the evidence from both sides and decide whether they believe the abusive incidents did or did not happen. This is called a ‘Fact Finding’ hearing.
  • The court should only order contact between your children and your ex if they are satisfied that you or your children will not be exposed to the risk of harm.
  • The process of applying for a Child Arrangements Order can be complex and take a long time. It is a good idea to find a solicitor to manage your case. Try to find one who not only specialises in family law, but also has experience of domestic abuse cases. Lawyers specialising in domestic abuse can be found here.
  • As part of the application to court for a Child Arrangements Order, there is a legal requirement to attend mediation. However if you are a victim of abuse, your solicitor should apply for an exemption. Make sure your solicitor is aware of this. Entering into mediation with your ex can be another opportunity for abuse.
  • You may qualify for Legal Aid for an application for a Child Arrangements Order if you are the victim of domestic abuse. You can check your eligibility here. The Find a Solicitor section of the Law Society website is also useful to help you find a solicitor in your area, and it will specify whether Legal Aid is available.

Remember, if you think your partner might be tracking how you use the internet, read these tips on safer browsing before searching for support online.

  • If your ex isn’t sticking to the terms of a children arrangements order, then an application can be made to the court to either enforce the order or vary (change) it. The court has a number of options to enforce it – they might impose community service, a fine or, as a last resort, a prison sentence.
  • There are some provisions you can ask the court to specify in the child contact order, which might make you and your children feel more comfortable. For example, you could request that a child contact centre is used, or that contact is supervised or indirect (e.g. by phone). Child contact centres are often staffed by volunteers, and usually provide weekly sessions of 1 to 2 hours, at weekends, where your ex can spend time with your child in a partially supervised setting. Your child cannot be taken out of the centre without your consent. You do not have to have any contact with your partner/ex-partner as you can hand over and collect your child from the contact centre staff. Your solicitor can give you more information about these centres and make a referral to a contact centre on your behalf. You can also seek support from a specialist domestic abuse service, which can advise you around safe child contact. It doesn’t matter if you have been separated for months or even years – you deserve support. Remember, if at any time you are worried about your ex’s behaviour towards the children, you can call social services who should investigate the matter further. 
  • If your ex is threatening to take your child abroad, remember that it is a criminal offence for a father of a child under the age of 16 to take or send that child out of the UK without the mother’s consent. If you are worried that your child may be taken out of the country without your consent you should consult a solicitor as soon as possible. The solicitor might be able to apply for a Prohibited Steps Order preventing your partner from travelling with your child.
  • If you are not married and your partner is not on the birth certificate, then he is unlikely to have parental responsibility and therefore will not have the legal right to take your children from you, anywhere, or to make any parental decisions in your child’s life.
  • Even if you are married or your partner is on the birth certificate, he still should not take your children anywhere (including within the UK) without your consent. If you have cause to believe your partner is likely to do this, then you can apply to the family court for an emergency Prohibited Steps Order. There is a good chance you will be able to obtain legal aid for such an order (provided your means are within certain limits, and you have some sort of proof of the domestic abuse) – you can find a family law solicitor who can take this matter further.
  • If your partner is threatening to take the children from the UK in the next 48 hours, you can call the police who can alert all UK points of departure to try to prevent an abduction. This is called a ‘Port Alert’. This initial remedy will remain live for 28 days and will allow you to seek legal advice. More useful information about port alerts can be found here.
  • You can also make an application to the High Court for a Port Alert (if the Police have not put one on) and for a Location Order and Passport Order which will enable the police to locate your child and seize their passport. This application can be made out of hours if necessary, by telephoning a duty Judge.
  • Should an All Ports Warning not prove successful, or if your abuser has already left the country before the warning was put in place, you should get urgent legal advice on the procedure for the child’s return as this varies depending on the country that they have been taken to.
  • A threat like this is another form of coercive control; and many abusive men try to manipulate their partners in this way. It is definitely not unlawful for you to go to a place of safety such as a refuge, or a friend of family member’s home he does not know, and to take your children with you.
  • If your partner does call the police after you leave, the police may contact you to check you and your children are safe, but they will not reveal your whereabouts to your partner.
  • Gather as much evidence as possible and give to your solicitor. If you are able to, it is helpful to report any incidents to the police or GP, as this will provide a good source of evidence.
  • If your ex is already having contact with the children, keep a diary. In particular, record the reaction of your child after contact with him, the dates and times of any incidents of abuse, and the dates and times that he fails to turn up for contact.
  • Make sure that your solicitor is asking for a Findings of Fact Hearing under ‘Practice Directive 12J’ at the earliest possible opportunity.
  • Obtain a copy of your Cafcass report as soon as it is available. You are entitled to a copy at least five days before the final court hearing. If you disagree with the report, start a complaint to Cafcass.
  • When it comes to the Child Arrangements Order itself, make sure it contains clear arrangements that will help keep you safe from your ex, such as: who is to collect the child/from where; who is to drop off the child/to where. If your ex is not keeping to the times, talk to a solicitor about applying to ‘vary’ (change) the order.

Your right to government benefits

There are welfare benefits provided by the Government that help many women fleeing abuse, and special rules to support survivors.

What benefits you can claim will depend on your personal circumstances. It is important you seek individual advice about benefits to ensure you receive all that you are entitled to. Your local Citizens Advice Centre is a good place to start. Turn2Us also has a benefits calculator and an ‘advice finder’ tool.

It can be difficult to navigate the benefits system. You can contact the Helpline to access support from a specialist domestic abuse worker. If you go into refuge, your accommodation should be paid for by housing benefit. The refuge staff can help you sort this out, and claim the other benefits you’re entitled to.

Identification documents are required when making applications for benefits, so try to take them with you if you are leaving your home. You will also need a National Insurance Number – a domestic abuse support worker can help you to get one if you do not have one. It can also be useful to have your partner’s National Insurance Number, if you can safely get it.

What benefits might I be entitled to?

Child Benefit is usually paid to the person responsible for the child. If you were not the Child Benefit claimant before fleeing domestic violence, you should make a new claim for a child or children you are responsible for.

If you had opted not to receive Child Benefit because your former partner’s income was over £50,000, once you have separated, you should ask for payment to be reinstated.

If you were getting Tax Credits as a couple, your joint claim can be ended. You will usually have to make a new single claim for Universal Credit instead. If there was an overpayment in your old joint tax credits claim with your partner, you should be asked to repay no more than 50% of the overpayment. Tell the tax credit office you have been affected by domestic abuse – they have a dedicated team to ensure your claim is dealt with appropriately, and that you are not asked to provide information that could put your safety at risk.

To access most Government benefits, you have to satisfy a ‘residency condition’. To claim Income Support, Income-related ESA, Income-Based JSA, Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit you have to satisfy the ‘right to reside’ test. If you are an European Economic Area (EEA) national who came to the UK before 31.12.20 and you are working or you have recently stopped working, you should satisfy this test.

There are several other ways you might satisfy the test, even if you have never worked in the UK. This is a complex area and it is important that you seek further advice. You can call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline for further information, and look on the Citizen’s Advice websiteRights of Women website and The AIRE Centre website. A domestic abuse support worker can also help you to navigate the benefits system. If you think your partner might be tracking how you use the internet, read these tips on safer browsing before searching for support online.

Settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS)

Because of Brexit, EU law and freedom of movement will stop in UK. If you are an EU citizen living in the UK on or before 31.12.20 you must apply for status under the settlement scheme to protect your continuing residence in the UK. It really important that you do this straight away as the settlement scheme closes to new applicants on 30.6.21.

If you are an EEA national who was in the UK on or before 31.12.20 you only have until 30.6.21 to apply for:

  • Settled Status if you have been here for five years or more, or
  • Pre-Settled Status if you have been here for less than five years

If you have Settled Status you can apply for benefits. There is no fee to apply for Settled Status, but you may want to reach out for support. A list of organisations offering support can be found here.

Details of how to apply and the deadline for applying can be found on the government website.

If you are an EEA national who comes to the UK after 31.12.20 you are treated in the same way as someone from outside the EEA and you have to apply for entry under the points scheme and entry is normally subject to no recourse to public funds which prevents access to most benefits.

Housing Benefit provides financial help towards your rent. It is paid if you are out of work, or in work and living on a low income.

There are special provisions if you are temporarily absent from your home through fear of domestic abuse. These provisions also apply if you get your rent paid through Universal Credit housing costs.

If you intend to return to your former home, you can receive Housing Benefit on two homes (for both a former permanent home and temporary accommodation), so that you don’t lose the former home. This can be paid for up to 52 weeks.

If you have worked in the last two to three years and you are now either looking for work or are too unwell to work, you can claim Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) or Employment and Support Allowance, based on your national insurance contributions. It does not matter how much money you have in savings, as these are not a means tested benefit.

If you’ve been a victim of domestic abuse and are claiming JSA, you are entitled to a break from job seeking and work preparation requirements for up to 13 weeks. This period can be extended at the discretion of your Job Centre work coach, so speak to them about what the domestic abuse you have been experiencing

If you have come to the UK on a family visa as a spouse, civil partner or unmarried partner and you need to leave home through fear of domestic abuse, you can apply for a Destitution Domestic Violence (DDV) concession. This will allow you to claim benefits for up to three months – for example, while UK Visas and Immigration consider your application to settle in the UK. You should seek specialist immigration advice on this. The Law Society can provide you with details of immigration solicitors in your area. This work is covered by Legal Aid. Domestic abuse specialists can support you through this process – call Refuge’s Helpline so we can connect you with a service.

If you entered the UK as the partner of an EEA national (rather than a British national) and have fled domestic abuse, you may be able to gain access to benefit through European law. Get further legal advice if this applies to you. The Law Society can provide you with details of immigration solicitors in your area. This work is covered by Legal Aid.

If you and your children cannot get access to benefits because you have no recourse to public funds (NRPF) you can approach your local authority for help.

Universal Credit (UC) is a working-age benefit paid whether you are in or out of work. It is made up of different parts and includes amounts to help cover costs for children, childcare and housing. It is a new benefit and replaces ‘legacy benefits’ for new claimants. Legacy benefits are: Income Support, Income-Based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-Related Emolument and Support Allowance, Housing Benefit and Tax Credits.

If you have fled domestic abuse, you will have to claim Universal Credit in the following circumstances if you:

  • Have children and were previously receiving Tax Credits as a couple
  • Have become liable for rent for the first time, or move to a different local authority area. If you move within the same local authority and have been claiming housing benefit, you can carry on doing that at your new address
  • Have stopped working, or become unable to work due to illness
  • Want to make a new claim for a ‘legacy benefit’

Tips around Universal Credit for women fleeing abuse:

  • Most UC claimants are required to look for, or prepare to look for work. These are called ‘work related requirements’. Tell your ‘work coach’ at the Job Centre Plus about your circumstances as early as you can. Work related requirements should be lifted for 13 weeks if you have experienced domestic abuse in the last six months. If you have children, this should be extended for another 13 weeks. If your children have been affected by experiencing or witnessing domestic abuse, you can have a further break on your work related requirements of up to one month every six months for a period of two years following the abuse or violence.
  • ‘Work related activity’ requirements should also be relaxed if your youngest child is under two. If your youngest child is aged three or over, you can agree limitations on hours of work around your child care commitments.
  • UC is usually only paid after the first five weeks. You can ask for an advance if you are struggling financially. However, you will have to pay back any advance payments through deductions from your UC payments when they come through.
  • UC is usually paid all in one monthly payment into your account. You can ask for your payment to be made more frequently such as twice a month, or for the amount for rent to go direct to your landlord.
  • If you are still living with your partner you can ask for the UC payments to be split. However, bear in mind that your partner will know this has happened. Staff at the Jobcentre Plus have been trained to help women fleeing abuse relationships, and should support you.
  • If you were previously getting UC as a couple and have left your former partner, you must tell the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) about your ‘change in circumstance’. If UC was being paid into your former partner’s account, you must tell the DWP your bank details straight away so that payments for which you are eligible come to you. Setting up a bank account is something your domestic abuse support worker can help with. The DWP may also be able to help.

How to claim Universal Credit

Most claims for UC are started online via the government’s website. To start a claim by phone call the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644 (Welsh language: 0800 012 1888; Textphone: 0800 328 1344).

Citizens Advice (England and Wales) is delivering ‘Help to Claim’ as a national service to support people from their initial Universal Credit claim to first full payment. You can contact them on Freephone 0800 144 8 444 open 8am – 6pm and visit the website here.

Your right to privacy

You have the right to protect yourself against tech abuse. If you’re worried someone might be monitoring your phone or other devices, our Tech Safety Tool can help you change your settings to keep them private. Refuge has a specialist tech team who can help you to secure your devices. You can contact them via our Helpline on 0808 2000 247.