Fear is one of the main reasons why women stay in abusive relationships. When a woman leaves the home of her husband, she faces a large number of practical problems that may seem insurmountable. For example:
- Where will she live?
- Where will she get money to support herself and her children?
- Who has custody of the children?
- How can she protect herself from her perpetrator?
- Can she legally remain in the UK if she leaves her husband?
Because of language and cultural barriers, or because they have purposefully been kept in the dark by their perpetrators, some women cannot overcome these hurdles on their own. Our advocacy service is there to provide specialist and practical advice as well as physically accompany women to court and to interviews with benefit and housing agencies. Advocacy takes up a large part of our resources and we have to tailor it to each service user. For example, if a woman cannot speak English she is totally dependent on us to accompany her to interviews. Some service users simply need advice.
A woman fleeing domestic abuse is homeless. We liaise with housing authorities and if necessary the Social Services on behalf of our service users. We ensure that local authorities adhere to certain criteria as set out in a code of guidance. For example, priority should be given to pregnant women, women with children and vulnerable women due to illness, old age and disability. We guide our service users through these processes and accompany them to relevant meetings and interviews.
Lack of finances
Women who have left their homes and left their husbands are often penniless. And they are often unaware of their entitlement to welfare benefits. We make sure they maximise their entitlements by liaising and negotiating with the Department of Work and Pensions (benefits agency) on their behalf and accompanying them to appointments. We provide advice on Income Support, Jobseekers Allowance, Disability Benefits, Child Benefit and Child Tax Credits.
A woman who comes into the UK as the wife of a man settled here is given a visa to stay for two years. If the marriage breaks down within those two years, under the Immigration Rules, the woman no longer has any claim to remain in the UK. A woman in this situation thus faces a stark choice between staying with a violent man or deportation. The Home Office recently introduced discretionary grounds whereby women who separate from their husbands during the two years due to domestic abuse will have their applications for Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK considered, subject to relevant evidence e.g. injunctions, police reports, prosecutions, medical evidence and evidence from specialist domestic violence agencies and local authorities.
We refer these women to specialist solicitors and provide supporting documentation where needed. These women also have “no recourse to public funds” which means they cannot access any state support such as housing or welfare benefits. In these cases we pursue every avenue to help find them housing and financial support.
In relation to child protection, custody and contact issues, we can provide advice on legal remedies and accompany women to court hearings.
Sometimes women inherit financial problems from their husbands. We advise on debt management and financial planning.
Protection from the perpetrator:
If a woman leaves her husband it often leads to all kinds of problems that can only be addressed by the legal system through court injunctions. We advise women on legal remedies and can help women get legal injunctions by accompanying them to court. These injunctions are:
- Non-molestation orders: This instructs the perpetrator of abuse not to subject the woman to violence, intimidation, harassment or emotional abuse. This type of order can be enforced while the perpetrator continues to live in the same household as the women to whom it is granted.
- Occupation orders: If the court is satisfied that the woman or her children will come to serious harm if the man is allowed to remain in the same household – and there is evidence that he has recently been violent – the court can grant the woman an occupation injunction. This means that the violent man can no longer continue to occupy the home for the near future, usually a 6-month period.
- Ex-Parte orders: If there is an emergency and the woman fears serious harm and injury, then she can apply for an ex-parte order where the perpetrator will not be notified of the hearing in court. (The court has to allow the man to respond as soon as possible.)
- Undertakings: The perpetrator simply gives a written agreement to the court that he will not, among other things, molest or harass the client.
- Where a matter is complicated and requires other specialist support we make referrals to more appropriate agencies. Examples are solicitors, alcohol advisory bodies, mental health support groups and family consultation bodies. We liaise and negotiate with a large number of voluntary and statutory agencies such to secure appropriate help and entitlement for claimants.