Campaign to Abolish No Recourse to Public Funds Celebrates Victory 03.04.12
Campaign to Abolish No Recourse to Public Funds Celebrates Victory
Home Office Concession for Destitute Victims of Domestic Violence and A Call to Save the Lives of All Women and Children
On 1 April 2012, the Home Office will introduce a concession allowing victims of domestic violence on spousal visas with no recourse to public funds (NRPFs) to access benefits and public housing while they apply for settlement under the ‘domestic violence rule’.
The Campaign to Abolish No Recourse to Public Funds, which involves over 27 leading women’s and human rights groups, welcomes this concession. It represents a major victory for the Campaign, and for the rights of women at risk of gender based violence and exploitation. The Campaign also welcomed the Home Office pilot, The Sojourner Project, managed by Eaves Housing for Women, which paved the way for this reform and now comes to an end.
However, there are many other vulnerable victims who remain without a safety net. These include women in the UK on other visas, overstayers, and overseas domestic workers, who experience gender based violence or abuse and exploitation by their employers. Women who have been trafficked into the country are also not protected. These women are still forced to make a stark choice between staying within an abusive relationship, and risking their lives, and that of their children, and leaving, and facing destitution, and in many cases, also deportation. Under new proposed legislation, they will not be entitled to legal aid to make an application to stay in the country or to appeal against refusal.
Monitoring data collected by the Campaign from some key agencies from across the UK, has found that during the period 24 October – 18 November 2011, there were 137 women and 74 children experiencing abuse with an insecure immigration status looking for accommodation and/or support. Of these, 52 were accommodated and supported, and 54 were provided with support only. Disturbingly 31 (29%) women and 16 children were unable to access any support, and only 48 (35%) were eligible for Sojourner funding. This means that a shocking 65% of women were ineligible for help from the Sojourner Project, and were either dependant on limited support elsewhere or destitute.
The Campaign is also dismayed by the Government’s new proposals on family-related migration, including plans to increase the probationary period for spousal visas from two to five years, and changes to the Immigration Rules which require applicants for settlement under the domestic violence rule to be free of unspent convictions, despite the fact that many victims of abuse act in self-defence or are falsely accused of crime by abusive partners and family members. These changes undermine women’s ability to escape abuse and gain access to safety and support.
The Campaign calls on the Home Office, and where relevant, the Department of Works and Pensions and local authorities, to ensure that there is:
1. Effective implementation of the new benefit and housing scheme for victims of domestic violence on spousal visas. This includes ensuring that victims are fast tracked through the benefit system and tracked by the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) for monitoring purposes. Training should also be provided to officials within the DWP, the UKBA and local authority housing departments on the new scheme, delivered in conjunction with campaign members, and that victims have access to telephone (where interpretation is available), rather than online-only application processes. This also means that women’s organisations, particularly specialist BME women’s services, should be adequately funded to provide advice and assistance to enable victims to access benefits and housing under the new scheme.
2. Provide benefits and public housing, and the right to permanent settlement, for all victims of gender based violence and exploitation. In the interim, a pilot should be established similar to the Sojourner Project for such victims.
3. Provide legal aid for all victims of gender based violence and exploitation with immigration problems.
4. Exempt victims from the unspent criminal conviction regulations.
5. Withdraw proposals in the recent family migration consultation, such as the extension of the probationary period for spousal visas from 2 to 5 years, which will force more women to stay in abusive relationships without recourse to protection.
Campaign Contacts: Southall Black Sisters, 020 8571 9595
Women’s Resource Centre, 020 3030
Notes: The Campaign has over 27 members, including:
1. Against Violence and Abuse (AVA)
2. Amnesty International UK
3. Angelou Centre (Newscastle)
4. Apna Haq
5. Ashiana Network
6. Black Association of Women Step Out (BAWSO)
7. British Red Cross
8. Child and Women Abuse Studies Unit (CWASU), London Metropolitan University
9. Eaves Housing for Women
10. Imece Turkish Speaking Women’s Group
12. Iranian & Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO)
14. Kiran Project
15. Newham Asian Women’s Project (NAWP)
17. Rights of Women (ROW)
18. Roshni (Birmingham)
19. Scottish Women’s Aid
20. Shakti Women’s Aid
21. Southall Black Sisters (SBS)
22. Surviving Economic Abuse
23. Welsh Women’s Aid
24. Which Direction
25. Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland
26. Women’s Aid (Federation of England)
27. Women’s Resource Centre (WRC)