Brexit could leave some survivors of domestic abuse unable to access refuge services

31st January 2020

Survivors of abuse who have to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme can be denied welfare benefits, which in turn could prevent them from accessing life-saving refuge services, leaving them vulnerable to homelessness and destitution.

Perpetrators of domestic abuse already use the immigration system as a tool of abuse and control. Women’s Aid’s latest briefing on the impact of Brexit on European Economic Area (EEA) nationals warns that the EU Settlement Scheme threatens to put these survivors at risk because:

• The application process requires survivors to prove their identity and residency, and their perpetrators may destroy or withhold the evidence they need to do so.
• Complex benefit rules mean some survivors of abuse are wrongly denied welfare benefits.
• Settled status is only granted to EU citizens who have lived in the UK continuously for five years. Survivors of abuse with pre-settled status will not have an automatic right to welfare benefits, and so could be denied access to refuge and other vital services.

Of the 22 EEA nationals supported by Women’s Aid’s No Woman Turned Away project since 2016, 68% were referred because they believed they did not have access to benefits.

Whilst seeking a suitable refuge space, 11 of the 22 EEA nationals supported by the project had sofa surfed, and two had to sleep rough. Five experienced further abuse from the perpetrator, and one woman attempted to take her own life.

Women’s Aid calls on the government to:

• Ensure the EU Settlement Scheme is accessible to survivors of domestic abuse– including flexibility in evidential requirements.
• Apply a ‘presumption of belief’ in relation to evidence of residence to all applications from survivors of abuse.
• Prioritise applications under the scheme from survivors of abuse.
• Ensure that all applications (electronic or paper-based) where the applicant has identified as a survivor of abuse be decided within two weeks of receipt.
• Grant EEA nationals who have lived in the UK for less than five years, but have provided evidence that they are survivors of domestic abuse and evidence that they are ‘destitute’ at the point of application, pre-settled status with full access to public funds (i.e. an eligible right to reside in relation to means-tested benefits, social housing allocation and homelessness assistance).
• Reform the eligibility criteria for the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) and Domestic Abuse Rule to ensure all survivors with insecure immigration status, and not only those on spousal visas, can apply for a life-saving refuge space.
• Provide specialist level legal advice for survivors applying for the EU Settlement Scheme.
• Deliver a long-term funding solution for domestic abuse services, including specialist services led ‘by and for’ groups with protected characteristics, and ensure they are resourced to meet migrant women’s specific needs.

Adina Claire, Acting co-CEO of Women’s Aid, said:

“The EU Settlement Scheme, in its existing form, is inadequate for survivors of domestic abuse, and puts them at further risk of harm by blocking their access to life-saving domestic abuse services.

We urge the government to protect the safety of women escaping domestic abuse, and ensure that all survivors with pre-settled status are guaranteed their right to access public funds, and specialist legal advice to support them throughout the application process.”

If you are worried that your partner, or that of a friend or family member, is controlling and abusive, you can go to www.womensaid.org.uk for support and information, including Live Chat, the Survivors’ Forum, The Survivor’s Handbook and the Domestic Abuse Directory.

For more information, please contact the Women’s Aid press office: 020 7566 2511 / [email protected]

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