If you are thinking about leaving your abusive partner, or have recently separated, you may be worried about how you can support yourself, and your children if you have any with you.
You may have had to give up your job – perhaps because you have had to move to a different area, or because you were afraid your abuser would contact you there.
You may find you have to rely on benefits for the first time in your life. Or perhaps your abuser kept control of the finances and you may never have been allowed to have any money of your own before, so you are concerned about how you will manage.
The benefits system and money support in general is very complicated and ever changing, so the information on this page is for general guidance only.
To be sure that you are getting your full entitlements, you should go to your local Citizens Advice Bureau or other advice agency.
Things you will need to consider
If you have just left your abusive partner, and you have a joint bank account, then it may be safer not to use it, if you do not want him to know where you are: any card activity or withdrawals from cash machines will be traceable.
Avoid joint accounts
Use of a joint credit card is also best avoided. Even if you have an account in your sole name, if the statements are posted to your home address, or your abuser has access to your online bank account, it could be seen by your abuser.
Put some money aside
If you are still with your abuser, but perhaps thinking about leaving, try to save a small amount of money for emergencies if you can.
Set up a separate bank account
If you currently have a joint account with your abusive partner, this might also be the time to set up a separate bank account. It may be safer to use a different bank to avoid the possibility of any confusion or inadvertent leak of information by the bank.
You will need to have identification to set up a new account so try to take relevant documents with you if you are leaving home. You could consider an internet account or switching to paperless statements, so that statements will not be sent to your home address, and you will be able to access it wherever you are.
Change regular payments
If you have any regular payments – such as a salary, tax credits, child benefit or other benefits – which are made into a joint bank account, you will need to change these arrangements as soon as you can after you leave, or you may lose money. Tell your bank about your changed situation as soon as you can.
Change your passwords
If you use internet banking and your partner has access to your passwords, change them as soon as you leave in case changing before arouses suspicion and places you at risk of harm. Most banks have alerts set when new payments are set up or passwords changed so you should know if anything changes that you haven’t done.
If you have left your abusive partner and are living on your own (perhaps with your children), your most likely sources of income will be one or more of the following:
- Earnings from employment
- State benefits
- Maintenance for your children (and possibly for yourself) from a former partner
In many cases, your income could be less than it was when you were with your partner; however, you alone will now be in control of spending it.
If the father of your children is not paying maintenance, you can contact Child Maintenance Options which is a free service that provides impartial information and support to help separated parents make decisions about their child maintenance arrangements and help to ensure they are paid if this is not occurring.
If you have a job, or had one while you were with your abuser, you may want to continue working when you leave.
It will probably be advisable to tell your employer what is happening – partly for safety reasons (if your abuser tries to contact you at work), but also because – if your employer has a domestic violence policy – you may be able to have some additional time off to support you.
If you have a job, you should contact the HM Revenue and Customs, and tell them of your changed circumstances: www.hmrc.gov.uk. You may be eligible for additional tax allowances or credits.
If you have not had a job for some time, but are thinking about returning to work, it’s worth taking some time to consider what kind of work and for how many hours would be best for you – particularly if you have children.
You won’t necessarily be better off financially if you get a job, though that may not be your only consideration.
The voluntary organisation Single Parents UK includes on its website a summary of the main advantages and disadvantages of paid work versus voluntary work, full-time parenting or going back into education.
If you have children, you will need to consider childcare arrangements and costs. Even if your children are at school, you are likely to need care after school and during school holidays.
You may be able to get some help with childcare costs if you use a registered childminder, nursery or other childcare scheme run by an approved provider, and are claiming working tax credit (see below).
The tax credits website will tell you more about this
There are various types of benefits that you may be entitled to, even if you are working.
Some benefits are based on previous National Insurance contributions, and are called “contributory” benefits; these include non-means tested Job Seeker’s Allowance.
Other benefits – such as Child Benefit, and Disability Living Allowance – are “non-contributory” and paid to all those who meet the appropriate criteria and who have been living legally in the UK for a certain period of time.
Finally, some benefits – such as Income Support and income-related Job Seeker’s Allowance – are means tested, and are based on the level of your income and your savings. Most state benefits are not available to you if you have “no recourse to public funds”.
Please note that benefits do change frequently so please check with a Citizens’ Advice Bureau or Turn2us, a national charity that helps people to gain access to welfare benefits, charitable grants and support services. Their website has an online benefits check tool.
While means-tested benefits are not really sufficient to live on for any length of time, many women who have left abusive partners will be dependent on them, at least initially, and if you have children, they may be essential.
For full information about all state benefits, see the Department for Work and Pensions website, which gives information on all state benefits, alphabetically, and provides links to the website for Job Centre Plus when appropriate. You can also download information leaflets and claim forms from this website.
If you are in debt
Many women who are in an abusive relationship experience financial abuse and resulting in their abusive partners leaving them with debts.
Legally, if a debt is in your name, you are responsible for paying it off; and if you have loans or credit agreements in joint names then you may also still have a responsibility for any outstanding debt, regardless of what the money was spent on, and who initiated it.
If you have been left with arrears of rent or mortgage, these are particularly important to sort out, as your home may be at risk.
If you had a joint tenancy with your abusive partner, both of you are legally liable for the arrears; however, if the tenancy was with a council or housing association, they may accept that – because of the abuse – you were not in control of the household budget and therefore unable to pay the rent at the time.
If you are having difficulty in paying back a loan which is in your name or joint names, it is usually advisable to contact the company concerned and tell them of your situation.
You may be able to make arrangements to pay the money as you can afford it. Different debts are treated in different ways, and you may find it helpful to take advice. You could contact the National Debtline on 0808 808 4000, or contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau or other voluntary sector advice agency, which may be able to negotiate on your behalf with companies to which you owe money.
It is better not to contact commercial firms which offer debt advice, as they will make a charge or take a percentage of any repayments you make.
Other financial issues
If you and your former partner own a house or other property together, or have joint savings, you will need to decide how these shared assets are divided. If you were married, this will probably be done in conjunction with proceedings for legal separation or divorce.
It would probably be advisable for you to consult a solicitor, who will be able to tell you your rights and negotiate on your behalf, so you won’t need to have any direct contact with your abuser if you don’t want to. Your solicitor will keep your address confidential, and all correspondence can be sent there.
Your local Women’s Aid organisation may be able to recommend a suitable solicitor. To get in touch with them, look for your nearest one here or call the Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.
You may be eligible for public funding (Community Legal Services funding, or legal aid) to pay your legal costs, if you are claiming welfare benefits, or are on a low (or no) income and have little or no savings.
You can call Community Legal Services on 0845 345 4345 or look on their website, which also has a Directory of solicitors.
See also Funding for legal action in the section on Getting an injunction.