Housing rights of domestic abuse survivors
A person experiencing domestic abuse needs to know their rights to remove the perpetrator from their home and what their options are if they have to leave.
- What is domestic abuse?
- Finding somewhere to stay
- Paying for a temporary absence from home
- Claiming benefits when privately renting
- Support for survivors with no access to public funds
- Excluding the perpetrator from the home
- Staying in a joint tenancy
- Family and civil court orders
- Support and advocacy for survivors of domestic abuse
- Legal aid in domestic abuse cases
What is domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse is defined in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 as abusive behaviour by one person towards another person who is personally connected to them.
The Homelessness Code of Guidance states that domestic abuse is ‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse’.
Behaviour is abusive if it consists of:
physical or sexual abuse
violent or threatening behaviour
controlling or coercive behaviour
psychological, emotional or other abuse
Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.
Coercive behaviour is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.
Economic abuse is behaviour that has a substantial negative effect on the victim’s money, property, goods or other services. 
Domestic abuse could be conduct directed at another person, for example the victim’s child.
The government has issued statutory guidance to support the understanding of domestic abuse.
When is abusive behaviour domestic abuse?
For behaviour to be classed as domestic abuse, the perpetrator must be personally connected to the person the abusive behaviour is directed towards.
Personally connected means they are, or have:
been married to to each other
been in a civil partnership with each other
agreed to marry one another (whether that agreement has ended or not)
entered into a civil partnership agreement (whether that agreement has ended or not)
been in an intimate personal relationship
had a parental relationship to the same child
It also includes people who are relatives.
Children as victims of domestic abuse
Children under the age of 18 are victims of domestic abuse if they see, hear or experience the effects of abuse, and are related to the perpetrator or the person experiencing the abuse.
Finding somewhere to stay
A person experiencing domestic abuse who is not able to remove the perpetrator will need to consider their options for finding somewhere to stay. This could be a temporary option, to allow time to consider their rights to remove the perpetrator and move back in. In other cases, the survivor and their children might want or need to find somewhere new to live permanently.
Homelessness help from a local authority
A person who is homeless as a result of domestic abuse directed towards them has an automatic priority need for homelessness assistance.
A person who leaves their home because of domestic violence can apply for homelessness assistance from the local authority and cannot be treated as intentionally homeless.
A local authority can normally refer a homeless applicant to another local authority if the applicant does not have a local connection to the area. An applicant cannot be referred to a second authority under the local connection rules if the referral would put them at risk of violence or domestic abuse.
Some other public authorities have a duty to refer a person who is homeless, or threatened with homelessness, to a local authority.
Transfer of secure tenancy
If a local authority offers a tenancy to someone who is or was previously a secure or fully assured tenant of a social landlord, and the new tenancy is granted because of domestic abuse towards the tenant or their household, the local authority must offer a lifetime secure tenancy. This is the case even if the local authority normally operates a flexible tenancy policy. The government has published statutory guidance.
Not all domestic abuse survivors have to be offered a secure tenancy. They could be offered housing association or private rented accommodation as an alternative to local authority accommodation. People who were previously in private rented or temporary accommodation have no additional rights to a lifetime secure tenancy.
Local authority duty to assess housing needs
From 1 October 2021, every relevant local authority must plan and provide accommodation based support for victims of domestic abuse and their children in its area. This is not an individually enforceable right.
Paying for a temporary absence from home
A domestic abuse survivor can temporarily claim benefits to pay for two properties if they have left their home because of fear of violence.
For a survivor to claim benefits for a property during a temporary absence, it must be unreasonable to expect them to return because of the fear of violence. They must intend to return to the original property when it is safe.
For housing benefit and universal credit, domestic violence means any incident, or pattern of incidents, of controlling behaviour, coercive behaviour, violence or abuse.
Claiming universal credit while away from home temporarily
They could also claim the housing costs element on a second property if they have left their home because of domestic violence but they intend to return.
Claiming housing benefit while away from home temporarily
They can also claim housing benefit on a second property if they have left their home because of fear of domestic violence but they intend to return. If the survivor leaves but does not intend to return, housing benefit can be paid on both properties for up to four weeks.
Shortfall between benefits and rent
A person who is receiving benefits for two properties may have a large shortfall to make up if their benefit amount does not cover the rent on either or both.
If there is a shortfall between the amount of housing benefit or housing costs element of universal credit and the rent, the claimant could apply for a discretionary housing payment.
Claiming benefits when privately renting
A single claimant who is under the age of 35 and has no dependants is usually subject to the shared accommodation rate when working out universal credit or housing benefit entitlement for private rental costs. Their benefit is based on the broad rental market area rate for a room in a shared house in the area where they are living.
There are a number of exemptions to when the shared accommodation rate applies.
Exemption for survivors of domestic abuse
From 1 October 2022, a single claimant under 35 will not have the shared accommodation rate applied to them if they are a survivor of domestic abuse.
To qualify for this exemption, the claimant must provide evidence from a person acting in an official capacity which demonstrates both of the following:
they have experienced domestic abuse at any time since they were the age of 16
they have contacted a person acting in an official capacity in relation to a domestic abuse incident
A ‘person acting in an official capacity’ is defined as a:
health care professional
registered social worker
the claimant’s employer
any public, voluntary or charitable body which has had direct contact with the claimant in connection with the domestic abuse
Universal credit claimants who qualify for this exemption are entitled to the one bedroom Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate. This is regardless of the accommodation they live in and applies even if they are living in shared accommodation.
Housing benefit claimants who qualify for this exemption are entitled to the one bedroom LHA rate if they have either:
exclusive use of at least two rooms (counting only bedrooms and living rooms, and regardless of whether other rooms are shared)
exclusive use of one room and a bathroom, toilet, and kitchen (or cooking facilities)
Housing benefit claimants who qualify for this exemption and only have exclusive use of one bedroom in shared accommodation are subject to the shared accommodation LHA rate, unless they also qualify for the severe disability premium.
To qualify for the severe disability premium, no one can be receiving the carers allowance or the carers element of universal credit in respect of the claimant and the claimant must be entitled to either:
the daily living component of personal independence payment (PIP)
the care component at the middle or highest rate of disability living allowance (DLA)
armed forces independence payment
Support for survivors with no access to public funds
Some domestic abuse survivors who are subject to immigration control have restricted options for housing and claiming benefits. For example, they might not be eligible for homelessness assistance from the local authority.
Use our homeless rights checker to find out if someone is likely to be eligible for homelessness assistance based on their immigration or residence status.
People subject to immigration control with no recourse to public funds cannot normally claim welfare benefits. Some exceptions are made for people who have fled domestic abuse.
Destitution domestic violence concession
The destitution domestic violence (DDV) concession is a form of exceptional leave that can be given to someone if:
they entered the UK as the partner of a British national or person with indefinite leave
the relationship broke down as a result of domestic violence
they do not have accommodation or the means to support themselves
The DDV concession gives three months' limited leave with access to public funds while the Home Office considers their application for permanent leave to remain.
A person who is granted the DDV concession is eligible for homelessness assistance from the local authority.
Help for young people and families
In carrying out their duties, social services have powers to provide financial assistance and acommodation to the whole family of the child in need. In one case, the High Court held that this support could be provided to the child's parents or any other family members who were responsible for looking after them, safeguarding, and promoting their welfare.
Social services powers to accommodate the family of a child in need are not restricted by the family's eligibility for homelessness assistance, or the no recourse to public funds condition.
Help for people with care and support needs
Excluding the perpetrator from the home
A domestic abuse survivor might need to take steps to secure their home once the perpetrator has left.
Changing the locks
If the survivor is the sole owner or tenant of the property, they could consider changing the locks to their home.
Where the perpetrator is a joint tenant or owner of the property, depriving them of access to the property by changing the locks could be classed as an illegal eviction.
Changing the locks might not be effective against a perpetrator who is determined to gain access to the property. The survivor should consider additional steps to make their property safe.
Sanctuary schemes for households at risk
The sanctuary scheme provides support to allow survivors of domestic abuse who want to stay in their home.
Sanctuaries are created by improving security in the property through measures such as:
reinforced exterior doors and windows
door and window locks
alarms that connect to the police
intercoms and video entry systems
smoke detectors and fire safety equipment
A room in the house can be made into a sanctuary safe room. This is done by installing a reinforced door and a telephone or alarm system where the household can wait for the police to arrive.
Conditions for a sanctuary scheme
A sanctuary scheme is only available if the perpetrator is not living in the property. If the perpetrator is a joint owner or joint tenant of the property, the survivor might have to apply to court for an occupation order or tenancy transfer.
If the property is rented, it is necessary to obtain the landlord's permission before making changes to the structure or fixtures like doors and windows. The sanctuary scheme coordinator can help to get permission, especially from private landlords who might object.
How to find a sanctuary scheme
The local authority or a specialist domestic violence service can provide more information about sanctuary schemes in each area. The goverment has produced guidance for agencies involved in setting up and delivering a sanctuary scheme.
Bedroom tax exemption
Homes in the social rented sector that have been adapted under a sanctuary scheme are exempt from deductions for under occupation for the housing costs element of universal credit and housing benefit.
Staying in a joint tenancy
The perpetrator is still a joint tenant even after they move out unless the survivor takes steps to end or transfer the joint tenancy.
For assured shorthold tenants, the landlord might agree to grant a new sole tenancy to the survivor at the end of the fixed term (if there is one).
If there is no fixed term, the tenancy is periodic. This means the survivor could give a notice to quit, which would end the tenancy on behalf of both tenants, on the condition the landlord will grant a new sole tenancy. The usual conditions for ending a tenancy by notice to quit must be met.
A mutual surrender to end the tenancy is only possible with the agreement of the other joint tenant.
Transfer of a joint tenancy
A domestic abuse survivor may be able to apply to court to transfer the tenancy into their sole name under the Family Law Act 1996. The process is different depending on whether the joint tenants were cohabiting, or married or in a civil partnership.
Family and civil court orders
If the perpetrator does not leave the home voluntarily, the survivor can apply for a court order to remove them and prevent further abuse. Some types of order are available under the Family Law Act 1996. In other cases, the survivor can apply for an injunction to prevent harassment.
Non-molestation orders and occupation orders
Non-molestation orders are made under the Family Law Act 1996 to prohibit molestation of an associated person or a relevant child. Breach of a non-molestation order is a criminal offence.
A non-molestation order can prohibit persistent threats of violence or harassment, or actual violence or abuse. There is no need to prove actual violence.
Molestation can cover many forms of unwanted behaviour, including harassing and pestering as well as physical violence.
If the perpetrator is living with the victim, the application for a non-molestation order usually includes an application for an occupation order. An occupation order is made under the Family Law Act to enforce or restrict rights to occupy the home.
Injunctions to stop harassment
A person experiencing domestic abuse could apply for an injunction under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. If the injunction is breached, the victim has the right to apply for a warrant of arrest.
An injunction could be the best option if the applicant cannot make an application for a non-molestation order, for example because they are not an associated person. This is the case for relatives who have never lived together, or relatives or sharers who are lodgers of the tenant or owner.
Support and advocacy for survivors of domestic abuse
The Domestic Abuse draft statutory guidance framework has been issued to set standards and promote best practice in supporting survivors of domestic Abuse. Annex A contains a list of organisations that can support domestic abuse survivors.
The House of Commons Library has a list of contact details for organisations that give advice and support to people experiencing domestic abuse and domestic violence across the UK.
An Independent Domestic Violence Advocate (IDVA) is a specialist professional who works with survivors of domestic abuse. They can identify the survivor's support needs and the risk of abuse. The IDVA can help the survivor access local authority services and advocate for them.
Legal aid in domestic abuse cases
Victims of domestic abuse may be able to receive legal aid if they have evidence of the abuse and they cannot afford to pay legal costs. Domestic abuse is defined in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 as abusive behaviour by one person towards another person who is personally connected to them. It can consist of:
physical or sexual violence
violent or threatening behaviour
controlling or coercive behaviour
psychological, emotional or other abuse
Children under the age of 18 are victims of domestic abuse if they see, hear or experience the effects of the abuse, and are related to the perpetrator or the person experiencing the abuse.
What counts as evidence of domestic abuse
An applicant usually needs to show that they or their children are at risk of harm from a partner, a family member, or another connected person.
The applicant does not need to have the evidence before contacting a legal aid adviser or the Civil Legal Advice (CLA) helpline. However, they will need to see the evidence before deciding if the applicant is eligible for legal aid. Accepted evidence can come from a variety of sources, including:
courts and tribunals
multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC)
health professionals, for example a doctor, nurse, midwife, psychologist or health visitor
a refuge manager
domestic violence support service
a bank, for example credit card accounts, loan documents and statements
education or training providers
Applicants can use sample letters to request the evidence. The person or organisation who provides the evidence may charge a fee .
Eligibility waiver in domestic abuse and forced marriage cases
Depending on all the circumstances of a case, the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) can waive the financial eligibility criteria at its discretion in cases relating to victims of domestic abuse and forced marriage.
Last updated: 27 April 2023