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.

This content applies to England

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.[1]

The Homelessness Code of Guidance states that domestic abuse is ‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse’. Controlling behaviour is ‘a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate or dependant'.[2]

Behaviour is abusive if it consists of:[3]

  • physical or sexual abuse

  • violent or threatening behaviour

  • controlling or coercive behaviour

  • psychological, emotional or other abuse

  • economic abuse

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.[4]

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.

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.

Local authority duty to assess housing needs

From 1 October 2021, every relevant local authority[5] must plan and provide accommodation based support for victims of domestic abuse and their children in its area.[6]

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.[7]

Claiming universal credit while away from home temporarily

A person who has moved out of their home because of fear of domestic violence can still get the housing costs element of universal credit for the property they left behind for up to 52 weeks.[8]

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.[9]

Claiming housing benefit while away from home temporarily

A person who has moved out of their home because of fear of domestic violence can still get housing benefit for the property they left behind for up to 52 weeks.[10]

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.[11]

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.

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.

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[12]

  • 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.

Advising about the DDV concession and other types of leave to remain is immigration advice. It is a criminal offence for a person who is not accredited to provide immigration advice.

Help for young people and families

Local authority social services departments have a duty to accommodate certain children in need in their area under the Children Act 1989.[13]

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.[14]

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

Local authorities have a duty to adults with care and support needs under the Care Act 2014. This can include accommodation related services.[15]

People who are subject to immigration control cannot get care and support under the Care Act if their need for care and support has arisen solely because of destitution, or its physical effects.[16]

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

  • window grilles

  • 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.[17]

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.[18]

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.

Independent advocacy

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.

Last updated: 7 October 2021

Footnotes

  • [1]

    s.1 Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

  • [2]

    paras 21.2 to 21.9 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [3]

    s.1(3) Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

  • [4]

    s.1(5) Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

  • [5]

    relevant local authority is defined in s.61 Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

  • [6]

    Part 4 Domestic Abuse Act 2021; reg 2(e) The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 (Commencement No. 2) Regulations 2021 SI 2021/1038.

  • [7]

    reg. 75H Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213; reg. 98 Universal Credit Regulations 2013 SI 2013/376.

  • [8]

    sch. 3 Part 1 para 9 Universal Credit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213.

  • [9]

    Sch. 3 Part 1 para 6 Universal Credit Regulations 2013.

  • [10]

    reg. 7(16) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213.

  • [11]

    reg 7(6) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213.

  • [12]

    R (on the application of T) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2016] EWCA Civ 801.

  • [13]

    s.21(1) Children Act 1989.

  • [14]

    R (on the application of OA and Others) v Bexley LBC [2020] EWHC 1107 (Admin).

  • [15]

    R (on the application of SL) v Westminster CC [2013] UKSC 27.

  • [16]

    s.21 Care Act 2014.

  • [17]

    Sanctuary schemes for households at risk of domestic violence: guide for agencies; MHCLG 26 August 2010.

  • [18]

    Para 36(6) Sch. 4 Universal Credit Regulations 2013, as inserted by reg 4 The Domestic Abuse Support (Relevant Accommodation and Housing Benefit and Universal Credit Sanctuary Schemes) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 SI 2021/991; para 2(f) reg A13 Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 as inserted by reg 3(a) The Domestic Abuse Support (Relevant Accommodation and Housing Benefit and Universal Credit Sanctuary Schemes) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 SI 2021/991.