The domestic violence concession: for the few, not the many

The UK’s long-awaited Domestic Abuse Bill has reached the House of Lords stage of its progress towards becoming law. In the House of Commons, MPs had considered an amendment to lift the no recourse to public funds rule for migrant survivors of domestic abuse. This amendment was proposed to fill the void faced by many migrant women and men who are not eligible for the Home Office’s domestic violence concession due to being on the wrong type of visa. 

MPs said no (330 to 207) to this amendment, voting largely along party lines. Whilst many have been hailing the Domestic Abuse Bill as a “landmark” cross-party success, many black and minority ethnic-led specialist women’s services argue that it fails to account for one of the most vulnerable groups in our society: migrant survivors of domestic abuse who do not have recourse to public funds. 

What is the domestic violence concession? 

Survivors of domestic abuse who intend to apply for settlement under the Immigration Rules are eligible for three months’ leave to remain outside of the Rules. This scheme, formally called the destitute domestic violence concession, enables victims to access public funds to aid their escape and protection from ongoing abuse. Many will apply for the concession as a first step, before going on to make the full settlement application.

The concession was introduced in 2012 following persistent campaigning by Southall Black Sisters (an organisation which works to support African-Caribbean and Asian women against gender-related violence) and other organisations. The idea was to ensure that migrants were not forced to stay in abusive relationships because they did not have recourse to public funds.

The reality is that the concession has an extremely limited reach. It only applies to those who have been granted leave to enter/remain in the UK on a spouse visa.

Why are people not on spouse visas excluded?

Home Office policy on the domestic violence concession states that those applying must satisfy all of the following conditions:

  1.  the applicant was last admitted to or granted leave to remain in the UK as the spouse, civil partner or unmarried or same-sex partner of a British citizen, of a settled person, of a refugee or of a member of HM Forces who has served for at least four years (i.e. they were granted a spouse visa);
  2. the applicant’s relationship with their spouse or partner must have broken down as a result of domestic abuse;
  3. the applicant must be destitute and must not have access to public funds; and
  4. the applicant must intend to apply for indefinite leave to remain as a victim of domestic abuse.

Many migrant survivors are able to provide unequivocal evidence of their domestic abuse and destitution, but are excluded from the concession simply because they are not in the UK on a spouse visa. This leaves many survivors on other visas (such as the dependant of a student) reliant on their abuser for both financial support and for their visa security in the UK.

Those who initially entered the UK on a spouse visa but were subsequently granted some other form of leave to remain are also overlooked. The policy mandates that the applicant’s most recent leave to remain must have been as a spouse/partner, so it is not enough to say that the person had initially entered the country on a spouse visa.

There has been some success in challenging these stringent eligibility requirements by survivors whose last leave was granted on a discretionary basis outside the Rules. Despite this, it remains extremely difficult to challenge their exclusion — it ordinarily has to be done by way of judicial review. Applicants must also be prepared for a lengthy legal battle with the Home Office and will need their lawyers to seek interim relief so that they are able to access financial support whilst they pursue justice.

Posted on Aug 17, 2020.

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