16 Days of Activism 2020 – Day 9
No Recourse to Public Funds
Changing Pathways IDVA Tina talks about the success and failures of NRPF rule in relation to domestic abuse.
In the 1980s the government introduced a new set of immigration rules, designed to stop people gaining settlement in the UK by marring a British person. It meant that couples had to stay together for at least one year before the non-British person could apply for settlement and during that time the person would not have any recourse to public funds. The application for settlement would need to be agreed by the British person and if it wasn’t, or the marriage broke down, the non-British person was classed as an overstayer and subject to be deported from the country. What was evidently not considered, was the power this gave to the British person and how they could misuse this to gain control.
For migrant women who found themselves in an abusive marriage, returning home often wasn’t an option because of cultural stigma and sometimes persecution of divorced women. Southall Black Sisters campaigned against the immigration rules and in 1999 it was passed that, if women could prove their marriage had broken down because of domestic abuse, they would not have to wait the year, nor get their husband’s agreement, before applying for settlement. This was called the Domestic Violence Rule but the threshold for evidencing the domestic violence was so high many abused women didn’t qualify. Further campaigning meant that in 2002 the evidence thresholds were lowered, meaning more women were able to qualify. However, there was still the issue of no recourse to public funds and then in 2003 the one-year rule was upped to two.
By the time I started working in domestic abuse, in 2010, the Sojourner project had just been introduced. This provided funding for up to 40 days for women, on a spousal visa, who had no recourse to public funds. The funding for this ran out in 2011 and I remember there being worry in the Women’s Sector, what are we going to do now?
Finally, in 2012, the Campaign to Abolish No Recourse to Public Funds was partly successful and the government agreed to give temporary recourse to public funds to women who were on spousal visas, whose marriage had broken down as a result of domestic abuse and who were destitute. This is called the DDVC (destitution domestic violence concession). This can still be applied for today, regardless of whether a woman is applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) or not. If she is not then it needs to be remembered that she can only be provided with this for 3 months. I supported a woman who received 3 months of housing benefit to go into a refuge whilst arrangements were made for her to return to her country of origin with her child. If ILR takes longer than 3 months to process then benefits can be paid longer than 3 months. However, I’ve found this to be a straight forward and quick process. It’s so amazing to be able to tell survivors of this incentive and help see them through it. They are often threatened by their abuser to be sent back to their country of origin, but actually they are entitled to stay here. The campaigning really paid off in this respect.
However, Southall Black Sisters reported that in 2011, 65% of the migrant women, who had or wanted to flee domestic abuse, were not entitled to support under the domestic abuse rule or DDVC because they were not on spousal visas. Similarly, most refuges who state they take NRPF, seem to mean women who are on spousal visas who have made an application for DDVC as opposed to women who have no chance of getting recourse to public funds anytime soon. To date, the following women experiencing domestic abuse will not have recourse to public funds; women on family member visas, overstayers, domestic workers, trafficked women. In addition to this, as I’ve discovered twice now, European women who have not exercised their treaty rights.
Under section 17 of the Care Act, local authorities are obliged to carry out a financial assessment to see if they have a duty to help financially. With one of the European women I supported it was deemed that they would provide her financial support whilst awaiting other support to be put into place. She was offered to be referred for an NRM (National Referral Mechanism) as a victim of trafficking and modern day slavery but she denied that she was a victim of this so this was not an option. She was offered to speak to a solicitor via the Red Cross, but was adamant she didn’t need a solicitor as she was European and was allowed to be in the country. She didn’t speak English so it was often hard to know, is she just not understanding the situation or is something getting lost in translation.
With the other European woman, because she was married, I was informed that she would have been entitled to housing benefit as the spouse of an EU National. Housing were asking for all kinds of evidence. I told her she needed to contact her bank. I had to google how she needed to get there. She called me, she couldn’t find the bank. That was another day gone past. I had to beg for another night funding her in a hotel.
From a human point of the view, the main issue is the time it takes to try to move things forward for women with NRPF, not on spousal visas. Both of the European women had fled their abusive partner and had their belongings in 1 case. The image of all personal belongings in one case should be enough to show how desperate these women were. Both of them were isolated alone in a hotel room. English was neither of these women’s first language. Despite agencies working well together in both of these cases, neither had good outcomes. The stress was too much for the 2nd woman. She took some crack cocaine (we believe for the first time) and ended up in a psychiatric ward. The first woman disengaged once she found out her hotel could not be funded anymore. She had a broken arm (caused by her partner), I called her to check in on her. I would guess that she’d just called her partner and was back with him, I would guess she thought something like – it’s less stressful being with him and I have run out of options.
It is not a good day at the office when you are faced with this situation. There is still much campaigning that needs to be done in relation to migrant women experiencing domestic abuse.
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