Government Benefits

Worrying about money is one reason you might feel trapped with abusive partner. Maybe your partner has always controlled the finances. Maybe he says you won’t survive financially without him. But there are welfare benefits provided by the Government that help many women fleeing abuse, and special rules to support survivors.

What benefits you can claim will depend on your personal circumstances. It is important you seek individual advice about benefits to ensure you receive all that you are entitled to. Your local Citizens Advice Centre is a good place to start. Turn2Us also has a benefits calculator and an ‘advice finder’ tool.

It can be difficult to navigate the benefits system. If you can, access support from a specialist domestic abuse worker. If you go into refuge, your place will be paid for by housing benefit. The refuge staff should help you sort this out, and claim the other benefits you’re entitled to. Identification documents are required when making applications for benefits, so try to take them with you if you are leaving your home. You will also need a National Insurance Number – a domestic abuse support worker can help you to get one if you do not have one. It can also be useful to have your partner’s National Insurance Number, if you can safely get it.

What might I be entitled to?

This is not a comprehensive list of the benefits you may be entitled to. However, here are some of the most common benefits claimed by women fleeing abuse, along with the particular provisions that apply to survivors.

Universal Credit (UC) is a working-age benefit paid whether you are in or out of work. It is made up of different parts and includes amounts to help cover costs for children, childcare and housing. It is a new benefit and replaces ‘legacy benefits’ for new claimants. Legacy benefits are: Income Support, Income-Based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-Related Emolument and Support Allowance, Housing Benefit and Tax Credits.

If you have fled domestic abuse, you will have to claim Universal Credit in the following circumstances if you:

  • Have children and were previously receiving Tax Credits as a couple
  • Have become liable for rent for the first time, or move to a different local authority area. If you move within the same local authority and have been claiming housing benefit, you can carry on doing that at your new address
  • Have stopped working, or become unable to work due to illness
  • Want to make a new claim for a ‘legacy benefit’

Tips around Universal Credit for women fleeing abuse:

  • Most UC claimants are required to look for, or prepare to look for work. These are called ‘work related requirements’. Tell your ‘work coach’ at the Job Centre Plus about your circumstances as early as you can. Work related requirements should be lifted for 13 weeks if you have experienced domestic abuse in the last six months. If you have children, this should be extended for another 13 weeks. If your children have been affected by experiencing or witnessing domestic abuse, you can have a further break on your work related requirements of up to one month every six months for a period of two years following the abuse or violence.
  • ‘Work related activity’ requirements should also be relaxed if your youngest child is under two. If your youngest child is aged three or over, you can agree limitations on hours of work around your child care commitments.
  • UC is usually only paid after the first five weeks. You can ask for an advance if you are struggling financially. However, you will have to pay back any advance payments through deductions from your UC payments when they come through.
  • UC is usually paid all in one monthly payment into your account. You can ask for your payment to be made more frequently such as twice a month, or for the amount for rent to go direct to your landlord.
  • If you are still living with your partner you can ask for the UC payments to be split. However, bear in mind that your partner will know this has happened. Staff at the Jobcentre Plus have been trained to help women fleeing abuse relationships, and should support you.
  • If you were previously getting UC as a couple and have left your former partner, you must tell the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) about your ‘change in circumstance’. If UC was being paid into your former partner’s account, you must tell the DWP your bank details straight away so that payments for which you are eligible come to you. Setting up a bank account is something your domestic abuse support worker can help with. The DWP may also be able to help.

How to claim Universal Credit

Most claims for UC are started online via the government’s website. To start a claim by phone call the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644 (Welsh language: 0800 012 1888; Textphone: 0800 328 1344).

Citizens Advice (England and Wales) is delivering ‘Help to Claim’ as a national service to support people from their initial Universal Credit claim to first full payment. You can contact them on Freephone 0800 144 8 444 open 8am – 6pm and visit the website here. There is more information on Universal Credit on the government’s website.

Housing Benefit provides financial help towards your rent. It is paid if you are out of work, or in work and living on a low income.

There are special provisions if you are temporarily absent from your home through fear of domestic abuse. These provisions also apply if you get your rent paid through Universal Credit housing costs.

If you intend to return to your former home, you can receive Housing Benefit on two homes (for both a former permanent home and temporary accommodation), so that you don’t lose the former home. This can be paid for up to 52 weeks.

If you were getting Tax Credits as a couple, your joint claim can be ended. You will usually have to make a new single claim for Universal Credit instead. If there was an overpayment in your old joint tax credits claim with your partner, you should be asked to repay no more than 50% of the overpayment. Tell the tax credit office you have been affected by domestic abuse – they have a dedicated team to ensure your claim is dealt with appropriately, and that you are not asked to provide information that could put your safety at risk.

Child Benefit is usually paid to the person responsible for the child. If you were not the Child Benefit claimant before fleeing domestic violence, you should make a new claim for a child or children you are responsible for.

If you had opted not to receive Child Benefit because your former partner’s income was over £50,000, once you have separated, you should ask for payment to be reinstated.

If you have worked in the last two to three years and you are now either looking for work or are too unwell to work, you can claim Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) or Employment and Support Allowance, based on your national insurance contributions. It does not matter how much money you have in savings, as these are not a means tested benefit.

If you’ve been a victim of domestic abuse and are claiming JSA, you are entitled to a break from job seeking and work preparation requirements for up to 13 weeks. This period can be extended at the discretion of your Job Centre work coach, so speak to them about what the domestic abuse you have been experiencing.

To access most Government benefits, you have to satisfy a ‘residency condition’. To claim Income Support, Income-related ESA, Income-Based JSA, Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit you have to satisfy the ‘right to reside’ test. If you are an European Economic Area (EEA) national who is working or you have recently stopped working, you should satisfy this test.

There are several other ways you might satisfy the test, even if you have never worked in the UK. This is a complex area and it is important that you seek further advice. You can call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline for further information, and look on the websites of Citizens Advice, Rights of Women and The AIRE Centre. A domestic abuse support worker can also help you to navigate the benefits system. If you think your partner might be tracking how you use the internet, read these tips on safer browsing before searching for support online.

Settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS)

If you are an EEA national you should apply for:

  • Settled Status if you have been here for five years or more, or
  • Pre-Settled Status if you have been here for less than five years

If you have Settled Status you can apply for benefits. There is no fee to apply for Settled Status, but you may want to reach out for support. A list of organisations offering support can be found here.

Details of how to apply and the deadline for applying can be found on the government website.

If you have come to the UK on a family visa as a spouse, civil partner or unmarried partner and you need to leave home through fear of domestic abuse, you can apply for a Destitution Domestic Violence (DDV) concession. This will allow you to claim benefits for up to three months – for example, while UK Visas and Immigration consider your application to settle in the UK. You should seek specialist immigration advice on this. The Law Society can provide you with details of immigration solicitors in your area. This work is covered by Legal Aid. Domestic abuse specialists can support you through this process – call Refuge’s Helpline so we can connect you with a service.

If you entered the UK as the partner of an EEA national (rather than a British national) and have fled domestic abuse, you may be able to gain access to benefit through European law. Get further legal advice if this applies to you. The Law Society can provide you with details of immigration solicitors in your area. This work is covered by Legal Aid.

If you and your children cannot get access to benefits because you have no recourse to public funds (NRPF) you can approach your local authority for help.