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Universal Credit and domestic abuse Contents

3Couple and individual payments

Current practice

Single household payments

34.Single household claims are not unique to UC. Co-habiting couples are required to make joint claims for the six legacy benefits that UC replaces.73 For all means tested benefits including out of work benefits—Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)—the income, savings and working hours of both partners are used to determine eligibility.74 Couples can claim only one out of work benefit, and receive that benefit into one nominated account.

35.Different arrangements are made, however, for the payment of some legacy benefits that are claimed jointly. Child Tax Credit and the childcare element of Working Tax Credit are paid to the main carer only. In addition, Housing Benefit is paid directly to the landlord for social housing or vulnerable tenants.75 The Women’s Budget Group told us these measures mean primary carers receive some separate income and financial security, even if they have no independent income from work. They can, for example, be assured their rent will always be paid and their home secure, and that they will receive money intended for their children76 Under UC, all six benefits—including Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit and Housing Benefit—are amalgamated into a single household payment, paid monthly into one nominated account.

36.The average monthly UC payment for a couple household is £723, increasing to £825 when the couple have dependent children.77 UC payments often therefore comprise a high proportion of many claimants’ monthly budgets. Research by the Department on a small sample of couple claims between 2015 and 2016 found that in 45% of those surveyed, payments were being made to accounts held in women’s names. In 38%, payment was made in men’s names. Just 17% of payments were made into joint accounts.78

Use of split payments

37.Couples can request that their UC payment be split between them as an Alternative Payment Arrangement (APA). The household entitlement is still calculated based on household income, but the monthly payment is divided between both partners. Work Coaches can recommend these only in “very exceptional” circumstances. These include when a claimant discloses domestic violence; financial abuse; financial mismanagement; or demonstrates they cannot—or will not—budget for their own or their family’s basic needs.79 To request a split payment, claimants must tell their Work Coaches directly about their circumstances. The Work Coach, or another member of DWP staff, will then decide if the threshold for agreeing split payments has been met. Split payments are intended to be temporary and Work Coaches are required to review the arrangement with claimants every three months.80

38.DWP has not published any data on split payment applications.81 They told us they are collating data on APAs in UC, which will include some information on split payments.82 They did not indicate when or if this might be publicly available. Neil Couling said there are “very low” volumes of split payments in payment, but could be no more specific.83 The Department told us it has no data on the number of UC claimants who have disclosed domestic abuse or been referred for specialist support.84 The Minister told us Work Coaches establish claimant circumstances through a “narrative discussion” rather than a “tick box” exercise. He said this prevented the Department from being able to determine how many claimants have disclosed abuse to their Work Coach.85 Nevertheless he assured us that the Department has “not seen any pattern coming through or any alarm bells ringing in the system” that indicate UC is having an adverse impact on survivors of abuse.86

39.We heard, however, that the lack of data on split payment requests and abuse disclosure means there is no systematic way of understanding, identifying or disproving any relationship between financial abuse and UC.87 Consequently, it is impossible to know whether survivors are receiving the support or allowances they need from Jobcentre Plus.88 Women’s Aid outlined several aspects of this relationship that the Department cannot reliably measure:89

40.The Government has itself committed to defining economic abuse as a type of domestic abuse for the first time in legislation. That makes it all the more surprising that DWP does not collect data on domestic abuse and Universal Credit. Without this data, the Department cannot be sure that it is providing the right support and systems for survivors of domestic abuse. It must monitor disclosure of abuse and split payment requests concurrently. But it should be aware that even this may understate the true extent of abuse amongst Universal Credit claimants. Many may feel unable to disclose abuse to their Work Coach or exercise their right to request a split payment. We recommend the Department publish all existing data on split payment requests. It should then work to fill in the remaining evidence gap by monitoring disclosures of abuse and collating quantitative and qualitative data on the number of split payment requests, reasons for the request, and the number of split payments being made. It should publish its findings in a regular statistical bulletin.

Benefit payments in abusive relationships

Financial control

41.Survivors of financial abuse and their support workers told us that the perpetrators of that abuse often took extreme measures to withhold money from and control them. Examples included tracking their phone, or taking their bank card without them realising.90 Refuge’s Demelza Lobb gave the example of a survivor whose perpetrator would check her grocery shopping. If she had bought anything deemed a “luxury” she would experience days of abuse. This is because the perpetrator “felt that they were losing control of the survivor, who had the audacity to get the nicer yoghurt, for instance”.91

42.A study by Refuge found demanding total control of household finances was a “common” method of financial abuse. Survivors told Refuge this level of financial control frequently left them without the means to provide for themselves or their children, including lacking money for food and basic necessities.92 Demelza Lobb explained the perpetrator may give the survivor an allowance but this might not be enough to live on.93 Survivors, support workers and domestic abuse organisations all said that perpetrators will try and find a way to control their victim’s finances, regardless of how benefits are paid.94 We heard that having independent money coming in made it easier for survivors to try to maintain some control, but that even this did not offer a failproof safeguard.95

43.The charities Engender and Scottish Women’s Aid told us, however, that single household payments make it much easier for perpetrators to establish that control:96

The single household payment is a gift to perpetrators of domestic abuse as it rapidly facilitates and legitimises what may previously have taken months or years of coercive control to achieve.

73% of survivors responding to a survey by Women’s Aid agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “monthly payments could mean the perpetrator would have more money for themselves.”97 Engender and Scottish Women’s Aid told us that single household payments were therefore associated with increased risk of child poverty and deprivation in households in which there is abuse.98 As one survivor with children told Women’s Aid, the transition to UC could mean:99

He’ll wake up one morning with £1500 in his account and piss off with it, leaving us with nothing for weeks.

44.A survey by Women’s Aid found 52% of all respondents still living with their perpetrator said they could not afford to leave—irrespective of income or benefit status.100 Women’s Aid told us that single household payments will make it even harder for survivors claiming UC to gather the wherewithal to leave an abusive relationship.101

The benefits of split payments for abuse survivors

45.Witnesses told us that split payments can offer some protection for survivors of abuse. Women’s Aid told us they currently provide “the best means of protecting survivors from economic abuse” under UC.102 We heard, however, that many claimants who would benefit from split payments struggle to access them owing to barriers in the process used for establishing them:

46.In addition, claimants may, for many reasons, be unable to disclose abuse to their Work Coach. Both members of the couple have to attend their first meeting with Jobcentre Plus to verify the claim, and survivors may not feel able to request a split with the perpetrator present.106 The short duration of claimants’ meetings with Work Coaches may also mitigate against them disclosing.107 More fundamentally, some survivors may not ask for a split payment because disclosing abuse, and requesting a change to existing payments, can be very dangerous. One survivor told Women’s Aid that requesting a split payment might be the first step to taking back control from the perpetrator. Taking such a step and then returning home to the perpetrator could put survivors in great danger. She said:108

If you were still with someone and start the process of separate finances in preparation for leaving, I think that would make people more vulnerable. What you’re doing is trying to take control back, and that’s when it escalates, doesn’t it? It could (be) a precipitant for increasing abuse.

47.Requesting a split payment mid-claim is particularly dangerous if perpetrators realise the survivor has requested it.109 Refuge stressed that requiring survivors to disclose their abuse and request a change to payment arrangements to access split payments “could put a woman at very high risk of harm”.110 Nicola Kyser Forrest of Calderdale council, told us that survivors she works with have experienced worsening abuse as a result of requesting split payments. Most of her clients will therefore not request split payments in the first place.111

48.Survivors responding to a survey by Women’s Aid overwhelmingly echoed similar concerns. Almost 85% strongly agreed or agreed that the abuse would get worse when the partner found out about the split payments. 91% said there would be more arguments about money.112 Survivors told Women’s Aid:113

I’d get a beating if he found out I’d gone behind his back and changed the money.

And:

His money going down knowing that mine had gone up would make him angry. Money taken away would enrage him, and he would probably just carry on his own habits anyway refusing to acknowledge he’s impacting on household budgets.

49.The Minister told us that—in terms of support for survivors—split payments are “a bit of a sideshow” and a “political symbol”. It is much more important, he said, “that [Work Coaches and JCP more widely] are correctly skilled” and have the right links to support mechanisms.114 Citing Women’s Aid’s survey and the danger associated with requesting a split payment, he said the Government “would not want the Committee to make the mistake of thinking that the greater use of split payments can help tackle the scourge of domestic abuse”.115 In response, however, Women’s Aid told us:116

We have highlighted that one party having to ask for split payments could pose a risk to victims of domestic abuse, as the other party will inevitably find out. But what we need is a safe way for survivors to request split payments, so that they are not put at further risk by a system that has not been set up with their needs or safety in mind.

Options for increasing access to split payments

50.We heard several ways that case-by-case access to split payments could be extended. These included:

a)Offering split payments at the beginning of the claim. The Women’s Budget Group suggested each member of a couple be proactively offered the opportunity to disclose their circumstances and preferences when making their initial claim. Payments could then be split from the outset if necessary.117

b)Widened eligibility for split payments. Women’s Aid told us that rather than being offered in “very exceptional circumstances” only, all claimants who allude to difficulties managing money with their partner should be offered split payments.118

c)Improved safeguards for the requesting partner. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and Women’s Aid suggested a standard, generic process for notifying the other partner about the payment split, unrelated to abuse or financial difficulties disclosed.119

51.Organisations broadly agreed that these measures—though an improvement—would not remove the risk to survivors entirely. Women’s Aid, Women’s Budget Group and EHRC all stressed that, for as long as single household payments are the default, they pose grave risks to survivors of domestic abuse. Perpetrators could still suspect the survivor has disclosed abuse and requested the change when monthly payments differ from the norm.120 Nicola Sharp-Jeffs told us that the consequences of an abuser finding out could be severe, up to and including, an “increased risk of domestic homicide”.121 In order to tackle this, we heard the burden of disclosure needs to be removed from survivors of domestic abuse.122

52.Accountability for domestic abuse lies squarely with the perpetrator. But the Department has a moral duty to ensure the benefit system does not in any way facilitate abuse. We have heard evidence that, for a minority of claimants, single household payments as default make it easier for perpetrators to abuse and control their victims. At one stroke, perpetrators can take charge of potentially the entire household budget, leaving survivors and their children dependent on the abusive partner for all of their basic needs.

53.Split payments cannot prevent financial abuse. Some abusers will find a way to control their partner’s finances, whatever systems the DWP puts in place. Nevertheless, the Department must give serious consideration to any changes which might offer some protection, albeit limited, to survivors of abuse.

Mirroring the world of work

54.The Department believes that single household payments reflect the financial arrangements of modern life. Neil Couling told us modern couples are more likely now than before to share their income. He suggested this is because “the labour market is converging”, with 70% of women now in employment. He claimed that for this reason, the “vast majority” of couples tend now to pool their resources.123 The Minister agreed there is “a very tiny proportion of couples who keep their finances completely separate”.124 In evidence to us, he and Neil Couling repeatedly cited research stating that only 7% of cohabiting and 2% of married couples have separate finances. The rest are “are effectively pooling and making common decisions about their expenditure”.125 Single household payments of UC, they argued, reflect this approach. The figures the Minister and Neil Couling cited are taken from a 2008 Family and Children’s Study.126 Broader analysis of the study, which examined households with dependent children only, shows that, while “completely separate” management of finances is rare, couples have a broad range of budgeting arrangements depending on factors such as household income, or whether both members of the couple are in work.127 Only 50% of married and 48% of co-habiting couples with children said they “share and manage finances jointly”.128

55.We heard persuasive arguments that single payments fail to mirror the wider world of work. Fran Bennett, Senior Research and Teaching Fellow at the University of Oxford, pointed out that wages are paid to individuals—not to households.129 Most pensions, including the new state pension, are accumulated and paid on an individual basis.130 Income tax has been paid separately by partners since 1990.131 Fran Bennett stressed that if UC is to truly mirror the world of work, it should offer each partner an independent income, in line with the wages they would both receive in employment.132 The Women’s Budget Group said that whether and how couples subsequently choose to pool this income is their choice. If payments are split, couples could still choose to share the money, but this would be “on their terms”. The current system in UC removes this choice from each member of a couple by requiring them to share income.133

56.The EHRC added that single household payments could trigger substantial redistribution of income from women to men.134 This would be particularly marked in families on the lowest incomes.135 The EHRC told us this redistribution of income risked exacerbating power imbalances within couples and undermining women’s financial independence. Marilyn Howard concurred, arguing that single household payments could condition one partner to take sole charge of the finances.136 As Surviving Economic Abuse said, “financial decision-making takes place within the context of gendered power dynamics”. Couples may defer single household payments into the man’s account routinely, “reinforcing what was traditionally seen as a ‘male breadwinner’ model”.137 This is at odds with women and men’s increasingly equal participation and roles in both the labour market and, to a lesser extent, in family and home life.138 It is also at odds with the legacy system, where payment for child-related benefit goes to main carers—the vast majority of whom remain women.139

57.Some witnesses drew a link between unequal power dynamics and domestic abuse.140 Women’s Aid told us domestic abuse—which largely, although not exclusively affects women—is a “gendered crime [ … ] deeply rooted in the societal inequality between women and men”.141 Nicola Sharp-Jeffs told us:

Domestic abuse is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality. If women do not have economic equality, what we are doing, through this system, is setting the scene for abuse.142

The Scottish Minister for Social Security, Jeanne Freeman MSP, told us Scotland’s ambition to split UC payments arose from concerns that single household payments increase inequality in the welfare system and “act as an enabler for domestic abuse or financial coercion by one partner towards another.”143

58.Successive generations have fought for the independent economic status of women within the family. Women and men work, save for retirement and pay taxes as individuals. Universal Credit is intended to mirror the world of work, but neither male nor female employees are obliged to have their wages paid into the bank account of their partner. Instead, the principle of Universal Credit is that it is a single payment to a household for the benefit of everyone in that household—however, at the last assessment, only 17% of payments were made into joint bank accounts. The DWP must do more to ensure that payments are received fairly by everyone in a claimant household.

59.Scotland is intending to split payments by default. This will create an excellent opportunity to examine whether split payments prove helpful to survivors and successful in delivering fairer payments to households. In the next Chapter we consider the practicalities of split payments.


73 Universal Credit replaces Jobseekers Allowance, Employment Support Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit.

74 Only one half of a couple has to be eligible to receive a couple rate of income related ESA or Income Support. DWP, Income support: what you’ll get [no date]

76 Women’s Budget Group (UCR0227). Women’s Budget Group (UCR0214). See also, Fran Bennet (UCR0222) Engender and Scottish Women’s Aid (UCR0224)

83 Q536 (Neil Couling)

84 Q557 (Kit Malthouse)

85 Q557 (Kit Malthouse)

86 Q576 (Kit Malthouse)

87 Scottish Women’s Aid (UCR0236), Women’s Budget Group (UCR0215), Women’s Aid (UCR0225)

88 Scottish Women’s Aid (UCR0236), Women’s Budget Group (UCR0215), Women’s Aid (UCR0225)

89 Women’s Aid (UCR0225). See also, Scottish Women’s Aid (UCR0236), Women’s Budget Group (UCR0215)

90 Q416 (E)

91 Q489 (Demelza Lobb)

93 Q489 (Demelza Lobb)

94 Q415 (E, B, M), Q456 (E, B), Q491 (Demelza Lobb), Gwent Welfare Reform Partnership (UCR0233)

95 Q431 (E, B, M)

96 Engender and Scottish Women’s Aid (UCR0224). See also, Women’s Aid (UCR0225), Surviving Economic Abuse (UCR0230), Refuge (UCR0234), Child Poverty Action Group (UCR0233)

97 Marilyn Howard and Amy Skipp, Unequal, Trapped, Controlled: Women’s experience of financial abuse and potential implications for Universal Credit, Exploratory research by Women’s Aid for TUC

98 Engender and Scottish Women’s Aid (UCR0224). See also Child Poverty Action Group (UCR0233), Refuge (UCR0234), ECHR (UCR0231), Women’s Aid (UCR0224), Women’s Budget Group (UCR0215)

99 Marilyn Howard and Amy Skipp, Unequal, trapped, controlled: Women’s experience of financial abuse and potential implications for Universal Credit, Exploratory research by Women’s Aid for TUC

100 Marilyn Howard and Amy Skipp, Unequal, trapped, controlled: Women’s experience of financial abuse and potential implications for Universal Credit, Exploratory research by Women’s Aid for TUC

101 Women’s Aid (UCR0224). See also, Women’s Budget Group (UCR0215), Women’s Budget Group (UCR0214), Child Poverty Action Group (UCR0233), Engender and Scottish Women’s Aid (UCR0224)

102 Women’s Aid (UCR0224). See also, Refuge (UCR0234), Child Poverty Action Group (UCR0233), EHRC (UCR0231), Surviving Economic Abuse (UCR0230), Wigan Council (UCR0228), Women’s Budget Group (UCR0227) Women’s Budget Group (UCR0215) Women’s Budget Group (UCR0214), Winvisible (UCR0226), Engender and Scottish Women’s Aid (UCR0224), Fran Bennett, (UCR0222)

104 Women’s aid (UCR0224)

105 Q519 (Nicola Sharp-Jeffs), Q519 (Marilyn Howard), Surviving Economic Abuse (UCR0230)

106 Refuge (UCR0234)

107 Work and Pensions Committee, The Future of Jobcentre Plus, Second Report of the Session 2016–17, HC57, 9 November 2016

108 Marilyn Howard and Amy Skipp, Unequal, trapped, controlled: Women’s experience of financial abuse and potential implications for Universal Credit, Exploratory research by Women’s Aid for TUC

109 Refuge (UCR0234), Surviving Economic Abuse (UCR0230), Women’s Aid (UCR0225), Child Poverty Action Group (UCR0233), ECHR (UCR0231), Women’s Budget Group (UCR227) Women’s Budget Group (UCR214), Engender and Scottish Women’s Aid (UCR0224), Wigan Council (UCR0228)

110 Refuge (UCR0234). See also Surviving Economic Abuse (UCR0230), Women’s Aid (UCR0225), Child Poverty Action Group (UCR0233), ECHR (UCR0231), Women’s Budget Group (UCR0227) Women’s Budget Group (UCR0214), Engender and Scottish Women’s Aid (UCR0224), Wigan Council (UCR0228)

111 Q491 (Nicola Kyser Forrest)

112 Marilyn Howard and Amy Skipp, Unequal, trapped, controlled: Women’s experience of financial abuse and potential implications for Universal Credit, Exploratory research by Women’s Aid for TUC

113 Marilyn Howard and Amy Skipp, Unequal, trapped, controlled: Women’s experience of financial abuse and potential implications for Universal Credit, Exploratory research by Women’s Aid for TUC

114 Q535 (Kit Malthouse)

116 Women’s Aid (UCR235)

117 Women’s Budget Group (UCR0215). See also, Women’s Aid) (UCR0225), Marilyn Howard and Amy Skipp, Unequal, trapped, controlled: Women’s experience of financial abuse and potential implications for Universal Credit, Exploratory research by Women’s Aid for TUC

118 Women’s Aid (UCR0225). See also, Women’s Budget Group (UCR0215), Marilyn Howard and Amy Skipp, Unequal, trapped, controlled: Women’s experience of financial abuse and potential implications for Universal Credit, Exploratory research by Women’s Aid for TUC

119 ECHR (UCR0231), Women’s Aid (UCR0225), Women’s Budget Group (UCR0215)

120 Women’s Budget Group (UCR0214) Women’s Budget Group (UCR0215), Women’s Budget Group (UCR0227), EHRC (UCR0231), Women’s Aid (UCR0225), Refuge (UCR0234), Engender and Scottish Women’s Aid (UCR0224), Surviving Economic Abuse (UCR0230)

121 Q518 (Nicola Sharp-Jeffs), Surviving Economic Abuse (UCR0230). See also, Refuge (UCR0234), Women’s Aid Federation of England (UCR0225)

122 Surviving Economic Abuse (UCR0230), Engender and Scottish Women’s Aid (UCR0224), Women’s Aid Federation of England (UCR0225)

123 Q595 (Neil Couling)

124 Q532 (Kit Malthouse)

125 Q596 (Kit Malthouse), Q532 (Kit Malthouse), Q594 (Neil Couling). Letter from the Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance to the Committee Chair, 15 May 2018

126 Natalie Maplethorpe, Jenny Chanfreau, Dan Philo, Claire Tait, Families with children in Britain: Findings from the 2008 Families and Children Study, Department for Work and Pensions, Research Report No 656, 1 July 2010, p 221

127 In 29% of married and 34% of cohabiting couples the mother manages all the income. In 15% of married and 13% of cohabiting the other partner manages all income. If both partners work less than 15 hours per week 41% manage their finances jointly, and in 39% of couples the mother manages all finances.

128 Natalie Maplethorpe, Jenny Chanfreau, Dan Philo, Claire Tait, Families with children in Britain: Findings from the 2008 Families and Children Study, Department for Work and Pensions, Research Report No 656, 1 July 2010, p 221

129 Fran Bennett (UCR0222). See also, Women’s Budget Group (UCR0215), Women’s Budget Group (UCR0227), Women’s Budget Group (UCR0239)

131 Antony Seely, Tax and Marriage, Research Paper 95/87, House of Commons Library, 15 July 1995

132 Fran Bennett (UCR0222). Women’s Budget Group (UCR0215), Women’s Budget Group (UCR0227), Women’s Budget Group (UCR0239)

133 Women’s Budget Group (UCR0239). See also, Fran Bennett (UCR0222), Women’s Budget Group (UCR0215), Women’s Budget Group (UCRO227)

134 EHRC (UCR0231). See also, Surviving Economic Abuse (UCR0230), Engender and Scottish Women’s Aid (UCR0224)

135 EHRC (UCR0231)

136 Q516 (Marilyn Howard). See also, Women’s Budget Group (UCR0227) Engender and Scottish Women’s Aid (UCR0224), Surviving Economic Abuse (UCR0230), EHRC (UCR0231)

137 Surviving Economic Abuse (UCR0230). See also Q517 (Nicola Sharp-Jeffs), Engender and Scottish Women’s Aid (UCR0224)

138 British Social Attitudes 30th report, Gender roles: an incomplete revolution?, 2013

139 British Social Attitudes 30th report, Gender roles: an incomplete revolution?, 2013

140 Q517 (Nicola Sharp-Jeffs), Surviving Economic Abuse (UCR0230) Women’s Budget Group (UCR0227), Engender and Scottish Women’s Aid (UCR0224), EHRC (UCR0231), Women’s Aid (UCR225)

141 Women’s Aid (UCR0225)

142 Q517 (Nicola Sharp-Jeffs)

143 We discuss the Scottish Government’s plans in greater detail in Chapter 4.




Published: 1 August 2018