Domestic Abuse Bill

Written evidence submitted by Southall Black Sisters (DAB18)

Domestic Abuse Public Bill Committee


1. The Domestic Abuse Bill has been described as ‘ground-breaking’ legislation and lauded as a ‘once in a generation opportunity’ to address domestic abuse in the UK. However, the purpose of this Bill will be defeated if it does not include migrant women with insecure status who are trapped in abusive environments with no recourse to safety.

2. The current No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) condition in immigration rules forms part of the ‘hostile immigration environment’ , creating barriers to protection in the face of domestic abuse and a culture of impunity for perpetrators ; who use women’s insecure immigration status and lack of financial independence to inflict abuse and harm.

3. The Domestic Violence Rule , together with the Destitution and Domestic Violence Concession , ha s proved to be an effective model of protection for abused migrant women on spousal visas. SBS urges the G overnment to extend this model to all abused migrant women irrespective of their immigration history.

4. SBS calls for three key amendments to ensure that the Government delivers a pioneering Bill that protects abused migrant women; is non-discriminatory, complies with human rights standards and allows all migrant women to access protection and justice in our society:

a) An extension of eligibility for the Domestic V iolence Rule (DV Rule) and the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) to all abused migrant women , irrespective of their visa status;

b) An extension of the timeframe for the DDVC from three to at least six months;

c) The introduction of a comprehensive strategy on violence against migrant women and girls ; that addresses the multiple and intersecting barriers faced by migrant women in seeking protection.

(These amendments have been drafted in detail in Annex 4 )

5. The Government must put the protection of all abused migrant women on a statutory footing. This protection cannot be further delayed , nor made conditional upon an inadequate £1.5million pilot project in contexts where the risks to and needs of migrant women are widely known and recognised across the statutory, voluntary and charity sectors.

6. The Domestic Abuse Bill provides a much-needed opportunity, especially in a post Covid-19 context , to redress the significant inequalities and gaps that have been exacerbated by the current crisis and to enshrine meaningful protection for all abused women.

Introduction to Southall Black Sisters

7. Founded in 1979, SBS is a leading UK based non-governmental organisation (NGO) for black and minority ethnic (BME) women. The bulk of our work is directed at assisting women and children - overwhelmingly survivors of domestic and other forms of gender-related violence - to obtain effective protection and to assert their fundamental human rights. SBS provides advice, advocacy and support to women who represent some of the most marginalised and disadvantaged groups in our society. Many arrive at SBS having experienced violence and abuse and related problems of homelessness, mental illness, poverty and insecure immigration status. Our advice and casework ranges from dealing with one-off enquiries, to undertaking mid to long-term casework , which covers a number of overlapping support needs. We handle on average 500 new cases and 6500 calls to our helpline each year.  

8. For many years, we have campaigned for adequate protection for abused migrant women. From the late 90s onwards , we worked with the Home Office to bring about reforms in immigration law and policy to enable abused migrant women subject to the NRPF condition to leave abusive relationships without fear of deportation and destitution. We were instrumental in working with previous governments in the enactment of the Domestic Violence (DV) Rule in 2002 and the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) in 2012. Consequently , migrant women on spousal visas now have a route to safety and protection. The DV Rule means that those who are in the UK on a spouse or partner visa, and whose relationship breaks down because of domestic violence, can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) if they can show that they are victims of domestic abuse. Applications are reviewed by a Home Office caseworker based on various forms of documentary evidence of abuse. The DDVC allows those making applications under the DV Rule to access public funds for a three-month period, pending the outcome of their DV Rule application.

9. We show below why th e combined DV Rule and DDVC model of protection is effective and urge the Government to build on these reforms for migrant survivors of abuse in the UK, by placing the protection of all abused migrant women , irrespective of their immigration background , on a statutory footing. Since the Domestic Abuse Bill was first announced in June 2017, we have been campaigning to ensure that the Government provides routes to safety and support to all migrant women with insecure immigration status.

10. The written evidence in this submission is supplemented by our Briefing Papers (Annex 1 and Annex 2 [1] )

Why are these amendments necessary?

Disproportionate impact of abuse

11. BME women in general, are more likely to suffer abuse for longer periods of time and from multiple perpetrators and are often subjected to discriminatory and unjust responses when they seek help from within their communities or from outside bodies .

12. As things stand, many migrant women who are at risk of the most serious and prolonged forms of abuse, exploitation and harm cannot access justice or protection if they have unsettled immigration status. SBS has long highlighted that whilst domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG) occur across stratifications of ethnicity and socioeconomic status, there are both intra-community factors and structural factors that institutionalise migrant women’s marginalisation and place them at greater risk of harm. These include in particular the NRPF condition and other policies that make up the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ in respect of immigration matters, such as data-sharing between the police and the Home Office. (For more detail, see the police super-complaint submitted by SBS and the organisation Liberty.) [2]

13. Overall, BME and migrant women are vulnerable to high rates of domestic and sexual violence, sexual and economic exploitation, domestic homicide (including so called ‘honour’ killings) and suicide. [3] There is some evidence to suggest that migrant and BME women suffer from disproportionately higher rates of these types of deaths linked to a history of abuse. [4]

The NRPF condition

14. The NRPF is a legal restriction imposed by UK immigration law on people subject to immigration control, which bars them from accessing non-contributory welfare benefits and social housing. Breaching this condition puts a person’s current or future right to be in the UK at risk. There is also a second category of people with NRPF, who are not ‘within’ the parameters of the immigration system, but who are also excluded from most forms of state support. For example, undocumented migrants, those who previously had a visa or have unsuccessfully gone through the asylum system and exited . [5]

15. At least 60 per cent of the women that SBS works with are financially dependent on their partners or spouses for their immigration status. Some have entered the UK with spousal visas, whilst others arrive in the UK through other immigration routes. The overwhelming majority have NRPF attached to their condition of stay.

16. Our years of frontline experience shows many migrant women with insecure immigration status are too afraid to report their experiences of abuse to the police for fear of retribution from perpetrators and from the state in the form of enforced destitution, detention and deportation. In 2019, in a survey of 50 migrant women subject to gender-based violence, almost two-thirds (62%) of women said their partners had threatened them with deportation should they report the violence. More than half of the women surveyed feared that they would not be believed by the police because of their immigration status (54%) or that the police or the Home Office would support the perpetrator over them (52%). [6] Others fear returning to their country of origin because they are likely to face rejection, stigma, destitution, other forms of abuse and even death threats for having brought shame and dishonour to their families and communities for abandoning their marriage . It is in these circumstances of entrapment that perpetrators use women’s immigration status as a means of exerting maximum control, allowing them to abuse and exploit women with impunity.

17. For those who do exit from abuse, finding refuge or any other safe accommodation is incredibly difficult because accommodation providers rely on rental income and women’s access to the welfare safety net to meet the short and long-term costs of housing and support. Supporting migrant women is also resource-intensive and most refuges simply do not have the skilled or experienced staff needed to assist with complex immigration matters. For instance, in England in 2017, there was an average of just one vacancy per region for a woman with NRPF . [7] For this reason, SBS has long resort ed to housing incredibly vulnerable women in B&B accommodation as an emergency albeit unsatisfactory measure, using our ‘No Recourse Fund’ for which we have to raise funds on a yearly basis ( s ee paragraph 2 3 for more detail). As a consequence , in reality, the safety of migrant women with NRPF is essentially relegated to a parallel and highly precarious system of support, separate from the wider VAWG referral pathways and state protection .

Lack of local authority support

18. Vulnerable migrant women with children who face destitution should receive local authority support under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, which stipulates that local authorities must provide accommodation and financial support to families for safeguarding reasons. However, our experience and that of other organisations show that local authorities regularly fail to meet their responsibilities to vulnerable families, explained in part by a lack of resources in the context of austerity, and the absence of statutory guidance as to how to support those with NRPF. There is also considerable inconsistency of practice amongst local authorities across the UK in respect of the support that is provided towards migrant women and children. Many are refused or face considerable delays in obtaining local authority support. We are therefore compelled to support such women through our No Recourse Fund (NRF) since they would otherwise be left facing severe hardship , trauma and further harm . Where local authorities refuse to support vulnerable and destitute women and children, we have no choice but to challenge local authorities and even initiate legal action, which is now a frequent occurrence. Between July and September 2019 for example, SBS had to seek legal advice on 18 occasions in respect of refusals by social services to provide Section 17 support abused women with children subject to NRPF. In most cases, the process of obtaining support from local authorities is time-consuming and resource intensive , which can and does result in SBS having to support women and children through our NRF until social services support is forthcoming. In any event, Section 17 does not protect single migrant women at risk of serious harm since they are not entitled to Section 17 support unless there are very exceptional reasons.

Current Developments

19. The heightened vulnerability of abused migrant women with NRPF has been highlighted during the Covid-19 pandemic. Government announcements for additional funding of approximately £ 38 million for the VAWG sector [8] in the context of a reduction in refuge capacity and reports o f rising domestic violence and related homicide [9] , ha ve not explicitly reference d the need to protect abused migrant women with NRPF. There has been a complete absence of any guidance instructing statutory services and organisations to use additional allocated funds to include abused migrant women. The absence of support led SBS to work with the London’s Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime , Solace Woman’s Aid and the hotel sector to raise funds and obtain support to provide emergency accommodation for 70 women and families in the capital for a period of three months. Even this was an uphill struggle for SB S who fought hard to ensure that 20 of these spaces were reserved for women with NRPF. Predictably within the first two weeks of the project, all 20 spaces have been filled; mainly with single women with NRPF who were destitute and at risk of escalating harm. Without such a scheme, these women would remain at risk of further harm, due to the lack of statutory protection. [10]

20. It is also worth noting that on 7 May 2020, the High Court ruled that the NRPF policy breaches Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment. [11] This followed a legal challenge brought by a child supported by the Unity Project (who support migrant families facing destitution as a result of the NRPF policy ) . The legal challenge was also based on the argument that the NRPF policy discriminates directly or indirectly against those of non-British national origin or ethnicity and fails to have due regards to the differential impacts of the policy on British children of foreign parents; on non-white British children and on single mothers and their children. [12] These latter grounds were not ultimately required to form the basis of the decision, but may be subject to further litigation.

21. In the light of this, our view is that the impact of the NRPF policy on abused migrant women is not only morally problematic, but also potentially discriminatory and unlawful.

The DV Rule and DDVC: An effective model of protection for abused migrant women

22. The DV Rule and the DDVC taken together have proved to be a vital lifeline for abused migrant survivors who have spousal visas . It has helped to remove women’s dependency on their abusers for survival and shelter ; preve nting destitution, deportation and risk of harm when they exit abuse and prevent ing abusers from weaponising immigration law and policy. It is a model of protection that works effectively, albeit there is always room for improvement in terms of its implementation. SBS has a 100% track record of assisting women with applications under the DV Rule because only those cases that meet the relevant criteria are taken on. Evidence from elsewhere also points to the viability of the model of protection. For instance, according to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Guardian newspaper, in 2016, there were around 1,200 applications under the DV Rule every year, with a success rate of 70%. [13] Elsewhere, evidence suggests that in 2018, 1210 DDVCs were granted, out of which 575 people were granted leave to remain. [14]

23. The fact remains however, that migrant women who are not on spousal visas, including students and domestic workers and those on work permits, are excluded from these vital routes to safety. In response to this gap in protection, since 2009 , SBS has operated established a No Recourse Fund (NRF) project, funded by the Tampon Tax funds and London Councils, to provide immediate housing and subsistence support to women (and their children) with NRPF who also face gender-based violence   . We have undertaken an evaluation of the Tampon Tax-funded element of our NRF work to assess the impact of the project. This included assessing the effectiveness of the DDVC for those on spousal visas; the effectiveness of providing funds for women on non-spousal visas; and to consider any further measures needed to address problems in this scheme. An evaluation report by Dr. Ravi.K.Thiara , entitled Safe and Secure , is now available (Annex 3 [15] ).

24. In view of the effectiveness of the DV Rule and DDVC, the extension of the model to all migrant victims of abuse, irrespective of their visa status is both viable and necessary. We urge Government to build on this foundation of good practice, by extending the same model of protection to all abused migrant women.

The Amendments

25. The three amendments that we seek to the Domestic Abuse Bill are as follows:

a) Extension of the DV Rule to cover migrant women on non-spousal visas

26. Over the course of the last 18 months at least , we have submitted extensive evidence to various Government departments , including the Home Office , about the gap in protection for migrant women on non-spousal visas . This has involved attending numerous meetings including a ministerial roundtable, as well as making submissions based on our Tampon Tax evaluation findings to the Home Office ’s internal review as recently as 23 Apri l 2020 .

27. O ur submission to the Home Office internal review shows that between 1 April 2019 and 31 March 2020, 196 women with varying immigration status we re supported directly by SBS with accommodation, subsistence and advocacy through our NRF. These include those on student visas, trafficked women, work permit holders and undocumented women. The data shows that 57% of the women that we supported were on non-spousal visas and were therefore not eligible to apply for the DDVC or for leave to remain under the DV Rule. [16] Previous d ata relating to the period April 2015 to March 2016 also showed that 67% of those who accessed our NRF project were women with non-spousal visas subject to NRPF. Women’s Aid has also reported that in the period 2016 / 2017, two thirds of their users with NRPF were not eligible for statutory support . [17]

28. These figures show that over half of the migrant women who approach us for support are women on non-spousal visas and cannot avail themselves of the protection provided by the DV Rule and the DDVC. They continue to face formidable barriers when attempting to escape abuse . The NRPF condition bars them from accessing the welfare safety net to avoid destitution and they remain at risk of serious harm.

29. The denial of safety for abused migrant women not only has severe consequences for women but also for wider society: it allows perpetrators to evade justice and gives them free rein to harm other women and children. Many of the women we support have been harmed by men who have also committed violence against previous partners/spouses. The lack of adequate protection for abused migrant women essentially guarantees their silence and gives perpetrators a green light to commit violence against other women in our society. Please see examples of case studies of the harms that migrant women face , set out in our briefing paper 2 . [18]

b) E xtension of the time period for the DDVC from three to at least six months

30. T he DDVC is a vital measure provid ing abused migrant women on spousal visas with life-saving access to safe alternative accommodation and more generally to the welfare safety net . Currently it enables women on spousal visas to obtain welfare support for a period of three months. We are calling for the DDVC to be extended to all abused migrant women on non-spousal visas and to extend it for a period of three months to six months. Otherwise, t he current three-month time period for the DDVC will remain an obstacle , for the following reasons:

31. Firstly, some refuges and landlords in the private sector are reluctant to accept migrant women with the DDVC as there is no guarantee that their immigration status will be resolved within the three month limited time period, which means that they do not want to risk providing housing to someone who may not be able to cover the accommodation costs once th e three month period has ended .

32. Secondly, the current three-month period does not provide sufficient time to enable all women to gather the necessary evidence they need to support their ILR application. A successful application under the DV Rule is dependent on timely access to high-quality immigration advice and representation (which is particularly difficult given the shrinking number of specialist immigration advisers in light of legal aid cuts), as well as access to the appropriate BME specialist services . These services are limited in number and many are closing or threatened with closure due to the impact of austerity and now the Covid-19 pandemic . Furthermore, our casework experience shows that women on non-spousal visas require between six to eight months of support , although some require assistance beyond this . Even with those on spousal visas , it can take between 8 to 12 weeks to submit an application for I LR , though this also depends on how fortunate women are in obtain ing the timely support of BME specialist organi s ations and legally aided lawyers.

33. Finally, we have noted that women still experience de lays in the DDVC application being processed, which creates delays in benefits actually being obtained. This is mainly due to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) rejecting the habitual waivers that women obtain from the Home Office in order to apply for welfare benefits, and /or as a consequence of delays in receiving the necessary Biometric Residence Permit. There are also delays because some job centres, though not all, also require women to provide their National Insurance (NI) number, as well as the habitual waiver, before they can receive benefits. In these cases, we have to set up appointment s and accompany women to the Post Office building in London to obtain a NI number. This can delay the process by a further 2-3 weeks. In the interim period, women who are eligible for the DDVC have to be provided with financial support and safe alternative accommodation through our NRF. Our d ata from March 2019 to April 2020 shows that in one case, we had to support a woman who had been granted DDVC for 15 weeks before she was able to obtain benefits.

34. For these reasons, we call on the Government to extend the time period for the DDVC to women with non-spousal visas to at least six months, in order to provide the flexibility required to address the complex circumstances that women on non-spousal visas are likely to find themselves in - and to account for the bureaucratic delays experienced in obtaining welfare benefits.

c) The introduction of a comprehensive strategy on violence against migrant women

35. In the course of this submission, we have made brief reference to a range of complex and interrelated issues which place migrant women at risk of further harm, ranging from the shortage of BME specialist services , to the problematic data-sharing policies between the police and the Home Office to the impact of legal aid cuts on access to high-quality immigration advice and representation. In order to adequately address these overlapping issues and others , SBS is calling for a holistic and comprehensive VAWG strategy that focuses on protection for all abused migrant women . Much in the same way that there is a coherent and multi-pronged strategy for VAWG in general , we now need a coherent strategy addressing the multiple and overlapping barriers faced by abused migrant women. A holistic and intersectional approach to violence against migrant women will enable the BME specialist VAWG sector and the Government to work together to review, amongst other things :

· Safe and confidential reporting systems for abused migrant women with insecure immigration status ;

· The introduction of statutory guidance for the police, social services and health services to assist abused migrant women and their children with insecure immigration status ;

· The use of detention of women who have suffered gender-based violence in the UK and/or their countries of origin ;

· Access to legal aid and to reputable immigration law practitioners;

· Immigration law and policy towards women who are subjected to abandonment abroad which is itself a form of domestic abuse .

36. For a detailed list of the areas that we would like to see fall within the scope of such a strategy for migrant women , please see our briefing paper 1 (Annex 2 [19] ).

T he £1.5m pilot project

37. At the Second Reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Home Office, Victoria Atkins MP, announced £1.5million for a pilot fund to cover the cost of support for migrant women with NRPF in refuge accommodation. Atkins stated that this pilot will be used "to assess better the level of need for that group of victims and to inform spending review decisions on longer-term funding."  

38. The Government’s rationale for a pilot project - to conduct yet more assessments of the level of need - completely fails to appreciate the urgency and the seriousness of the risk of abuse and destitution that abused migrant women on non-spousal visas currently face. Details of t he difficulties and challenges faced by women with NRPF are outlined in our Domestic Abuse Briefing Papers (Annex 1 and 2 [20] ) .

39. E ven as an interim measure, the proposed pilot fund is a wholly inappropriate and inadequate solution to the urgent need to protect all abused migrant women subject for the following reasons:

a) We are concerned that the project will lead to further delays. Pilot projects take a considerable amount of time (sometimes years) to complete and evaluate and can be followed by further pilot projects. This simply stalls the introduction of measures that are urgently needed to protect abused migrant women with NRPF. The Home Office has been painfully slow in addressing the need to institute immediate protection measures for migrant women. When challenged on the gaps in protection for migrant women, it has regularly referred to an ‘ongoing internal review’ of its response to migrant victims but the findings of this review have not been made public . We note that in the Government’s own report on its progress towards the ratification of the Istanbul Convention in October 2019 , it downgraded its status on adhering to Articles 4(3) and Article 59 ; from ‘compliant’ to ‘under review’ [21] due to concerns raised about the lack of support for migrant victims of abuse , including by the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill . [22]

b) SBS and others have already submitted considerable evidence to the Home Office’s ‘internal review’ , including to the ‘final call for evidence’ on 23 Ap ril , outlining among other things, the number of abused migrant women seeking access to safe accommodation; their status of arrival in the UK; a detailed assessment of their needs and the risks they face in contexts of abuse (see Annex 5 [23] ). Inexplicably, the Home Office has not published the findings of this review but has chosen instead to announce a pilot project. This means the findings of the ‘review’ and any associated equality assessments have not been made available to the Bill Committee or subjected to proper scrutiny, as requested in a joint letter to the Government by 22 organisations in the VAWG sector on 4 May. There has been no explanation as to why the Home Office deci ded to announce a pilot project and why it was decided to allocate £1.5 million only to support migrant women with NRPF .

40. T he amount of £1.5million allocated for the pilot project is simply in sufficient to safeguard abused migrant women and children with NRPF. I n our Domestic Abuse Bill Briefing Paper 2 , we provided an estimate of the numbers of abused migrant women with NRPF likely to need support and the overall costs involved. More recently, the Tampon Tax has awarded SBS and our partners £1.09 million to support women with NRPF across England and Wales over a period of two years (April 2019-March 2021), with both accommodation and holistic, wrap - around support. However, this amount will only meet the housing needs of around 130 women across the UK over the two-year period . In the light of this evidence, even as an interim measure, the £1.5 million total allocated to the pilot project is not sufficient to address what is an urgent and mounting crisis.

41. Finally, t he pilot pot has been described as providing funding for "refuge accommodation" only for migrant women. This suggests that it does not allow for the range of accommodation options that are needed due to lack of refuge spaces , nor the scope of support (including meeting the costs of other basic needs, advocacy, counselling and outreach support) required to ensure meaningful protection and the prevention of further abuse .

42. For these reasons, in our view, the proposed pilot project is an in sufficient response to the urgent need to protect all abused migrant women.


43. The Domestic Abuse Bill has been years in the making and has been presented as a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to support all victims of domestic abuse. If the Government is to meet its equality and human rights obligations (particularly Article 3 of the ECHR), it must use this opportunity to put protection for all migrant women on a statutory footing. The protection of migrant women from abuse cannot be delayed any further, nor made conditional upon a pilot project in contexts where the risks to and needs of abused migrant women are widely known and recognised across the statutory, voluntary and charity sectors.

44. I n order to provide meaningful protection for all abused migrant women, we require the Government to embed the amendments that we seek in the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill .

Southall Black Sisters

27 May 2020

[1] Not published. See Annex 1: and Annex 2:


[3] Siddiqui, H. and Patel, M/SBS (2010) Safe and Sane, Available at

[4] Mayor of London (2010) The Way Forward Taking action to end violence against women and girls Final Strategy 2010 – 2013, Available at

[5] Andy Hewett, Head of Advocacy, Refugee Council:



[8] This figure is based on £10m for the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government, £25m for the Ministry of Justice and £3m for the Home Office







[15] Not published.

[16] Data from previous years show that between April 2015 and March 2016, 67% of our users who accessed SBS’ NRF (supported by the Tampon Tax) were on non-spousal visas. A snapshot survey conducted by SBS between November 2012 and January 2013, found that 64% (n=154) of 242 women did not qualify for the DDVC and were without a safety net. Similarly, over a one year period, Women’s Aid reported that two thirds of their users (n=101) with NRPF were not eligible for statutory support because they were on non-spousal visas and had NRPF.



[19] Not published. See Annex 2:

[20] Not published. See Annex 1: and Annex 2:



[23] Not published.


Prepared 11th June 2020