The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) use the term ‘domestic violence’ to cover domestic violence and abuse (on this page we refer to both as domestic abuse). See the box below for the DWP’s definition of ‘domestic violence’. This definition is also used for housing benefit.
What is meant by ‘domestic violence’?
‘Domestic violence’ is defined as any incident, or pattern of incidents, of controlling behaviour, coercive behaviour, violence or abuse including but not limited to:
- psychological abuse
- physical abuse
- sexual abuse
- emotional abuse; or
- financial abuse
regardless of the gender or sexuality of the victim.
Refuges provide support in an emergency and can help you sort out your finances in the longer term.
What financial help is available if you need to leave your home due to domestic abuse?
Scottish Welfare Fund / English Local Welfare Assistance Schemes / Welsh Discretionary Assistance Fund
Some of the help available differs depending on where you live.
In Scotland, if you need to leave your home in an emergency you can apply to the Scottish Welfare Fund for a crisis grant for living expenses. You can also apply for a community care grant for other needs such as travelling expenses or household items if you are moving into a new home, and are facing exceptional pressures due to domestic abuse. To get a grant you must be on a low income or have no income. You do not need to be getting particular benefits although this might help establish that your income is low. You must apply to your local authority for a crisis grant and/or community care grant from the Scottish Welfare Fund.
In England and Wales, if you need to leave your home in an emergency you can apply to your local authority’s Local Welfare Assistance Scheme in England, or Discretionary Assistance Scheme in Wales. Each local authority runs its own scheme. These schemes have replaced the discretionary part of the Social Fund in England and Wales. Please note, not all English councils run a local welfare assistance scheme and the rules about eligibility and the level of help available vary between schemes. Ask your local council for details of the scheme they run. Applications are usually online and you can apply for emergency living expenses and the costs of any travel involved in fleeing domestic abuse. You may also be able to apply for the costs of essentials such as white goods if you have had to move in a hurry and need to settle somewhere new.
Whether you live in England, Scotland or Wales, you should also claim any benefits you are eligible for and can request an advance payment of that benefit if you need it.
For more information on:
- local welfare assistance in England, see Advicelocal.uk
the Scottish Welfare Fund, see mygov.scot
the Discretionary Assistance Scheme in Wales, see gov.wales
Universal credit is a working-age means-tested benefit, payable whether you are in or out of work, which can include amounts for children, childcare costs and housing costs. It replaces income support (IS), income-based jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), income-related employment and support allowance (ESA), housing benefit and tax credits (known as ‘legacy benefits’) for new claimants. If you are getting a legacy benefit, get advice before claiming universal credit to see if you would be better off on universal credit.
In almost all circumstances, claiming universal credit will end your claim for legacy benefits.
If you have fled domestic abuse and have a low income, you will normally have to claim universal credit in the following circumstances:
- you have children and were previously getting tax credits as a couple; or
- you have become liable for rent for the first time, or in a new local authority area; or
- you have stopped working, or have become unable to work due to illness; or
- you are not getting any of the ‘legacy benefits’.
If you have left your home due to domestic abuse and you move into a refuge provided by a local authority, housing association, charity or voluntary organisation, or are placed in temporary homeless accommodation, you must claim housing benefit from your local authority to get help with your rent for that property. You may also qualify for universal credit but you cannot get a housing costs element within your UC for rent for this kind of property.
Universal credit payments
Universal credit is usually paid monthly in arrears. Payment is made for each monthly assessment period, normally a week after the end of the assessment period. This means you may wait five weeks for your first universal credit payment. You can request a short-term advance if you are in financial hardship – this can be up to 100% of your estimated entitlement, and is usually repaid from your future payments over 24 months. In Scotland, you can ask for your universal credit to be paid twice a month, and for the amount for rent to go direct to your landlord. In some circumstances, in England and Wales it may be possible to have payments more frequently than once a month and for the amount for rent to go direct to your landlord but such ‘alternative payment arrangements’ are discretionary.
A change of circumstances normally takes effect from the start of a monthly assessment period. If you have left your former partner and were previously getting universal credit as a couple, notify the DWP of the change in your circumstances. You can do this on your online universal credit account (but be aware that until your account is unlinked from your ex-partner’s, your ex-partner may be able to see information you add to your universal credit account) or by ringing the universal credit helpline. You can normally be paid as a single person (or single parent) for the whole of the monthly assessment period in which you left your former partner, and your claim will continue to run on the same monthly assessment period as before. If universal credit was being paid into your former partner’s account, it is vital that you notify the DWP of your own account details before your first payment is due. Get advice if you are having problems opening a bank or building society account.
Universal credit work-related requirements
Most universal credit claimants are subject to work-related requirements, such as attending work-focused interviews if your youngest child is aged one, preparing for work if your youngest child is aged two, and if your youngest child is aged three or over, you are normally subject to all work-related requirements, but can agree limitations on hours of work. You might be sanctioned if you do not comply with your work-related requirements without good reason. If you are given a sanction, your benefit is paid at a reduced (or sometimes nil) rate for a set period.
If you have experienced or been threatened with domestic abuse by your partner, former partner, or a family member within the last six months, you should not be subject to any work-related requirements for a period of 13 weeks. For this to apply, you must provide the DWP with evidence of the abuse from a person acting in an official capacity, such as the police or a social worker. This exception to the work-related requirements can only be applied once in any 12-month period. If you have a child under 16, you should not have to be available for or look for work for a further 13 weeks, but may be required to attend work-focused interviews or prepare for work.
If you are responsible for a child under 16 who has been a victim of, or witness to, violence or abuse, or has been affected by the death of a family member in the last two years, and this has disrupted your normal childcare responsibilities, you can be allowed a month in which you do not have to look for work or be available for work. This can be allowed once in each six-month period in the two years following the event. However, if the incident is the same episode of domestic violence for which you have been allowed the period of 13 or 26 weeks described in the above paragraph, the month runs at the same time.
For more detailed information on work-related requirements see Work-related requirements if you have recently experienced domestic abuse.
No child element is included in your universal credit (or child tax credit) for a child born on or after 6 April 2017 if you already get child elements for two or more other children. This is known as the ‘two-child limit’. There are some exceptions to the two-child limit. For example, an exception applies if the child was likely to have been conceived as a result of rape or in a controlling or coercive relationship and you are not, or are no longer, living at the same address as the perpetrator.
A controlling or coercive relationship includes behaviour which caused you to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence would be used against you, or that caused you serious alarm or distress which had a substantial adverse effect on your day-to-day activities. You must provide evidence from an ‘approved person’ confirming that you had contact with them or another ‘approved person’ about the rape or coercive or controlling relationship. A list of who counts as an ‘approved person’ is set out in guidance and includes healthcare professionals, social workers and support workers from other approved organisations. This third-party evidence is not needed if there has been a conviction for rape or coercive or controlling behaviour in the UK, or a similar offence abroad, or if you have been awarded criminal injuries compensation in respect of a sexual offence, physical abuse or mental injury, and it is likely that the offence or injury resulted in the conception.
For more detailed information on this exception to the two-child limit see Exceptions to the two-child limit.
Help with rent for a home you have left
If you have fled your home due to fear of violence but intend to return – eg, once you have obtained an occupation order (in England or Wales) or an exclusion order (in Scotland), you can continue to receive housing benefit or the universal credit housing element for that home for up to 52 weeks of a temporary absence. In this situation, if you are in a refuge or temporary homeless accommodation, you can get housing benefit for your temporary home as well as housing benefit or the universal credit housing element for the home you are temporarily away from.
The benefit cap
Universal credit and working-age housing benefit can be reduced if your total income from certain ‘specified benefits’ is more than the ‘benefit cap’. If you live outside Greater London the benefit cap is £423.46 a week, or £1835.00 a month, for single parents, and £283.71 a week, or £1,229.42 a month, if you are a single person without children. If you live in Greater London it is £486.98 a week, or £2110.25 a month, if you are a single parent, and £326.29 a week, or £1413.92 a month, if you are single without children.
In some circumstances the benefit cap does not apply, for example if:
- you get ESA and are in the support group; or
- your universal credit includes the limited capability for work-related activity element or the carer element; or
- you get working tax credit or carer’s allowance; or
- you, or a child you are responsible for, get personal independence payment, adult disability payment, disability living allowance or child disability payment.
The benefit cap also may not apply if you are in a nine-month (or, for housing benefit, 39-week) ‘grace period’ after stopping work, or, for universal credit, if you work and your net earnings are £658 a month or more.
‘Specified benefits’ include JSA, ESA, child benefit and maternity allowance. If you are claiming universal credit, universal credit is also a specified benefit. If you are claiming housing benefit, housing benefit (unless it is for ‘specified accommodation’), income support and child tax credit are also specified benefits.
The benefit cap is most likely to affect you if you have a large family or are living in accommodation with a high rent. If you are staying in a refuge, the housing benefit you get for this type of accommodation does not count towards the benefit cap, so your housing benefit can cover the higher charges usually associated with the additional support and security provided. If you are getting housing benefit on two homes under the rule described above, you may be affected by the benefit cap.
For further information on the benefit cap, see ‘The benefit cap’ in the Welfare Benefits and Tax Credits Handbook and ‘Benefit cap’ on gov.uk.
Universal credit and housing benefit: the sanctuary scheme and local housing allowance rules
If you or a member of your household have been subject to domestic abuse, or been threatened with it, and you are living in social rented property that has been adapted under the ‘sanctuary scheme’ (which is a scheme to provide additional security in the home) your housing benefit or your universal credit housing costs element is not reduced if you have more bedrooms than you are thought to need (ie, the bedroom tax does not apply to you). For the bedroom tax not to apply, you normally must not be living with the perpetrator and you must provide evidence from someone acting in an ‘official capacity’ (see below).
If you are a private tenant, the amount of help you get with your rent is normally based on the ‘local housing allowance’ for a property with the number of bedrooms you are thought to need given the size of your family. This is often lower than the amount of your rent. If you are aged under 35, are single and do not have either any children for whom you are responsible or non-dependants living with you, the usual rule is that the amount of help you get with your rent is based on the local housing allowance for one-bedroomed shared accommodation. This is less than the local housing allowance for a one-bedroomed property. However, there are exceptions to this rule.
One exception which came into force on 1 October 2022 applies to people who have experienced domestic abuse. The help you get with your rent is based on the local housing allowance for a one-bedroomed property rather than one-bedroomed shared accommodation if:
- after reaching the age of 16, you experienced or were threatened with domestic abuse by your partner, ex-partner or a relative; and
- you provide evidence from someone acting in an official capacity
In both situations the evidence from someone acting in an official capacity (eg, a healthcare professional, the police, a registered social worker, a public, voluntary or charitable body) should confirm that you have been in contact with them about the domestic abuse and that your circumstances are consistent with someone who has experienced or been threatened with domestic abuse. If your property has been adapted under the sanctuary scheme, the evidence should also confirm this.
Note: the local housing allowance rules do not apply in some circumstances, including if you live in certain kinds of temporary or supported accommodation.
Child tax credit
If you were getting tax credit as a couple, your entitlement ends when you are no longer part of that couple. If you have a low income you will usually have to claim universal credit instead. You will still receive a final decision about your old joint child tax credit claim which you made with your ex-partner. If there was an overpayment in the joint tax credit claim, you should not be asked to repay more than 50% of the overpayment.
If you inform the Tax Credits Office that you have been affected by domestic abuse, your case should be handled by a dedicated team who must ensure that your claim is dealt with appropriately – eg, you should not be 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 abuse, make a new claim for the child or children you are responsible for. It can take several weeks to change claimants, unless your former partner agrees to withdraw his/her claim.
If your former partner’s income was over £50,000 a year, you may have opted not to receive your child benefit due to the ‘high income child benefit charge’. Unless your own income is over £50,000 ask for your child benefit payment to be reinstated once you have separated.
If you have separated from your partner and you are over pension age, you can claim pension credit as a single person. Pension credit is a means-tested benefit for older people. You are allowed more to live on, are not required to look for work and cannot be sanctioned. If you have children, an additional amount for your child(ren) may be included in your pension credit.
Means-tested benefits and your former partner, property or savings
If you have separated from your former partner and you are claiming universal credit, income support, income-based JSA, income-related ESA, housing benefit or council tax reduction, your claim is not affected by your former partner’s income. Any payment of child maintenance you receive is ignored when working out your benefit entitlement. If you receive spousal maintenance, this counts as your income and does affect your entitlement.
If you have left a property which you owned or jointly owned, the value of the property can be ignored for six months following a relationship breakdown. It may also be ignored in other circumstances – eg, if your former partner still lives in it and is a single parent, or if you are taking legal advice to return to the property or taking steps to sell your share. For more information, see
- Value of property and its effects on means-tested benefits.
- our online tool, Can the value of your property be disregarded? to find out whether the value of your property can be ignored for universal credit, and to generate a note to explain your circumstances to add to your universal credit journal.
If you had a joint bank or building society account with your former partner, you will need to open an individual account in your own name to receive payments of benefits. You may be treated as having a 50% share of jointly held savings, but if you are unable to access a joint account due to domestic abuse, you should argue that the value is nil for means-tested benefits. You should also seek legal advice on gaining access to your share, and on other financial issues.
People from abroad
People from abroad may find that their rights to claim benefits are limited, depending on their immigration status, and should seek specialist advice.
People from abroad who entered the UK as the partner of a British citizen or settled person and have fled domestic violence may be entitled to claim benefits under a special concession. If you have ‘no recourse to public funds’ as a condition on your stay in the UK, this concession allows you access to public funds so that you are not at risk. You can apply for a destitution domestic violence concession from the Home Office to allow you limited access to benefits for three months. You should also seek specialist immigration advice to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
To apply for a destitution domestic violence (DDV) concession, use the form on gov.uk
If you are unsure if you qualify for benefit because of your immigration status, use our tools:
Do you have a right to reside? (for subscribers)
Are you a ‘person subject to immigration control’? (for subscribers)
Further help on benefits and tax credits
Welfare Benefits and Tax Credits Handbook, a comprehensive guide to benefits and tax credits for claimants and advisers which is available in print or online.
CPAG’s Early Warning System
The Early Warning System gathers information and case studies about how changes to the benefit system are affecting the wellbeing of children, families and the communities and services that support them. This helps us explain the impact on families and work for improvements in the system, to deliver better outcomes for children.
Early Warning System
Further information and advice on domestic abuse
If you are in immediate danger: phone 999
A federation of frontline domestic abuse services, supporting women and children
Women’s Aid (England)
Scotland’s domestic abuse and forced marriage helpline
National domestic abuse helpline
Tel: 0808 2000 247 (Freephone, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week)
Online chat: nationaldahelpline.org.uk/Chat-to-us-online
Respect Men’s Advice Line
Help and support for male victims of domestic violence
Help and support for LGBT+ people who have experienced domestic abuse