Domestic violence and abuse
Domestic abuse is behaviour from a family member, partner or ex-partner that:
- is controlling, coercive, threatening, violent or abusive
- happens between people aged over 16
Domestic violence and abuse can include harassment, stalking, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and honour-based abuse. It can also include trafficking - get help if you think you've been trafficked.
If you are the victim of an abusive relationship, you might want to:
- find somewhere safe to stay
- stay in your home and get the person who is harming you to leave
- report the violence to the police
- get a court order to stop your abusive partner from harming or threatening you
- take legal action
- get help from a charity or another organisation
Whatever you want to do, there are organisations that can give you advice and help.
Finding somewhere safe to stay
You may need somewhere safe to stay, either alone or with your children. You could:
- stay at home - if you think this is safe
- stay with relatives or friends
- stay in a refuge
- get emergency accommodation from the local authority under homeless persons law - this will usually mean a bed and breakfast hostel
- get privately rented accommodation.
Finding a refuge
Refuges provide somewhere safe for people and their children to stay and think about what to do next.
Staff at refuges are specialised in dealing with domestic violence, and so can give a lot of emotional and practical support, for example, advice on benefit claims, which solicitors to use and, if necessary, how to contact the police.
If you're a woman you can call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247, (see Domestic violence and abuse - organisations which give information and advice for other ways of contacting them).
Helpline staff will do their best to find you somewhere safe to stay that night even if the local refuge is full. They are also happy to talk about any questions they have about refuges.
If you're a man, you can get help from the Men’s Advice Line:
Men's Advice Line (MALE)
Helpline: 0808 801 0327
Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 5.00pm
Calls are free from mobiles and landlines.
Going to the local authority or Housing Executive
Local authorities have a legal duty to provide help to certain people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness. You will qualify for help if you are eligible for assistance, legally homeless or threatened with homelessness and not intentionally homeless. You must also be in priority need. The local authority may also investigate whether you have a local connection with the area.
You will normally be considered to be legally homeless if it is not reasonable for you to occupy your home because of the risk or fear of domestic violence.
Local authorities, or the Housing Executive in Northern Ireland, should deal sympathetically with applications from people who are in fear of violence. You can ask for a private interview, with someone of the same sex, and can take a friend with you for support.
The local authority (Housing Executive in Northern Ireland) may have a duty to provide emergency accommodation for you while it decides whether you are legally homeless.
If it is outside of normal office hours, you should telephone the local authority's emergency out-of-hours number for help with emergency housing.
Going to privately rented accommodation
If you decide to go into privately rented accommodation you will be unlikely to be able to arrange it quickly - but it could be an option if you have time to plan your departure.
Reporting the violence to the police
Many kinds of domestic abuse are criminal offences and the police can arrest, caution or charge the perpetrator.
Most police stations have Domestic Violence Units or Community Safety Units with specially trained officers to deal with domestic violence and abuse.
You should call 999 in an emergency or 101 in a non-emergency or you can attend a police station in person to report an incident. Find information on all the UK police websites through the UK Police Service Portal at www.police.uk.
If the police arrest and charge a perpetrator, they will decide whether to keep them in custody or release them on bail.
There will usually be conditions attached to their bail to protect you from further violence and abuse. Make sure you ask for your crime reference number which you may need if you contact other agencies for help.
The Crown Prosecution Service will make the final decision on whether your abusive partner is prosecuted - you might have to go to court if they are. If you're worried about going to court, you can get free help and support from the Citizens Advice Witness Service. You can find more information on the criminal prosecution service on the Women's Aid website.
The police can also give you advice on crime prevention and getting something called a police marker on your address, so an officer can get to your home as quickly as possible.
You can ask the court to:
- stop your partner harming or threatening you – this is called a ‘non-molestation order’
- get your partner to leave your home or stop them coming back – this is called an ‘occupation order’
You can apply for a non-molestation order or an occupation order using a free tool called CourtNav that’s run by RCJ Citizens Advice. This is a Citizens Advice office which specialises in legal services.
The CourtNav system will help you find the best way forward and check if you can get legal aid to help with your legal costs. It will either:
help you find a legal aid solicitor if you can get legal aid
help you apply to the court yourself
You need to give an address where you’re staying – you can choose for your address not to be shared with your partner.
You can start an application through CourtNav.
Domestic Violence Protection Notices and Orders
If you have experienced or been threatened with domestic abuse, the police can issue a Domestic Violence Protection Notice and then apply to the magistrates' court for a Domestic Violence Protection Order.
A Domestic Violence Protection Order can protect you from further abuse, and if you live with the perpetrator, ban them from returning to the home and contacting you. If the perpetrator does not keep to the Order, they can be arrested and brought before the court.
A Domestic Violence Protection Order lasts for up to 28 days and gives you time to explore your options and get further support.
The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme
Under the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, you can find out about a partner's history of domestic violence from the police. The police will give you information if it is necessary to protect you. The police can also warn you about an individual if they think you are at risk of domestic violence.
Taking legal action
If you need further help, you should get advice from an independent domestic violence adviser or a solicitor who is experienced in family law. You might need help to:
- get your property back or make you the legal owner of your home
- decide who your children live with and who can see them
- end your marriage or civil partnership
A local advice agency, such as a law centre or Citizens Advice, should be able to help you find a local solicitor who is experienced in this area of the law. In England and Wales, you can also look on the Law Society website.
You may be able to get help with your legal costs - you can check if you qualify for legal aid.
Legal aid helps you with your legal costs including advice and help if you have to go to court.
You should make an appointment as soon as you feel ready, and could take someone with you for support the first time you go. The initial interview will probably last quite a long time, during which the adviser should discuss with you what courses of legal action are open to you.
If you have to go to court
Going to court can be stressful, but you can make things easier by finding out what will happen on the day. You should also think about how you can explain your side of the story.
Coronavirus - if you’re going to court
Courts are changing the way they work because of coronavirus.
You won’t be forced to do the hearing from home if it’s not safe - there’s a space on your application form where you can tell them this. The judge might be able to make a decision without a hearing.
At the moment, court hearings could happen:
over the phone or by video call - these are sometimes called ‘remote hearings’
with some people in the court and some people joining over the phone or by video call - these are called ‘hybrid hearings’
If the court hasn’t told you how to attend your hearing, contact them to find out. You can search for their contact details on GOV.UK.
Citizens Advice run a service to support people experiencing domestic abuse who are going to a family court. Find out more about the service and where we provide it.
Find out more about how to prepare to go to family court on the Advicenow website.
Getting help from a charity or organisation
There are lots of charities and organisations that help both men and women get help with abuse.
You might be able to stay in the UK if your relationship has broken down due to domestic violence.
If your ex-partner is British or settled
You can find out how to stay in the UK even if your visa is based on your relationship to them.
Your ex-partner is ‘settled’ if they have indefinite leave to remain, Irish citizenship or right of abode.
You must tell the Home Office as soon as you separate - explain your circumstances and that you've experienced domestic abuse. The Home Office might end your permission to stay as a partner, so it's important to make another application to stay as soon as possible.
It's important to get advice from a specialist adviser or immigration lawyer as soon as you can. They'll be able to tell you what to do next and find out if you're eligible for free advice through legal aid.
If your ex-partner is from the EU, EEA or Switzerland
You might be able to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme.
If you recently arrived in the UK
You can find information about the housing rights of women from abroad fleeing domestic violence on the Housing Rights Information website.
Financial abuse happens where a perpetrator uses financial means to control you and may include any of the following:
- stopping the victim working
- controlling the household finances including wages, benefits and bank accounts
- forcing the victim to hand over wages and money
- persuading or forcing the victim to take out loans and credit in her/his name.
If you have been pressurised or bullied to take out loans or credit in your name, the debt may be unenforceable - you should get advice from your nearest Citizens Advice.
The domestic violence charity Refuge has produced a financial guide for women experiencing domestic violence at www.refuge.org.uk.
Your local Citizens Advice can give you advice about debt problems. To search for details of your nearest Citizens Advice, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest Citizens Advice
Honour-based abuse is defined as an incident or crime which has or may have been committed to protect or defend the honour of the family and or community. Honour-based abuse happens where a person is punished by their family or community for doing things that are not in keeping with the traditional beliefs of their culture. For example, you may be a victim of honour-based abuse because you:
- resist an arranged marriage
- resist a forced marriage
- have a partner from a different culture or religion
- live a westernised lifestyle
- want a divorce.
Honour-based abuse may include domestic abuse, sexual or psychological abuse, assault, forced marriage or sending someone back to their country of origin.
The Honour Network Helpline is a specialist organisation which advises victims and survivors of forced marriage and honour-based abuse.
A forced marriage is where you are pressurised into it against your will. You may be emotionally blackmailed or physically threatened usually by your family. It is not the same as an arranged marriage where both parties agree to get married.
In England and Wales, forced marriage is a criminal offence. If someone forces you into marriage, they could go to prison for up to seven years.
Harassment happens when you receive unwanted behaviour from another person which alarms or distresses you. Examples of harassment include malicious phone calls, threatening texts, threatening and insulting language and damage to property.
Stalking is a form of harassment and may include behaviour such as following, contacting or attempting to contact you, monitoring your email and internet, watching and spying on you and other similar behaviour.
It is a criminal and civil offence for another person to harass or stalk you. You can report the matter to the police. Many police forces have a specialist police officer who deals with harassment or stalking.
You may also be able to get an injunction in the civil courts to stop the harassment or stalking taking place and claim damages. If an harasser breaches an injunction, it is a criminal offence.
You can get further information and guidance on how to deal with harassment and stalking from the National Stalking Helpline. Go to www.stalkinghelpline.org.
There are many organisations that can give you confidential advice and support.