Domestic abuse is behaviour from a family member, partner or ex-partner. It can include:
physical or sexual abuse
violent or threatening behaviour
psychological or emotional abuse
coercive behaviour - for example, humiliation or intimidation
controlling behaviour - for example, making someone feel less important or dependent on the abuser
'economic abuse' - this includes controlling someone's possessions or how they earn or spend money
Domestic abuse can happen to men or women. It 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've been affected
We know it might be harder than normal to get away from your home or stay somewhere else.
There are still things you can do to get support and stay safe. Check the guide to staying safe on the SafeLives website.
You can also contact a domestic abuse organisation to check what services are available.
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. If you want to stay at home, you could get legal protection to keep the abuser away.
If you can't stay at home, you could:
stay with relatives or friends
stay in a refuge
get emergency accommodation from the local authority under homeless persons law
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 support people who've experienced domestic abuse. They can give 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 contact the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on their website.
Helpline staff will tell you which refuges have spaces. They are also happy to answer questions.
If you're a man, you can contact the Men's Advice Line on their website.
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 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 abuse.
Local authorities 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 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 can 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 your nearest police station on the UK Police Service Portal. You should tell the police what’s happened and let them know if you’re worried about your safety.
The police will decide if they’ll arrest the abuser - if they don’t arrest them, you might still be able to get legal protection from the court. For example, you could apply for an order to keep them away from your home.
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 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 or the police will make the final decision on whether your abusive partner is prosecuted, depending on the offence. If they're prosecuted, you might have to go to court. 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 process 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.
Get legal protection
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've experienced or been threatened with domestic abuse, the police can issue a Domestic Violence Protection Notice. This will protect you from abuse for 48 hours. If the police think you’re still in danger, they can 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 abuse from the police. The police might give you information if they have it and they think it's necessary to protect you. The police can also warn you about an individual if they think you are at risk of domestic abuse.
The abuser could still have a history of domestic abuse, even if the police don’t give you information about them. The police might not have given you information because either:
they didn’t think it would help keep you safe
the abuse wasn’t reported
Taking legal action
If you need further help, you should get advice from an independent domestic abuse 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.
Courts are changing the way they work because of coronavirus. Hearings could happen:
over the phone or by video call - these are sometimes called ‘remote hearings’
with a mix of people in the court and 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.
If you’re from outside the UK
You might be able to apply to stay in the UK if your relationship has ended because of domestic abuse.
If you’re the family member of an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen
If you got pre-settled status from the EU Settlement Scheme as a family member, you can keep it if your relationship with your family member ended because of domestic abuse.
When you’ve been in the UK for 5 years, you can upgrade your pre-settled status to settled status. This means you can stay in the UK permanently.
If you haven’t got pre-settled status yet, you can still apply if:
you’re a family member of an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen who was living in the UK by 31 December 2020
your relationship with your family member ended because of domestic abuse
The deadline for applying to the EU Settlement Scheme was 30 June 2021, but the government says domestic abuse is a good reason to make a late application for pre-settled status.
If you have a partner visa
You and your children can apply to stay in the country permanently if your relationship with your partner has ended because of domestic abuse. You can’t apply if you’re on a fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner visa.
Your partner must have been:
a British or Irish citizen
someone settled - these means they have indefinite leave to remain or settled status from the EU Settlement Scheme
an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen with pre-settled status
someone who’s been in the British Armed Forces for at least 4 years
a refugee or someone with humanitarian protection
If you’ve separated from your partner because of domestic abuse, you can apply for indefinite leave to remain on GOV.UK.
If your partner is British, Irish, settled or a member of the armed forces, you might be able to get your current visa extended for 3 months. It will also let you access benefits while you’re applying for indefinite leave to remain. You can download the form to apply for a 3-month extension on GOV.UK.
When to tell the Home Office
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.
If you can’t apply for indefinite leave or to the EU Settlement Scheme
If you have a child under 18 who lives in the UK and has permission to stay, check if you can apply for a family visa on GOV.UK.
If you can't go back to your home country because you fear persecution and want to stay in the UK as a refugee, check if you can claim asylum on GOV.UK.
If you recently arrived in the UK
You can find information about your rights if you've experienced domestic abuse on the Housing Rights Information website.
Economic abuse happens where a perpetrator uses financial means to control you and may include any of the following:
stopping you from working
controlling your household finances including wages, benefits and bank accounts
forcing you to hand over wages and money
persuading or forcing you to take out loans and credit in your name
stopping you from using things like transport or the phone
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 abuse charity Refuge has produced a financial guide for women experiencing domestic abuse 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. You can contact the Honour Network Helpline on their website.
You can find out how to get help on the Karma Nirvana website.
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.
Female genital mutilation
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is when part or all of a girl or young woman's genitals are removed or injured for non-medical reasons. It's sometimes called ‘female genital cutting’ or ‘female circumcision’. Some communities use local names for referring to FGM, for example ‘sunna’. FGM is a criminal offence.
Harassment and stalking
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.
Page last reviewed on 25 February 2021