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How to apply for leave to remain as a victim of domestic violence


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Domestic violence is a serious infringement of someone’s rights. While most often perpetrated against women, it can affect people from any background and part of society. Migrants can be particularly vulnerable and unwilling to seek help because of their precarious status in the UK.

This article looks at in country applications, we will shortly be publishing a briefing on making out of country applications.

In this guide we will look at how someone can apply for permission to remain in the UK as a victim of domestic violence. We will be looking at the rules under Appendix Victim of Domestic Abuse, the section of the immigration rules that deals with these applications. Essentially, the Home Office will allow someone who has come to the UK under certain routes (mainly Appendix FM but the full list is at paragraph VDA4.1) to stay in the country permanently if the relationship breaks down because of domestic violence.

Legal aid

This article is an introduction to an application under the domestic violence rules, but it is no substitute for detailed legal advice on a person’s circumstances.

The government does recognise that victims of domestic violence are vulnerable and therefore, unlike most immigration issues, legal aid is available for these applications for those who are eligible financially.

Given the complexity of the evidence required and potential lack of appeal rights it is important to seek out legal representation. You can search for solicitors using the links on this page. Not all solicitors have a legal aid contract, but those who do not have a professional obligation to advise you of one if they think you qualify for legal aid.

What is domestic violence and abuse?

Home Office guidance makes clear that domestic violence and abuse goes beyond physical or sexual violence. The general definition is worth stating here:

Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.

There are a couple of things to take from this definition. Physical violence is not required to meet the definition – controlling behaviour or threats of violence also count. Another point is that the behaviour need not come from the victim’s partner.

Who can apply?

Migrants who are in the UK as the spouse or partner of a British citizen, a member of the armed forces, someone who is settled, someone with leave as a refugee, or an EEA national with pre-settled status (where that leave was not granted as a joining family member) can apply for permission to stay as a victim of domestic violence (even if their visa has expired).

Those in the UK to marry who have not yet swapped to having leave as a partner will not qualify.

Those in the UK on other types of leave are also unable to apply, although they may in certain circumstances qualify for asylum or humanitarian protection.

The domestic violence concession

A victim of domestic violence who is working may be able to escape the situation by moving elsewhere and supporting themselves while making an application to stay in the UK.

Those without the means to do this are likely to flee to a refuge to escape the family home. After a short while it will become necessary to apply for benefits (“public funds”) to provide support and accommodation. The Home Office has recognised that those in this situation do not have access to public funds and may become destitute.

As a result, it is possible to apply for short-term leave under the destitute domestic violence concession. Many migrants who are victims of domestic violence will apply for this concession as a first step.

To be successful an applicant must show that:

  • they have been granted leave to remain as a partner
  • the relationship has broken down as a result of domestic violence
  • they need to access public funds in order to leave the relationship
  • they intend to apply for leave to remain as a victim of domestic violence.

The application is made on this form.

If successful, the applicant will be granted three months leave to remain in the UK with access to public funds.

A grant of leave under the concession does not mean that a full grant of leave will ultimately be successful, but it does allow a vulnerable migrant to escape to a safe space with the help of public funds.

Making an application under the domestic violence rules

The correct form for the application is SET(DV). To succeed, the applicant must meet the validity, suitability, eligibility and relationship requirements. We’ll now look at these four points in a bit more detail.

Validity requirement

These requirements are set out at paragraphs VDA1.1 to 1.4 and are the same as other routes, namely that the right application form must be used, biometrics enrolled, the fee paid and evidence of identity provided.

Evidence of identity

In every application evidence of identity must be submitted unless there are good reasons beyond an applicant’s control why it cannot be provided. In many cases of domestic violence, the applicant’s partner will have retained the documents and this can be a valid reason.  However in most cases I would advise clients to apply for a passport from their embassy and provide evidence to the Home Office that this has been submitted.

Paying the fee

The fee for an application under the domestic violence rules is the same as for all other indefinite leave to remain applications, £2,885. But unlike other categories of indefinite leave it is possible to apply for a fee waiver. This is done by sending the application in without paying the fee and providing evidence that it qualifies for a waiver.

The applicant must show that:

  • They do not have adequate accommodation or any means of obtaining it, or
  • They have adequate accommodation or the means to obtain it but can not meet their other essential living needs.

A decision on the fee waiver must be based on evidence of poverty. An applicant can be expected to provide the following types of evidence:

  • tenancy agreements,
  • payslips,
  • utility bills, and
  • bank statements.

For those who are unable to provide documents because they fled the family home without them, the Home Office will decide if the applicant is telling the truth about their circumstances. In those cases evidence of a grant under the concession, receipt of support from a local council or a refuge will help establish credibility.

Suitability requirements

The suitability requirements are the same as for other applications and are set out at paragraph VDA2.1. This says that the part 9 general grounds for refusal apply, with the exception of overstaying which will not be used as a reason for refusing these applications. Possible grounds for refusal include criminality and bad character, providing false information and owing money to the Home Office or NHS.

Relationship requirements

Immigration status

Only those who have had leave to remain as the partner of a British citizen, a settled person, members of the armed forces, or certain EEA nationals who hold pre-settled status, or those previously granted 30 months leave to remain under the domestic violence rule, are eligible to apply, as set out at paragraph VDA4.1. Those with a form of leave not listed there will not be able to apply under these rules.

The Court of Session in Scotland held in A v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2016] CSIH 38 that excluding the spouses of refugees from the scheme discriminates against them, in violation of Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights. As a result, the rules were amended to include those granted refugee leave, but not humanitarian protection leave.

There is no need for the applicant to have leave to remain at the time when the application is submitted. The authorities recognise that there are circumstances where the controlling nature of the partner has means that the applicant’s leave has expired.

Relationship has broken down as a result of domestic violence

The rules do not state that specific documents should be submitted with an application. All evidence submitted must be considered by a case worker when considering if, on the balance of probabilities, the breakdown of the relationship was because of domestic violence.

That said, the guidance provided to Home Office case workers includes a useful table of evidence that can be submitted, and the approach used to assess that evidence.

Human rights

An application under the domestic violence rules is not automatically what’s called a “human rights application”. This is quite a technical point for non-lawyers but what it means is that there is not an automatic appeal to a judge if the application is refused.

It is therefore vital the application includes an explicit human rights application alongside the domestic violence information. An applicant should provide clear details of their life in the UK, any support they are receiving from a refuge or social services department, any medical conditions and any children they have, in particular if the children are British.

It is of course vital that this is also well evidenced. If a human rights application is not included the only remedy will be administrative review and judicial review.

Where to go for help?

It is important for victims of domestic violence to know there are organisations out there who will be able to help. If you are affected by domestic violence and abuse you can get help from the following places:

For women

National Domestic Violence helpline

The National Domestic Violence helpline is a freephone 24 hour helpline which provides advice and support to women and can refer them to emergency accommodation. The National Domestic Violence helpline is run in partnership between the charities Refuge and Women’s Aid.

There are translation facilities if your first language is not English. The helpline also offers help for callers with hearing difficulties.

Telephone: 0808 200 0247 (24 hours)

Rights of Women

The charity Rights of Women offers advice on immigration and asylum law, including where domestic violence is a factor. Its helpline is open to individual women with immigration problems who have experienced violence and the professionals who support them.

Telephone: 020 7490 7689

For men

Men’s Advice Line

The Men’s Advice Line is a confidential helpline for all men experiencing domestic violence by a current or ex-partner. They provide emotional support and practical advice and can give you details of specialist services that can give you advice on legal, housing, child contact, mental health and other issues.

Helpline: 0808 801 0327 (Monday to Friday, 10am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm)

For LGBT+ people


The Galop Helpline offers LGBT+ people emotional support, information and can help them to explore their options, depending on their needs. 

Helpline: 0800 999 5428 or help@galop.org.uk.

I cannot emphasise enough that it is OK to call, and these organisations will help.

Thanks to my colleague, Louise Fenney at NLS Solicitors, for her input into this article. This article was first published in September 2018 and has been updated by Sonia Lenegan.

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Picture of Nicholas Webb

Nicholas Webb

Consultant with NLS Solicitors. Recognised as a leading Immigration Lawyer by The Legal 500 2019; described as ‘very reliable and professional’ and providing ‘real depth of knowledge and attention to detail’.Also does Crossfit; which along with Immigration Law provides two subjects to bore you with at dinner parties.