Legal Aid Cuts Campaign
SBS calls for scrutiny on legal aid cuts and access to justice and urges all those who work on violence against women issues to respond to the call for evidence on the impact of the legal aid cuts on women’s access to justice. Access to justice is one of the most pressing issues facing front line services that work on gender-based violence issues. We must do all we can to reverse the devastating legal aid cuts which breach a range of international human rights standards on discrimination against women.
Abolish No Recourse to Public Funds Campaign
This was previously known as the ‘Two Year Rule’ campaign. When we we first began campaigning on immigration issues in the mid 90s, our aim was to highlight the plight of women with insecure status who are trapped in domestic violence due to their insecure immigration status.
In the early 1980s the Tory Government introduced a set of restrictive and discriminatory immigration rules to prevent people from abroad from being able to enter the UK and settle permanently through marriage. The key changes were the introduction of the primary purpose rule (PPR), the one-year rule (OYR) and the no recourse to public funds requirement (NRPF). The PPR required applicants to prove that the main purpose of marriage was not settlement in the UK. However, the rule was implemented in a highly discriminatory way, causing untold misery and suffering to many couples seeking to live together. For this reason, it became the target of extensive campaigns across the UK demanding that it be abolished.
The OYR introduced the requirement that people coming here to join their spouse must remain in the marriage for at least one year (the probationary period) before they could apply to stay here permanently. Following the completion of the one year, any application for leave to remain had to be supported by both parties. A person from abroad who did not apply at the end of the probationary period automatically became an overstayer and was liable to removal from the UK even if the marriage was continuing. A person whose marriage broke down within the one year whatever the reason, was equally vulnerable to removal.
The NRPF requirement dictates that persons coming to the UK on marriage must be financially supported by their spouses or must support themselves by working. They are not entitled to financial assistance from the state including most forms of welfare benefits, or social housing.
Since the mid 90s, the main focus of our campaign was on the OYR and the NRPF. The OYR made no concession to those whose marriages had broken down, due to violence from the UK based spouse. Many of the women whose marriages broke down due to domestic violence could not return to their countries of origin due to family rejection, stigma attached to divorced and separated women and the lack of state protection or support for such women. Thus they had little or no exit options and were faced with a stark choice: to remain in an abusive marriage or to countries of origin where they were at risk of discrimination and even persecution.
Frustrated by the lack of alternatives and exit options for increasing numbers of women, SBS began an extensive campaign calling for the abolition of the OYR and for a reform of the NRPF requirement. Finally in 1999, the Government announced a concession to the OYR. This allowed women whose marriages had broken down as a result of domestic violence to stay in this country if they could prove that the domestic violence was the cause of the breakdown. However, the standard of proof required to demonstrate domestic violence was very high and very few, if any women, were able to meet it. Following further campaigning by SBS in November 2002, the Government introduced the Domestic Violence Rule which incorporated the concession into the Immigration Rules and extended the type of evidence that was required to prove domestic violence. Although this represented a significant victory for us, the issue of NRPF and the question of extending recognition to other categories of women who are trapped in abuse and violence due to their immigration status remains unresolved. To make things worse, in 2003. the Government extended the one-year probationary period to two years
In 2003, although we continued to campaign for further extensions to the types of evidence required under the Domestic Violence Rule, our main focus shifted to the demand to abolish the NRPF since its very operation defeated the purpose of the Doemstic Violence Rule. In February 2004, as a direct response to pressure from SBS and Women’s Aid, the Government provided limited funds for refuges to accept and support abused women with NRPF. However, the funding was only available for a maximum of eight weeks and by September 2004, as predicted, the funds ran out. In November 2004, the Government contributed further funds but this too ran out.
In October 2004, at a conference organised by SBS, the Home Office Minister, Baroness Scotland, announced that the Government would bring in new measures to provide support for women who faced violence and had insecure immigration status. These included further extensions to the type of evidence accepted under the Domestic Violence Rule. During the passage of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victim Act in 2004, we campaigned and lobbied for the government to reform the NRPF requirement without success.
In December 2009, following a sustained campaign on NRPF by the UK’s leading human rights and women’s rights organisations led by SBS, the Home Office launched its pilot project, the ‘Sojourner Project’ (delivered by Eaves Housing for Women), to assist victims of domestic violence with NRPF. The pilot project has been extended several times since to ensure that women and children are not left without support pending a more permanent solution to the problem. Indeed, in July 2010, the Home Secretary, Teresa May, announced that the pilot will continue until the end of March 2012 pending a longer-term solution. This commitment was reiterated in the Coalition Government’s strategic narrative on violence against women and girls published on 25 November 2010 and the Home Office Action Plan in March 2011, which confirmed that a long-term solution will be instituted in April 2012. This represents another victory for SBS and for the many women and human rights organisations working alongside us.
Along with others, we are currently working with the Home Office to monitor and evaluate the Sojourner project. We are also in discussion with the UKBA in respect of developing the long-term solution, and have been working with Eaves Housing for Women to provide training to community and women’s organisation across the UK to ensure that they are able to support women to access this pilot scheme and other services to address immigration and the NRPF problems that they encounter amongst their users. We have also raised these issues at various meetings and conferences, and in submissions to government and other bodies.
We have also recently responded to the Government’s latest (2011) consultation on family-related migration, much of which is harsh, unnecessary and discriminatory. In particular, we have challenged its plans to extend the probationary period in spousal visa cases from 2 to 5 years which will trap many more black and minority women in abusive relationships.
For more information about our campaigns and the issues raised, see ‘From homebreakers to Jailbreakers and ‘No Recourse, No Safety’ published in March 2008 by SBS and Amnesty International.
SBS has received funding from London Councils (until August 2012) to set up a small last resort fund known as the SBS No Recourse Fund (SBS NRF).
Major Victory on No Recourse to Public Funds
On 16 July 2010, the Home Secretary, Teresa May, announced that the Home Office pilot scheme, the Sojourner Project, which gives women with immigration and no recourse to public funds (NRPF) problems access to housing and subsistence costs for up to 40 days for those who apply to remain in the UK under the ‘Domestic Violence Rule,’ will be extended from September 2009 to March 2011. She also stated that the Government was committed to finding a long-term solution to the problem. And to this end, from April 2012, the government will introduce a scheme to enable women who make applications to remain in the UK under the Domestic Violence Rule to have access to limited welfare benefits pending their applications.
Southall Black Sisters has been campaigning for reform on NRPF for 20 years. In 2007, we established the ‘Campaign to Abolish No Recourse to Public Funds,’ a campaign involving a coalition of over 30 leading human rights and women’s organisations. The Campaign has been working with the Home Office and UKBA on developing and monitoring the pilot scheme, training UKBA officers on how to respond to domestic violence applications and lobbying for a permanent solution to the no recourse problem. We welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement, and continue to call on the government to reform the benefit and immigration rules to exempt all women subjected to domestic violence, abuse and exploitation in the context of marriage, employment or trafficking from the NRPF requirement. We also call on the government to continue to work with us to develop workable and humane proposals for reform.