SOUTHALL BLACK SISTERS
Leaving An Abusive Relationship
If you share a home with the person who is abusing you or you are scared that they will continue to abuse you because they know where you live, for your safety and protection, you must decide whether you want to leave home for a short while or permanently or keep them out or away from your home.
In order to help you your legal adviser will need to know the following information:
- When you came to the UK and how long you are allowed to stay in the UK.
- Why you came to the UK (e.g. to join your husband, as a student, domestic worker).
- If there are any conditions or restrictions upon you staying in the UK (e.g. that you must stay married or you must not work or claim benefits
In an emergency whether you are assisted by an organisation or the police you must make sure you collect your essential belongings, any medication you or your children take and essential documents such as passports, birth certificates and benefit books belonging to you and your children.
If you have had to leave your children behind in an emergency you should call the police immediately and ask them to escort you home so you can pick up your children safely. If they are at school, speak to the school head immediately and try and collect them. When you return home it is advisable not to get into any conversations with family members. If your children are no longer at your home, or your partner and/or his family refuse to hand the children over to you or the police are not prepared to accompany you, seek urgent advice, preferably legal advice. (See section on Children).
Alternative accommodation if you are leaving home
A refuge is a safe house for women and children who are fleeing violence. Refuges usually provide temporary accommodation for a few weeks or months until you decide whether it is safe for you to return home or find alternative long-term accommodation.
The kind of accommodation that you will be given depends on the refuge, but you will normally be provided with your own room to share with your children, and you will share other common spaces such as a living room, kitchen and bathrooms with other residents.
You can enter a refuge whether you are single or married, with or without children. Please bear in mind that some refuges have policies about accepting boys aged 11 or over. If that is the case you must approach the local authority for help.
Finding a refuge space
You can contact your local Women’s Aid Refuge by calling the freephone 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline which is run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge: 0808 2000 247 (with a minicom service and language-line facility)
The Women’s Aid Federation Website has a list of its national network of refuges on its website. For this list and information on how to arrange refuge accommodation, what you can take with you to a refuge, funding a refuge space and refuge services go to the “Help” page at the Women’s Aid Federation website. You can also contact refuges through the Samaritans, the police, social services or the Citizen’s Advice Bureaux.
If you contact Southall Black Sisters within office hours we can either provide you with telephone numbers of refuges or contact refuges on your behalf.
Refuges for black and ethnic minority women
There are over 250 refuges across the UK. All refuges in the Women’s Aid Network operate an open door policy for women and children in need. However, some refuges are able to provide services addressing the particular needs of Black and ethnic minority women. For a full list of such refuges contact Women’s Aid on their 24-hour helpline. If you are an adviser you can obtain the Women’s Aid Gold Book: Directory of Domestic Violence Refuge and Helpline Services from the Women’s Aid Federation (Tel: 0117 944 4411).
Women with immigration problems who are not entitled to benefits may have problems in accessing a refuge. See the section on women with immigration problems for more information.
Southall Black Sisters do not provide refuge accommodation but if living locally and you have an emergency arising out of domestic violence or gender-related abuse or if we are already providing casework and advocacy assistance, we can assist in helping to find temporary accommodation.
Homeless Persons Unit (HPU) & Social Services
If you have children, your HPU should provide you and your children with temporary accommodation if you have been made homeless as a result of domestic violence. If you do not have children, your local authority may not assess you to be in priority need. If this happens you should seek legal advice. We can also assist in obtaining legal advice for you. If you are not entitled to benefits due to your immigration status the HPU will generally not help, although there are exceptions. See section on people with immigration problems.
If your local authority fails or refuses to help you, you should seek urgent legal advice.
For further information on homelessness and your rights, contact Shelter’s free national housing advice helpline on 0808 800 4444 or visit Shelter’s website.
Staying with Family or Friends
If you are unable to access a refuge place or temporary accommodation, supportive family and friends may be able to accommodate you and your children until you find somewhere else to live. However be aware that the person who has been abusing you may be able to find you more easily, and friends and family may put you under pressure to talk with your abuser or return to an abusive relationship.
Protection: Staying at Home or Returning Home
You may decide that you do not want to leave home or that you only want to stay away from home until you are sure it is safe to go back.
You may be able to obtain an injunction which is a court protection order preventing your abusive partner or relative(s) from contacting you, harassing you, threatening you or harming you for a specified period. If you share a home with an abusive partner you may be able to obtain an occupation order which is a type of injunction ordering your partner to leave your home and not return for a specified period.
You can obtain emergency protection orders (injunctions) on the same or next day if you can show that you or your children are at immediate risk of physical harm or that your abuser will prevent you from obtaining a court protection order if they know you are planning to do this.
You should get legal advice as soon as possible from a family lawyer. You will qualify for legal aid (free legal advice and assistance) if you have no income or are on benefits. If you have a low income the legal adviser will calculate whether you qualify for legal aid or you have to pay towards your legal advice costs. If your income is too high you must decide whether you can afford to pay legal advice and representation privately or if you can apply for a court protection order yourself. When seeking advice from a legal adviser you will be given an appointment and you should take proof of your income with you (i.e. benefits book, letter from benefits agency, last 3 months’ payslips or a letter from anyone who is providing you with free accommodation and support.)
You can also obtain advice and information from Rights of Women on 020 7252 6577 (telephone) or 020 7490 2562 (textphone) on Tues/ Wed/ Thursdays from 2 – 4 pm and 7 – 9 pm, Fridays 12 to 2 pm) where free legal advice is provided by telephone by solicitors and barristers on family law issues. You can also obtain a Domestic Violence DIY Injunction handbook in English, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi and Urdu from Rights for Women for £6.00 which shows you how to apply for a court protection order yourself.
If you live outside Ealing, you can also contact our helpline for further advice but if you live in the Ealing area or near our local area, you can seek our assistance in applying for a court protection order.
Sanctuary Project/Sanctuary Scheme
Sanctuary Project/Sanctuary Scheme is a government introduced a scheme that aims to make it possible for victims of domestic violence to remain in their home and feel safe.
Sanctuary Project/Sanctuary Scheme is a homelessness prevention initiative offered by a number of local authorities. They can offer you some or all of the following options to improve your safety and enable you to remain at home:
- A safety planning meeting with a specialist domestic violence adviser who can work with you to assess your needs and help you to decide whether the Sanctuary Project would help you.
- A quick and free change of locks.
- Quick (within hours) free additional home security measures such as window locks, fire-proof letterbox, stronger doors.
- Adapting a room in your home so that in the event of your abuser breaking in you (and your children) can lock yourself into this “sanctuary room” and your abuser will not be able to break into the room. You can then use a telephone or emergency alarm system to call the local police for urgent assistance. This scheme is not means tested and may be offered to you whether you live in local authority, housing association or private (owned or rented) accommodation providing you have the permission of the landlord before making any structural adaptations.
This scheme helps to support women who have experienced domestic violence and wish to remain in their homes but it should not be seen as a guarantee of safety. You need to decide whether you will be safe when you go out of your home as well as whether you will be safe whilst at home. You should seek independent advice, preferably from a lawyer, housing advice or women’s advice centre if you need to discuss your safety needs.