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SEEKING SETTLEMENT AS A VICTIM OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
21 Apr 2020
Covid-19 has created various worries and struggles for society. It has however been a particularly difficult time for victims of domestic violence.
Self-isolation means leaving the house for only essential reasons. An extremely unfortunate consequence of this is that, domestic violence victims are indoors with their abusers far more than they wish to be.
According to a study by online research company SEMrush, traffic to the website for the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, Refuge, increased by 156% from February to March 2020. In April 2020, Refuge, reported a 700% increase in calls to its helpline in a single day. At least 16 suspected domestic abuse killings have been identified by campaigners between 23 March and 12 April 2020 (since the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions were imposed in the UK). Looking at the same period over the last 10 years, data records show this is much higher with the figures previously showing an average of five deaths. These are alarming statistics.
Many migrant victims are dependent upon their abusers for their visas. This situation of vulnerability and power can result in additional ill-treatment and/or control. It is not uncommon for foreign nationals to be told by their partners, spouses or in-laws that they will be removed or lose their status if they go to the police or they try to flee the family home.
WHAT IS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE?
The Government defines domestic violence as ‘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. This can encompass but is not limited to psychological, physical, sexual, financial and/or emotional abuse.’
Controlling behaviour is further outlined as ‘a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.’
Coercive behaviour is also explained as ‘an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.’
This broad definition makes clear that abuse is not always physical. The recent government Guidance, ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): support for victims of domestic abuse’, also emphasises this. It which makes clear that domestic violence can often include ‘gaslighting’, online abuse and verbal abuse. Signs of abuse are listed in this document, as involving being withdrawn, not being allowed to leave the house and monitoring technology use such as social media platforms.
DESTITUTION DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CONCESSION
As can be seen, simply by looking at the above definition, it is not uncommon for migrant victims of domestic violence to be unemployed, to not hold bank accounts and to be entirely dependent upon their abusers for their finances. When an individual holds a visa as a spouse or a partner, this is usually with the condition that they have no recourse to public funds. The fear of destitution can make it even harder to flee.
In 2012, the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession was introduced so that eligible victims could inform the Home Office that they required access to public funds whilst they made applications for indefinite leave to remain (ILR). It is a short application which requires only basic information. This allows victims to leave their matrimonial home and have access to safe accommodation and financial support whilst they prepare and submit their applications.
SETTLEMENT FOR VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC ABUSE
The immigration rules, namely Appendix FM DV-ILR, allows victims of domestic abuse to apply for ILR if they can meet certain requirements of the immigration rules. These requirements include the Applicant,
- Being present in the UK;
- Making a valid application for ILR;
- Meeting suitability requirements in the rules;
- Holding appropriate leave as a partner of a British national, a settled person or an individual with refugee status;
- Providing evidence that, whilst holding leave to remain as a partner, their relationship broke down permanently as a result of domestic violence.
It is important to highlight that legal aid is available for domestic violence applications, for those who are eligible financially.
PROVIDING EVIDENCE OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
The requirement of the rules that an individual provides evidence of domestic violence is often problematic. It is well established that domestic violence is hard to evidence; see Ishtiaq v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 386. Victims frequently complain that they were not able get to medical appointments without their partner accompanying them. This is all made worse by isolation. How does a victim disclose domestic violence to anyone when they are stuck indoors for longer periods with their abusers, who may well be listening to all their phone calls or checking their messages?
In these unprecedented circumstances, it is all the more important that Applicants set out their accounts of abuse in as much detail as possible through witness statements. In R (on the application of) Balakaoohi v SSHD  EWHC 1439, the Court said that where ‘the applicant has a good reason for not being able to provide supporting evidence, it is more likely that weight will be given to unsupported evidence or even unsupported non-independent evidence.’ Coronavirus and lockdown may well amount to a good reason.
WHAT ABOUT MIGRANT VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC ABUSE NOT ELIGIBLE FOR ILR?
Not all foreign nationals victims of domestic violence will meet the requirements for settlement under Appendix FM DV-ILR. There are a range of other applications that victims can make which separate their status from their partner. Of course, this will all depend upon individual circumstances.
There are a range of helplines, websites and documents that Applicants and their advisors can make use of at this time. Here are a few…
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): Support for victims of domestic abuse – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-and-domestic-abuse/coronavirus-covid-19-support-for-victims-of-domestic-abuse
- Destitute Domestic Violence (DDV) Concession – https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/679269/victims-of-domestic-violence-and-abuse-DDV-concession-v1_0.pdf Victims of Domestic Violence and Abuse – https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/680977/victims-of-domestic-violence-v14.pdf
- Rights of Women, who operate free telephone immigration advice lines- https://rightsofwomen.org.uk/get-advice/immigration-and-asylum-law/
- Refuge, National Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0808 2000 247, https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/
The immigration team at One Pump Court are also offering free 30 minutes of legal advice on any immigration related issues at this time.
21 April 2020
One Pump Court Chambers – Immigration TeamBack to News