Migrant survivors must not be allowed to fall through the cracks, says Domestic Abuse Commissioner as she calls for urgent overhaul of support

  • Vulnerable migrant survivors of domestic abuse who can’t access public funds “failed” by the current inadequate system, says Domestic Abuse Commissioner as she demands a system overhaul by Government
  • Report gives first estimates on size of the challenge (of the numbers of survivors who fall into this category) showing that – tens of thousands at risk without access to public funds
  • Sets out concrete, costed proposals to government
  • Recommended option would generate overall society gains worth around £2 billion over 10 years

A report out today is calling for an overhaul of how Britain deals with one of its most vulnerable groups of domestic abuse victims – thousands of victims in the UK with an insecure immigration status who can’t get public funds.

Data being released by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, gives the first concrete indication of the number of people at risk of falling through the cracks, using migration data and the Crime Survey for England and Wales.

For the first time this pioneering report, “Safety Before Status: The Solutions”, lays out evidence-based estimates of the number of migrant survivors with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) in the UK in need of support as well as the cost of providing support and the benefits of doing so.

The report sets out concrete proposals for the government, drawing on research by the London School of Economics, in partnership with the Oxford Migration Observatory.

“No victim or survivor of domestic abuse should ever be prevented from accessing the support and protection they need. Migrant survivors are left desperate and often destitute with nowhere to turn,” said Ms Jacobs.

“We can’t leave things as they are. These marginalised survivors are being utterly failed at a time when they most need help, support and safety,” she added.

“I hear countless horrific stories about the experiences of vulnerable migrant survivors like one woman who was forced to live on a park bench because – with no recourse to public funds – no statutory service would help her.

“The government can’t pretend this is not an issue. We urgently need to put safety before status when it comes to domestic abuse victims,” Ms Jacobs said.

Research shows there are approximately 32,000 survivors with NRPF who could report the abuse to an authority each year if provided an ability to gain recourse to public funds although in the first year it’s not likely to be more than 7,000.

Migrant survivors with insecure immigration status include those on student visas, visitor’s visas, work visas or those who are undocumented. 

Today’s report sets out the current situation where:

  • Victims feel forced to stay with their abusers, because they fear being arrested or deported if they contact the police
  • Abusers use a victims’ fear about their immigration status to control them, by destroying travel documents and threatening to report them – a set of coercive behaviours Ms Jacobs has labelled “immigration abuse”
  • Survivors’ lack of financial resources are used against them in family courts, with perpetrators using that to demand custody of children
  • Police, NHS doctors and local childcare services and housing are forced to pick up the pieces when the situation accelerates to an emergency and victims come in with injures and complaints – this costs an estimated overall £16.2 million a year

One survivor, Ani, described how she had felt forced to stay with her abuser. “I managed to end the relationship with him at some point, but with No Recourse to Public Funds, I had to stay in the same household with my abuser and his family.” Ani is a survivor supported by the charity, the Latin American Women’s Rights Services (LAWRS).

Dr Hannana Siddiqui, from Southall Black Sisters (SBS) said: “We welcome the report – it shows that economic and social value of supporting migrant victims and reinforces the findings of our evaluation of the Supporting Migrant Victims pilot scheme. The Government must ensure that all victims are fully protected and provided with a vital safety net by adopting the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s recommended option in the report”

The report lays out two clear options to improve support for migrant survivors. The research shows that if the government adopted the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s preferred option over 10 years supporting migrant survivors could generate overall social gains worth almost £2.3 billion.

The Commissioner’s recommended option would offer flexible support for all migrant victims regardless of their status, to access protection and support through a model which is flexible and tailored to the length of support for which they require it.

This would build on existing policies including the Domestic Violence Indefinite Leave to Remain and the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession. (*See the link to the proposals in the Notes to Editors).

The report shows that in the Commissioner’s recommended option over 10 years the benefit to cost ratio for the first group of migrant survivors is 1 to 4. For every £1 of cost, the gains to society are valued at £4 (these gains include physical and emotional harm prevented, homelessness and destitution prevented, employment and skills including higher tax revenues, and gains to children).

The report also proposes broad principles to guide how authorities should form their policies, among them:

  • Government must introduce a firewall between immigration enforcement and public services to ensure they can safely report their experiences of domestic abuse 
  • The Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s definition of ‘immigration abuse’ must be added to policy and guidance on domestic abuse
  • The Domestic Abuse Commissioner calls for £18.7m funding injection over 3 years to be given to local authorities to ensure those with no recourse to public funds can get safe refuge
  • Nicole Jacobs also calls for a dedicated funding pot over three years for specialist ‘by and for’ services that provide the most tailored support for marginalised survivors.


Read the Policy report and the Executive summary

Notes to Editors:

  1. This is the second report by the Commissioner about migrant survivors. The first report “Safety Before Status” was published in October 2021. The report can be found here: Safety-Before-Status-Report-2021.pdf (domesticabusecommissioner.uk)
  2. This report refers to victims and survivors of domestic abuse with insecure immigration status, by which we mean someone whose status is temporary or precarious for a number of reasons: the person’s stay is limited; they are awaiting a decision on permanent settlement; they are dependent on their relationship with a settled partner, spouse or family member; they are undocumented or without legal rights to stay.
  3. Immigration abuse: a hidden barrier to support and protection Perpetrators of domestic abuse often use a victim’s insecure immigration status to exert further power and control. This form of coercive and controlling behaviour is defined in this report as immigration abuse. Immigration abuse is a form of abuse that is compounded by immigration legislation, policy, and practice. Identifying and naming immigration abuse is vital in ensuring that national and local policy makers and frontline practitioners are equipped to identify and respond appropriately to victims and survivors.1
  4. No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) – A person will have no recourse to public funds when they are ‘subject to immigration control’, as defined at section 115 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. A person who is subject to immigration control cannot claim public funds (benefits and housing assistance) unless an exception applies. When a person has leave to enter or remain that is subject to the NRPF condition, the term ‘no public funds’ will be stated on their residence permit, entry clearance vignette, or biometric residence permit (BRP).
  5. The societal gain of £2.93 billion is based on the physical and emotional harms prevented including reducing the costs of addressing the physical and emotional impacts of domestic abuse; second the benefits to the household of having access to a safe and stable home and avoiding destitution and homelessness; third the additional tax contributions of being able to enter or return to employment, which also beings wellbeing benefits; and finally children’s gains, such as removing them from the risk of long term harm from witnessing domestic abuse and the benefits for young children of having access to child benefit.
  6. Please find the different options outlined by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner in the report here:
  7. By and for’ services: Our research defined ‘by and for’ organisations as organisations that are designed and delivered by and for people who are minoritised (including race, disability, sexual orientation, transgender identity, religion or age). These services will be rooted in the communities they serve, and may include wrap-around holistic recovery and support that address a victim or survivor’s full range of intersecting needs, beyond purely domestic abuse support. We considered separately services for women that are run by women
  8. The benefits of survivors being able to access ‘by and for’ services are laid out in the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s report which mapped services across England And Wales published on November 29th 2022. The report, Patchwork of Provision, can be found here: ‘A Patchwork of Provision’ – Domestic Abuse Commissioner
  9. Southall Black Sisters (SBS) is currently leading a UK wide partnership in providing the Home Office funded Supporting Migrant Victims pilot scheme. This year is SBS’ 30 year anniversary in campaigning for legal reform. Both they and the the Latin American Women’s Rights Services (LAWRS)  have worked very closely work the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s Office to support the work we have been doing for migrant survivors. Both organisations can provide case studies and survivors for interview.
  10. Southall Black Sisters support about 6,000 women a year who have no recourse to public funds. You can find out more about the work they do here: Southall Black Sisters – Southall Black Sisters
  11. The Latin American Women’s Rights Services (LAWRS) says that 42 per cent of the work they do is focused around supporting migrant survivors with NRPF. You can find out more about their work here: LAWRS – Latin American Women’s Rights Service