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Domestic abuse

Funded by the Lloyd’s Patriotic Fund, AFF is able to provide practical one-to-one support to F&C families dealing with domestic abuse.

The support can be offered in any location in the UK or overseas. We will do all the substantive work required to make the applications, including collating all evidence, completing the forms and writing letters of representation.

If you are currently supporting an F&C spouse in these circumstances who needs immigration advice, then please contact AFF at fcsupport@aff.org.uk. You can download a leaflet that details the services on offer.

If you are the spouse, you can contact us directly, but we would prefer that you are referred to us via your local Army Welfare Service or SSAFA caseworker.

Guidance on domestic abuse for the Armed Forces community


01   First steps – what is domestic abuse and where can I go for help?

The Home Office defines domestic violence or abuse 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 the following types of abuse:

  • psychological
  • physical
  • sexual
  • financial
  • emotional

Controlling behaviour is: 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: 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 definition includes so called ‘honour’ based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage, and is clear that victims are not confined to one gender or ethnic group.

The Army has a policy of zero tolerance of DA and has procedures in place to provide confidential advice and support to those subjected to it. The Army Welfare Service (AWS) or SSAFA can be approached in the first instance, they will provide a caseworker who will listen and provide information. This is a confidential service; they will not speak to your partner’s unit unless you ask them to or unless there are child protection issues.

They will need to make sure that you and any children you have are safe, and will work with other agencies to protect you and your family.

If you don’t know how to contact your local AWS or SSAFA representative, then call the AFF Central Office on 01264 554004

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02   UKBA immigration rules – can I stay in the UK?

Following a successful campaign by AFF, new immigration rules introduced on 1 December 2013 allow spouses who are victims of domestic abuse to apply for ILR in the following circumstances:

  • You are in the UK and had/have a visa as the entitled family member of a serving soldier (either under new rules or old rules). The visa does not have to be valid at the time of the application
  • The soldier must either be: a British citizen or a foreign or Commonwealth citizen who has served for four years
  • You must meet the suitability requirements, which mainly relates to criminal convictions – see the ‘main requirements’ section on the Visas page
  • You must provide evidence that your relationship broke down permanently as a result of the domestic abuse, during your period of limited leave.

Limited leave to remain for 30 months will be granted if you fail to qualify for ILR only because you don’t meet the suitability requirements.

Please contact the AFF F&C team before you make your application.

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03   What if I am not eligible under the DA rules?

If you are not eligible to apply under the DA rules because you:

  • have never had a dependants visa or
  • the soldier has not served for four years or
  • the marriage did not break down as a result of the domestic violence,

You will have to read the guidance in the Divorce/separation page to see if you are able to remain in the UK under another category of the rules.

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04   How do I apply?

You need to apply using form SET(DV). All information on applying and suggested supporting documents can be found on the UKBA webpage.

There is also further information here.

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05   Do I have to pay for the application?

If you can show that you are destitute, you do not have to pay the fee. However, you will need evidence of your destitution. The guidance states:

“Anyone claiming to be destitute for the purposes of being exempt from the fee must provide evidence to show that, on the date of making the application, they have:

  • No access to sufficient funds to pay the application fee; and they are
  • Totally and necessarily reliant on a third party for the provision of essential living costs, such as basic accommodation and food.”

Suggested evidence includes:

  • Bank statements showing all evidence of expenditure and deposits with explanation of where the deposits have come from
  • Notice to Vacate letter to show impending homelessness or letter from a refuge
  • If you are working, payslips and a letter from your employer confirming employment
  • Evidence of any child maintenance you are receiving
  • Evidence of any support you are receiving from charities or social services.

Unless you provide satisfactory evidence, your claim to be destitute will not be accepted and your application will be rejected as invalid.

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06   What evidence of the domestic abuse do I need to provide?

You should submit as much information and evidence as possible to support your application. The type of evidence required is listed below, but it is important that you provide as much as you can to avoid any delay in considering your application.

This evidence may relate to one incident or a number of incidents. In general, an applicant who submitted only one piece of evidence would not usually be considered to have proven their case.

Documents provided with the application must be originals. Copies of any kind are not acceptable unless there are valid reasons for not being able to provide the original document.

Suggested supporting documents
This list is not exhaustive:

  • Criminal conviction or caution given to the perpetrator
  • A letter or other document showing that a Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) has been convened on your behalf. Applicants may include correspondence from the MARAC or a professional involved in the referral confirming that the MARAC referral has been made and providing details as to why
  • Domestic Violence Protection Order, Non-Molestation Order or other protection order against the person(s) who committed the violence. This must be a final order, not an interim or ex-parte order
  • A medical report from a hospital doctor or GMC registered family practitioner (GP) who has examined you confirming that your injuries are consistent with being a victim of domestic abuse
  • An undertaking given to a court that the person(s) who committed the violence will not approach you
  • A police report confirming that, because of a domestic abuse incident, they attended the address at which the incident(s) took place
  • A letter from a social services department or welfare officer connected to HM Forces confirming its involvement in connection with domestic abuse committed against you. The letter should confirm that the author has assessed the applicant and considers them a victim of evidence of domestic abuse. The letter should also provide details as to what support the applicant is being offered
  • A letter of support or a report from a domestic abuse support organisation/refuge. The letter should detail the support being provided
  • Independent witness statement*.

* witness statements from friends or family and letters from official sources that relay unfounded reports by the applicant, but do not confirm the incident will be treated with caution by the caseworker. This type of evidence must be verified where possible and treated as additional evidence.

Further information on documentary evidence can also be found at pages 22-29 in the guidance here.  AFF’s F&C Specialist will assist you in gathering the evidence.

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07   Will I be eligible for public funds (benefits) whilst I wait for the application to be processed?

Spouses are also now able to apply to access public funds for three months if you are destitute and need financial help while you make your claim for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) as a victim of domestic abuse. This is called the Destitution Domestic Violence (DDV) Concession. The F&C Specialist will assist you in making this application. You will be given a biometric residence permit confirming your ability to access public funds for three months.

As long as an application for ILR is made prior to the expiry of the Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) you can continue to receive these benefits. Once you are granted ILR you will have full access to the benefits you qualify for.

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08   What benefits will I be eligible for?

The benefits you may be entitled to will depend on your circumstances, but may include:

  • Child benefit
  • Child tax credits
  • Income support
  • Housing benefit

You may find that you will be unable to access housing benefit until your claim for child tax credit and child benefit has been approved. There is often also a delay caused by the requirement for both benefits to be in your name.

If child benefit has previously been in your husband’s name, you will need to get this transferred. You will need to call the child benefit helpline to get this process started as soon as you receive your new BRP.

Further advice about benefits can a be found here.

If you need help to access these benefits you will need to contact your local SSAFA or RBL caseworker who may be able to offer practical advice. Citizens Advice Service also offers assistance, you can pop into one of their local shops or phone and ask someone to visit you.

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09   How long will the application take?

Once the application has been sent off to the Home Office, it usually takes about six weeks to two months to process.  However, it can take a number of months to put the application together because of the amount of evidence that has to be requested and collated. You should be prepared for the whole process to take between four and six months.

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10   Can I remain in my SFA?

You will be sent a Notice to Vacate (NTV) once your soldier has moved out and changed his PStat (marital) category on JPA. You will be given 93 days to vacate the property.

As it will take longer than this for your application for ILR to be put together and then processed by the Home Office, you will need to ask for an extension. You will need to complete the Proportionality Exercise paperwork, which you will receive with your NTV. AFF’s F&C Specialist can help you with this.

However, even if you are granted extra time to remain in your SFA, you are likely to have to start paying the rent as the soldier will no longer be responsible. You will receive notification of the cost of the rent with your NTV.

If you have the Destitution Domestic Violence (DDV) concession, you will need to make a claim for housing benefit through your local authority housing benefit office.  Ask your welfare worker for advice.

Once your ILR has been granted you will need to make an application to go on your local housing register or find private rental.

The Citizens Advice Service has lots of information about housing options. Local authorities also have housing advice teams. Your welfare worker should be able to provide you with further practical advice and information.

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11   I am worried my spouse will try to take my children out of the UK

Taking a child abroad without permission is child abduction. You should contact the police if you think that there is a chance your child/children may be taken out of the UK without your consent. Click here for more information.

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12   Qualified immigration advice

Applications made for ILR as a victim of domestic abuse, or those made under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, should ideally not be attempted without qualified immigration advice.

AFF’s F&C Specialist is a qualified advisor, registered with the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) to provide immigration advice up to Level 2. If you wish to use a different advisor, then you should ensure they are also registered with the OISC to provide advice up to Level 2 or 3.

Can I get Legal Aid?

Since April 2013, Legal Aid has only been available for applications under the DV rules.  Legal advisors can claim some of their costs back for these cases, but there is a cap on the amount they can claim. You may find that the amount of work they are willing to do is limited to completing the application form. Law centres are a good place to start if there is one in your area.

What should the immigration adviser do?

A good immigration adviser will begin by assessing the merits of your case. If they consider that your chances of being able to remain in the UK are very slim, then they should inform you of this. If you decide to go ahead with an application, then your immigration adviser should assist with the following:

  • A detailed statement: This provides the opportunity for you to put the facts of your case to the decision maker (the UKBA caseworker). Your immigration adviser should draft this statement using the information you have given them. It should tell your story in a compelling and persuasive way so that the caseworker will be convinced of the merits of the case.
  • Supporting documents: Your immigration adviser should give advice on the evidence that needs to be provided with your application. The facts that you put in the statement above will need to be corroborated by other types of evidence, usually documents such as bank statements, photos, bills, letters, and reports – medical or other expert reports. A UKBA decision maker is not required to accept the facts in the statement if they can reasonably be expected to be supported by other evidence.
  • Letter of representation: The adviser should also prepare a letter in which they give the legal argument for your right to remain in the UK. They will refer to immigration rules where appropriate, or to other, similar, cases where judges have ruled in favour of a right to remain.

What happens if my application is refused?

If you are given the right to appeal, then your adviser should discuss the merits of this with you. They should take you through the process and the timescales.

You will only have ten days following receipt of your refusal notice (Notice of Decision) to lodge the appeal. On average, it takes six months for an appeal to be heard at the immigration tribunal. Appeals can be very expensive and are not covered by Legal Aid.

Complaints about immigration advisers

If you think your immigration adviser has given you poor advice or an inadequate service, you can complain to the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC).

You can complain about any adviser, solicitor, barrister, OISC regulated adviser or unregulated person operating within the UK and providing advice and services relating to immigration to the UK

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13   Further sources of help and information

Armed Forces domestic abuse toolkit

There is now a dedicated webpage for the Armed Forces community detailing the guidance and support available.

Army Welfare Service – AWS deals with around 400 cases of domestic abuse every year and is the Army’s main provider of specialist welfare support. There are teams based across the UK, in Germany and BATUS. For all Personal Support enquiries and referrals, call 01904 882053

SSAFA –  among the many services SSAFA provides are:

The National Domestic Violence Helpline – call 0808 200 0247 or visit www.womensaid.org.uk

Accessing local civilian support services

Women’s Aid, has a directory of local domestic abuse support agencies who can give practical advice and support. Click below or call 0808 200 0247 for your local organisation.

Scottish Women’s Aid

Welsh Women’s Aid

Black, Minority Ethnic (BME) women’s organisations

Rights of Women

Men’s Advice Line




The Samaritans


Victim Support

Solutions Relationship Counselling (in Cyprus) – 2596 3318

Speak to your unit’s UWO and/or Padre

In an emergency, always call the police.

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