A question of responsibility: problems with child benefit and income support when women and their children flee domestic violence

Our new report, which draws on evidence from our advice work, outlines a problem some women have when they leave an abusive partner and need benefits to support their children.

Women fleeing a violent partner with their children can be left with virtually no money for weeks or even months if their former partner is the Child Benefit recipient, because the procedure for assessing competing claims for Child Benefit can be long, drawn out and is inflexible. And, women in this position can’t get Income Support for daily living costs until the Child Benefit is sorted. A mother in this position must make a fresh claim for Child Benefit in her name but it can take weeks or months for an ex-partner’s Child Benefit claim to be ended, and a new award to the mother can’t be made until that’s done.

What’s more - because receipt of Child Benefit is the test of whether someone is entitled to claim Income Support as a lone parent – a delay in getting Child Benefit has the knock-on effect of denying entitlement to Income Support until the Child Benefit claim is sorted.

In the worst cases, mothers can be left without Child Benefit or Income Support for 16+ weeks.

We want guidance for HMRC staff so that they accept reasonable evidence that a woman lives with her children in a refuge following domestic abuse – such as a letter from refuge staff – as sufficient to show she is responsible for and living with her children, and therefore her Child Benefit claim should take priority over her ex-partner’s. We also want Income Support rules to be changed so that women who have fled domestic violence with their children can claim Income Support as lone parents, irrespective of whether or not they have been awarded Child Benefit.