If you are worried about your safety and your financial situation, feeling secure at home or finding somewhere safe to live may be one of your first priorities. If you own your home or co-own the home with the abuser, your housing situation may be even more complex.
You may have particular concerns if the abuser’s behaviour has made your housing situation unstable, for example if they have interfered with your mortgages payments or caused damage to the property.
This information outlines some of the options that you may have and the support that may be available to help you stay in your own home or on the property ladder after separation if you are not married.
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If you need to leave your home quickly because of the abuse you are facing, support is available to help you reach safety.
If you are in immediate danger, call the police
Economic abuse often occurs alongside other forms of abuse. It is commonly part of a pattern of behaviour through which abusers seek to control their victims. If you are in immediate danger, call the police on 999.
The police may be able to issue a Domestic Violence Protection Notice (DVPN), which provides short-term protection from the abuser by excluding them from the property.
The police can then apply to the court for a Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO), which can provide protection from the abuser for longer.
Call the National Domestic Violence Helpline
To find out how you might be able to access alternative accommodation, there are domestic abuse helplines that you can call, many of which offer a 24-hour service. They will be able to refer you to specialist services that can help you to reach safety, for example at a refuge, and access local support.
Contact your local domestic abuse service
You can search for your local service on the Women’s Aid website. Your local service can help you to think about what you want to do next, including finding safe accommodation.
It can be very difficult to de-link from an abuser if you have mortgage ties, but it is possible and there are a range of people who can help you do this. Before you start, it is always a good idea to get legal advice. See the section below on legal aid.
You may have had to work very hard to keep yourself safe, physically and mentally. This can take an enormous toll. Do not hesitate to ask for help from a trusted loved one, or see our additional resources for more support.
The abuser may have told you certain things about separation and home ownership that are not true, in an effort to maintain control over you and the property.
Things they might have said include:
If you and the abuser have a joint mortgage, the abuser might:
Abusers can use mortgages as a tactic even if they do not have a joint mortgage with you. For example, they might have:
Other tactics that may indirectly affect your mortgage include the abuser:
Mortgages often provide a way for economic abuse to continue long after a relationship has ended. There is help available, however, and ways to reach safety and economic independence.
Knowing the possible effects of economic abuse via a mortgage can help you prepare for the possible outcomes and take steps to prevent further harm or debt. In addition to the psychological harm, effects of economic abuse via a mortgage can include:
It is very common among people who experience economic abuse via a mortgage to be left with significant debt, including mortgage arrears.
Often, people who experience this type of economic abuse are forced to take out loans and credit cards, or borrow substantial sums from family or friends, in order to maintain payments, prevent arrears and pay legal fees.
Repossession proceedings can be issued within three months of the mortgage being in arrears. However, financial proceedings to make the perpetrator pay their share or decide on what to do with the house can take more than two years if the perpetrator is effective in delaying them. The house may have been repossessed by this time.
Often, people who have experienced this type of economic abuse will have paid a joint mortgage on their own for many years if the abuser has refused to pay their share. They may finally get the property signed over to them after lengthy court proceedings, only to find that they do not meet the lender’s affordability criteria for a mortgage in their sole name, even though they have managed to pay that amount before.
People who jointly own their home with the abuser can find themselves trapped in an unaffordable mortgage if the abuser refuses to re-mortgage or switch. This is a very effective way in which abusers deplete their partner’s finances and force them into arrears.
Many people believe that if they have been living together for a certain number of years, they are in a ‘common law marriage’. This is a myth.
Cohabitation, or living with a partner, does not grant you the legal rights of married couples if you separate, no matter how long you have been together.
It can still be challenging to de-link from an abuser if you are unmarried, but neither of you will be able to claim what is called ‘matrimonial home rights’ or a ‘matrimonial charge’ (in Northern Ireland) on the home.
In Scotland the situation is slightly different. Since 2006, but only in limited circumstances, couples who live together have been able to make a financial claim against each other. More importantly, the abuser could acquire rights to your solely owned property if you live together.
If you jointly own the property
If you both own the property, the abuser will not be able to sell it without your knowledge or permission. This also works the other way, and an abuser may use this to their advantage and inhibit your ability to sell jointly owned property.
You will both have the right to remain in the property in the event of what the court might call ‘relationship breakdown’. If you are afraid for your safety, there are several ways the court can help (see section on ‘Your safety in the home’ below).
How the home will be divided if you separate depends on the type of home ownership. For example, you generally fall under one of the two following categories:
There are a range of orders the court can make to divide the home after separation if you both own it, including:
You may want a clean break and the court will consider this, so that neither of you are financially dependent on the other person. However, a clean break is not always possible, particularly if you have children together under the age of 18.
If your children continue to live with you after separation, you will likely be entitled to child maintenance. The Child Maintenance System can be complex to navigate. You can read more about economic abuse and supporting children here, or consult Rights of Women’s Guide to Child Support.
If the judge issues an order of sale, the bank can still repossess the house in the meantime if you are in arrears. See our separate guide on avoiding repossession.
If the property is in your name only
If the property is in your name only, you have the right to stay in it and the abuser should leave. However, the abuser may be able to claim what is called a ‘beneficial interest’ in the property. A ‘beneficial interest’ could give them the right to:
The abuser would likely need a document to confirm their ‘beneficial interest’ in your home. This would usually be a Declaration of Trust.
A lawyer can put an additional legal restriction on the home if the abuser is not on the deeds. This could be especially useful if your are afraid of fraud. For example, you could speak to a lawyer about adding a restriction to say that the house cannot be sold if there is a possibility that the abuser will forge your signature and try to sell it. Restrictions could also prevent the abuser from registering or transferring an interest in the property.
If the property is in the abuser’s name only
If the abuser owns the property, you may still have a Declaration of Trust that confirms your beneficial interest. Even without a Declaration of Trust, you might be able to prove your beneficial interest in the property if the abuser led you to believe you had one and, as a result of this, you acted to your detriment.
For example, the abuser might have coerced you into putting a significant sum of money into renovating the house and told you that this was in return for a beneficial interest in the property.
Proving a beneficial interest without documentation can be very difficult, so it is best to get legal advice as soon as possible.
If you are concerned about your safety in the home, you can apply for an injunction. These include:
An occupation order sets out rules on who is allowed to live at the property. You can apply for an occupation order if you are concerned about your physical or emotional safety, or the safety and wellbeing of your children.
A successful occupation order could mean that the abuser must:
An occupation order does not:
How long you can use an occupation order depends on many things. It isn’t usually a long-term solution but can help you stay in the home until the occupation order expires.
Since an occupation order cannot prevent other abuse tactics, including economic abuse, it may be necessary to also apply for a non-molestation order.
A non-molestation order can prohibit an abuser from being physically violent or intimidating, harassing, threatening or communicating with you. It could also prohibit the abuser from coming within a certain distance of you, your home or your place of work.
If the abuser has the right to occupy the property, a non-molestation order will likely not include provisions about staying away from the home. Instead, you may need an occupation order.
In some limited cases, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, there have been “zonal non-molestation orders” or “zonal occupation orders” given that try to divide up the home and state that the victim and perpetrator can only be in certain rooms. For example, they might have to use a separate bedroom and only use shared rooms, such as a kitchen, at specific times in order to avoid contact with you. This is dangerous and we would not advise it.
Your mail might be the last thing on your mind while you’re making some very brave decisions and taking important steps to reach safety.
If the abuser still has access to the home, they could be taking or opening your mail. If you have moved to a safe location, you can contact your bank, the local council (for council tax) and other vital services to tell them to keep your new address confidential.
We have a resource designed to support you to think about the ways in which an abuser might interfere with your mail after separation. We also outline how you can have post redirected.
Land registry alerts can send you a notification if there are any significant actions taken out on a property. You do not have to own the property to monitor it.
For example, if you are afraid that the abuser might sell or remortgage the property without your knowledge, a land registry alert could let you know.
You usually need an email address to receive these notifications, but if you do not have one or if it isn’t safe to use it, there are other options for using the service. You can call the Property Alert team on 0300 006 0478.
The alerts may not happen promptly, so you may have to check the status yourself, either in person or online. If you think your online activity is being monitored, try to use a different phone or computer.
If your name is on the mortgage, you will be liable for the entire debt, even if the mortgage is shared. When you contact the mortgage lender to tell them that you and your ex-partner are separating, you should also speak to them about:
The mortgage lender should be able to send you copies of your statements so that you have a full picture of the situation.
The mortgage provider may be able to offer a few solutions to help you in the short term. These include:
Pursue the perpetrator for debts
The abuser may have forced you into mortgage arrears, but the mortgage company may have a policy that allows them to write-off debt that is a consequence of domestic abuse, including economic abuse. They may also be able to pursue the abuser for the re-payment of the debts.
Pursue the perpetrator for mortgage payments
Many perpetrators of economic abuse refuse to pay their share of the mortgage, sometimes doing so to force the account into arrears and prompt repossession.
If you report this behaviour to the mortgage provider, there may be a way for them to actively pursue the perpetrator for their share of the payments.
Consider allowing a payment holiday
Many financial service providers have policies that allow people to have a payment holiday that gives them a ‘breathing space’ while things are particularly difficult.
Find out if this is something they could offer you while assets are being divided or while you are taking the time to reach a place of safety.
It is important for mortgage companies to be aware that it’s common for financial proceedings to take over a year in cases of economic abuse if the abuser deliberately delays the process.
Make decisions in the best interests of both parties
Ask the mortgage provider if they can allow one party (you) to make decisions without the other’s consent if the decision would clearly be in the best financial interest of them both. This could mean, for example, switching to a lower interest rate.
Amend credit scores
Being in mortgage arrears can have a significant impact on your credit score. While it is rare for a bank or mortgage lender to do so, you can still ask if they would consider amending your credit score to reflect that the debt or arrears were a result of the abuser’s behaviour, and are not a reflection of your credit worthiness.
Send correspondence to a new address
If you left the home due to the risk of immediate danger, you may be using the address of a refuge or safe house with a PO Box. You can also ask to have letters sent to a bank branch to collect.
Keep your details secure
If you have moved to a new address because of domestic abuse but still have a joint mortgage with the abuser, it will be vital for the mortgage provider to keep your new address details secure. Ask them to ensure that the abuser does not have access to your new address if your profiles are linked. They should be able to flag this on your account.
You could be available for legal aid, although owning property can sometimes be a barrier. In addition, home ownership is only one factor determining legal aid eligibility.
If you have paid less than £100K off the mortgage, there is a good chance that owning property will not exclude you. In England and Wales, you can visit the FLOWS website to find a local law firm with a legal aid contract. In Scotland, the Scottish Legal Aid Board or Scottish Women’s Right Centre can help. In Northern Ireland, visit the Women’s Aid NI website.
You can only get housing benefit if you are renting a property. However, if you are renting a property you used to own, you may be eligible.
If you sold the in the last 5 years, you can apply for housing benefit if you were forced to sell it so you could stay living there, for example if the mortgage lender was going to repossess your home.
In some cases, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) can provide something called support for mortgage interest (SMI). It is a loan to help pay towards the interest on your mortgage. This is difficult to claim, and you may need advice from a money advisor or lawyer.
To apply for SMI, you also need to be getting one of the following benefits:
Mortgage advisors are generally free. Mortgages and divorce can be very complex, so it is best to speak to someone before making any significant changes. Make sure the mortgage advisor is regulated by the FCA.
If you are dealing with mortgage arrears, you may wish to speak with a debt specialist or financial advisor
We have information on organisations that can help with housing, legal advice and much more.
Last updated March 2021
If you are experiencing economic abuse, you are not alone. We have more information that can support you to take steps towards safety and begin to regain control of your finances.
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