If you are on a date and feel nervous or unsafe, you should go and speak to staff in the place where you are to see if they can help you leave quietly, possibly through a fire exit or back door.
In some pubs and nightclubs there is an ‘Ask for Angela’ scheme – you go to the bar and ask to speak to ‘Angela’. This is a code word that tells the bar staff you are worried about your date and you want to leave as quickly as possible. Look for signs on the back of toilet doors that the venue takes part in the scheme.
Violence and abuse towards a partner is a serious crime in the UK. This includes mental abuse, controlling behaviour, controlling your money, rape and violence. Your gender and sexuality do not matter. You do not need to be married or in a civil partnership.
There are many organisations that can help. They can even find you a safe house to stay in, if you need to escape from your partner.
Call the police on 101 (if it is an emergency, call 999). Calls are free
Some pharmacies (including Boots, Superdrug Pharmacy, Morrisons Pharmacy and some independent pharmacies) offer a safe space for domestic abuse victims to find help and support. Just go to the counter and ask to use their consulting room. More details are on the Safe Spaces website.
If you are worried that your partner might have been violent towards their previous partners, you have the right find out. This is called Clare’s Law and was started in memory of a woman who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. Contact your local police for help.
You can also get in contact with the police to ask for information if you are worried about a friend or family member.
It is against the law to share intimate photographs or films of someone with aim of causing distress to that person. An example would be if your ex-partner has naked photographs of you and puts them on the internet.
New changes to the law will mean it is also illegal to even threaten to share this type of material. People who do it could go to prison for up to 2 years. Contact the police if you need help with this kind of crime.
Yes, they are legal in the UK. It is even possible to marry your same-sex partner. A survey in 2015 showed that 60% of people support gay/lesbian relationships.
If you would like to meet other transgender people, there are many specialist bars and nightclubs, as well as phone apps.
The LGBT Foundation is a charity for that helps gay and lesbian people. They offer advice, support and information.
If you experience any violence or hate crime, you can talk to the charity Galop. They are a specialist charity for LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and asexual) people. They are confidential and independent of the police.
Being openly transgender is becoming more accepted. If you would like to meet other transgender people, there are specialist bars and nightclubs, as well as apps.
The LGBT Foundation is a charity for that helps transgender people. They offer advice, support and information.
If you experience any violence or hate crime, you can talk to the charity Galop. They are a specialist charity for LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and asexual) people. They are confidential and independent of the police.
Marriage and civil partnership is a legal process and is not very quick or easy. It is more complicated if one of you is not a British citizen. The rules depend on where you come from, which country you are living in and whether you want to live in Britain once you are married.
Before your marriage or civil partnership, you must ‘give notice’ at your local register office at least 29 days before the ceremony.
The official documents you might need are:
Address (for example, a utility bill)
Changes of name
Declaration of Immigration Status
Any previous divorce
Any previous annulment
Visa or permit (see question below).
During the wedding, you will sign a marriage document. If you are not married in a register office, you (or a friend) must take the document to a register office soon after the wedding, otherwise you could be fined £1,000. Read more about getting married/forming a civil partnership on the main government website.
Only religious buildings, register offices and places with a special marriage licence can host a marriage. Civil partnerships cannot have a religious ceremony.
There are about 40,000 religious buildings where marriages are allowed. Only 22% of weddings were in a religious building in 2017. Most people have their ceremony in a non-religious building (these are usually hotels, but also some castles, stately homes, and sports or leisure venues).
It is also possible to be married/partnered in a register office. This is usually the cheapest option.
You must have 2 witnesses. Be aware that religious songs or readings are only allowed in religious buildings.
When you get married or have a civil partnership, you can keep your original last name or choose your partner’s last name. If you choose to change your name, you will need to show your marriage certificate or civil partnership certificate to prove your name change.
If you get divorced or end your civil partnership and want to use your previous last name in England or Wales, you will need to change it by ‘deed poll’. This is an official document that records your new name. Read more on the main government website.
In Scotland, you can go back to your previous name without needing a deed poll.
Civil partnerships were introduced in 2005 to allow homosexual couples to get similar legal benefits to heterosexual married couples (like pensions, for example).
Since then, it is also possible for homosexual couples to marry or to convert their civil partnership to a marriage. They can do this in a religious ceremony if the venue agrees, but they cannot get married in an Anglican (Church of England) church.
The main differences between marriage and civil partnerships are that a civil partnership only needs the signing of a legal document, but words must be said in marriage. Heterosexual couples cannot have a civil partnership. A civil partnership cannot be hosted in a religious building.
Civil partners cannot say they are married for legal purposes, and married people cannot say they are civil partners for legal purposes.
The legal age of marriage or civil partnership is 16. In England and Wales, your parents must agree to the marriage/civil partnership if you are under 18. You must be over 18 to apply for a special marriage visa.
Divorce is usually very complex and can be expensive. You don’t have to go to court if you can both agree what to do about your money, home or children.
England & Wales: You can only get divorced for one of these reasons: adultery, unreasonable behaviour (including violence and rape) or if someone leaves you for 2 years or more. You can also get a divorce if you have been legally separated for more than 2 years (it must be 5 years if the other person does not agree to the divorce).
Scotland: You can get divorced if you feel your marriage cannot be mended. This is called irretrievable breakdown and includes adultery, violence, rape and living separately for at least 1 year. You can also get a divorce if one of you is changing their gender.
A legal separation is a way to live apart from your wife, husband or civil partnership without actually getting divorced or ending the civil partnership. It can be used if you disagree with divorce, need time apart or if you have been married/in a civil partnership for less than 1 year.
Be aware that a legal separation does not mean you can get remarried or get a new civil partnership.
Yes, there are some grounds for annulling a marriage or civil partnership in England & Wales. Annulling is different to divorce because it effectively declares the marriage/civil partnership was not valid from the start. You can apply to annul a marriage at any time after the ceremony, but you must have lived in England or Wales for at least 1 year.
Reasons for annulment are:
If one person did not agree to marry
If one had a mental illness that made them unfit for marriage
If one was pregnant by another person
If one is changing their gender
If you never had sex (heterosexual marriage only)
If one had a infectious sexual disease (marriages only – this is not a reason for annulling a civil partnership)
You cannot annul a marriage in Scotland. However, you can apply to have it declared invalid. Speak to a solicitor (lawyer).
You must have a valid marriage certificate from any country and have been married for at least a year to start divorce in Britain. If at least one of you mostly lives in England & Wales (or Scotland) you should be able to divorce there.
Be aware that if you have a pre-nuptial agreement, it might not be legally binding in the UK and therefore it might be better to divorce in the country where you married.
If you are in Britain on your partner’s visa and you separate or divorce, you must tell the Home Office that you are not together any more. If you want to stay in Britain, you need to get help from an immigration lawyer or advisor. See the main government website for details of where to find them.
You might be able to stay if you have children here, or through your work. You might also be able to stay if you have lived here a long time or if you had to leave your marriage because of violence from your partner.
Having a child can affect how much tax you need to pay. These are called tax credits. It might also be possible to get state welfare payments (called ‘benefits’) or other help.
The most common financial help is Child Benefit and Universal Credit (or Child Tax Credit). Contact your local JobCentre Plus to apply (see the main government website for details).
If you are on a low income, you can also contact your local council to find out if any more help is available – for example you might be able to get free school meals or help with school uniforms or other school costs.
You might be able to get help with childcare for young children. The main government website has an online calculator that can help you find out how much you could get.
The NHS (National Health Service) runs ‘Healthy Start’ – vouchers for milk, fruit, vegetables and vitamins for children aged 0-4. Find out if you can qualify from the NHS website.
Be aware that grandparents under the state pension age might be able to claim National Insurance credits if they look after children under 12. Read more on the main government website.
‘Social services’ is the name often given to local council departments that look after vulnerable people, including children. These are usually part of Health & Social Care department of your local council.
If you are struggling to look after your child because of health or mobility problems (your own or your child’s) you can ask them to help you. See the main government website for more information.
You might also be contacted by a social worker because of a referral from a doctor or school. These people are there to help you. A referral doesn’t mean they will take your child away from you – this only happens in very exceptional circumstances.
If you have problems with breastfeeding, it is important to call your midwife or health visitor as soon as possible. See the NHS (National Health Service) website for more information about help with breastfeeding.
A toddler group is an informal event designed to give toddlers (very young children) a fun space to play. You can usually turn up at any time, although busy groups might not have space if you do not arrive early.
Toddler groups are sometimes called playgroups or ‘mum and tots’ groups.
Toddler groups are usually quick cheap to attend (about £2 a session) and go on for about 2 hours. Drinks and snacks are usually available too.
Your local council website or library will have information about local groups.
The most common state options are nursery schools attached to state primary or lower schools. Although they are popular, they are not always the cheapest childcare available and are usually closed during the school holidays. They are usually for children aged 2-4.
In some areas, the local council also runs nurseries for younger children. You will also find private nurseries and nurseries managed by a charity or voluntary organisation. Find out more on your local council website.
Nursery schools are childcare attached to a primary or lower schools. Some are private and some are run by the state.
You can apply to any council funded nursery school, regardless of the school catchment area you live in. Be aware that if you are outside your catchment area, going to a nursery school does not mean the child is more likely to get a place at the main school after age 5.
Ask the school for details of how to apply. In England and Wales, you usually need to sign up in the school year before you’d like your child to start.
In Scotland, applications for nursery take place during a special registration week or month. This means for the youngest children (particularly January and February birthdays) you might need to apply for nursery over a year before they start.
Late nursery applications can mean that you don’t get the hours or the times that you would like.
Early Years is usually the name given for education for children in the first years of life.
The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is an educational standard set by the government for children up to 5 years old. All OFSTED-registered childcare in England must follow the EYFS. This includes preschools, childminders and nurseries.
In Scotland, it is called the Early Years Framework. In Wales, it is the Foundation Phase.
At the end of a young child’s birthday party, it customary for all the guests to receive a party bag. This is usually a bag full of small cheap toys and/or sweets. There are companies online who will sell pre-filled party bags if you don’t want to find your own items.
There have been some news stories about party bags containing expensive electronics (like iPods), but this is very unusual.
Usually children are also given a piece of birthday cake to take home with them.
There is no specific law against leaving your child at home alone. But it is illegal to leave them if they could suffer or be hurt, so the child should be mature enough to manage while you are not there.
As a guide, babies, toddlers and young children should never be left alone. Children under 12 should not be left for a long time. Under 16s should not be left alone overnight.
If it is an emergency, call 999 or go to the A&E (Accident & Emergency) Department of the nearest hospital.
For less serious illnesses, make an appointment with your GP (local doctor).
Be aware that GPs are not specialist children’s doctors. If you are still worried about your child after seeing a GP or have been unable to get an appointment, ring 111 (in Wales call 0845 46 47) or go to A&E if you child is under 2 years of age. They have specialist doctors there.
Never ignore your instincts with children. Keep asking for help if you are worried.
Go to the HEALTHCARE chapter for more information about the health system in the UK.
Yes, it is usually possible to stay with your child. Many children’s wards have special beds for adults that can be placed near the child.
There are also charities that offer accommodation near hospitals for parents and families. Sometimes it is possible to stay for weeks or even months, as needed. Hospitals run schools for children (and their siblings) who need long-term care.
First you should take a pregnancy test. You can buy these in pharmacies and supermarkets. Once you have a positive result, book an appointment with your GP (local doctor). They will take a blood test to confirm the result.
People who are classed as ‘ordinarily resident’ (living in Britain legally) can get free NHS (National Health Service) care while they are pregnant or during/after they give birth. This usually includes people on visas or people from the European Union.
There may be a charge for other people. Emergency care is free.
Go to the HEALTHCARE chapter for more information.
A pregnancy examination is usually just a measurement of the distance between your navel and your pubic bone. It is very rare to have an internal examination. You will not need to take off all your clothes.
Antenatal classes will help you prepare for the birth of your baby. They also help you meet local people who are having babies at the same time as you. This is a good way to make friends with other new parents.
Sign up for classes as early as possible because they are often very popular.
Antenatal classes are offered free by the NHS (National Health Service). Ask your midwife or at your local doctors’ surgery for details. Read more on the NHS website.
Antenatal classes from a parenting charity called the NCT can be an even better way to make friends because you have a set group that you will meet again and again. People often become friends for life. Classes are at weekends or evenings. There is a fee for the classes, but it varies depending on your income. Go to the NCT website for more information.
If you don’t want to use an NHS (National Health Service) hospital, there are private hospitals and private birth clinics available.
It is also possible to ask to give birth at home if you are judged to have a low-risk pregnancy. An NHS midwife will visit you during labour. You can pay for a private midwife instead, if this is preferred.
Many larger NHS (National Health Service) hospitals have a range of birthing facilities to help you feel at home, including relaxation areas with bean bags and sofas, and birth pools. However, these are usually only available for people with a low-risk pregnancy. Spaces are also limited. Sometimes you need to book the birth pools in advance.
Most birthing areas are just a bedroom with an ensuite shower room.
Choosing a caesarean is known as a ‘planned caesarean’ or ‘elective caesarean’. If you do not want a vaginal birth, you can discuss this with your doctor or midwife. It might be possible to have a cesarean section on the NHS.
Yes, it is usually possible for a partner to stay with you during labour and birth. Some birthing rooms have a sofa bed for partners. Others only have a chair. Be aware your partner will not be served food or drink, but most hospitals have cafes, restaurants and vending machines.
You will need personal items (pyjamas, slippers, pillow, toiletries, sanitary pads). You will also need your Maternity Notes. It is a good idea to bring a bottle of water and snacks in case you get hungry between meal times.
You are expected to clothe and feed your baby yourself, so you will need baby clothes, nappies and bottles/milk (if you are bottle feeding).
You will also need your baby’s car seat. Most hospitals will not let you take the baby home unless you have the correct car seat.
If the birth was not complicated, you can usually leave the hospital after all the baby’s health checks have been done. This is usually about 6 hours later. You might be able to stay longer if you want to rest.
Sometimes you need to stay longer until you and your baby are well enough to go home. Speak to your midwife or doctor for more information.
If you are an employee, your rights depend on how long you have worked for your employer. There are 4 main rights:
Time off for antenatal appointments and other care recommended by a doctor or midwife
Maternity leave (‘leave’ means time off – you must take a minimum of 2 weeks’ after the baby is born)
Maternity pay or maternity allowance
Protection from unfair treatment
You must tell your employer you are pregnant at least 15 weeks before the baby is born (or as soon as you find out, if later). You cannot take time off for antenatal appointments until you have told your employer.
People who are ‘workers’ (not employees) do not always have the same rights.
Employees are allowed to take 52 weeks off work when they have a baby. The earliest date you can start is usually 11 weeks before the expected birth date. The latest date you can start is the child’s actual birth.
The first 26 weeks is called Ordinary Maternity Leave.
The second 26 weeks is called Additional Maternity Leave.
You should also get the holiday time you would normally have.
You can choose to come back to work before the end of your maternity leave as long as you take 2 weeks off after the birth of your baby (4 weeks if you work in a factory). You need to tell your employer when you want to come back to work.
Be aware that ‘workers’ are not usually entitled to maternity leave. This includes people on zero-hours, freelance or casual contracts.
Most employees and workers who earn over £118 a week can receive Statutory Maternity Pay for up to 39 weeks if they have been working at the same place for at least 26 weeks. Statutory Maternity Pay is currently about £150 a week. Your employer might give you extra.
It stops after 39 weeks, although some employers still give payments.
If you cannot get Statutory Maternity Pay, you might be able to get Maternity Allowance instead. Some people on low incomes might also be able to get a SureStart Maternity grant (in Scotland, it is a Pregnancy and Baby payment). See the main government website for details.
If you have a child via a surrogate you might be able to get Statutory Adoption Leave and Pay.
The main government website has an online calculator that can tell parents how much time off (leave) they could get after the birth of their child (or after they have adopted a child). It is quick and easy to use. It also shows minimum amounts of pay.
People whose partners are having a baby (either their own or through a surrogate), or who are part of a couple adopting a child, might be able to get time off from work. This is called Paternity Leave.
Paternity Leave can be 1 or 2 weeks. It might be paid, but not always.
You might also be able to take unpaid leave to attend 2 antenatal appointments with the mother of the child.
Employees can have time off to attend 2 adoption appointments after they have been matched with a child. Most employees earning over £118 a week can get Statutory Adoption Leave and Pay after the child comes to live with them.
It is also possible for a couple adopting a child to share time off and pay. There are rules about who qualifies for this.
The government has advice about where to buy cats or dogs because some breeders do not treat their animals properly. Animal shelters (charities that look after unwanted animals) are also good places to find a new pet.
Some breeds of dog are illegal because they are too dangerous. The breeds are: the Pit Bull Terrier, the Japanese Tosa, the Dogo Argentino and the Fila Brasileiro.
All dogs must have an identity microchip by the time they are 8 weeks old. Some places will do this for free. You must also register the number on a government-approved database and keep the details up to date.
You can walk with a dog in most places, but look out for signs with special instructions. Usually you must remove your dog’s poo by placing it in a bag and putting it in a special bin. This helps to keep the country clean.
You are usually not allowed to have dogs in playgrounds or in sports fields when there are white lines painted on the grass. This is to protect people playing outside.
Keep a dog on a lead at all times near farm animals. It is illegal for your dog to chase or bite them, and even small dogs can make farm animals very stressed.
Keep your dog under close control on the England Coast Path to prevent accidents.
Between March 1–July 31, you must keep your dog on a lead of 2 metres or less in places where you don’t have to stay on a footpath (like moors and mountains). This is to protect birds that nest on the ground.
Many popular beaches do not allow dogs in the summer.
Some villages do not allow dogs to be walked off a lead within their boundary. See the local parish council website for details.
The internet is full of ideas for dog walkers, including special secure fields for dogs. You can also find dog-friendly hotels and holiday houses.
Animals are not usually allowed in the passenger area of planes leaving Britain, unless they are assistance animals (for example, guide dogs for blind people). One exception is ‘emotional support’ animals on direct flights to the USA.
Most pets must travel as cargo.
There are rules about which documents and tests an animal needs to have before it is allowed into another country. Check animal entry rules in the country where you are going at least 5 months before you want to travel.
Be aware Northern Ireland counts as an EU country for pet travel purposes.
If you want to keep chickens or ducks in your garden, you need to check local council rules about ‘livestock’ or ‘poultry’. If you rent, you also need to check with your landlord.
If you own your land, check the title deeds (the documents that come when you bought the property). If ‘livestock’ is banned, then this includes chickens and ducks. Cockerels are not usually welcome in towns or cities.
By law you must look after the birds well. There is useful information on the RSPCA website (an animal charity).
Pigs and goats are very cute, but in Britain they are considered farm animals, not pets. The title deeds (legal documents) for many houses specifically do not allow keeping pigs or goats ‘livestock’. There are also strict rules about looking after them, especially in England. For example, it is against the law to feed pigs leftover food.
If you want to move a pig, you need a licence. This is to help stop the spread of disease. You cannot take a pig for a walk or to see a vet without the correct documents. It is also illegal to drive pigs in a car, because they must be in a vehicle designed for pig transport.
You need to check local council rules and the deeds of your property about ‘livestock’. There might be a ban on keeping pigs or goats.