INVERCLYDE Women's Aid was forced to turn victims of domestic abuse away during lockdown because of their immigration status.

Now anti-domestic abuse campaigner Dr Jacci Stoyle, the Lib Dem candidate at next year's Scottish Parliament election, is calling for changes to protect the most vulnerable.

Several women from countries like Iran, Pakistan and eastern Europe are living in the area with no legal status of their own.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, when domestic abuse was on the rise, the charity was unable to give refuge to at least four females fleeing violence in their home because of a funding system which excludes them.

Now Dr Stoyle is joining forces with the local Women's Aid branch to raise awareness of the loophole which prevents them getting help to victims who don't have access to housing benefit.

She said: "Sadly there were four women with no recourse to public funds who approached Inverclyde Women's Aid during the lockdown and had to be turned away.

"This relates to someone’s immigration status, which prevented them from accessing any benefits.

"A woman can be the dependent on her partner, who is the visa-holder, but have no rights of her own.

"If the relationship becomes abusive she is then placed in an impossible situation - if she stays, she is abused and if she leaves, she is destitute."

Her call comes after a fact-finding visit to the local Women's Aid office to find out how they coped during lockdown.

Former nurse Dr Stoyle has worked with women's charities fighting sexual exploitation and violence against women.

She says she will now be asking Inverclyde Council if they can provide assistance to women caught in the plight she has uncovered.

Dr Stoyle said: "I intend to take this up with Inverclyde Council, to see if they will consider stepping in.

"Some councils have developed a protocol to help women in these situations, not all councils have done so."

Inverclyde Council say they are unaware of the cases but added that they have in the past in rare instances helped on an individual level.

A spokesman for the local authority said: “We’re not aware of any cases of no recourse to public funds being raised by our services or Women’s Aid.

"Cosla has provided specific guidance on this matter which Inverclyde will follow in any cases.

“The council has, in the past, stepped in and provided support in extreme cases where it has not been available to people through the usual channels, although this is very rare and would be on a case- by-case basis based on the person’s assessed needs.”

*If anyone is experiencing domestic abuse and would like to speak to someone IWA’s helpline number is 01475 888505.