All 9 contributions to the Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Act 2018

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Tue 19th Dec 2017
Tue 9th Jan 2018
Wed 24th Jan 2018
Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 6th Mar 2018
Tue 13th Mar 2018
Tue 27th Mar 2018
Tue 27th Mar 2018
Tue 8th May 2018
Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill
Commons Chamber

3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage: House of Commons
Thu 10th May 2018
Royal Assent
Lords Chamber

Royal Assent (Hansard) & Royal Assent (Hansard) & Royal Assent (Hansard)

Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill [HL]

1st reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 19th December 2017

(6 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Act 2018 Read Hansard Text
First Reading
15:00
A Bill to make provision about the granting of old style secure tenancies in cases of domestic abuse.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill [HL]

2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 9th January 2018

(6 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Act 2018 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Second Reading
16:06
Moved by
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government and Wales Office (Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth) (Con)
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My Lords, I am delighted to be moving the Second Reading today. Domestic abuse is a devastating issue which has serious impacts on the victim, the victim’s family and, indeed, society as a whole. According to the crime survey, each year an estimated 1.9 million people in England and Wales suffer some form of domestic abuse. Not only does domestic abuse often place the victim in immediate physical danger; its emotional effect can create damaging, long-term impacts on the victims and their families, and place huge costs on society and the public purse. This short, targeted Bill is an important part of the Government’s wider aim of supporting victims of domestic abuse to leave their abusive situation, and ensuring that they and their families are provided with the stability and security they need and deserve.

The Bill will ensure that if victims of domestic abuse who have a lifetime social tenancy need to flee their current home to escape abuse and are granted a new tenancy, they are able to retain their lifetime tenancy in their new social home. The Bill achieves this by requiring local authorities to offer a further lifetime tenancy to existing lifetime tenants where the tenant needs to move or has recently moved to escape domestic abuse, and the local authority is satisfied that granting the new tenancy will reduce the risk of further abuse. This will apply not only to situations where the tenant themselves is a victim of domestic abuse but also where a member of their household, such as a child, has suffered domestic abuse.

The Bill applies to all local authorities in England and protects all lifetime social tenants in these circumstances, whether they have a secure local authority tenancy or an assured tenancy with a private registered provider of social housing. It will apply not only to situations where the tenant is a victim of domestic abuse but also where a member of the household, such as a child, has suffered domestic abuse.

The definition of domestic abuse in the Bill has been drawn widely, so it will apply not just to those who have suffered physical violence but also to victims of psychological, sexual, financial and emotional abuse, as provided by Clause 1(2).

The Bill delivers on a commitment that the Government made to this House during the passage of the Housing and Planning Act 2016. We gave a commitment that when local authorities moved to fixed-term tenancies in the future we would ensure that the regulations which specify when local authorities may grant a further lifetime tenancy would make this mandatory for victims of domestic abuse. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, raised this issue—I am pleased to see her in her place—and I acknowledge her part in ensuring that we have come through with this legislation. It has been a pleasure dealing with the noble Baroness in that regard.

Primary legislation is necessary to deliver on this commitment. To be clear, the Bill does not create a new requirement for local authorities to rehouse lifetime tenants who are victims of domestic abuse, but it ensures that where a lifetime tenant is rehoused in these circumstances they do not lose their security of tenure. This is about removing an impediment that could prevent victims from leaving their abusive situation.

The Government are absolutely committed to supporting victims of domestic abuse—it is a high priority for the Prime Minister. That is why we have secured £40 million of dedicated funding in the spending review and invested £33.5 million since 2014 to support victims of domestic abuse. However, we want to go further and are carrying out a fundamental review of the commissioning and funding of domestic abuse services, which will conclude in the summer of this year. I look forward to updating noble Lords on the review’s progress.

The most recent lettings data show that from April 2015 to March 2016 about 1.6% of all social lettings were to existing tenants who moved to another social home to escape domestic abuse. While the numbers are relatively small, this is still more than 5,000 lives affected by domestic abuse and it is important that they are provided with the support they need to leave their abusive situation. The measures in the Bill will do precisely this and ensure that we do not create a barrier—

Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab)
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What happens in the case of the abuser? In such circumstances, are the rights of the abuser—who may well end up being a single person—in no way affected by this legislation?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
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My Lords, the aim of this legislation is certainly not to do anything in relation to the abusing party; it is to protect the abused party. It is about the protection of the victim rather than doing anything in relation to the perpetrator.

The measures in the Bill will provide that protection and ensure that we do not create a barrier to victims of domestic abuse who are considering leaving their abusive situation by protecting the security of tenure of those who move to a new social home.

We recognise that there will be other circumstances in which it might be appropriate for local authorities to continue to offer lifetime tenancies at their discretion. We will set out those circumstances in regulations that we are currently developing. These regulations are affirmative and noble Lords will have the opportunity to debate them when they are laid.

I repeat that this is a targeted and short Bill. It was a hard-won opportunity for a specific situation. I look forward to hearing noble Lords’ comments and views on the Bill, and I beg to move.

16:13
Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, today represents a double first for me. It is my first time at the Dispatch Box—as a day tripper, I should make clear—and I am grateful to the Minister for his kind words. More importantly, it is the first time in my seven years in your Lordships’ House that I have been able to welcome a Bill at Second Reading more or less unequivocally.

Before going further, I should like to thank Jacob Secker of Haringey Defend Council Housing, who brought to my attention the issue of the potential impact of loss of security of tenure under the Housing and Planning Bill on victims of domestic abuse. I also thank members of Arden Chambers and Giles Peaker, chair of the Housing Law Practitioners Association, for their advice. I should also make it clear that, while I am aware that men can be the victims of domestic violence, it is women who are the main victims, particularly of serious abuse, and therefore it is women about whom I will speak.

As the Minister has already underlined, the importance of this issue to women, and therefore the importance of the Bill, are stressed by the helpful briefing from Women’s Aid. It makes clear that secure housing is not only a practical need for women and children fleeing abuse, but is integral to their safety and recovery. Concerns about housing are a key barrier to many women trying to escape domestic abuse. Women’s Aid’s annual survey in 2016 showed that nine out of 10 women in a refuge required help with their housing needs. During the passage of the Bill, I drew on research by the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit and Solace Women’s Aid. One of the key messages was:

“Having a home in which women and children can be and feel safe is vital, removing the fear and insecurity which domestic violence creates”.


Housing insecurity interfered with all the processes that the study found,

“enabled them to begin undoing the harms of domestic violence”.

The research also demonstrated why it is insufficient to give local authorities a permissive power to provide victims of domestic violence with a new lifetime tenancy, which was the Government’s original response. The study found that all too often, women fleeing domestic abuse who present to local authority housing services reported that they found them unhelpful, with many describing housing officers as unsympathetic, uninterested and disbelieving. To Ministers’ credit, they listened to the arguments and agreed, as the Minister has said, that regulations would require rather than simply enable local authorities to provide new lifetime tenancies when rehousing a tenant in such circumstances.

It then transpired, however, that the lawyers had discovered that this was not permissible under the terms of the Act. Again to their credit, the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Evans of Bowes Park, said that they would announce a concession during the passage of the Bill and immediately apologised to me. At that stage I had understood that the primary legislation would be amended either through the forthcoming domestic abuse Bill or possibly through a Private Member’s Bill. I pay tribute to the Minister for pushing for this Bill to avoid further delay, but I am afraid I cannot resist pointing out that had the Government accepted my original amendment, or something like it, they could have saved themselves an awful lot of bother.

When I said that I can give the Bill a more or less unequivocal welcome, the less arises because of one key omission, also raised by Women’s Aid. I am grateful to the Minister for meeting with me just before Christmas and I am hopeful that we can resolve the issue. When I moved my amendment on Report, I emphasised that the regulations should cover not only the victims of domestic abuse who flee their home but also the situation where a joint tenancy had terminated and a new sole tenancy has been granted in the name of the victim. As presently drafted, the Bill would not cover this situation. Yet I have been advised that this is invariably what happens in the few cases where there is a joint tenancy and the perpetrator is removed by the local authority so that he does not benefit from the abuse by driving his victim from the home. This makes sense because otherwise the perpetrator could give notice to quit and terminate the joint tenancy at some future date, thereby depriving his victim of her rights. What if she dies? That would enable the perpetrator to move back in and continue as an old-style secure tenant, a question raised by my noble friend. I cannot believe that the Government would want that. Indeed, in their recent consultation on improving access to social housing for victims of domestic abuse, they propose that new guidance should strongly encourage local authorities to use their existing powers to support tenants who are the victims of abuse to stay in their homes if they wish to. The consultation recognises that they may well wish to, to avoid the upheaval that fleeing would have on their lives and, I would add, on the lives of their children. I therefore urge the Minister to look at this again and bring forward an amendment in Committee, because otherwise I will do so.

In addition, I would be grateful if he could answer a number of questions about the Bill, either now or, if need be, in a subsequent letter. First, can he confirm that the Bill will cover an abuse victim who gives up a secure tenure with one local authority and flees to a different one? According to Women’s Aid’s latest annual survey, more than two-thirds of women resident in a refuge on one day in 2017 had come from a different local authority area. Again, this would be consistent with the proposal in the recent consultation document that the guidance would strongly encourage local authorities to exempt from any residency requirements victims of domestic abuse who have fled from another area.

Secondly, when drawing up guidance for local authorities, will the Government consider the recommendations of Women’s Aid concerning the evidence requirements for accessing the domestic abuse exemption and specialist training for local housing officers who will apply it? They propose that the domestic violence gateway for legal aid could be used as a starting point for developing any evidence requirements. As for specialist training, the research to which I referred showed just how necessary it is. Moreover, Article 15 of the Istanbul convention requires relevant professionals dealing with victims or perpetrators of violence against women and domestic violence to receive adequate training.

My third question concerns the regulations on new lifetime tenancies, to which the Minister referred. In his letter to me of 24 October 2016, he stated that these regulations would cover other groups at risk of harm in their current social home and that there would be a consultation on them. In an earlier Written Answer, he suggested that the circumstances in which local authorities may exercise discretion might include tenants who downsize into a smaller home. Here, I emphasise those affected by the bedroom tax. Will he tell us where the department has got to on this and which other groups he envisages will be covered? In particular, during the passage of the Bill the noble Baroness, Lady Evans of Bowes Park, confirmed to me that consideration would be given to,

“whether the circumstances should include tenants with severe disabilities, mobility issues or significant care needs, as well as those who need to give or receive care”.—[Official Report, 14/3/16; col. 1715.]

Will he confirm that they will indeed be covered? Our concerns about the loss of security of tenure under the Act remain. My noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark will probably say a bit more about that later, but at the very least it is important that local authorities have the necessary discretion to minimise its impact on these other vulnerable groups.

Finally, Women’s Aid makes the important point that the Bill’s goal of improving housing security for domestic abuse survivors is threatened by other areas of government policy. To reassure the Minister, I do not intend to try to amend the Bill to address these concerns, but given that this is a Second Reading they need to be placed on the record. First, the proposed devolution to local areas of responsibility and resourcing for domestic abuse refuges, which he made sound like rather a wonderful nirvana coming towards us, will, they warn, have a catastrophic impact on refuges and, therefore, their ability to help protect women’s housing security. Particular concerns have been raised that it could mark the end of specialist services for BME, disabled or otherwise marginalised groups of women who are already suffering under the localism model—a concern already raised back in 2015 by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I was then a member.

The JCHR also raised a number of concerns about the possible impact of so-called welfare reform on women subject to domestic abuse—in particular, the payment of universal credit into a single bank account. This could exacerbate financial abuse, which I am very pleased to see is included in the Bill’s definition of domestic abuse. Other concerns raised by Women’s Aid include the impact of the lower benefit cap, the two-child limit and the application of the underoccupation charge to move-on accommodation without any transitional protection.

I am sure these are issues to which we will return in the context of the forthcoming domestic abuse legislation. For now, I am very happy that we are able to give our full support to this Bill in principle. Once again, I thank the Minister for bringing it forward.

16:24
Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, this is a short but significant Bill, and from these Benches we welcome it. I thank both the Minister for his introduction and the noble Baroness, who is a redoubtable campaigner—the combination of energy and intellectual rigour cannot be beaten.

The term “secure” in the Title applies more widely than in the technical sense of the type of tenancy. The emotional security of one’s home plays a very big part in most of our lives. When I first became involved in the work of the domestic violence charity Refuge, I was quite shaken by two thoughts: first, what it must be like to distrust the person whom one should most be able to trust and, secondly, what it must be like not to feel safe in one’s own home? As the Minister has said, children as well as partners are affected by insecurity and instability.

It is a pity that we use the term “victims”. It should not imply, although it often does, some sort of passivity in the face of ill-treatment. That is certainly not the case in this context. We must not underestimate the strength needed to leave an abuser and to talk about a situation. This is not done lightly or quickly, so I welcome this legislative response to one housing situation.

I have some questions, which to a considerable extent reflect some of those already asked by the noble Baroness, and one fundamental observation: that this Bill is about the person abused and often her children—“her”, as the noble Baroness said—having to move, and not the abuser having to move. I understand that there will probably be considerable difficulties regarding rights to the tenancy of the abuser and evidence, but I am unhappy about the imbalance that we are recognising here.

I know that my noble friend Lord Shipley will ask why the obligation is on local housing authorities and not on housing associations. I therefore ask the Minister whether the obligation can be satisfied by a local housing authority procuring that a housing association grants an assured tenancy. How does the local housing association fulfil the obligation if it has no stock of its own? Do the Government envisage reciprocal arrangements between authorities—for instance, authority A making some provision for a person from authority B in return for an old-style secure tenancy for someone coming from authority A? I cannot really see how this could work, because, by definition, there will be a problem with housing stock, which is the elephant in the Chamber today.

Are the Government satisfied that the scheme can work if, for reasons of safety, the abused person needs to be in a different location from the abuser—indeed, to be somewhere unknown to the abuser? The noble Baroness raised a particular lacuna. I would ask as well whether the Bill applies if the victim is not a joint tenant of the original housing. I am a little unclear about whether someone leaving a home needs to be in the private sector to escape abuse. I assume not, because under new subsection (2A), one does not leave square one unless the local housing authority is required to grant a secure tenancy.

Can the Minister explain the eligibility a little more fully? As I understand it, not all victims of domestic abuse who do not have children are considered as being in priority need for housing, so does the woman—again, I will assume that it is a woman for the purposes of the debate—have to satisfy priority need for the provisions to apply? Will a victim have to accept whatever housing is offered, however unsatisfactory she considers it?

There is also the question of identifying domestic abuse for the purposes of the legislation. What evidence will be required? The Bill rightly extends to all forms of abuse—I note that the list of types of abuse is not exhaustive—but what level of proof will be required?

Local authority social workers, who have enough on their plates already, will not be unfamiliar with identifying abuse; for our part, we are familiar with training not always being adequate. In our debate last July, introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, my noble friend Lady Brinton and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, referred, I think to the Minister’s surprise, to the training of police officers in identifying stalking being satisfied by a 25-minute desk exercise. I see possible comparisons here. Is the Minister considering guidance in this connection for housing officers?

I looked back at a report, referred to in that previous debate, into the No Woman Turned Away project, which looked at the position of 404 women with 533 children in the period January 2016 to January 2017. I shall quote from that report, by Women’s Aid:

“Many women, supported by the NWTA caseworkers, faced structural barriers to accessing safety due to inadequate responses from statutory agencies … Social services failed to meet their duty of care towards 37 of the 115 survivors they supported … Several women who were refused help by social services were told that they were not experiencing domestic abuse or that they did not meet the risk threshold for intervention. Local housing teams prevented 78 … survivors from making a valid homeless application. 14 women were told to call the NDVH instead of making a homeless application and 11 cases did not consider the domestic abuse to be a significant risk factor to merit a domestic abuse application, with eight women being told to return to the perpetrator and three women told to come back when the situation got worse ... reasons given for preventing a survivor from making a homeless application”,


included being told to call the helpline, as I have mentioned,

“that the Local Housing Authority did not have the duty to her or her children … being explicitly told that domestic abuse was not the responsibility of the LHA …, or refusing an application and giving no reason at all”.

A number of survivors were told,

“that they needed a local connection in order to apply … or were told to make an application in another borough … Local housing teams prevented 78 … survivors from making an application. Often their understanding of domestic abuse is limited to physical abuse with only partial knowledge of other aspects of abuse or coercive control”.

These are two major areas of concern. What does the Local Government Association have to say about these and other concerns? We might be about to hear the answer from the next speaker: I hope so.

I appreciate that this is one piece in the jigsaw of supporting adults and children who are subjected to domestic abuse. I, too, will not venture into the complicated field of benefits or no benefits—today, at any rate. That will be unavoidable when we get to the wider legislation.

The Minister mentioned regulations. Will those be regulations under the 2016 Act? This Bill seems to provide for regulations only in regard to commencement.

The Bill is not a silver bullet, but it addresses one unintended consequence of the 2016 Act, so my final small but important question is: when is this legislation likely to be brought into effect?

16:34
Lord Porter of Spalding Portrait Lord Porter of Spalding (Con)
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My Lords, it is probably pertinent that I declare my interests in so far as I am the chairman of the Local Government Association. I am also the leader of South Holland District Council, which is one of the few councils in the country that still owns housing stock.

I should congratulate my noble friend the Minister on his personal commitment to getting this legislation through. It is always good when good people do good things, so my congratulations. But one of the Bill’s shortcomings is that it addresses council tenancies, not all the social market. Given that most social properties are now owned by non-councils, some further work probably needs to be done—if not to compel RSLs forcefully, then at least to do so surreptitiously, so they do not know they are having their arms twisted to make them do it. A way of coercing them informally needs to be at least considered, given that the majority of those affected will be their tenants and the majority of the properties available will be theirs. To truly look after some of our most vulnerable citizens, widening the scope of the landlords covered would be a good thing to do.

I am really pleased that my noble friend the Minister said that we are considering widening the scope regarding vulnerable people who may be able to access lifetime tenancies or at least secure tenancies. Clearly, a number of other vulnerable groups really need the security of knowing that the home they live in will be the home they will always be able to live in, should they choose to and if their circumstances remain the same. That is particularly true for people with mobility impairments whose homes have been adapted for them, or people with mental health problems for whom there is no foreseeable chance of recovery. It seems pointless to make them look over their shoulder every five years at whether they might get a new tenancy.

I will not address directly some of the other comments made but they all stem from one problem. My noble friend the Minister would not forgive me—at least, he would think I had taken leave of my senses—if I did not take the opportunity to say that the reason we are having to ration the limited supply of available, affordable homes is simply that for the last 40 years, and under Governments of all colours, we have failed to build enough affordable homes in the right places for people to live in. This is not a criticism of the current Government but of all Governments. “Affordable” should not have just the interesting, latest variations in meaning; it should also mean social homes.

By social homes, I do not mean the fad from the 1980s of calling an RSL house a social home. That was a failed experiment. Social homes really does mean council houses, and if we are serious about this—clearly, the Prime Minister wants to be the most serious Prime Minister for years in tackling the housing crisis—the only way to do that is by allowing councils to take up their historic role as the main provider of social homes. I know from speaking to colleagues in all parties across the country that they are more than willing to do as much as possible, provided that the Government—whatever colour they end up being—give us the scope and freedom to do what we all know needs to be done: to build at historic levels again. I seriously congratulate my noble friend the Minister on getting this part of the legislation, at least, to address helping this most vulnerable group of people.

16:38
Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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I wish to comment only briefly today, first by paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for her work on this issue and by thanking both her and my right reverend friend the Bishop of St Albans for their initial work during the passage of the Housing and Planning Act. Secondly, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for his commitment to addressing this issue. I also need to declare an interest as an ambassador for the charity Restored, an international Christian alliance that seeks to end violence against women.

As has been said, domestic abuse of any sort is demeaning, degrading and something that no one should have to endure. While not wanting to ignore the truth that men can be victims of domestic abuse, on average two women a week are killed by a current or former male partner, while approximately 750,000 children in England and Wales witness domestic violence every year. No woman should be forced to choose between her safety and that of her children, or maintaining a roof over her head. Yet this is a tragic dilemma for many women and children. I really hope that this Bill will make some progress in decreasing the number of people placed in this position.

As has been said, there is more work to do, particularly on securing long-term refuge funding. None the less, I am delighted to support the Bill at Second Reading. I hope it will progress through this House to ensure that the most vulnerable have increased opportunities to leave oppressive and unacceptable home environments.

16:40
Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con)
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My Lords, I first congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, on the part she played in getting this Bill put forward. I often get asked, particularly when I visit schools: what does the House of Lords do? What is the point of it? This Bill is surely an example of the Chamber operating at its best, with Peers raising an unintended potential consequence of a policy. The Government should also be praised for listening and doing something about it.

Housing and the continuation of domestic violence are inextricably linked. You will put up with an awful lot if you do not have a safe and secure escape route. To make the difficult and often dangerous decision to upend your entire life and potentially that of your young family, you need to know that a better and safer place awaits. It is for this reason that many women, quite understandably, put off the decision, and that has tragically cost lives on so many occasions. I sincerely hope this Bill gives victims the reassurance they need and helps them make that brave leap to end the abuse. As the Women’s Aid briefing sets out, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, pointed out, it is right that the provisions in the Bill apply to women who need to move their secure lifetime tenancy to a new local authority area to escape the perpetrator, and the exemption should apply to those seeking to end a joint tenancy and replace it with sole tenancy in their name.

I hope the House will forgive me if I use this debate to speak on domestic abuse a little more generally. It is incredibly important to raise awareness and to help tireless campaigners such as Women’s Aid and Refuge. Whenever I research this crime, I have to double check the facts as I cannot believe how startling they are. As was just pointed out, two women a week are killed by a partner or former partner. In 2016, 78 women were killed, 75 % of them at home, which highlights the urgent need for this Bill.

The UN and the World Bank have released data that estimates that women between the ages of 15 and 44 are more at risk from rape and domestic abuse than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria, that more than one-quarter of women in the UK will experience domestic violence in their lifetime and that one-fifth of children in this country have been exposed to domestic abuse. There was a 10% increase in the number of cases of domestic abuse last year. One hopes that this jump is down to the bravery of victims coming forward thanks to high-profile awareness campaigns, but it is clear that a lot more needs to be done and that improvement in some areas is thwarted by a decline in others. For example, advances in technology have in many ways given abusers more tools at their disposal. Smartphones tracking partners’ whereabouts, spoof emails et cetera can all add up to a virtual prison for many victims.

I think all of us in this Chamber will be looking forward to the domestic abuse Bill, which will be introduced by the Minister later this year. I hope it will take a whole-system, long-term approach, incorporating all elements that will not only make victims safe and punish perpetrators but, just as importantly, prevent the devastating cycle of abuse in the first place.

Refuges of course play a crucial part in keeping women safe when they flee abuse. These organisations are vital and in many cases save lives. One woman I read about recently was so desperate to leave her dangerous and abusive home that she slept on a bus with her three year-old until she could be housed at a refuge a week later. As a mother of two young children, I can only imagine such desperation. It is too long to wait, and no woman should have nowhere to run to. We also know that the most dangerous time for a woman is at the point of separation, which is when most murders happen.

The Government are committed to reducing domestic abuse and have provided an extra £100 million until 2020 and, within that, a £20 million fund to support refuges and an additional 2,200 bed spaces. They will therefore want urgently to allay fears that reforms to the funding of supported housing may somehow lead to closures. I do not believe Theresa May or this Government would allow that to happen—it is simply not the mark of a civilised, progressive society, and I hope the consultation from the MHCLG, when concluded, will support this.

However, in this context the words, “local authority” and “ring-fencing” send a shiver down my spine. To touch briefly on a subject I know a bit more about, funding for disabled children and their families, especially concerning their legal right to short breaks, is supposedly ring-fenced and legally protected, but the reality on the ground feels very different and is geographically patchy. The fight goes on, and this postcode lottery absolutely should not be extended to women’s refuges.

More effective measures that encourage proper punishment need to be introduced. Victims all too often get let down by the justice system that should be protecting them. More reporting, police referrals, prosecution, specialist training and conviction rates have to be a key focus. But it is also right to point out that despite a slow start, progress is being made, especially on coercion prosecutions. I spent a morning with the police today and saw first-hand their commitment to improving the situation. But clearly, a 60% increase in reporting over the last five years and the challenges regarding resources will inevitably put a strain on forces, and this needs to be properly considered in the overall approach. I sincerely hope that we see a much more joined-up strategy that allows agencies easily to share information, a lack of which is often cited as a key failing in domestic homicide cases

Finally, however, prevention must be at the forefront of our thinking. I quite agree with the many experts who say that prevention and progress will really be seen only if we tackle the social norms that still pervade many people’s lives, leading to gender-based abuse and violence. Education and raising awareness have to be at the root of this. We must teach our children and young people that dignity and respect have to be at the heart of relationships, and we must properly care for those young and vulnerable people who have seen things no one should see, preventing any further cycle of abuse.

16:47
Lord Lipsey Portrait Lord Lipsey (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, immediately before this debate, we were discussing the pay of women at the BBC. I should make it clear I in no way condone the relative underpayment, but I wonder whether I am the only person in this House who really attaches rather more importance to the group of women we are discussing now, who suffer physically as well as materially and as a result of extraordinarily abusive partners or husbands who betray the person whom they should most care for. I therefore join with all other noble Lords who have spoken in welcoming the Bill.

I do not want to outdo the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, in generosity, but the Government have a commitment in this area, which I think stems from the Prime Minister herself. As evidence, it is really rather extraordinary that this measure should force itself into a Queen’s Speech, and now into a parliamentary programme, so burdened with other weighty matters such as Brexit, Brexit and Brexit. This is a wonderful triumph and is not the only such case: the Government are promising the domestic violence and abuse Bill, which will make a difference to women in this situation over a wider field. I pay great tribute to the Government’s motivation. What I will say though is that it is not uncommon to find that the good effects the Government are having are weighed against—or even outweighed by—things they are doing which have an adverse effect on the group they are trying to help.

My first example is that of legal aid to women. We know that the numbers getting legal aid when they appear in court fell by about a third after the Government’s restrictions. The Government have eased up a bit, but I bet the figures never get to what they were before. Think of the plight of an abused woman facing her abuser in court without professional legal advice at hand. That is no small thing.

There is a more serious problem lurking in the wings. It relates to the ending of the system whereby aid for refuges for women is given via the HB system, to be replaced by grants to local authorities that are—I share the view that has been expressed about this phrase—ring-fenced. I do not think you need surveys, although they exist, to show what effect this is going to have on refuges. Picture a local authority with terribly difficult choices to make because its expenditure is being slashed on every side, faced with claims from a refuge. On average, three-quarters of the women in that refuge will not come from that area at all; if you are subject to domestic abuse, of course you want to fly as far away as possible from the local area in which you lived to get away from your abuser. Councils therefore do not have an incentive to give that refuge the priority that they would give to services that really were for local people. There is some evidence now that this is going to cause the mass closure of refuges. The figures that I have seen suggest that 39% might close as a result, with a 12% reduction in beds.

From a scandal we proceed to a confusion. I do not know what the Government’s policy is in the area that I am talking about, and the reason why is that I do not really think they know themselves. One consultation, launched in October 2017, to which people have to submit their representations by 23 January, seems absolutely committed to this switch from the money coming from HB to the money coming from grants to the local authority. At the same time, though—this almost beggars belief—the Government are launching a separate review of support for supported housing that is not designed to report until November 2018. So they have a policy that they are reviewing even before it comes into force in 2020. Even odder, in a kind reply the other day to a Question from me, the Minister said,

“We are continuing to explore all options for future delivery of refuge services, including a national model for refuges”.


Here we have this new localism being instituted, based on grants, while at the same time a national model is being looked at. This really is chaos.

I know that government is not usually chaotic by accident; there is usually a reason. I will lay before the House—I expect the Minister to deny it, but that is his prerogative—what I think is probably going on here. On the one hand, his department, the MHCLG, can see perfectly well that this policy is a nonsense; that while there are many things that should be given to local authorities, this is not one of them; and that it is going to lead to closures and a hell of a row. Indeed, if the Prime Minister gets involved, it will be a hell of a row that rebounds on the MHCLG. Over at the DWP, on the other hand, there is another problem: the Ozymandian project to build universal credit. HB does not fit easily into universal credit, and HB for refuges does not fit into universal credit at all. So the DWP has taken its sabre, cut straight through this and got rid of a system that is working perfectly well in order to ensure that the prospects for universal credit are not further discredited, as they have been so regularly over the last few months. Support for refuges, support for the women in tragic circumstances who have recourse to them and even support for rebuilding their lives rank pretty low in the priorities in the battle between these giant bureaucracies.

I do not know how all this will be resolved. I am extremely optimistic that the degree of opposition to this change of policy, witnessed in the 140,000 signatures to a petition got up against it, will pressure the DWP to think again. Otherwise, the bad day when that system is introduced will more than outweigh the great good to be done by this excellent Bill.

16:55
Lord Farmer Portrait Lord Farmer (Con)
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My Lords, without wishing to trivialise in any way the important issues dealt with in the Bill, it has occurred to me that the question of continuing access to secure lifetime tenancies is probably close to the hearts of many people in this House. We and any future new Peers may find ourselves on a fixed-term secure tenancy and possibly even physically evicted from this House if parliamentary refurbishment requires it. So it is somewhat ironic that the Bill not only begins its passage at this end of the Corridor but also that Lords’ amendments to the Housing and Planning Bill led to its necessity. Indeed, it is a necessary piece of legislation and I do not disagree with the intent behind its provisions.

However, these provisions are very narrow and, in the absence of the forthcoming domestic violence and abuse Bill, it might appear that we are still, as a society and a Government, stuck on the question, “Why doesn’t she or he leave?”, when someone is the victim of abuse, rather than taking a more preventive approach and asking, with regard to the perpetrator, “Why doesn’t he or she stop?”.

Furthermore, while councils should not, of course, put any barriers in the way of victims being able to flee domestic abuse, the sad truth is that being able to leave one abusive partner all too often does not lead to freedom from a life of abusive relationships. Research has concluded that a high proportion of victims leaving abusive relationships are at risk of returning to their abusive partner—although I would expect the Bill to reduce the likelihood of that happening, hence my support for it—or of becoming romantically involved with another abusive person.

Extensive evidence such as that from Alexander, Kemp et al, Woffordt et al and Coolidge and Anderson, has shown that between 40% and 56% of women experiencing domestic abuse have had a previously abusive relationship. In one study of refuge residents, Griffing et al found that 66% had previously left and returned to their abusive partner, and 97% of these women had done so several times. Victims stay with or return to an abusive partner for a wide range of reasons, including practical problems such as a lack of financial resources, social support and alternative housing options—again, hence the welcome provisions in the Bill, although it does not require councils to rehouse, it just requires that any future tenancy will be on a like-for-like basis.

However, they also stay because they fear that ongoing separation could trigger worse abuse. They may have feelings of love for the perpetrator and a sense of dependency towards him or her. This may be due to the insecurity and low self-worth that can mushroom in toxic and dysfunctional relationships. They may nurse an expectation that they can rescue or reform their abusive partner. This, paradoxically, can ratchet up their commitment the worse the treatment becomes.

Stating these complex psychological processes which make a victim vulnerable to further abuse is not at all the same thing as holding them responsible for that abuse. On the contrary, a nuanced understanding of them is vital for rejecting decisively the blame that can be ascribed to victims for staying in or embarking on new abusive relationships. However, their ongoing vulnerability, which accumulates with each new abusive relationship, has to be acknowledged if victims themselves are to be able to understand and address it. Many will need support to grapple with these deeper psychological forces.

So, it is not simply about housing, as I am sure the Government realise. I have taken the opportunity that the Second Reading of the Bill provides to urge my noble friend the Minister, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, in her Oral Question in this House last November, to give much needed prominence to preventive approaches. This has been lacking in the past.

Our Prime Minister has made it a key personal priority to transform the way we think about tackling domestic violence. Diana Barran, the founder and former CEO of SafeLives, a national charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse, gives us an important starting point by asking the question: what would you want for your best friend? You would want her to be safe in her own home, with her things around her, rather than being forced to move or living in secrecy in a refuge, possibly at the other end of the country. This must be the goal wherever possible which will, without in any way deprioritising safety, require a paradigm shift towards early intervention, prevention and a family-based emphasis for domestic abuse. Again, to quote SafeLives: “We need to understand the whole picture for an individual and family to give an effective response”.

Previously in your Lordships’ House, I have described the work of the organisation Atal Y Fro, Welsh for “safety in the vale”, formerly the Vale of Glamorgan Women’s Aid. I explained that the name change reflects its broader base of working because, over years of practice, the organisation became convinced that if it works only with the mother and children, this just patches up the problem. It partners with a range of organisations in a one-stop shop to help families with medium to low-risk abuse to reshape and restore their lives. Current evidence suggests that two-thirds of families have been enabled to stay together safely through education, prevention and intervention in the community—the EPIC strategy. This involves different evidence-based perpetrator programmes for men and women, a healthy relationships programme in every school, and couples work.

I have not seen a more recent cost-benefit analysis but its annual cost in 2015 was around £83,000, with a conservative estimate of cost savings of around £1.4 million. It now works across Wales and has added extra elements such as programmes to tackle adolescent violence against parents—a very disturbing sequela of children witnessing domestic abuse.

In conclusion, I do not want to be hard on the Bill, as I said at the outset, because it addresses an important, albeit narrow, need. However, preventing violence within relationships has to become a mainstream preoccupation of policy and practice. I note that in his letter on the Bill to colleagues in this House, my noble friend promised a fundamental review of the commissioning and funding of domestic abuse services that will conclude this summer. He also explained that his department will work with the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice to make a robust and positive contribution to the non-legislative package that will accompany the forthcoming Bill on domestic violence and abuse to which I have referred.

Can my noble friend confirm that this non-legislative package will do justice to the need for prevention, early intervention and whole-family approaches? Without a policy shift in this direction, we stand zero chance of stamping out the scourge of domestic abuse, especially given the intergenerational transmission of violence that I described earlier. We will keep on picking up the pieces and incurring scandalously high costs, not just to the public purse but in terms of the wasted lives and squandered potential of victims and their children who inhabit the shadowlands of misery and unresolved trauma.

This is a necessary Bill but it must be a precursor to the much needed paradigm shift I have sketched out here, for which many domestic violence charities are also calling. The media will struggle to understand its nuances but that should not deter. Lives will be saved, children will be better protected and society will benefit when prevention and early intervention, instead of being seen as a luxury we cannot afford, are instead accepted as the policy of first resort.

17:04
Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD)
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My Lords, housing is not normally an area that I would venture into, and it is not something that I am an expert in, but I would like to make a short intervention today from the perspective of my role as Liberal Democrat spokesperson for women. The Bill is very much to be welcomed, arising as it does from the work of noble colleagues in this House during the Report stage of the then Housing and Planning Bill in 2016—which, as colleagues have already mentioned, changes and restricts the rules on lifetime tenancies. This Bill, as I understand it, applies only to victims of domestic abuse who already hold lifetime tenancies; those who do not will presumably fall under the duty to secure permanent accommodation for people unintentionally homeless in priority need. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that.

Those with existing secure permanent tenancies constituted only 1.6% of new permanent social housing acceptances in 2015-16, so the numbers affected are very small, but the principle is very important. As has been said, many victims have to move to new areas to flee from their perpetrator. My first question is whether the Minister can confirm that the rights conferred by this new legislation will apply across local authority boundaries. My noble friend Lady Hamwee questions the practicality of this. If the answer is yes, what consideration has been given to how to make it work?

In 2015-16, domestic violence victims constituted 11% of all homeless acceptances by local authorities. I appreciate that, in an already fraught situation, housing authorities may be reluctant to evict the perpetrator, but it is a shame that it is so often the victim and her, or his, children, who are the ones to suffer, sometimes for years, while the perpetrator sits snugly in the victim’s previous home. However, there are times when the perpetrator leaves so, secondly, can the Minister please confirm that the rules will apply when the victim stays and the tenancy is converted from joint to single? The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, raised this point and thinks not. Would the Minister consider, if that is true, an amendment to that effect?

I am grateful to Women’s Aid for its briefing and for all the incredible work that it does. If it were not for Women’s Aid, many more women would have nowhere to go—but last year 60% of all referrals to refuges were declined. Clearly, there is a crying need for more, but they struggle greatly for money, with more than one in 10 receiving no local authority support at all. So, thirdly, can the Minister, through his government colleagues, look seriously at what effect taking away the ring-fence of protected funding is likely to have on the ability of refuges to cope with the needs of women and their children who so desperately need refuge?

Women’s Aid mentions a number of changes that it would like to see. One, which I hope would not be too much of a stretch for the Government to implement, concerns the underoccupation exclusion from housing benefit—more commonly known as the bedroom tax. While refuges themselves are exempt, this may exacerbate their already vulnerable financial situation, through no fault of their own. So my fourth question is whether the Government will be prepared to consider a transition period of exemption for any woman moved to a property technically underoccupied to enable her to better withstand the financial pressures that she is likely to be under—or could local authorities be given the discretion to allow a transition period? It is they, after all, who are tasked with finding accommodation in the first place. Given the much larger number of women fleeing violence who will not qualify under the old secure tenancy rules, will the Government consider extending this discretion to all those who qualify under the duty to secure accommodation for victims of domestic violence who qualify as unintentionally homeless?

Finally, will the Minister say a word about what evidence would be required to warrant rehoming under the provisions of the Bill? ActionAid welcomes the wider definition than that of simply whether a prosecution has been made: only one in five survivors in refuges has been involved in criminal proceedings. The pressures on a woman in this situation are enormous and leaving the security of the home has to be, in the vast majority of cases, a last resort. However, while the Bill defines what domestic abuse is, it does not enlighten us on evidence. Are we talking about evidence from health professionals, domestic abuse services in local authorities or the refuges themselves perhaps? I am sure that local authorities would appreciate a steer.

17:11
Baroness Manzoor Portrait Baroness Manzoor (Con)
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My Lords, this is a very short but very important Bill as it will make a significant impact on, and difference to, the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our society. As we have heard from my noble friend the Minister, the Bill’s aim is to ensure that individuals on lifetime tenancies in social housing are protected if they need to leave their home to escape domestic abuse. However, like my noble friend Lord Porter, I would like the Bill’s scope to be looked at and consideration given to widening it.

As has already been said, this legislation will enable local authorities to grant further lifetime tenancies when individuals are rehoused in local authority housing. However, we also need to ensure that more social housing is built, so that it is available for individuals who need it. If passed, the Bill will remove the housing insecurity faced by victims of domestic abuse and will help prevent women and their children being trapped in abusive relationships because of their fear of losing their right to secure housing through secure lifetime tenancies.

I note with sadness that in December last year the charity Women’s Aid reported that of the 113 women killed in the UK last year, 85 died in their own homes, while nine out of 10 were killed by their current or former partner or another male family member. The Office for National Statistics reported that for the year ending March 2016, on average two women every week were killed in England and Wales by a partner or ex-partner. These shocking statistics show the devastating impact of this abuse on families. Some research, albeit limited, shows that many homeless women are homeless mainly as a result of domestic violence or abuse in the home. As Women’s Aid points out in its excellent briefing, women and children fleeing abuse can face years moving between forms of temporary accommodation waiting for social housing, or being homeless. This is not only unacceptable but goes to the heart of the basic principles that we as a society must address, particularly around gender inequality, fairness and compassion. Why is it that the abused always need to leave their home rather than the abuser? Therefore, as I and other noble Lords have said, although the Bill has only two clauses, its impact on the physical and emotional well-being of many women and their children who find themselves in an abusive relationship will be significant. It will also bring significant advantages, particularly to women with children, and the stability a permanent home can bring.

The Bill, coupled with the recent announcement of greater flexibility regarding legal aid for domestic violence cases, is most welcome, and I look forward to the outcome of the Government’s review into domestic violence, particularly on specialist services and ethnic minority women. I, like Women’s Aid and other women’s organisations, support the Bill wholeheartedly, and I commend the Government on bringing it forward. As other noble Lords have already said, the Bill will deliver the commitment given by the Government during the passage of the Housing and Planning Act 2016. I pay particular tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for bringing this issue to light during the passage of that Bill and for her rigour in pursuing it. I also welcome the commitment that was given in the 2017 Conservative Party manifesto, which is also being delivered.

I conclude by thanking the Minister, my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, for his personal commitment to bringing forward the Bill and to this issue. I wish the Bill all speed on to the statute book. I certainly will not make any amendments to it.

17:16
Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Portrait Baroness Hodgson of Abinger (Con)
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My Lords, I too welcome the Bill, which seeks to provide support to victims of domestic abuse who have had lifetime tenancies of social housing and who have had to leave their homes, which are unsafe to remain in because of domestic abuse.

The Conservative Party has sometimes been labelled “uncaring”, but this is an example of how the Government are addressing social injustice by trying to make a country that works for everyone. Many points have already been raised this afternoon, so I do not intend to speak for long. In bringing forward the Bill today the Government recognise the terrible distress that victims of domestic abuse face. We have already heard many of the awful statistics about domestic violence, which occurs all too frequently: one in three women across the world suffers abuse—that is a staggering statistic—and it affects women in this country of all ages and all socioeconomic types.

Today in the UK, nearly 2 million people suffer some form of domestic abuse—as we have heard, the majority of them are women—and each year about 100,000 people are at imminent risk of being seriously injured or killed. In spite of all the publicity around and recognition of this dreadful situation, as we have heard, around seven women are still murdered every month in England and Wales. It does not affect just women but children, as the Minister said. It is so damaging and frightening for a child to see his or her mother being attacked. It is estimated that around 130,000 children live in homes where there is a high risk of domestic abuse. Of the children who witness this abuse, many will be directly harmed, too. It has such a terrible, detrimental effect on them that it often stays with them for the rest of their lives and can create a cycle of abuse. We heard, movingly, from my noble friend Lord Farmer about the importance of trying to stop this terrible cycle and to try to give support to families, which is so important.

For many victims, leaving home is a last resort; it is estimated that, on average, victims experience 50 incidents of domestic abuse before getting effective help and will live with violence for over two years before they leave. Sadly, as we have heard from many speakers this afternoon, too often the victims have to go, not the perpetrators. Having experienced such horror and devastation, it is only right that they should be supported and helped to pick up their lives again. Having a place to live and some security is fundamental to this. Too often in the past, women and children fleeing abuse have had to face years in temporary accommodation or have become homeless, which has added more distress.

Therefore, without more ado, I am absolutely delighted to welcome the Bill today, as it seeks to provide security and help to victims of domestic abuse to escape abusive situations. I hope that, in the long term, it will lead to a reduction in domestic violence.

17:19
Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
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My Lords, I speak briefly in the gap to congratulate the Minister on bringing forward this measure in the form of primary legislation, in response to a brilliant campaign run by my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett. I also want to comment on the speech given by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull. Her contribution was very interesting because it raised a number of issues and suggested some rather innovative ways of dealing with particular problems.

However, I want to talk about the unintended consequences and ask whether Ministers have really thought through how these can be dealt with. Let us take a particular circumstance: Mr and Mrs Jones are married with five children and live in a house in London. Mrs Jones goes to the local authority because she is able to substantiate her case that she is being abused. All the processes have been gone through. The local authority is satisfied that she is an abused person and therefore, with her five children, she will be rehoused. So a large local authority-owned—publicly owned—property is in the hands of the abuser. Following the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, I wonder whether it is possible to qualify the tenancy of the abuser; otherwise, as far as I can see, he can remain, perhaps even indefinitely, in a large house in London, while it might be costing the local authority as much as £1,000 a week to house another family, perhaps with a number of children. I wonder whether it is possible to qualify that tenancy, although of course that in itself raises the question of whether the abuser’s human rights would be breached. I just add that to the complication of dealing with this issue. If one were able to qualify the tenancy, it might concentrate the mind of the abuser to know that his housing situation could be compromised if he were to proceed with the abuse within the marital relationship. I just put that forward as a possibility.

Also, is it not possible that in these circumstances the abuser could move an alternative tenant into the property? He knows that in certain circumstances his abused partner can claim and obtain alternative accommodation, so he could move into the home—that is, the home of the abuser—another family where he may well be having a relationship with the woman involved. Those are situations that may well arise in the real world when this legislation is implemented, but it all goes back to whether we can qualify the tenancy of the abuser, and that is the issue that I hope we can deal with at some stage during the course of the Bill.

17:23
Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has raised a very important issue. My attention was drawn to the impact assessment sent out yesterday by the Minister. That makes it clear that in the situation that the noble Lord raises, social landlords have a power under the Housing Act 1985 and the Housing Act 1988 to seek possession against the perpetrator in appropriate circumstances. It is stated that this power would be expected to be used in appropriate circumstances, although of course a definition would be required of what those appropriate circumstances would be, to what extent they would be used and whether the sections of those two Acts were strong enough. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to that specific point.

I remind the House that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. This has been a positive Second Reading and the response from around the Chamber demonstrates strong support for the principles underlying the Bill. As we have heard, the Bill reflects commitments given during the passage of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and in the Government’s manifesto at the last general election. It is, therefore, extremely important that it progresses quickly. The Bill is a welcome step in giving greater security to those trapped in an abusive relationship who need to leave a home in which they have a secure lifetime tenancy.

One of the main conclusions I draw from the debate is that the success of the Bill will depend very much on the training of local housing authority staff to ensure that its aims are delivered on the ground. This is important, not least because the Bill does not create a new statutory requirement for the rehousing of lifetime tenants who are victims of domestic abuse, but will instead ensure that in circumstances where a lifetime tenant is rehoused it will be with a lifetime tenancy.

I would like to raise a number of other issues. We have heard from my noble friend Lady Hamwee and the noble Lord, Lord Porter, that the Bill does not apply to housing associations. Under the Housing and Planning Act 2016, housing associations will retain discretion over whether or not to offer a flexible tenancy. But what happens where there is no local housing authority? In some areas, housing associations will be the only registered social landlord—should they not also offer long-term tenancies to victims of domestic abuse where it is the best option?

The Bill could also be an opportunity to give councils the power to set their own categories for granting lifetime tenancies to other vulnerable tenants. Councils are currently the only landlords who issue secure, lifetime tenancies, but their ability to offer the right tenancies for some vulnerable tenants is too restricted. When will the statutory guidance arising from the Housing and Planning Act 2016 be published? It is significantly overdue. This Bill at least provides the necessary assurance for those who are victims of domestic violence, but what about others who are deemed vulnerable?

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, my noble friend Lady Burt and others raised the important issue of the termination of a joint tenancy where a victim is granted the sole tenancy. It is important that that should happen correctly, and I hope that the Minister will respond to this point, both in his reply and, should it be necessary, with an amendment when we reach Committee.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, the noble Lord, Lord Porter, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee made the point that because not all local authorities manage their own housing these days, the issue of tenants moving across local authority boundaries to a secure refuge is relevant. All noble Lords who talked about this asked the Minister to respond specifically to that point. There is, of course, a wider focus by the Government on domestic abuse. There has been consultation on new statutory guidance—it closed last week, on 5 January —which would disapply residency tests for those who have crossed a boundary. The guidance will help to define how local authorities can help victims of domestic violence and enable them to stay in their homes safely. Clearly, it is important that the outcome of that consultation is implemented very quickly, because it seems to me that it contains a number of issues relevant to this Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, raised the extremely important issue of funding. Currently, just over 300 refuges operate in England and Wales, but funding is stretched and is going to become more so. I hope the Government understand that they need to be very careful to not underfund the refuges that provide a safe haven for those fleeing domestic violence and in which local housing authorities can provide the necessary support for and assessment of an individual’s need. Then, of course, there is the review that the Government are undertaking into the commissioning and funding of domestic abuse services. It concludes in the summer, and I hope that actions arising from that will be speedy and not subject to long delays.

In the meantime, we have this short, targeted Bill, as the Minister described it in his opening remarks. It provides a foundation for further support for victims of domestic abuse. In that sense, it is absolutely welcome.

17:30
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I make my usual declaration of interests as a councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I welcome the Bill as it corrects a terrible error and wrong in the dreadful Housing and Planning Act—one of the worst pieces of legislation ever put on the statute book by a Government in recent times. Thankfully, most of it has either been dropped or quietly not enacted or, as in this case, has had to be corrected by the use of primary legislation.

I am delighted that the Government have brought this Bill forward. I thank my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett for her tenacity in raising the issue and for getting a commitment from the Government to introduce the Bill. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, for his work in bringing the Bill forward and for meeting me and my noble friend before Christmas to discuss it before it was published. We are grateful to him for the work he has done to get the Bill to the Floor of the House today.

Domestic violence is a shocking, evil crime that only relatively recently has had the focus and attention that it deserves, with action being taken to protect victims and bring the perpetrators to justice. Labour Governments, the coalition Government and the Conservative Government have made it a priority for action, and that has been welcome.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, I wish to cover a couple of other issues in this debate. I recently spent some time with the Metropolitan Police in Greenwich as part of the parliamentary police scheme. During my three days there, I spent some time with police officers who work in the domestic violence unit. It is a unit of dedicated officers who work with the victims of domestic violence in the Royal Borough of Greenwich. To speak to the officers and to hear about some of the dreadful, vicious, serious assaults they have to deal with, the work they do to protect victims and bring perpetrators to justice was very distressing. Some of the stuff I heard was truly horrific. They do important work in dealing with this disgusting crime, and I pay tribute to them. It was good to hear how they work closely with other agencies, including the Royal Borough of Greenwich, led by my friend Councillor Denise Hyland. It was clear that partnership working was important in protecting victims and enabling them to get their lives back on track.

The victims and the children of the victims face serious challenges and a risk to their safety from abusive partners. Issues such as the lack of social housing, the cost of housing in the private sector and other matters can be a serious and dangerous barrier for many women who wish to escape from domestic abuse. The risk and fear of facing years in B&Bs, hostels and other forms of temporary accommodation will have a terrible impact on families as they try to get their lives back in order, with insecure housing being a major threat and barrier.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester said, it is shocking to think that on average two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner every week in England and Wales. These are figures from the Office for National Statistics. They are not disputed, but they are shocking.

As we have heard, the Bill will enable victims of domestic violence who have had to leave or have left their social rented home on a secure tenancy to be granted a new secure tenancy when being rehoused by a local authority. I have a couple of issues which I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, will be able to clarify in his response to the debate. First, can he confirm that the Bill will enable a victim living in social housing in, say, London, to move to another part of England or Wales? My noble friend Lady Lister made that point, as did other noble Lords and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. What happens if the victim is Scottish and wants to return to Glasgow in order to be closer to family and friends? The Bill states in Clause 2(1):

“This Act extends to England and Wales only”.


Has the department spoken to Scottish Ministers in the relevant department in Scotland to agree on what the process should be to extend the provision? Similarly, what if the victim wants to go back home to Belfast in Northern Ireland? On the face of it, we have an issue here that it would be good to resolve during the passage of the Bill.

The second point I want to raise has also been referred to by a number of noble Lords in the course of the debate, including my noble friends Lady Lister and Lord Campbell-Savours. What happens when the victim and the perpetrator hold a joint tenancy? It appears that there is a problem here.

Thirdly, Clause 1(2) states that a local authority,

“must grant an old-style secure tenancy if … the authority is satisfied that … the person or a member of the person’s household is or has been a victim of domestic abuse”.

Can the noble Lord explain how a victim is to “satisfy” a local authority that they are the victim of domestic abuse? Does he agree that if a victim seeks a letter from a doctor to show that they are a victim, they should not ever be charged for such a letter? A small minority of doctors have charged victims for letters so that they can access legal aid for domestic abuse. I think that that is completely wrong. No one should ever have to pay money to confirm that they are the victim of a crime in order to seek help and protection. Does he further agree that no one should ever have to pay anyone to satisfy a local authority that they are the victim of a crime and need help?

The noble Lord, Lord Porter of Spalding, raised the important issue of widening the scope of the legislation to include all registered social landlords. I agree entirely with that, as I do with his comments about the need for more social housing, more council housing and real social rents, not the unaffordable rent model that the Government are so keen on delivering.

It is also important to point out that, although this Bill is welcome, it cannot be considered in isolation. The proposed DCLG/DWP short-term housing funding reforms are seen as a real threat to refuges, a point mentioned by many noble Lords in the debate. The loss of places through the closure of refuges is unacceptable. My noble friend Lord Lipsey referred to this in his remarks. As a councillor, in the past I have had a limited involvement with refuges and I know what a valuable service they provide, and the wonderful, important work they do cannot be overstated. The reality is that we need more places and we should not be putting at risk the places we have at present. Combining refuges with other short-term supported housing services and removing them entirely from the welfare system is both cruel and risky, and something which I hope will be consigned to the dustbin before it gets off the drawing board.

The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, certainly highlights the fact that these issues need to be addressed across government and all departments; it cannot be dealt with in silos.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, referred to what happens when local authorities do not have any housing of their own. It is a very important point, which I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, will respond to.

In conclusion, I thank my noble friend Lady Lister and the Minister for introducing this Bill. It is the right thing to do as it corrects a wrong and we wish it a speedy passage through your Lordships’ House.

17:38
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in what has been an excellent debate across a range of issues connected with domestic abuse, sometimes going quite a bit further than the targeted and specific Bill before us. However, I will try to do justice to the contributions that have been made. Where I do not do so, either through lack of time, or more likely through lack of knowledge, I will make sure that those points are covered in correspondence to noble Lords and place a copy in the Library.

As many noble Lords have said, the evil and scourge of domestic abuse has come to the fore only relatively recently in the graphic terms it has. I am sure that in all quarters of the House, and indeed throughout the country, this issue is now very high on people’s agendas. As noble Lords have noted, most graphically the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, the Prime Minister is very much wedded to ensuring that action is taken in this area to tackle what, as I say, is a real scourge. That point was also made by my noble friends Lady Hodgson and Lady Bertin, by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester in a powerful contribution, and indeed by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. If this is what she can do on a day trip, imagine what she could do on a longer-term posting. I am not sure that the Labour Party will have the sense to ensure that that happens, but there we are. It has been a very good day’s work, if that is what it is—in all honesty, I think it has been more than that.

I also pay tribute to all the domestic abuse services throughout the country. I have seen some excellent examples of what has been done by local authorities over the last year to 18 months in Liverpool, Newcastle, Norwich, Fenland, Hampshire, London and elsewhere. I also pay tribute, as others have, to the work of some of our partner bodies: Refuge, Women’s Aid and many others that have worked incredibly hard on this area.

I thank noble Lords for their support for this targeted Bill. I repeat that it is very targeted—laser-like, almost. It is something I would like to see us bank. That is not to say that the other issues are not important, but to get this on to the statute book we have to keep it tight. That said, questions have been raised about the particular issue the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, raised on termination of a joint tenancy and somebody staying in the property. That is something I would like to have a look at, as I have indicated to her. Perhaps she and I, together with officials, could look to see a way forward there. I undertake to do just that.

Let me try to deal with some of the questions raised. For those that I am unable to deal with I will ensure that full responses go to noble Lords, who I am sure will appreciate that some of the questions are well beyond the department’s brief and certainly well beyond my knowledge, but I will make sure that full responses come forward.

I will deal first with the regulations. The noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Hamwee, in particular raised this, but many others touched on it as well, such as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. As I said, we are working on those regulations. I will certainly cover in a letter to noble Lords exactly where we have got to on them. When the Housing and Planning Act went through I think we discussed one particular situation where people downsize. That is certainly something that we would want to cover. I will make sure that noble Lords are updated on that ahead of Committee.

I was also asked by various noble Lords about evidential requirements. I am always grateful for noble Lords exaggerating my powers, but I do not think I am in a position to pontificate on precise evidential requirements that come forward relating to establishing domestic abuse. This is something that local authorities have to identify. I will certainly cover this again in a letter, but the legislation deliberately does not go into this because those decisions are currently being made, as far as the department can see, very effectively. Obviously practice will vary from area to area, but this is a matter that is dealt with at present.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. I do not think anyone is suggesting that it should be put in the legislation but, given that there has been a consultation on guidance to local authorities, which someone said has just ended, would it not be appropriate for that guidance to include guidance to local authorities about how to implement this Bill and the evidence they should be looking for? I think that is what noble Lords were saying.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the noble Baroness. As I said, this is something local authorities are doing already. They have to make decisions about identification of domestic abuse at present without this legislation. I am saying that the legislation is not altering the position. I will happily cover that in the letter, if I may.

There was a question regarding training for local authorities. Training goes on at the moment. The new code of guidance on homelessness will advise local authorities about the need to have appropriate policies and training in place. We provide funding to the National Homelessness Advice Service to provide training, which is taken up by many—probably most—local authorities. For example, we provided funding to the National Practitioner Support Service for domestic abuse awareness training for front-line housing staff in 2016. That trained 232 front-line housing staff across nine English regions. In addition, a number of local authorities used funding from our £20 million fund for specialist accommodation-based support and service reform to meet the priorities for domestic abuse services to provide training programmes. So training is going on at the moment. Again, I will expand on that in the letter that I will ensure goes to noble Lords.

Broader questions were raised, many of which I can understand and empathise with. The noble Lord, Lord Porter, said that I would have been disappointed if he did not raise the issue of supply. I am not sure that “disappointed” is the mot juste, but he is right that I would have been surprised. Clearly, there is an issue of supply, so perhaps I would have been disappointed; we cannot be complacent about the supply of housing across the piece, and we need to look at that.

Other noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Farmer, Lady Manzoor and Lady Hodgson, raised broader questions about the need to ensure that this agenda is carried forward however hard pressed the legislative programme is. I certainly agree with that and give the undertaking that the Government will do so, because it is absolutely at the forefront of our thinking.

The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, raised some pertinent questions, some of which were picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, is right that there is power in present legislation for perpetrators of domestic abuse to be forced out of the premises in question. I will endeavour to find out how that is being used, because, as noble Lords indicated, there is clearly a question about how effective it is. I will see what statistics we have and ensure that whatever evidence we have comes round before Committee stage. It is a valid point: we are tending here, understandably, to focus on the victim, but we want not to advantage the perpetrator of the domestic abuse. Often—perhaps not as often as one would like—there will be criminal proceedings and the perpetrator will end up in prison, but there is not any guarantee of that. As we know, some domestic abuse is more insidious; it is not always direct, physical violence, so I accept that there are issues of evidence and proof. I will see what I can find on that, because it is important to look at this issue further.

Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I understand that, under the Small Tenements Recovery Act 1838, it was possible for a local authority to go to a court and evict without having to produce the justification. The position as I understand it from the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, is that there would have to be a proceeding and the court would then have to decide whether it was satisfied that the abuse was sufficient to warrant. I am asking this question because I am not altogether convinced that local authorities, realising that they may have to go into proceedings to argue the scale of the abuse, will be prepared to do it. They may say, “It’s better from our point of view simply to leave the abuser in place without taking any action”. That is why it is important that the Minister follows this up in some detail.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a powerful case that I accept. As I have said, I want to see how much this provision is taken up, how effective it has been over the years and the number of cases where perhaps it might have been used but has not.

I shall try to pick up some other points that were raised. Any that I have not covered I will ensure are covered in the write-around. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, raised a question about the consultation that has just closed on residence tests. I will ensure that that is taken up. It has just closed, he is absolutely right. We anticipate that the residence requirement—or the non-residence requirement—will be carried forward to ensure that victims of domestic abuse are placed in the position he indicated and that I agree with him that they should be in.

The most important thing I can do, in closing, is to give an undertaking in relation to the very pertinent point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, about the termination of joint tenancies. I will follow that up. Some of the other specific points that were raised were a little off-piste—legal aid and so on—but if the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, wants a fuller response I will make sure that it comes to him, but that will not be in the context of this Bill.

I thank noble Lords very much for their support, which will make it much easier to carry this legislation through and then to tackle the domestic abuse situation on a broader front. In closing I once again thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, whose rigour and charming determination has ensured that we are where we are today.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before the noble Lord sits down, I think it is fair to say that in the debate this afternoon there were two groups of issues. One group covers a wider area and is probably not in scope for amendments and stuff, but there are some other points where noble Lords raised some practical issues about the legislation and how we go forward with things. I am sure that the noble Lord will be available to meet Members of the House to discuss these. We do not want to get the Bill on the statute book and find ourselves, six months down the line, thinking, “If we had only put a little amendment in, this could have solved another problem”. I think that some of the issues raised around the House deserve further attention before Committee.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was not quite sure what the Minister meant when he talked about the current consultation. Did he go on to answer the specific questions of a number of noble Lords about what happens if, say, someone who has a tenancy in Luton leaves and goes to Leicester? Will this apply to them when they get to Leicester?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Let me deal with the devolved Administrations point first. As noble Lords can imagine, with my background I am usually very hot on devolved Administration situations. First, we clearly have areas where we can legislate and areas where we cannot. In Scotland, we are not in a position to legislate: this is something that is devolved. That said, we have established relationships with officials—I did ask this of officials—where this sort of issue is raised. I am sure that, in this event, it would be done at official level to ensure that something could be done on the basis of reciprocity. One thing I was very keen on in DCLG, and carried forward, is that we established a devolved forum where such issues are looked at, because we want to have best practice across the four legislatures within the United Kingdom. It is being done at that level, if I can cover it that way. I had a written note on this but I missed it when I was reading my notes.

In relation to somebody who has a tenancy in Hounslow, let us say, and wants to move to Doncaster, that will be, if not the norm, a pretty common situation. The intention is for the legislation to cover that. The point on the devolved Administrations is that it has to be done on the basis of reciprocity, rather than legislation, but it is central to the legislation that we want to cover the Luton-to-Leicester situation that the noble Baroness referred to.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, referred to points that we would not want to miss. I agree, but with the proviso that it has to be within the very targeted scope of this legislation. There may be very many desiderata that we would want to do that are not within the commitment that we gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and I would not want this legislation to be opened up on that basis. However, within the scope of delivering the commitment that we gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and that is in the manifesto, and extending it to look, as I have indicated we will, at the very particular situation, I would not want to open it up on too broad a front, otherwise we risk losing the legislation. I make that gentle point. I am very happy to discuss points but, as I say, I do not want to raise false hopes about having a large piece of legislation here: this is very specific and targeted at a specific promise.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill [HL]

Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 24th January 2018

(6 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Act 2018 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 76-I(Rev) Revised marshalled list for Committee (PDF, 72KB) - (23 Jan 2018)
Committee
16:46
Clause 1: Duty to grant old-style secure tenancies: victims of domestic abuse
Amendment 1
Moved by
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, at end insert “the same or”
Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 1 and speak to Amendment 3, in my name and those of a number of other noble Lords.

The purpose of the two amendments combined is to ensure that the welcome protection this Bill provides to survivors of domestic abuse who give up a secure tenancy covers those who remain in their home and who are granted a new sole tenancy in place of an existing joint tenancy. I am not a lawyer or a housing expert, but I am fortunate in that my good friend Andrew Arden QC is both, and I am grateful to him and his colleague Justin Bates for their help with this amendment.

The amendment addresses a lacuna in the Bill identified by a number of noble Lords at Second Reading. The Minister responded positively with the undertaking to meet to see whether we could find a way forward. True to his word, we met the next day. However, unlike the Minister, the wheels of government move rather slowly and so, while I am confident that we will find a way forward, in the meantime it falls to me to suggest what that way forward might look like.

Before I restate the case, I will say a word again about terminology. First, as some of us noted at Second Reading, while it is true that men as well as women can suffer domestic abuse, women are the main victims, especially of the most serious and sustained forms of abuse; it is thus women who are most likely to have to give up a tenancy because of it. Women’s Aid reminds us of the importance of retaining a gendered understanding of domestic abuse in its various forms. I would like to thank Women’s Aid for all its support on the Bill and pay tribute to its work on behalf of victims of domestic abuse.

Secondly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, rightly observed at Second Reading, the language of victims gives a false impression of,

“passivity in the face of ill treatment”.—[Official Report, 9/1/18; col.139.]

Yes, we are talking about victims of domestic abuse, but these victims are also survivors with agency.

We tend to talk about women fleeing domestic abuse because that is the most common scenario, as a woman escapes a harmful and dangerous situation and tries to find a place of safety, often in a refuge and often in another local authority area—the subject of the next amendments. But there are cases where the perpetrator is removed by the local authority or the police. Indeed, I heard of just such a case last week where the police had removed the perpetrator. Interestingly, it would appear to be government policy to encourage this where it is safe for the woman to remain in the home and she does not want to leave it. This is partly to avoid the upheaval involved in moving home, and—even under the old legislation—a desire not to lose the security of an existing secure tenancy.

Women’s Aid quotes a key worker from Solace Women’s Aid who told researchers that many of the women with whom she worked were reluctant to leave a secure tenancy and that some would take massive risks rather than give it up. Where children are involved, we should not underestimate the impact of frequent moves on them, their schooling, their friendships and their general sense of security and belonging. The policy to encourage removal of the perpetrator, where safe to do so, is also motivated by a desire to prevent him from benefiting from the abuse by driving his partner from the home, as spelled out in the recent consultation document, Improving Access to Social Housing for Victims of Domestic Abuse. This concern was raised by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours at Second Reading, when he talked about possible “unintended consequences” where a perpetrator might remain in the home. I suspect it is a situation that might become more common, even if we are talking at present about a very small minority—and even if it is a small minority, minorities matter.

Where it is the perpetrator who leaves the home and there is a joint tenancy, I am advised that it is usual practice for a new sole tenancy to be granted in the name of the survivor. As I pointed out at Second Reading, this make sense, because otherwise the perpetrator could give notice to quit and terminate the joint tenancy at some future date, thereby depriving his victim of both her rights and any real sense of security. And what if she dies? This would enable the perpetrator to move back in and continue as an old-style secure tenant, which would make a mockery of this law.

It was clear at Second Reading that this would be a totally uncontroversial amendment, which would have the support of all parts of your Lordships’ House. I hope, therefore, that the Minister—who has throughout been most supportive on the issue—will be able to give the House an assurance that he will be able to bring forward his own amendment on Report. I beg to move.

Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I remind the House that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I reiterate our strong support for the Bill from these Benches, in the expectation that the Government will be willing either to accept these amendments or to bring forward their own on Report. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, referred to these amendments representing a solution to a lacuna in the Bill. I think that she is entirely right and I support all the points that she has made. Put simply, this has raised the very important issue of what a secure tenancy is. Now we will be in a position—assuming the Government do come back on Report with their own amendment—to ensure the right of victims to stay in their existing home, in the case of a joint tenancy, in addition to being able to move home, which is provided for in the Bill. So I declare our support for both Amendments 1 and 3.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, as this is my first contribution in Committee, I draw the House’s attention to my registered interests, namely as a councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. My noble friend Lady Lister moved Amendment 1 in great detail. I fully support that amendment and the intention behind it—as I do Amendment 3.

This issue was, as we heard, raised by my noble friend at Second Reading and deals with the situation where a victim of domestic violence has a joint tenancy with the perpetrator but wants to remain in the property and wants some security and to avoid upheaval. They need to be granted a new secure sole tenancy, rather than the joint tenancy that they have at that time. My noble friend highlighted the risk of the perpetrator remaining on the tenancy and the problem of them being able to effectively cancel that tenancy. I hope that the Minister agrees that this is an issue and will say that he will come back with an amendment on Report. I certainly fully support these amendments and the intention behind them.

Baroness Manzoor Portrait Baroness Manzoor (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I rise briefly from these Benches to say that I fully support what the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, said. I think that it clarifies the situation for victims and survivors; it is very important that people have a right to stay in the home that they love and where their children are being brought up.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and Wales Office (Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, very much indeed for bringing forward this amendment and for her positive engagement on this issue. I also thank the noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord Kennedy, and my noble friend Lady Manzoor who spoke in support of the amendment. I absolutely understand and support the intention of Amendments 1 and 3 to extend the Bill to offer protection not just to tenants seeking to escape domestic abuse but to those who remain in their existing home after the perpetrator has left. That issue was discussed at Second Reading. I absolutely support that intention.

Amendment 1 seeks to extend the Bill so that it applies where a local authority grants a further tenancy to a lifetime tenant in the same home. I listened carefully to the debate at Second Reading and I have found this further discussion in Committee very useful. Granting a further “sole” lifetime tenancy to survivors of domestic abuse who remain in their current home would go further than the original purpose of the Bill, which was to ensure that lifetime tenants were protected where they had to leave their home. However, I recognise that there is a strong, indeed overwhelming, case for ensuring that lifetime tenants who have suffered domestic abuse—I absolutely accept that usually these victims are women—and remain in their home are given the same level of protection as those who have been forced to leave. That is logical and sensible. It would safeguard against the perpetrator bringing the joint tenancy to an end—either tenant may terminate a joint tenancy by serving a notice to quit—or returning to the property. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, made a very forceful point in that regard. It would also be in line with the Government’s wider policy of ensuring that victims of abuse and their families are provided with the stability and security that they need and deserve.

As I said at Second Reading, protecting victims of domestic abuse is a priority for the Prime Minister and the Government. However, while I am sympathetic to the intention behind these amendments, I do not think that they would work in practice as they presume that a local authority would be able to grant a secure tenancy where the tenant has an assured housing association tenancy—that is, in a property which the local authority does not own. This is because a “qualifying tenancy” in the Bill includes both secure local authority and assured housing association tenancies. This point is relatively technical but nevertheless important in terms of the amendment.

In addition, the link to removing the risk of further abuse is maintained. This may not be the most appropriate test where the victim remains in the home and the perpetrator has moved out. However, I am able to give an absolute undertaking that we will bring forward an amendment—or amendments, if necessary—on Report that will meet the intention behind these amendments and ensure that, where local authorities offer a new tenancy to a lifetime tenant in their own home, this must be a further lifetime tenancy where the tenant is a victim of domestic abuse.

I am very happy to work with the noble Baroness and other noble Lords to achieve what we clearly all want in this regard. I hope that the commitment I am giving to extend the Bill to include tenants who remain in their homes will give noble Lords and the noble Baroness the reassurance they seek. As I say, I will be very happy to work with noble Lords in this regard. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in support of the amendment. In particular, I am extremely grateful to the Minister. I am very happy with his reassurance. As I said, I am neither a housing expert nor a lawyer, so I will certainly not argue about technicalities. The Minister has given a very firm commitment, which is exactly what I was hoping for. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendment 2
Moved by
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 9, after “tenant)” insert “and regardless of whether the qualifying tenancy is in the jurisdiction of another local authority”
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, Amendment 2 standing in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, comes back to an issue raised at Second Reading by myself and other noble Lords.

This is only a probing amendment. I was very grateful for the helpful letter that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, issued last week. To be clear: the issue here is that victims of domestic violence should be protected and not have impediments put in the way of their feeling safe and secure. That may include wanting to move elsewhere in England or to other parts of the United Kingdom. When the noble Lord responds, it would be useful if he could set out how this provision will work in practice. Different practice applies in different authorities. While they all have the best intentions in this regard, things sometimes go wrong—and that is just in England. Therefore, I would be grateful if the noble Lord would set out how he believes this provision will work and what the Government will do to ensure that there are no unintended impediments or problems for people in a very difficult situation who may seek to move elsewhere in the country. I beg to move.

17:00
Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I support this amendment and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, that it is a probing amendment. I will ask the Minister a specific question about the obligations of housing associations. In a message on 19 January the Minister said:

“In a housing association property the tenancy standard protects social tenants who had a lifetime tenancy granted before April 2012 by requiring that they must be given a further lifetime tenancy if they move to another social rented home”.


The meaning of that is clear. However, what is the position for those granted a housing association tenancy after April 2012 who may be victims of domestic abuse? If they move to a local authority home, again, the situation is clear. But what advice will the Government give to housing associations which will not have the same obligation to give a lifetime tenancy if a tenant moves to another housing association property?

Lord Porter of Spalding Portrait Lord Porter of Spalding (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of the Local Government Association and as the leader of South Holland District Council. I put on record my personal support and the wider sector’s support for the Bill. I am not aware of any council in the country that would want to resist any of the good proposals in the Bill. However, as the Minister said earlier on the previous set of amendments, and as the noble Lord opposite just raised, there is an anomaly between types of landlord. While the Government may not be able to compel registered social landlords to offer like-for-like tenancies, given that most registered social landlords use taxpayers’ money to build those homes in the first place, perhaps the Minister could find a form of words that would give some form of encouragement to anybody who is expecting to get taxpayer-funded properties of the expectation that they would voluntarily put their properties into a scheme that allowed secure tenancies for victims of domestic abuse if they should happen to flee to an area where the council is not the primary landlord.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I support this amendment. Towards the end of Second Reading I questioned the Minister about this issue during his summing up. He responded:

“The intention is for the legislation to cover that”.—[Official Report, 9/1/18; col. 161.]


Later on he said that,

“it is central to the legislation that we want to cover the Luton-to-Leicester situation”,

that I had referred to. I invite the Minister to say something rather more definitive now, because “intention” and “want” seem to me, as a non-lawyer, perhaps not to give quite the reassurance that somebody in this situation might look for in the legislation. Therefore, if it is necessary to spell it out more explicitly in the legislation, perhaps the Minister could give a commitment to come back on that on Report, or, at the very least, if the legislation covers it now, he could make a more explicit statement at this stage.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated in the debate on Amendment 2. I will try to deal with the various points that have, understandably, been raised on this. The amendment aims to ensure that the requirement to offer a lifetime tenancy would apply where the victim of domestic abuse applies to be rehoused in another local authority district.

Before I come on to that specific issue, I will deal with the housing association point that was made. I agree with the summary of where we are at the moment that was provided by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and I take the point he made about the gap. My noble friend Lord Porter also addressed this issue and asked me—kindly exaggerating my powers and talking them up—to come up with a form of words on housing associations. We covered this point to some extent at Second Reading, when I said that housing associations are of course now bodies that we cannot give directions to without compromising the position of being off balance sheet and that therefore the legislation has been designed with that very much in mind. That said, of course the Government are totally sympathetic to that position. If I may, I would like to come back on Report and say something in relation to this issue, but I do not want to hold out the hope of being able to do anything other than possibly indicating what we think is a morally defensible position.

I move on to the very specific and fair point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, in relation to the legislation. My background is as a lawyer and I think I can say without fear of contradiction that this drafting provides for moving from, for example, Luton to Leicester. That is very much the intention and the reality of this legislation. We recognise that in many, although not all, cases that is exactly what somebody will seek to do—they will not want to remain in their local authority area because of the nature of the domestic abuse and the possibility of the perpetrator being in that area, there being difficult memories and so on. Therefore, this proposed provision is totally unnecessary —I will not say ineffective—because that is what the legislation provides for. I want to nail that down and, on that basis, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Lord for that explanation, which I will certainly read with interest after the debate. With that, I am very happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.
Amendment 3 not moved.
Amendment 4
Moved by
4: Clause 1, page 1, line 15, at end insert—
“(2AA) The Secretary of State must by regulations issue guidance as to— (a) the identification of persons entitled to be offered a tenancy under subsection (2A) including the evidence required of domestic abuse, and(b) the training of local authority officials in matters relevant to the exercise of the duties of local authorities under subsection (2A).(2AB) Before issuing the guidance the Secretary of State must consult such persons and the representatives of such persons as he or she considers appropriate.(2AC) Regulations under this section shall be made by statutory instrument and may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.”
Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this amendment seeks to ensure that, after consultation, the Government issue guidance to local authorities about, first, the identification of survivors of domestic abuse entitled to a new old-style secure tenancy under the Bill, including appropriate evidence requirements, and, secondly, the training of local authority officials who will be responsible for the exercise of the duties contained in the Bill.

The amendment is tabled jointly with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who I do not think is in her place today but to whom I am grateful for her help with its drafting and for her general support on the Bill. It is tabled also with the support of my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark.

Our aim in tabling it was to enable a proper, focused discussion on two issues raised at Second Reading by a number of noble Lords: evidence requirements and training. These are concerns raised by Women’s Aid, which, although giving the Bill a warm welcome, nevertheless has warned that, for its goal to be achieved, it is crucial that new guidance is issued to local authorities on these two matters.

Our focus is mainly on the question of evidence but I repeat the point that I made at Second Reading: that the poor treatment of some domestic abuse survivors by housing officers—sometimes, according to research, portraying victim-blaming attitudes—indicates that, despite what the Minister said in his helpful letter to Peers, there is still some way to go to ensure that all officials exercising such responsibilities are adequately trained. That is particularly the case given the welcome wide definition of “abuse” in the Bill, as concepts such as controlling behaviour and emotional, financial or psychological abuse are, I believe, still not widely understood. Such training for relevant professionals is, after all, required by Article 15 of the Istanbul convention.

Turning to the question of evidence, at Second Reading the Minister responded to concerns raised by pointing out that identifying survivors of domestic abuse is something that local authorities are doing already and that this legislation does not alter that. In his letter to Peers, he repeated the point and referred to the updated homelessness code of practice, which, he said, will provide extensive advice to help local authorities to handle cases that involve domestic abuse, including on what sort of corroborative evidence might be appropriate. However, unless I have missed something, as far as I can see, the draft homelessness code, on which the Government have recently consulted, simply says that housing authorities may,

“wish to seek information from friends and relatives of the applicant, social services and the police, as appropriate. In some cases, corroborative evidence of actual or threatened violence may not be available, for example, because there were no adult witnesses and/or the applicant was too frightened or ashamed to report incidents to family, friends or the police”.

I do not consider that extensive guidance, and it comes nowhere near what Women’s Aid is recommending.

Women’s Aid’s experience and research suggests considerable inconsistency in how local authorities exercise their current responsibilities towards survivors of domestic abuse. In a small number of cases in a study which tracked 404 women unable to access a refuge space in 2016-17, the housing authority did not consider domestic abuse to be a significant risk factor meriting a homelessness application. Women’s Aid cites examples of women being told to return to the perpetrator or to come back when the situation got worse. It argues persuasively that it is crucial that there is clear national guidance as to how to apply this legislation.

A key area is what constitutes appropriate evidence. In particular, Women’s Aid argues that such evidence should not be confined to that arising from interaction with the criminal justice system because most women experiencing domestic abuse do not report to the police and may have little or no contact with the criminal justice system. As I suggested at Second Reading, the revised evidence requirements for the legal aid domestic violence gateway offer one possible model, as it has been significantly widened to include evidence from health professionals, domestic abuse services and refuges. However this is not exhaustive, and in a note on evidence requirements which I have passed to officials, Women’s Aid provides a list of other possible sources of evidence which could be included in guidance, but again emphasises that these should not be presented as prescriptive or exhaustive.

The amendment also provides for there to be consultation prior to the issue of such guidance. This should go beyond the usual written consultation document seeking responses to a set of written questions. It would be useful, too, for officials to sit down with those who work with survivors of domestic abuse, such as Women’s Aid. Ideally, it might also be helpful to hear from survivors who have had experience of trying to prove they have suffered domestic abuse. Increasingly there is recognition of the value of listening to what is sometimes called “experts by experience”.

As I have said, although the Minister initially responded that he did not believe additional guidance was necessary, I welcome the fact that he has an open mind on this. In his letter he said:

“We will certainly consider whether it would be helpful to provide further guidance in the context of this Bill”.


I hope that today’s debate will persuade him of the case for doing so and that he and officials will find it helpful when considering such further guidance. I beg to move.

Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My noble friend Lady Hamwee has put her name to this amendment but at present she has to be elsewhere in the House.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, that this is an important amendment. It is important that the Government consult on how local authorities should collect evidence and on how their officials should be trained. The two issues are closely related.

Perhaps I may give an example of a problem that could arise if procedures are not properly understood by staff in a local authority. Consider the case of a housing association tenant in one local authority area moving to another local authority area—possibly some long distance away—and having to request rehousing by that other local authority, not by a housing association. This raises issues of the collection of evidence and an understanding of the statutory responsibility of that new local authority to give assistance. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, has explained the issue clearly and I hope the Government are prepared to consult widely to ensure that the guidance is better than it might otherwise be. It will be crucial in assisting local authority officers to fulfil their statutory duties.

In terms of the training needed on what evidence is required, housing officers will need to understand that victims of abuse may have difficulty presenting essential evidence. The ability to listen and to obtain relevant information will be very important. For that reason, I have been thinking about how the training might be organised. I would suggest that local authorities should not try to do it all by themselves. Given that there are many local housing authorities in England, would it not be better if they were brought together to organise training in this area across boundaries? There are two benefits in that. It would lead to better and more professional training, and it would enable staff from different councils to meet each other, as well as enabling the staff of local authorities and housing associations to do so. That informal communication will help in a case that is particularly difficult or complex.

17:15
Lord Elystan-Morgan Portrait Lord Elystan-Morgan (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am sympathetic to and fully support the sentiments tendered by the two noble Lords who have spoken. During the years I spent as a judge, I often came to the conclusion that violence could eat like acid into the mentality and the heart of a lawful society. What we often forget is that although we are horrified by the idea of violence taking place in the open street—fights with knives, bicycle chains and so on—so much of it takes place behind the closed door of the ordinary home. That is why we should concentrate as much as we possibly can on this aspect.

There is often a cavalier attitude on the part of police officers, although only among a minority, and in local government. I came across the phrase, “It’s a domestic matter”, as if it were somehow or other beyond the pale of respectability and therefore not to be taken all that seriously. The fact that it is often a one-to-one situation and that no third or fourth party is present does not mean that it ends there. If we think about it, the vast majority of rape cases are one-to-one situations. If we were to demand that there should be a third or fourth party present, most rape prosecutions would never get off the ground at all. You have to do the best you can by sifting and analysing the evidence on the basis of a one-to-one situation. Of course sometimes there will be corroborative evidence by way of injury or something of that nature, but there is nothing inherently wrong in a one-to-one situation where you have to decide whether a serious charge being made by one person is in fact true in the circumstances. If I speak the obvious, I apologise for that, but more often than not worthy complaints are dismissed in this way.

There is a fundamental reluctance in the weaker party, who inevitably in most cases is the woman, to take the matter further. Sometimes that is out of consideration of the children and sometimes due to the fact that she wants to remain in the home. It can be because of her total economic dependence on the man. In many cases, the odds are stacked against her and therefore anything that can be done to ease her path to a just and proper settlement is very much to be commended.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, Amendment 4, moved by my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett and supported by me and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, puts a requirement in the Bill for the Secretary of State to issue guidance to local authorities on the implementation of the policy. As with the previous amendment, it seeks to get some consistency into the process by providing guidance on identifying, recognising and supporting the survivors. The guidance must also address the issue of training because there can be an inconsistency of approaches between local authorities.

During the debate at Second Reading, I spoke about my visit to the domestic violence unit at Greenwich police station. I was really impressed by the work that the officers were doing, but also horrified by some of the terrible things I learned that people can do to others. What I found out was really horrific. The abuse can take many forms. It can be physical, sexual, emotional, financial, controlling, or coercive. The housing officers dealing with the victims have to have the knowledge and expertise to recognise the abuse and then be able to respond effectively to it. This is too important and too serious to leave without proper training for the housing officers who will be assessing each case. The point of the amendment about consultation is again very important. We have to get this right. I certainly fully support the amendment. I look forward to the noble Lord’s response.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and other noble Lords who have participated in the debate on this amendment, which relates to evidence and training. I understand what has motivated the amendment. I will deal with where we are at the moment and then what I propose to do in relation to it.

Local authorities are used to making decisions when people apply for social housing that require them to identify whether the applicant has been a victim of domestic abuse. While the Bill includes important protections for victims, it does not require local authorities to make decisions relating to domestic abuse which may be qualitatively different from those they already make. We have ensured that the definition of domestic abuse in the Bill is on very similar lines to the definition in the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. This should help to ensure a consistent approach by local authorities. I appreciate that this is not the main point that has been made on consistency, but there is an issue here that it is important to address.

As the noble Baroness set out, the current 2014 statutory homelessness guidance recognises that local authorities may wish to seek information from a range of sources, including friends and relatives, social services and the police, but it also recognises that corroborative evidence of actual or threatened violence may not be available. That is a point that the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, made—I was going to call him my noble friend; he is my friend, but not my noble friend—that corroborative evidence will often not be available, for example, because there were no adult witnesses and maybe because the applicant was too frightened or ashamed to report incidents to family, friends or the police. These are issues that I recognise do exist.

As the noble Baroness again pointed out, we have had a consultation on an updated homelessness code of guidance. It finished on 11 December last year. It will cover the Homelessness Reduction Act duties, integrate separate documents published since 2006, and update and streamline guidance on existing law. The consultative draft provides extensive advice to help local authorities handle cases that involve domestic abuse, including on what sort of corroborative evidence might be appropriate. This final code of guidance will be published in spring this year. I will of course ensure that noble Lords who participated in the debate receive a copy of it as it is made available.

In addition, I was very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for drawing my attention and that of the House to the domestic violence gateway for legal aid during Second Reading and for forwarding me a document prepared by Women’s Aid on evidence requirements regarding victims of domestic abuse, which I consider very helpful. In addition to the consultation and the evidence brought forward on the responses to it, I am ensuring that we consider the documents supplied by Women’s Aid with the other responses. I will be taking a close personal interest in the development of the code, as will the Minister in the Commons, my honourable friend Heather Wheeler, who is responsible for policy in this area.

The consultative draft of the homelessness code of guidance also advises local authorities about the need to have appropriate policies and training in place to identify and respond to domestic abuse. It advises that specialist training for staff and managers on domestic abuse will help them to provide a more sensitive response and to identify, with applicants, housing options that are safe and appropriate to their needs. In addition, the Government already provide funding to the National Homelessness Advisory Service to provide training on homelessness. This includes training specifically on domestic abuse.

We have provided funding to the National Practitioner Support Service to provide domestic abuse awareness training for front-line housing staff in local authorities in 2016, resulting in the training of 232 front-line housing staff across nine English regions. I recognise the point made, inter alia, by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, about the need for consistency in ensuring that we have a national approach. I will ensure that that is fed in to the consultation.

In addition, a number of local authorities used funding from our 2016-18 £20 million fund for specialist accommodation-based support and service reform to meet the priorities for domestic abuse services to provide training programmes for their front-line staff. Much of the training is collaborative.

I do not believe that it is necessary to issue formal guidance to local authorities to support them to implement the Bill, but, as I have said, I accept the point about the need for consistency in training and will want to see that reflected in the guidance. It would not be helpful for local housing authorities to have different pieces of guidance on domestic abuse; we need to bring them together, as we are doing in this case.

With the undertaking to ensure that the Women’s Aid document is considered in relation to the guidance—I will also ensure that our debate in Committee is available as a further document in relation to the guidance— I respectfully ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment. Although very good points have been made in relation to it, I remind noble Lords that this legislation has a laser-like focus on specific issues. Nevertheless, the department finds input on this very valuable and I will ensure that it is carried forward in relation to development of the code.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken and made helpful points to amplify the case that I put forward. I am grateful also to the Minister for engaging with the points made, as is his wont. I do not think that anyone is saying that there should be two separate sets of guidance—obviously, it makes sense to put them together—but what we are saying is that the existing guidance does not go far enough. It would need to go further anyway, but this Bill has helped point to that fact.

I am pleased that the Minister will look at what Women’s Aid has submitted. It would be helpful if at some stage officials could sit down with members of Women’s Aid to talk through some of the issues, because you can get a lot more out of face-to-face conversations than from something simply in writing. Perhaps the Minister might like to respond on that.

Given that later this year—no one quite knows when—we will see not just a domestic violence Bill but policy around it, thought might be given to how central government monitors the effectiveness of the current domestic violence legislation in relation to housing to make sure that the evidence requirements and the training are going well. At present, there seems to be a big gap between the theory of what local authorities are supposed to be doing and the practice. All of us want to see that gap narrowed. We should not have to rely on Women’s Aid, which has very few resources and probably fewer in future, to do that kind of monitoring. Although the Minister cannot obviously give a commitment, he might at least say that that would be considered.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am certainly very happy to meet with Women’s Aid, as I have in the past, and other organisations such as Refuge, Imkaan and so on. It is an open agenda, and this could well be on the agenda. Officials would as a matter of course be at the meeting as well.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister. I hope that he will also think about or take back the question about monitoring—I do not expect an answer from him now. Given those assurances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 4 withdrawn.
17:30
Amendment 5
Moved by
5: Clause 1, page 1, line 15, at end insert—
“(2AA) A local housing authority which grants an old-style secure tenancy under subsection (2A) has discretion to decide whether or not the maximum rent for the old-style secure tenancy should be determined according to regulation B13 of the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/213) as amended by the Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/3040).”
Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD)
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My Lords, this simple amendment tackles the issue of what happens when someone becomes liable for the underoccupancy deduction, colloquially known as the bedroom tax, either as a result of the perpetrator having been removed from the household or the victim being allocated a new property which has technically too many bedrooms and qualifies for the underoccupancy deduction. The bedroom tax has been estimated to affect more than 400,000 households. We know that it does not apply to women in a refuge and, following the Court of Appeal decision, that it does not apply when someone has had a panic room installed. However, a problem frequently arises when a new local authority seeks to place a woman, and potentially her children, in new housing.

I agree with Women’s Aid, which considers that a victim rehoused with a secure tenancy because she has escaped or is escaping domestic abuse should not be impacted by the underoccupation deduction if it is set to apply as a result of her no longer living with the perpetrator. Women’s Aid has also received evidence from its member services that the bedroom tax is resulting in challenges in securing move-on accommodation. One refuge that secured move-on accommodation for a survivor, under time pressure from local authority specifications that state that refuges can house women only for four months and so have limited time to source appropriate move-on accommodation, received a note saying she would lose £50 a week because of the underoccupation deduction. Such significant financial losses have a severe impact on the ability of women to secure permanent housing after fleeing abuse and may result in many women choosing financial security over safety.

Will the Minister please reflect on this situation, which is likely to affect only a very small number of households? Even if it could be allowed for a transition period, it could save further misery, and potentially further risk, for victims who have already suffered enough.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I support the amendment and would have put my name to it had I known about it. The noble Baroness has made a very strong case. I will not go into a riff about the bedroom tax and keep noble Lords here for the rest of the night—my noble friend Lady Sherlock and I could do a duet on it. The point is that we could undermine the very good intentions of legislation such as this if women are afraid that they are going to be hit by the bedroom tax if either the perpetrator leaves or they leave. This points to the importance of looking at this across departments and doing something about it. Even if something cannot be done now, can it be taken back and put into the pot of thinking about domestic violence strategy?

Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Burt’s amendment. She has made a very strong case and it is an extremely important issue on which guidance, at the very least, will be needed. I think there is a preferable option, which is to put it on the face of the Bill. Whichever approach the Government adopt, I understand there have been suggestions that the Government accept the aim of this policy. I very much hope that they will, but can the Minister confirm that the Government understand the importance, for a limited number of individuals—that is what it will turn out to be—of the Government taking action on this point? It is very important for them.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, moved Amendment 5, on which she makes a very powerful case. The Government need to address this issue. As noble Lords have heard, it would be totally unfair for a victim to be penalised by the bedroom tax due to either the perpetrator having left the property they live in now or the victim having moved somewhere else and finding themselves with one bedroom over the threshold for the tax. That needs to be looked at. It would be wrong if people ended up with additional costs because they are the victim of a crime. As the noble Baroness said, this issue affects very few people, and the Government should address it. I hope the noble Lord will look at it or come back to it on Report.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, for raising this issue.

We would expect local authorities, when offering a tenancy under this Bill, to ensure that, wherever possible, this does not result in the tenant underoccupying the property. Let me make that very clear first of all—I am grateful for the opportunity to do so—that it would not be in the interest of either the tenant or the landlord. Not only would the tenant be subject to the housing benefit adjustment, whose object is to remove the spare room subsidy, but it would also not be the best use of scarce social housing.

Our 2012 statutory allocations guidance clearly recognises that local authorities, when framing the rules that determine the size of property to allocate to different households and in different circumstances, will want to take account of the removal of the spare room subsidy. However, I recognise that there may be some rare cases—it has been indicated that such cases are rare—where, for whatever reason, the local authority allocates a property that has more bedrooms than the tenant needs. In such cases, which, as I say, I would expect to be very few, it would be open to the tenant to apply for a discretionary housing payment to cover any shortfall.

In 2016, the Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to the removal of the spare room subsidy brought by a victim of domestic abuse on the grounds that it amounted to unlawful sex discrimination. That case involved a victim who was being provided with protection under a sanctuary scheme. In that case, the Supreme Court upheld the Government’s policy, which is not to deal with personal circumstances unrelated to the size of the property by the inclusion of general exemptions in the regulations but rather to take account of a person’s individual circumstances separately through the process for discretionary housing payments. The noble Baroness referred to some instances of which she is aware. I would be grateful to have a look at them just to make sure that everything has been done appropriately in those cases.

Since 2011, the Government have provided £900 million to local authorities in funding for discretionary housing payments to support vulnerable claimants, including victims of domestic abuse. There are no plans to withdraw funding for discretionary housing payments; funding for 2018 to 2021 was set out in the Summer Budget 2015. Funding for next year, 2018-19, will be £153 million for England and Wales.

The removal of the spare room subsidy was introduced to bring parity in treatment between the social and private rented sectors, encourage mobility, strengthen work incentives and make better use of available social housing. The rules on the removal of the spare room subsidy already include an exception for victims of domestic abuse in refuges. We do not intend to provide for any further exceptions, but I would be grateful to look at the cases to which the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, referred, to ensure that correct process has been followed.

That said, I have been asked to ensure that this issue is put in the general domestic violence pot, as was referred to, and I am very happy to give that undertaking. I appreciate that there may be a small minority of cases that deserve particular attention, and it is for that reason that I want to look at those cases and pass on any information to the Department for Work and Pensions, which leads on this issue, as the noble Baroness on the Front Bench and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, will know.

With that, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for bringing this issue forward. We want to ensure that vulnerable people are not taken advantage of in this regard and that local authorities are doing what they should be doing in relation to the allocation of housing stock. I would therefore be grateful for that further evidence. I respectfully ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very grateful to the Minister for his comments and his partial reassurance. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, the Minister talked about meeting Women’s Aid, and I think it would be delighted to bring him some examples. For instance, where there is great urgency to place a family and a local authority is not in a position to offer exactly the right size of accommodation, perhaps a transition period could be accommodated.

I am very grateful to the Minister for his very constructive comments, and I note what he said about the discretionary housing payments, which I hope are working. However, when he meets with Women’s Aid and other organisations face to face, that will give him a clear picture. Given those assurances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 5 withdrawn.
Amendment 5A
Moved by
5A: Clause 1, page 1, line 15, at end insert—
“(2AA) The person making the application for an old-style secure tenancy under subsection (2A) must not be charged for obtaining any evidence of domestic abuse if this evidence is required to make the application.”
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, Amendment 5A addresses an issue I raised at Second Reading—namely, that victims are victims and need to be protected and helped. As part of gathering evidence to satisfy a housing officer that they are a victim of domestic violence, they should not have to pay a fee. That is just wrong. One profession where this is an issue is GPs. We all respect doctors and GPs. They provide a vital service in their community, but some GPs charge for writing letters or notes that are outside their contract with the NHS, and for signing forms and things. Most GPs do not, but some do. Charging to sign letters to confirm that someone is a victim of domestic violence is unacceptable, whether it is to enable the victim to provide evidence to the housing department or to access legal aid. It is just wrong. At this stage, this is a probing amendment, but I hope the Minister agrees that this is not a practice we condone. Perhaps we can have a meeting with officials at the Department of Health and Social Care or elsewhere to see what advice and guidance they could provide to health professionals to make it clear that in these cases they should not be charging anyone for letters to confirm that they are the victim of a crime.

Baroness Manzoor Portrait Baroness Manzoor
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. It seems a sensible and reasonable way to proceed. It seems inherently wrong that a woman who has been abused and subjected to domestic violence, who may be financially distressed because she has no money, and who finds it very difficult, has to pay a professional or any other organisation to say that she has been abused. I support this amendment and hope that my noble friend will look at it in a favourable light. If he cannot agree to this wording, perhaps there can be other wording on Report.

Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I add the support of these Benches for this amendment. This seems to us an extremely important issue. Charging in these circumstances would be unacceptable to us. I hope that on Report, or through regulations, the Minister will say something about how the problems that would be caused by charging can be prevented.

17:45
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for bringing forward this issue, which he raised at Second Reading. I also thank other noble Lords who participated in the discussion on this amendment.

I agree that charging a fee to a victim of abuse who is seeking evidence of their abuse to access services is, let us say, far from an ideal situation. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, set out the issue very fairly. Although the amendment is drawn more widely, and does not mention doctors, the point is valid in relation to doctors, for example: as has been the case under Governments of all persuasions, doctors may charge for anything outside the contract relating to NHS services. That is why we are in this position, and obviously policy responsibility rests with the Department of Health and Social Care.

However, I think I have some good news for noble Lords who participated in this debate and who are rightly concerned about this, as others will be too. As data subjects, which we all are under the Data Protection Act, individuals can lawfully ask to be provided with their medical records, without charge, thus obviating the need for a letter altogether. I appreciate we need to get that message out there so people are aware of it, but on that basis, I do not think that this would represent a problem.

I will ensure that I get an update on this issue for noble Lords. Because the amendment was tabled only last night—so it was not late as such; it was within the time limit—we have not had long to investigate the issue and had to seek assistance overnight. We are investigating further with the department, but it appears that this issue should not be a concern; if it is, then it is for the Department of Health and Social Care to discuss further. But I agree that in this sort of situation it would be quite wrong—morally wrong, if not legally wrong—to charge victims in this regard.

I also spoke privately to the noble Lord before today’s sitting, and with that assurance, I hope he feels able to withdraw this amendment.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I apologise to the Committee for arriving so late after amendments to which I had my name, as I was at the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I will not ask the Minister to respond to this, but just put it into the pot. I think he is saying that a person who has been the subject of abuse needs to go and consult a doctor, perhaps, and so get it into the records that advice and assistance has been sought, and then after that ask for the records to be released. I say that because other people involved in this work will look at what has been said and might have comments on it as well as the noble Lord and the Department of Health and Social Care.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Lord for his response. I am sorry I tabled the amendment fairly late, and will bring the issue back much earlier on Report. I hear what he says about the use of a subject access request to get medical records, and I am sure he is right. But imagine you are a victim of a crime, distressed and being told you need some evidence. Asking for your medical records may not be the quickest way to get it. Then what do you do? Do you take a big file down to the housing office? I see the point he is making but we need to find a simpler way.

I agree with the noble Lord that it is morally wrong that a victim goes to a doctor and is then charged £50, £75 or £100 to have a letter written. That is just wrong. I am pleased with what he said, but we need to go a bit further with this, as it is not right. I will certainly bring the issue back on Report. The noble Lord is right that there are other professions that do something similar, but it is a particular problem with GPs. People have the right to have a note written and not be charged for it. I thank the noble Lord for what he said, and I will happily withdraw the amendment at this stage, but I will raise the issue again on Report.

Amendment 5A withdrawn.
Amendment 6
Moved by
6: Clause 1, page 2, line 7, at end insert—
“(2C) Local housing authorities must report annually the number of old-style secure tenancies granted under subsection (2A) of this section to the Secretary State, and the Secretary of State must lay a report containing this information annually before both Houses of Parliament.”
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this amendment in my name, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, would place a requirement on local authorities to report annually to the Secretary of State the number of old-style secure tenancies granted under the Bill. This would be useful information for the Government to collect. It would not be a great burden for local authorities, which already have to provide the department with a wide variety of information on a regular basis. It would be useful if we got to see how many tenancies were being granted, which would provide a better picture of this dreadful crime and the action being taken by local authorities in keeping people safe. I look forward to the Minister’s response. I beg to move.

Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this is an important amendment. It scratches the surface of a number of issues that might actually be reported annually. I hope the Government will look carefully at what information they are going to get. I would like to see how many tenants of housing associations who transfer to a local authority—either the local authority where they have been living or another one—are rehoused with a secure tenancy. I am sure the Minister and his officials will come up with a long list of what local authorities should report on, but it is important to get this right because otherwise we may not know whether the training is being properly undertaken.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for tabling this amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for his contribution.

I am sympathetic to the intention behind Amendment 6; I agree that it is important to monitor the impact of the Bill. However, I do not believe it is necessary to use the Bill to impose an additional duty on local authorities to collect information, or on the ministry to report to Parliament on the information collected. Information on all social housing lettings is collected through the continuous recording system known as CORE and is published annually by the ministry. I believe the data collected through CORE is sufficient to allow the ministry to monitor the impact of the Bill. This is because CORE collects information on the nature of the landlord, the type of tenancy granted, whether the letting is made to a new or existing tenant and the main reason reported by the tenant for leaving their last settled home, including whether this was in relation to domestic abuse.

As I say, while I understand the intention behind the amendment, I cannot support it. To impose a further statutory requirement on local authorities to collect information that is already being provided through CORE would be burdensome, unnecessary and indeed costly. On this basis, I hope the noble Lord agrees to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am happy to withdraw the amendment. I was pleased when I heard from the Minister about the system that we have for recording information. Maybe between now and Report he could see what is actually recorded. It may be that what we need is already there, as he said, but the system might need a tweak to give us absolutely everything. Still, I was very pleased to hear his response, and at this stage I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 6 withdrawn.
Clause 1 agreed.
Amendment 7
Moved by
7: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to review cooperation between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
(1) By the end of the period of six months, beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must publish a review into the potential for future cooperation between local authorities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in relation to the provisions of this Act.(2) The review under subsection (1) must consider how it may be possible to extend the provisions of the Act to ensure that applications for secure tenancies in cases of domestic abuse—(a) from Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland may be considered by local authorities in England;(b) from England, Scotland or Northern Ireland may be considered by local authorities in Wales;(c) from England, Wales or Northern Ireland may be considered by local authorities in Scotland; and(d) from England, Wales or Scotland may be considered by local authorities in Northern Ireland.(3) The review must be laid before both Houses of Parliament.(4) In this section, “local authority” means—(a) in relation to England, the council of a district, county or London borough, the Common Council of the City of London and the Council of the Isles of Scilly;(b) in relation to Wales, the council of a county or county borough; (c) in relation to Scotland, the council of a district or city;(d) in relation to Northern Ireland, the council of a district, borough or city.”
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark
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My Lords, Amendment 7 would insert a new clause requiring the Secretary of State to publish a review into future co-operation between local authorities in each part of the UK. This is another issue that I raised at Second Reading. As I explained, people move around the UK for a variety of reasons, and if a victim wants to move back to a place where they previously lived or where they grew up, to be nearer to family and friends or to have the additional support that they need to get their life back on track, that is something we should all support. As drafted, the Bill applies only to England, but someone could want to move from Birmingham to Belfast or from Coventry to Glasgow, or indeed any number of permutations around the UK.

The Minister recently sent out a very helpful letter setting out the current position, and it would be useful for the record if he set it out in the House today. For me, this is again about ensuring that the victims of this appalling crime are given every help and assistance, and that unnecessary impediments or barriers are not put in people’s way as they go about the process of rebuilding their lives. I hope the Minister can give us that information today. I beg to move.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for moving this amendment; I understand what lies behind it and recognise its benign intention. He will understand that we as a Parliament are not in a position to pass legislation on housing policy in the devolved Administrations. I want to ensure that that is on the record. That said, I agree absolutely that increased co-operation between England and the devolved Administrations on the issue of victims of domestic abuse who need or want to move from one country to another is something that we should consider within the United Kingdom framework. Indeed, there are many other issues when collaboration across the devolved Administrations is desirable.

It is my intention to raise this at the ministry’s devolved Administration round table, which I am due to attend in Cardiff on 19 April. I set up the forum of devolved Administrations with colleagues when I arrived in the ministry some 18 months ago, understanding from my background in Wales how important this collaboration is.

As part of the review, Amendment 7 would require the Government to consider how the Bill’s provisions could be extended to Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, so that any victim of abuse could apply for a lifetime tenancy in another part of the United Kingdom. As noble Lords will understand, there are devolved sensitivities, which I fully understand myself, which means that we do not want to approach the issue in that way. It must be approached, quite correctly, through collaboration. I am sure that there will be a positive response to that, as there has been at other devolved Administrations when we talked about co-operation, for example, relatively recently on Roma/Gypsy/Traveller issues, and others. So I am sure that this will push at an open door.

When a person flees domestic abuse to England from another part of the United Kingdom, the housing authority could not refer them back to where the abuse took place or where they would be at risk of violence or abuse. The housing authority must ensure that the applicant would not be at such a risk. They would then be housed in temporary accommodation or a refuge, and placed on the local authority housing waiting list with appropriate priority. If the person has “priority need”—they will have if they are vulnerable due to having left accommodation because of domestic abuse, or have children in their care—they will be assisted under the homelessness legislation. This means they will be provided with temporary accommodation by the local authority until a settled home is available. Households that are owed the main homelessness duty have reasonable preference—that is, priority—for social housing.

The purpose of the Bill is to remove an impediment that might prevent someone who suffers domestic abuse leaving their abusive situation in England, when the provisions under the Housing and Planning Act 2016 come into force. That Act applies to England only. The current situation for a victim of abuse in another part of the United Kingdom—in Scotland, for example—is that they will not have an impediment to flee their situation for fear of losing their lifetime tenancy, as another council within Scotland will grant them a lifetime tenancy when they are rehoused. The commencement of the Housing and Planning Act does not change this, of course.

As noble Lords are aware, housing is a devolved matter. I do not think that it would be appropriate to include a duty in the Bill, which applies to England only, to consider the potential for amending legislation in other parts of the UK. Indeed, it would be inappropriate. That said, I appreciate that there will be cases where co-operation and collaboration would be the order of the day to deal with difficult cases where people are moving from one nation of the United Kingdom to another. It is with that in mind that I want to raise this at the next devolved forum, which as I said will take place in Cardiff in April. I will certainly ensure that a reply goes out to noble Lords who have participated in the debate, and that a copy of such a letter is placed in the Library to indicate how we see the way forward. I will ensure that that is done, and with that I respectfully ask the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark
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I thank the Minister for his helpful response. We tabled the amendment because of the risk of anomalies; if someone wanted to go back to Glasgow or Belfast, having lived in London, they might find themselves in difficulties. I would hope that that would not be the case, but I am conscious that this is English legislation and people move around the whole of the United Kingdom. I would not want anyone to have any difficulties with going back to another nation.

I am pleased that the Minister is going to raise the issue at the devolved forum in April, but perhaps he could write before then, because that is still three months away. This is an important issue, and it would be good if everyone was clear on that co-operation and collaboration. Equally, it works the other way as well. It is important that everything is done right. I accept entirely that it is not our place to legislate for matters that are devolved, but co-operation and collaboration are the order of the day here. Having said that, I am very grateful for the Minister’s response and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 7 withdrawn.
Clause 2 agreed.
House resumed.
Bill reported without amendment.

Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill [HL]

Report
15:58
Clause 1: Duty to grant old-style secure tenancies: victims of domestic abuse
Amendment 1
Moved by
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, leave out “already” and insert “or was”
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and Wales Office (Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth) (Con)
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My Lords, before I speak to the amendments in my name, and with the permission of the House, I will say a few words about a number of issues which arose during debates in Committee, and which I undertook to speak to again on Report.

During the debate, I said that I would like to come back on Report and say something in relation to housing associations. I appreciate that noble Lords desire to see parity for tenants of local authorities and housing associations, but it is important to be clear that the organisations are very different. They are subject to different drivers and challenges. Local authorities are public sector organisations, and in future they will generally be required by law to give fixed-term tenancies. Housing associations, on the other hand, are private, not-for-profit bodies and will continue to have the freedom to offer lifetime tenancies where they think them appropriate. The vast majority of housing associations are charities whose charitable objectives require the organisation to put tenants at the heart of everything that they do. Their purpose is to provide and manage homes for people in housing need.

Many associations take their responsibilities for people fleeing domestic violence very seriously. For example, two leading housing associations, Peabody and Gentoo, have set up the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance together with Standing Together Against Domestic Violence, a UK charity bringing communities together to end domestic abuse. Their mission is to improve the housing sector’s response to domestic abuse through the introduction and adoption of an established set of standards and an accreditation process.

Housing associations play a critical role in delivering the homes that we need. They can help provide a home for people fleeing domestic abuse only if they have the homes to put them in. This means ensuring they remain in the private sector able to borrow funding free of public sector spending guidelines. Unnecessary control risks reversing the ONS classification of housing associations as private sector organisations.

On the issue of doctors’ fees, which I know the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, will also return to later, the noble Lord raised the issue of letters of evidence of domestic abuse. In my response I said that as data subjects, which we all are under the Data Protection Act, individuals can lawfully ask to be provided with their medical records without charge, thus obviating the need for a letter altogether. As I said at the time, I had not had very long to look at the issue and would like to take the opportunity to clarify the statement.

It is true that, as a data subject, an individual can ask to be provided with a copy of their medical records. From 25 May this year, when the General Data Protection Regulation becomes directly applicable, a data subject—that is, an individual—cannot be charged a fee except where a request is manifestly unfounded or excessive, or where requests are made for further copies of the same information, in which case the fee must be reasonable and based on the administrative cost of providing the information. Therefore, the law as it will stand when this Bill comes into force will allow a victim to make a request for their records and not to be charged. However, the law on data protection as it stands at present allows an administrative charge to be made. Currently, the Subject Access Code of Practice states that a GP may charge a maximum fee of up to £10 if the information is held electronically, or up to £50 if it is held either wholly or partly in non-electronic form.

I thank the House for letting me put the record straight on this point. I think many of us feel that it is a very germane issue. I am sure that many GPs do not charge for this service—I should imagine that very few do. However, as a result of the exchange that we had and the general feeling that was evident, after looking at the issue I raised the matter with the Department of Health and Social Care in relation to a review of the doctors’ contract, because this issue is part of the doctors’ contract and I can understand that it would not want to look at this on its own. Successive Governments have looked at doctors’ contracts and obviously grouped issues together, but I know that the department will look at this. I have raised it with the department. The House will want to know that the process of looking at representations about the doctors’ contract commences in April this year, as I understand it, so the department will be able to take that issue on board very shortly.

During both Second Reading and Committee, we discussed co-operation between England and the devolved Administrations where victims of domestic abuse need to move from one country to another within the United Kingdom. I said that I intended to raise this at the next meeting of the devolved Administrations round table, which is to be held in Cardiff on 19 April. I can tell the House that I have written to my opposite numbers in the devolved Administrations to ask that this issue is put on the agenda for the April meeting in Cardiff. In particular, I have let them know that I would like to explore whether we could develop a joint concordat or memorandum of understanding between the four countries of the United Kingdom on our approach to social housing and cases of domestic abuse. I will be very happy to report back on that issue after the meeting on 19 April.

The next issue that I undertook to look at during Report was in relation to training. During Committee, noble Lords discussed training of local authority officials who will be responsible for the exercise of the duties contained in the Bill. I accepted the points raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, regarding the need for consistency in training to ensure that victims of abuse get the support they need from front-line staff, which I shared with officials responsible for the homelessness code of guidance consultation. I also set out the numerous ways in which the Government are supporting local authorities to train their front-line staff to ensure consistency, including the funding we provided to the National Practitioner Support Service for domestic abuse awareness training in 2016, which resulted in the training of 232 front-line housing staff across nine English regions and the production of an online toolkit, and to the National Homelessness Advice Service—the NHAS—to provide training, which included courses covering domestic abuse and homelessness. This NHAS training is being updated to reflect the Homelessness Reduction Act, and we will ensure that the revised material draws attention to the strengthened guidance on domestic abuse contained in the new code of guidance.

I add that we have since published the updated statutory homeless guidance on 22 February. In case noble Lords are unaware of that, I will circulate it to noble Lords who participated in the debate and will place a copy in the Library. This will come into force at the same time as the Homelessness Reduction Act comes into force, on 3 April this year, so within a month. The guidance provides extensive advice to help local authorities handle cases that involve domestic abuse, including having appropriate policies and training in place to identify and respond to domestic abuse.

Amendments 1 to 4 are in my name and in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Hamwee; I am grateful for the support. The Bill provides that local authority landlords must grant a lifetime tenancy if they decide to rehouse an existing lifetime tenant who needs to move because of domestic abuse or who has fled to escape domestic abuse. It delivers on the commitment made during the passage of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 to ensure that, where lifetime tenants move to escape domestic abuse, they will retain their security of tenure in their new social home. Where victims are still in their property and apply to move, they will also be covered by the Bill. However, we recognise that, where a victim has fled the property, she—it will generally be she, although it need not be—will be more vulnerable, first, because there may be situations in which she may be considered to have lost her security of tenure and, secondly, because she may have lost her lifetime tenancy altogether before she is rehoused.

To give examples of this, in the first case, where the victim has a sole tenancy the local authority may consider that the tenancy is no longer secure on the basis that, having fled, she no longer occupies the property as her sole and principal home and has no intention to return. In the second case, where the victim has a joint tenancy, the joint tenant who remains in the property may have brought the joint tenancy to an end, for example, because he—it will usually be he, although it need not be—can no longer cover the rent. This is likely to be most problematic for victims who spend a lengthy period elsewhere—for example, in a refuge or temporary accommodation—before they are rehoused, or where victims move to another local authority area.

As currently drafted, the Bill would not apply in these situations. That struck me as wrong. As I said previously, the Government’s aim in bringing forward the Bill is to remove an impediment that could prevent a victim leaving their abusive situation. However, it is not right that someone who takes the difficult decision to flee their home should by so doing risk losing the protection afforded by the Bill.

Amendment 1 will address this issue by extending the Bill to those who were previously lifetime tenants, as well as those who currently are lifetime tenants. Amendment 2 removes the requirement for the tenant to have applied to move, which is no longer necessary, consequent to Amendment 1, which recognises that the tenant may have left the previous tenancy some time ago.

Amendments 3 and 4 align the existing provisions in the Bill, which relate to victims moving to a new home, with the new provisions in Amendments 5, 7 and 8, which the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, has tabled, and which relate to victims who remain in their home. This will ensure a consistent approach across the piece.

Amendment 3 makes clear that the domestic abuse must have been perpetrated by another person. This is included to prevent a perpetrator seeking to profit from the provisions in the Bill by asking for a new tenancy on the basis that someone in their household was abused by them. It is necessary to provide a link between the abuse and the granting of the new tenancy to avoid local authorities having to grant a lifetime tenancy with regard to historic domestic abuse that has no relevance to the current housing circumstances.

Amendment 4 brings the wording of the existing provision in line with that of the new provision to be introduced by Amendments 5, 7 and 8. This will ensure consistency across the Bill while retaining the necessary link between the new tenancy and the abuse. We think that this will make it easier for those who have to interpret the legislation—local authorities, victims of domestic abuse and their advisers. I hope that noble Lords will welcome these changes. I beg to move.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, I am very pleased to be able to support these amendments. I shall speak briefly to Amendment 4 but will say a bit more about it when we come to the next group of amendments. The key issue here is to remove the notion of risk. Talking to Women’s Aid, it is clear that, in practice, having to prove risk creates unnecessary hurdles, and I can do no better than quote what it says in the briefing that it has provided for us:

“Women’s Aid has reported widely on the issues with a ‘risk-based’ approach to domestic abuse; static risk assessments fail to capture the changing risk and harm in these cases, and a risk based approach fails to provide appropriate support or meet the needs of victims assessed as ‘low’ or ‘medium’ risk”.


It makes the point that it places an even greater premium on good specialised training to be able to adequately assess risk in these circumstances. Therefore, I am delighted that the Minister was willing to make that change. As well as creating equivalence with the next amendment, I think that it improves the Bill overall.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, my name is added to these amendments. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and thank the Minister for all the work that they have done.

I have just written a short piece on scrutiny and have written mostly about the need to engage with stakeholders and practitioners—people who know what they are talking about. Although I take great delight in asking whether “and” should be “or” and so on, that is not really the purpose of scrutiny. However, this seems to be a very good example of those who have experience of real situations working together to anticipate where there might be problems if the legislation is not changed, as it has been. Therefore, I congratulate them and feel rather privileged to have been able to tack my name on to these amendments.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, as this is my first contribution to the proceedings on the Bill today, I draw the attention of the House to my interests listed in the register—in particular, the fact that I am a councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

Amendments 1 to 4, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, and supported by my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, have my full support. The amendments in themselves might look quite small but they provide a clarity that is needed following examination of the Bill by noble Lords. A number of conversations have been held outside the Chamber to get the wording right.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for the clarification at the start of his contribution and for the information that he has provided to the House today. Generally, his remarks are very welcome and I thank him for them. I also thank him for his personal support in getting the Bill on to the statute book to correct an error in the Housing and Planning Act 2016. As I have said before, it is not a good piece of legislation—I think it is an example of “act in haste and repent at leisure”. There have been one or two other problems with that legislation, as the noble Lord knows. I am very happy to support these amendments.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and will pick up on just a couple of points. I agree very much with the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, about the key point being to remove the notion of risk. Through her and through this contribution, I thank Women’s Aid for the positive engagement that we have had with it. As an organisation, it is exemplary in many ways and I thank them. I accept, and not grudgingly, the need for good, specialised training—that is central to this.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for generously adding her name to this amendment and for her positive contributions during the course of the Bill. I agree that, once again, working together, not just outside the House but within it, has engaged many people on the importance of tackling this issue and has been central to the passage of the Bill.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for his characteristic generosity and his full support as we have taken the Bill through the House. It is very helpful to be able to engage with an opponent who is certainly not a political enemy—far from it—and who wants to engage positively. That has certainly helped with this Bill.

Amendment 1 agreed.
Amendments 2 to 4 agreed.
16:15
Amendment 5
Moved by
5: Clause 1, page 1, line 15, at end insert—
“(2AA) A local housing authority that grants a secure tenancy of a dwelling-house in England must grant an old-style secure tenancy if—(a) the tenancy is offered to a person who was a joint tenant of that dwelling-house under an old-style secure tenancy, and(b) the authority is satisfied that—(i) the person or a member of the person's household is or has been a victim of domestic abuse carried out by another person, and(ii) the new tenancy is granted for reasons connected with that abuse.”
Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett
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My Lords, in moving Amendment 5, I will speak also to Amendments 7 and 8, in my name and those of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. Their support underlines the fact that this is a genuinely cross-party amendment made possible by the willingness of the Minister to take on board the one substantive concern that we and the Liberal Democrat Benches have about the Bill: namely, that it did not afford protection to survivors of domestic violence who remain in their home and who are granted a new tenancy in place of an existing joint tenancy. It was extremely helpful that the Bill team was willing to engage with the lawyers advising me—Andrew Arden QC and Justin Bates; I am very grateful for their assistance—in reaching a form of wording for the amendment that was mutually satisfactory.

For the record, I want to note that the amendment I tabled in Committee was not technically deficient in the way that the Minister described. However, it did, as he pointed out, maintain an unintended link to removing the risk of further abuse. Happily, in doing so, it led me to question why that link was there at all because, as noted in relation to Amendment 4, there are problems with it. Women’s Aid then advised me that the inclusion of a reference to such a risk relies on housing officers being trained to recognise the potential ongoing risk a perpetrator may pose, which, as I said, can cause problems. I will return to the question of training in a moment, and I am grateful to the Minister for updating us on his thinking on it.

At this point, I too pay tribute to Women’s Aid, not just for the support it has provided on this Bill but for the vital work it does helping survivors of domestic abuse. It was good to hear the tribute from the Minister, and I am sure that Women’s Aid will very much appreciate it.

I will repeat briefly the case for the amendment. We tend to talk about women fleeing domestic violence, because that is the most common scenario: the woman escapes a harmful and dangerous situation and tries to find a place of safety, often in a refuge and often in another local authority area. But there are cases where the perpetrator is removed by the local authority or the police. Indeed, it would appear to be government policy to encourage this where it is safe for the woman to remain in the home and she does not want to leave it. This is partly to avoid the upheaval involved in moving home, for the women themselves and for their children, and, even under the old legislation, partly a desire not to lose the security of an existing secure tenancy. But the policy to encourage the removal of the perpetrator where safe to do so is also motivated by a desire to prevent him—we have noted at an early stage that it is usually “him”—from benefiting from the abuse by driving his partner from the home, as spelled out in the recent consultation document, Improving Access to Social Housing for Victims of Domestic Abuse.

I suspect it is a situation that might become more common, although we are talking very much about a small minority now. But even if it is a small minority, minorities matter. Where it is the perpetrator who leaves the home and there is a joint tenancy, I am advised that it is usual practice for a new sole tenancy to be granted in the name of the survivor. This amendment is crucial to protecting the rights of a survivor granted a sole tenancy in such circumstances, in line with the rights it affords to those who flee the home.

A theme running through our debate hitherto has been that in order to ensure that this very welcome legislation is effective, there needs to be adequate guidance to housing authorities and training for the officers who will be implementing it, as the Minister acknowledged earlier. At the outset he seemed to indicate that this was unnecessary because guidance and training already exist but, as is his wont, he listened and has taken on board the fact that there is considerable room for improvement in both, given the gap that exists between the theory of what is supposed to happen in local authorities and the practice of what actually happens when it comes to meeting the housing needs of domestic abuse survivors in a consistent and effective way. As a consequence, housing authorities’ responses can present barriers to survivors’ access to safety.

I was heartened when the Minister at an earlier stage said he would be taking a close personal interest in the development of the code and would consider the various submissions made by Women’s Aid and others. Officials have now had a constructive meeting with Women’s Aid to discuss this and its helpful note on training needs. Women’s Aid has emphasised to me the importance of consistency, and that requires good guidance and high-quality, comprehensive specialist training. A few examples of good practice, such as those highlighted by the Minister in Committee—welcome as they are—are not enough. Specialist training, it argues, needs to cover, among other things, the nature and impact of domestic abuse and coercive control; the links between domestic abuse and homelessness; identification of those subjected to it; recognition of the insidious effects of victim-blaming beliefs and attitudes; effective and safe practice, including risk assessment, multi-agency working and the importance of treating survivors with dignity and respect, which are crucial to a human rights culture.

On attitudes and appropriate treatment, I have learned from colleagues working in the area of poverty that the involvement of service users in training can be beneficial. A project involving people with experience of poverty in the training of social workers helped social workers understand much better what poverty means and how it can affect the people with whom they work and their behaviour. I was heartened by what the Home Secretary said in her recent Times article on the proposed domestic abuse strategy consultation. She said that,

“survivors and their children are at the heart of this consultation”,

and that,

“we will keep listening to experts and survivors”.

It is good to know that not all Ministers believe we have heard enough from experts.

However, my point is that survivors bring their own expertise to the table—expertise by experience. That expertise is invaluable both to the Government in developing their strategy—I hope that when they are developing their strategy, survivors of domestic abuse will be involved in the consultation—and to those being trained to assess the housing needs of survivors.

In Committee I raised the question of how the Government may monitor the effectiveness of this and other legislation in relation to the housing needs of domestic abuse survivors as part of the wider domestic abuse strategy. Perhaps the Minister can comment on that now.

Finally, I remind noble Lords that at Second Reading colleagues from around the House expressed concern about plans to change the funding base of refuges. In response to the opposition expressed by NGOs to the proposal for devolution of funding to local authorities—ring-fenced but, along with all short-term supported housing services, we do not know how long for—the Government have committed to considering all options. This is welcome, although it is disappointing that there was no mention of this in the Home Secretary’s Times article, which referred to the proposal in terms all too reminiscent of those used to justify the devolution of funds from the national social fund to the new local welfare assistance schemes, many of which are now being closed or drastically cut back. I do not expect the Minister to say anything about this at this stage but I hope he will take the message back to his colleagues both in his Ministry and the Home Office.

I have said more than enough, given the broad agreement on this amendment and the need to back it up with adequate guidance and training. I beg to move.

Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I remind the House of my interest in the register as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and I pay tribute to the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, and of my noble friend Lady Hamwee. They have done a great deal to secure what seems to be an agreed and agreeable outcome. The process in this Bill so far has been a good example of the House working at its best. I also want to pay tribute to Women’s Aid, in part because of the quality of its briefings and in particular for reminding us of the funding issues which still remain. I hope very much that the Minister will bear in mind the points that have been made by Women’s Aid.

I want to add only one or two points. In Committee I said that training is very important for this to work, and I was glad to hear the Minister refer to it in his opening remarks. To be effective, staff really will have to understand in great detail the processes that they should be following. I cite in particular the example of where a victim moves between local authorities with possibly a significant distance between the two. We need effective systems and networks in place for that to function properly. I have two suggestions to make as to how it might be done.

The first is one that I think I mentioned in our last debate. The training should be sub-regional; in other words, it is very important that the people in different local authorities who deal with these matters should know each other so that they know who to contact if there is an issue, and they should be trained together. Secondly, because the training is sub-regional, it would help if there were named contacts in every local authority who would be seen as the point of expertise not only within the authority concerned but also more generally. They are the people who should be contacted and they would maintain the files, particularly on difficult cases such as those requiring confirmatory evidence and so on.

With those two suggestions, I should like to thank the Minister very much indeed for getting us to this point. It is a positive outcome to our discussions over recent weeks.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, Amendment 5, proposed by my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett, is one that I fully support. She must be congratulated on pursuing this issue. As we have heard, the amendment puts into the Bill provisions to ensure that the protections set out in it apply to a victim of domestic violence who is living in a secure joint tenancy and stays in their home when the perpetrator leaves or is removed, as well as to victims who leave their homes.

This anomaly was first raised by my noble friend during the Second Reading debate on the Bill and she deserves much credit for persuading the Government that there was a real issue here and getting them to accept the amendment, as indeed the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, has done. He has shown himself to be prepared to listen carefully and look at the very real issues raised by my noble friend. I join others in paying tribute to the important work being done by Women’s Aid and I think that we all recognise the great job it does. Representatives of Women’s Aid have also engaged very positively with me during the passage of the Bill and I thank them for that.

I will not detain the House any further other than to say that I am very pleased that this amendment is going to be agreed shortly.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
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My Lords, as is indicated by my name being on the amendment, the Government are more than happy to accept it and the related amendments. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and I have worked together on them and therefore I have put my name down in support of them. As others have done, I pay tribute to her for working openly, determinedly and always pleasantly with me and my officials to ensure that these amendments are fit for purpose and improve the Bill. I also thank other noble Lords for their positive engagement.

The Government’s aim in bringing forward the Bill was to address a narrow but important issue; specifically, to remove an impediment that could prevent the victims of domestic abuse from leaving their abusive situation for fear that they might lose their security of tenure if they moved to another social home—an issue that was brought to the attention of the House by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. We recognise that there is a strong case for extending the same level of protection to those lifetime tenants who have suffered domestic abuse but wish to remain in their home after the perpetrator has left or, having taken temporary refuge elsewhere, wish to return to their home once the perpetrator has been removed. These amendments will ensure that where local authorities offer a new tenancy to a lifetime tenant in their own home, this must be for a further lifetime tenancy where the tenant is a victim of domestic abuse.

The amendments have been drawn widely. They will protect victims of domestic abuse where the perpetrator has moved out of the property and either tenant has terminated the joint tenancy. They will also cover the situation where the landlord has sought a court order to terminate the tenancy after the victim has fled but agrees that the victim can move back into the property once the perpetrator has been evicted. The new provision applies to those who had a joint tenancy, rather than to existing joint tenants—that is to say, it requires that the previous tenancy must have come to an end before a new tenancy can be granted. I agree that this is the right approach as it will obviate the risk that there could be two concurrent tenancies of the same property. These amendments, together with Amendments 1 to 4, which we have just addressed, will ensure that the Bill covers the circumstances in which a victim of domestic abuse who has or had a lifetime tenancy seeks a new tenancy as a consequence of that abuse.

16:30
I turn to some of the points that have been made. I agree about the importance of the consistency of training across England, and indeed more widely, although here we are concerned just with England. I will keep noble Lords abreast of what is happening with that. As I said, some important information was published on 22 February, which I will get to noble Lords, as I am not sure that they have it at the moment, and place a copy in Library.
On the monitoring of the impact of the Bill, we will be watching this like hawks. I will be talking to officials as to how we ensure that the data we collect—we collect data on all social housing lettings through CORE, which collects data in this area—will enable us to see precisely what is happening nationally on this to provide a consistent approach. Again, I will update noble Lords on that as we go forward.
On the broader points made about the commitment of the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister to domestic abuse legislation, it is total. They are both very committed to this. The Prime Minister was previously Home Secretary, of course. This was very much central to the thrust of what she wanted to do when she became Prime Minister. It was very high, if not number one, on her agenda. It is important that noble Lords are aware of that. That will help progress in that area.
On the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, raised on being open about and looking at funding, she is absolutely right. It is important that we recognise that there is a national dimension to the funding of refuges, not least because people very often are fleeing from the area where they live, understandably, to another area. Also, specialist services could not necessarily be provided on a local basis. There is an important local dimension as well. We are trying to square those things. I will pass this on to my honourable friend Heather Wheeler, the Minister in the department responsible for this policy area. I am sure she will be keen to look at it.
I turn to the suggestions from the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. I think he raised them previously and they seemed to me attractive proposals that training be conducted in a sub-regional way so that people know each other. I will pass them on. I will also pick up a point made about the importance of including survivors in the development of all this. That is absolutely right. When I have visited domestic abuse services, one of the key factors is where you see survivors helping with fresh victims, as it were, coming in. That has a tremendous impact on morale. They obviously have detailed knowledge. It is central to what we are seeking to do. I fully agree with and support it. The idea of a named contact for all authorities is again a very good one. When we deliver services it is important that we do not do so in an anonymised way. Having a go-to person with a name that is known is important. I will take those back.
Additionally, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, once again and echo what he said about Women’s Aid and other key deliverers of domestic abuse services, such as Refuge and many others that are doing a great job, which Women’s Aid certainly is. I thank him again for his positive contribution and commitment to this area. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her engagement. I know that she did not speak on these issues, but I know that they are close to her heart and I very much value her engagement.
Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett
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I thank all noble Lords who have spoken, particularly the Minister for his helpful engagement with a number of points that have been raised, including the very useful suggestion on training from the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. I am pleased that he acknowledged the national dimension of funding; I realise that there is a local dimension as well, but the national is important, particularly when survivors are moving great distances. I am delighted that he will be watching like a hawk how this works, obviously in the context of other provisions, and I welcome his commitment to keeping noble Lords updated on what is happening, which I think we all want.

At Second Reading, I said that this was a first for me in that I more or less unequivocally welcomed a Bill in your Lordships’ House. I am happy that I can now say that I totally unequivocally welcome this Bill with the addition of this amendment. That is thanks to a number of people: to noble Lords across the House who have supported me in pressing for the inclusion of such an amendment—I am thinking particularly of colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches, as well as my noble friend—and the Bill team and lawyers, who were willing to engage with what I call my informal legal advisers. Together, they agreed wording that we are all happy with. I thank once again Women’s Aid, which has been supportive to all of us with its briefings, and, last but very much not least, the Minister, because if he had not been willing to listen and engage I do not think that any of this would have happened. Clearly, officials have to take their lead from the Minister. His openness and willingness to listen to what we have said and to see where changes needed to be made, have made this possible. I am very grateful. It seems odd to say “with” as opposed to “against”, but it has been a pleasure to work with him in this situation.

Amendment 5 agreed.
Amendment 6
Moved by
6: Clause 1, page 1, line 15, at end insert—
“(2AA) The person making the application for an old-style secure tenancy under subsection (2A) must not be charged for obtaining any evidence of domestic abuse if this evidence is required to make the application.”
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark
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My Lords, Amendment 6 raises the issue of victims of domestic violence being charged a fee to provide evidence by way of a letter or some other acceptable form of confirmation to the authorities that they are a victim of domestic violence. That fee can range from £75 to £100 or even more. I think that it is completely wrong.

Certainly some GPs charge this fee. I accept that it is a minority of GPs, but it is wrong for any GP to charge it. I raised the issue both at Second Reading and in Committee, and I do so again today.

When the amendment was discussed in Committee, I had support from noble Lords around the House, and I am grateful to all noble Lords who spoke in that debate. I read again yesterday the response of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, to the debate in Committee. He agreed with me that charging a fee to a victim of abuse who is seeking evidence of their abuse to access a service is,

“far from an ideal situation”.—[Official Report, 24/1/18; col. 1058.]

I would go further than that and say that, in 2018, when domestic violence is centre stage—no longer an issue not talked about but out in the open, with perpetrators rightly condemned and brought to justice for the disgusting crime that it is—to charge victims a fee to provide evidence to prove that they are a victim so that they can get help is unacceptable.

The good news that the Minister gave the House the last time he spoke on the issue just does not go far enough. I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, has tabled a Question on domestic violence that will be answered in the next day or two. I will raise the issue again if I can get in at that Question Time.

If you have been a victim of a crime and been beaten, distressed or frightened, it is not good enough to say that you can get around the issue of a fee by putting in a subject access request for your medical records. I have no idea what you would do with your medical records: I assume that you get a big pile of papers giving all your medical history and stuff. So for me it would be my blood pressure, and I am a diabetic so there would be issues about my feet, but I am not sure that medical records would say that you had been beaten, that you have a cut or that you have been bruised. Would they actually say that you had been a victim of domestic violence? If not, we are again in the situation where you might hand your medical records to the authority who might say, “Yes, it says you have a bruise to the head; it does not say that you have been a victim of domestic violence. You might have fallen over”. So there are some issues even with using the records. Will they actually deliver what the noble Lord says?

I think we should be very clear that no victim should ever be charged for a letter or any other form of evidence to say that they are a victim of domestic violence. We need to ensure that that happens. I accept that it is about the doctors’ contract and I am pleased that that is going to be reviewed in April, because it is certainly an issue. I accept that it is the Department of Health, not the noble Lord’s department, but this is an issue that we cannot let go: it is totally wrong that anyone is charged a fee to prove that they are a victim of a crime.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee
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My Lords, the Minister spoke at the outset of this afternoon’s proceedings about the Data Protection Bill—the Act as it will soon be—and data subjects’ rights of access to information. I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, about the extent of notes that doctors may keep. I have no expertise in this area but I know that I can sit in a doctor’s surgery and witter on for seven or eight minutes and it comes out, perhaps, as a reference to a consultant in two lines. I assume that the two lines are much closer to what is kept in the notes than my seven minutes of semi-articulate complaints.

I am also concerned about whether doctors, GPs particularly, will feel able to keep notes about their assessment, which might be just a guess, as to the reason for the injuries which they are considering. Some may, some may not, and some may be concerned about the implications for them if they get it wrong. Again, it is not something that I have come across, but in other walks of life, such as universities, where teachers may keep notes about students’ attainments or otherwise, I understand that there are concerns not to say anything that might come back to bite the writer of those notes. I certainly do not think it is something we can assume will be covered by the data protection provisions that will shortly be coming into effect.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for bringing this amendment forward and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her contribution on Amendment 6, which deals with the subject of GP letters. In fact, noble Lords will appreciate that the amendment is drawn much more widely—it refers, I think, to other professionals as well. I am sure that the noble Lord did this quite deliberately; it would apply, for example, to solicitors’ letters and accountants’ letters as well, where there are obviously rather different considerations, because we have a more direct route in relation to GPs’ contracts.

As I said previously and I am very happy to repeat, the noble Lord is quite right to say that the wording is far from ideal; that is absolutely right. I accept the point that the noble Baroness has just made, and was made by the noble Lord as well, about the data. It is hard to know without seeing doctors’ notes: sometimes it may cover the case very well, sometimes it may not. I also take the noble Baroness’s point that doctors may be reluctant to commit to writing something relating to domestic abuse, but I suppose that that could also apply in relation to the letter itself. It is certainly a consideration, I accept that. The early sounding I had when I raised this matter with the Department of Health was that it has the same view that we do. It considers that this issue needs looking at. I have not yet had a detailed response to the points I made but I am very happy to share the general thrust of that as soon as I do, because this is a very reasonable point and one that I am sure the vast majority of GPs would go along with.

On the basis that I undertake to update the House on the discussions that we are having with the Department of Health—recognising, as the noble Lord indicated, that it is the lead department on this—I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark
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I thank the noble Lord for that response. I am happy to withdraw the amendment—I am not going to push it to a vote today—but this is a really important issue. I accept that the Minister’s department is not responsible, but it is just wrong. It is a minority, although a pretty large one, who will charge for these letters. It is unacceptable that that happens in today’s world.

The issue about the medical records—what is the point of a medical record? Is it being able to use it for other things or is it accurately recording the treatment that has been given? I do not think it is as simple as the record itself will necessarily be helpful enough. People may be reluctant to do that anyway. I do not know what the Department of Health intends to do.

I am happy to withdraw the amendment today but I am certainly going to keep raising this issue. If I get a Question later in the week I will raise it then. We have to get this changed. I accept that that involves the GP contract. At this stage, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 6 withdrawn.
Amendments 7 and 8
Moved by
7: Clause 1, page 1, line 16, leave out “subsection (2A)” and insert “subsections (2A) and (2AA)”
8: Clause 1, page 2, line 8, leave out “or (2A)” and insert “, (2A) or (2AA)”
Amendments 7 and 8 agreed.

Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill [HL]

Third Reading
15:09
Motion
Moved by
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That the Bill do now pass.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, as someone who has been heavily involved in this Bill, I should like to say a few words of thanks. I thank the Bill team and the members of the noble Lord’s private office, who have been unfailingly helpful throughout the process. I suspect that they will not be too unhappy not to be seeing my emails in their inboxes any more.

I thank noble Lords around the House who have been so supportive, particularly my noble friend Lord Kennedy, but also the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. I thank too the noble Baroness, Lady Evans of Bowes Park, whose assurances during the passage of the Housing and Planning Act eventually led to this Bill. She probably had a hand in this Bill seeing the light of day. Last but not least, I thank the Minister and, at the risk of torpedoing his ministerial career, emphasise how he has been a model of an open and engaged Minister committed to making this Bill the best that it can be.

I give the final word to Women’s Aid, which has been briefing us so well at every stage of the Bill. Straight after Report, Women’s Aid emailed me to thank noble Lords for the amendments made then, saying that these had really improved the Bill and ensured that this legislation can work effectively for survivors whose housing security is at risk from an abusive relationship. Thank you. I hope that we can maintain as constructive a relationship when it comes to debating the forthcoming domestic abuse Bill.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before the noble Lord winds up, I should like to pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett for her hard work and determination in getting this Bill here today. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and others for their work. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth. I always enjoy our exchanges, here and outside the Chamber. He is a very good man who is sincere in what he does and I value our conversations about his work. He played a big role in getting this Bill in. We thank him very much as well.

Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, from these Benches, I add our thanks to the Minister for being so helpful in the passage of the Bill. It is a better Bill because of the work that was undertaken both in this Chamber and outside it. I thank the Minister for that. The House should pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, for all her hard work in explaining the background to this and thank too those advising her. We should also pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Hamwee for her hard work in pressing on this Bill.

As the Minister knows, it is one thing to enact a Bill. It is another for it to be implemented smoothly. The Minister has paid close attention to the need for adequate training by local housing authorities. He has also paid close attention to the issue that was raised at Report by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, in relation to GPs charging victims of domestic abuse for the medical evidence that they need to secure a further tenancy. I am hopeful that that matter will be resolved in guidance.

Finally, to recall Second Reading and Committee, this Bill concerns only the public sector. It does not concern housing associations, which are now in the private sector. I hope that the Minister will ensure that housing associations follow the good practice that is now about to occur with the public housing stock.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and Wales Office (Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank very much the noble Lords who have spoken: the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, and the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Shipley. I also thank the members of the Bill team. Often the civil servants do not get their due accolades, but they deserve to. Parwez Samnakay, Frances Walker, Jane Worthington, Jane Everton, Lizzie Clifford and, from my own team, Ed Clark have all worked incredibly hard, engaging with Peers, making things happen and working long hours. I am very grateful.

I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, whose work this Bill largely is. It was her initiative to raise this with my noble friend Lady Evans of Bowes Park. Certainly my leader—the boss—deserves credit for making sure that this happened but it was the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, who was really pushing and has been pushing in a constructive way ever since. I pay tribute to what she has done.

I also extend thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. I very much enjoy our engagement. He is a model of what an opposition politician should be—if only he did not support Millwall, but nobody is perfect. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, as well for constructively engaging in this. I hope that these same key people will be there when we look at the next development in relation to domestic abuse. There is much that unites here and very little, if anything, that divides us. I look forward to that.

I also pay tribute to Women’s Aid and, indeed, to everyone working in this sector—Refuge, Imkaan and others—for the work they have done. In short, all parties and all parts of the House can take a bow with this piece of legislation, which has engaged us all in a very positive, sensible and pragmatic way. I am most grateful for that. Thank you.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.

Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill [ Lords ] (First sitting)

Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 27th March 2018

(6 years, 2 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Act 2018 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 27 March 2018 - (27 Mar 2018)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: † Andrew Rosindell, Joan Ryan
† Afolami, Bim (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)
† Burghart, Alex (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con)
† Creasy, Stella (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
† Debbonaire, Thangam (Bristol West) (Lab)
† Docherty, Leo (Aldershot) (Con)
† Duffield, Rosie (Canterbury) (Lab)
† Hughes, Eddie (Walsall North) (Con)
† Jones, Sarah (Croydon Central) (Lab)
† Lewer, Andrew (Northampton South) (Con)
† Norris, Alex (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
† Onn, Melanie (Great Grimsby) (Lab)
† Phillips, Jess (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)
† Philp, Chris (Croydon South) (Con)
† Syms, Sir Robert (Poole) (Con)
† Tolhurst, Kelly (Rochester and Strood) (Con)
† Wheeler, Mrs Heather (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government)
Nehal Bradley-Depani, Kenneth Fox, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 27 March 2018
(Morning)
[Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]
Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill [Lords]
09:28
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Good morning. Before we begin the line-by-line consideration of the Bill, I have a few preliminary announcements. Please switch electronic devices to silent. Tea and coffee are not allowed during sittings.

Today, we will first consider the programme motion. We will then consider a motion to enable the reporting of written evidence for publication. In view of the time available, I hope that we can take these matters formally and without debate. I first call the Minister to move the programme motion, which was agreed by the Programming Sub-Committee yesterday.

Ordered,

That—

(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 9.25 am on Tuesday 27 March) meet at 2.00 pm on Tuesday 27 March;

(2) the proceedings shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 and 2; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;

(3) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 pm on Tuesday 27 March.—(Mrs Wheeler.)

Resolved,

That, subject to the discretion of the Chair, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—(Mrs Wheeler.)

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Copies of the written evidence received by the Committee will be made available soon.

The selection list for today is available in the room and on the Bill website. None of the amendments have been grouped for debate. The Member who has put their name to the amendment being debated is called first. Other Members are then free to catch my eye to speak on that amendment. A Member may speak more than once in a single debate. At the end of a debate, I shall call the Member who has moved the amendment again and before they sit down, they will need to indicate if they wish to withdraw the amendment or to seek a decision. I shall use my discretion to decide whether to allow a separate stand part debate on individual clauses following the debate on the relevant amendments. I hope that explanation is helpful to the Committee. We start with amendment 5 to clause 1. I have selected this amendment, although it is starred, as it was provided to the Public Bill Office before the deadline but was not processed until Friday.

Clause 1

Duty to grant old-style secure tenancies: victims of domestic abuse

Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 5, in clause 1, page 1, line 9, after “tenant)” insert

“and regardless of whether the qualifying tenancy is in the jurisdiction of another local authority”.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. The amendment stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd), the former shadow Minister, who is now the shadow Northern Ireland Secretary—we are in a fast-moving world at the moment.

Let me start by saying that the amendments to the Bill in the other place are very welcome. They recognise that the Government have listened to the very real concerns expressed by Members from both sides of the House and members of the other place on this important issue. I have read the transcripts of the debate in the Lords, where my amendment originated—I should take the opportunity again to thank Baroness Lister of Burtersett and Lord Kennedy of Southwark for their work on the Labour Benches in introducing the amendment— and it is clear that there is a great deal of concern about the situation for victims of domestic violence.

Lord Farmer noted in his contribution that

“we are still…stuck on the question, ‘Why doesn’t she…leave?’, when someone is the victim of abuse, rather than…asking, with regard to the perpetrator, ‘Why doesn’t he…stop?”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 January 2018; Vol. 788, c. 147.]

He commented on the research about victims who return to lives of domestic abuse, saying that “a high proportion” go back to their abusive partner. He later qualifies that with the figure of 66%—that is, 66% of women who have tried and failed to leave an abusive partner. Two thirds of women decide, for whatever reason, that it is preferable to stay in the same property, their home—a really important part of this is that it is their home—with someone who abuses them. Nearly all those women—97%—have returned repeatedly. They have tried to flee, to leave, and to establish a new life, but for myriad reasons have then returned. That is why it is so important that the Government ensure that the security of a home, a safe place for children and the support of agencies such as Refuge and Women’s Aid are dealt with in legislation.

This small but, I would say, mighty amendment would ensure that the legislation met in practice the intentions that we set out in this room. That is the purpose of our amendments—to ensure that in practice, out there in the real world, in the real lives of people living in the circumstances that we are discussing, what we decide in this room and what the Government decide to set down in black and white as the law of the land works in practice on the ground, meets the needs of those people and meets the Government’s intentions. I have listened carefully to the Minister, and the intentions are there. They are clear. I believe that there is a strong commitment, going all the way to the top of the Government, to ensure that women’s lives are improved—I am referring to women, as they make up the majority of victims of domestic violence; I accept that there are also male victims, but I am using “women” as the more general term—and are not hindered in any way by policy. We must ensure that the policy that we agree is the best that it can be.

Our amendments and the amendment of the Bill in the Lords will, I believe, greatly reduce the risk of return to abusive partners and will, I hope, go a great distance towards reducing the absolutely terrible statistic of two women dying every week at the hands of the person who is supposed to love and care for them the most. One cannot help but think about that and the reality of the situation for these women. We know that women sometimes remain in abusive relationships for years before summoning the courage to leave. Children are often the reason for staying: the women do not want the kids to be without their dad because he is a good dad; he loves them and would do anything for them. However, there is also fear of the alternative: what else awaits women if they go? They leave the comfort of their surroundings and the place that they know. They leave their friends, their social networks, family perhaps, their children’s schools, their work—everything is thrown up in the air. It is a period of great upheaval and uncertainty.

The Minister will know that I have previously expressed frustration that it is always the victim who is expected to leave, to seek refuge and to start again. That will remain the case until we see a significant change in the judicial system and the education system, as well as the embedding of the principles of early intervention and healthy relationships across the country. I look forward to the domestic violence Bill that will be introduced later this year, so that we can see what the Government’s plans are in this area.

After women have taken the step of leaving, the process of rebuilding a life for them and their family can be a tough road. There must be certainty of housing support. In Baroness Lister’s contribution on the Lords amendments she noted that Women’s Aid had reports of women being

“reluctant to leave a secure tenancy and that some would take massive risks rather than give it up.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 24 January 2018; Vol. 788, c. 1042.]

The amendment that the Government have supported was tabled with every intention of tackling that fear, and of laying to rest the concern of victims of domestic violence about being left—because of being a victim—in a worse housing position with their council tenancy.

That great intention—that purposeful move towards supporting the victims of domestic violence—could, however, be undermined if the Government do not make the meaning of the Bill clearer. In debate after debate—about housing, on International Women’s Day, about the justice system and about domestic violence specifically—there has been discussion of the fact that women often have to go out of the area when they are in the situation we are considering, as well as of the resulting funding issues and the wider issue of the problematic review of supported housing funding. The reasons are various, and include, sometimes, a lack of refuge places or finance, people returning to homes in the wider family, and issues of individual or family safety. If the abuser is a persistent harasser, in particular, there will be a need to keep the location discreet.

Lord Lipsey noted that three quarters of the women in a refuge would not be from the area where it was situated, and commented that it was natural for victims to want to

“fly as far away as possible”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 January 2018; Vol. 788, c. 145.]

from the source of the abuse. Women’s Aid put the figure at about 68%, just shy of three quarters. It has also provided us with the outcome of its No Woman Turned Away project, which shows that nearly a fifth of women were prevented from making valid homelessness claims on the grounds of domestic abuse for reasons that included having no connection to the area.

That is important and goes to the heart of the purpose of amendment 5. We are talking about women’s situation and their need for support. When we see what really happens when people cross local authority boundaries—how many people are being refused, and the fact that the Women’s Aid report mentions refusals being made specifically because of a lack of local connection—we must do all we can to ensure, through the Bill, that that situation does not continue. If the Bill is allowed to go forward without amendment, we shall have failed to deliver what the Government intend by it.

Local housing teams make the decisions. The systems that they develop are based on legislation that comes from this place. That leads me to the point that when a right to housing and a secure tenancy is specified, that should follow the individual. It should not matter whether they are within or outside their local authority; it should follow the victim. Whether it is through fate or design that victims leave their areas and relocate—and for some of them the relocation must be long-term and discreet—legislation must reflect the reality.

The measure will be something of a legacy for the Minister, and there is no point in failing to sew up the least thread of the seam. It is not inconceivable, given the reaction of some local authorities when asked to contribute to refuge support services, that with all the constraints and pulls upon their resources, they will find enough of a hole in the Bill to wriggle out of the duties that it is intended to place on them. I call on the Minister to do all in her considerable power to see that that that possibility—however small she may consider it—is addressed today, and that the amendment is accepted.

It would be a tragedy if the Government’s well-intentioned measure were to be undermined later through limited implementation in cases where victims tried to re-establish their lives outside their original local authority area. Is there is a reason why it is not possible to make the provision explicit?

Heather Wheeler Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Mrs Heather Wheeler)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, I believe for the first time.

The amendment aims to ensure that where a victim of domestic abuse applies to another local authority to be rehoused, the requirement to offer a lifetime tenancy still applies if a new tenancy is offered. The Bill is intended to protect people who need to move from their current home, and those who have already fled, to escape domestic abuse. It is clearly understandable why a victim of domestic abuse may want or need to move themselves and their family to an area far from the perpetrator. It is therefore important that the Bill protects victims who apply for housing assistance in another local authority district. However, it already does that, so the amendment is technically ineffective.

The Bill applies to any local authority in England, and to any tenant who has a lifetime local authority or housing association tenancy for a dwelling house anywhere in England and needs to move from that house to escape domestic abuse. I therefore believe that the amendment is unnecessary and ask for it to be withdrawn.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Let me clarify, in case there is any confusion, that the Minister may speak again. It is perfectly fine for the Minister to speak and for Back Benchers to come in afterwards.

Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve for the first time under your chairship, Mr Rosindell, and to be part of this important Committee. I am conscious that there are lots of skilled and talented people in the room who are very experienced in the area of domestic abuse, so it is perhaps natural that I rise to speak with a little trepidation, but I care deeply about this issue and I want to make a couple of points about the amendment.

Prior to coming to this place, I was a city councillor in Nottingham for six years. I had special responsibility for a variety of things, but I was responsible for the council’s domestic abuse services throughout that time. I felt that the council had two roles, which pertain directly to the Bill. The first was to set out our stall, in a time of real cuts, to try to protect services in the city—those commissioned by the council and the broader services in our city’s fragile ecosystem. Cuts to the council’s budgets were such that we could not do that in many areas, but we decided that we would draw the line at domestic abuse, and I am happy to say that we held that line pretty well.

The council’s second role was to take away barriers. I do not have direct experience of what it is like to be in a relationship with an abusive loved one, and I cannot imagine how difficult it is to leave such a situation. The closest I have come is through my casework, both as a councillor and as a Member of Parliament. Suffice it to say that I have seen from that vantage point just how difficult it is—but I cannot quite imagine it. However, I felt that the council’s job was to take away barriers, and that is what we set out our stall to do.

We said to people, “If your concern is about your children and the impact on them, then we will guarantee good schooling and we will guarantee that their mental health needs will be met. If your issue is with your pets, then we will make sure your pets are taken care of and fostered. If your issue is with money, then we will support you.” I felt that we had a role as a local authority, as Parliament has a role, to take away those barriers, and housing and secure tenancies are absolutely at the nub of that. The Minister said on Second Reading that the purpose of the Bill is to remove impediments, and I completely agree.

We all know, because this subject has been well played out, that the safest place for a survivor in my community this evening may well be a refuge in Birmingham, and vice versa. That person may need to be physically far away from where they live tonight, and it stands to reason that that may well be true for months or years, or forever. It is important that a secure tenancy is not a barrier and that it follows that survivor. So far, so good. That point was well played out on Second Reading and in the Lords, and there is clear agreement on it.

However, we diverge on whether the Bill needs expressly to state that secure tenancies apply across local authority boundaries. On Second Reading, the Minister said that she did not think there was a problem and that that did not need to be stated in the Bill. I disagree. That position is based on an assumption that local authorities take a common approach to these things. I do not think that is the case, for both positive and negative reasons.

Let me deal first with the positive reasons. Localism says that for all manner of services—perhaps every service—every local authority does things slightly differently. They have a mandate to do so, so it is not surprising especially when it comes to housing, that things will look very different in Nottingham from in south Derbyshire, or Derbyshire in general. As a result, there are times when the Government need to prescribe a broader approach, to make sure that people are not missed out.

09:45
I recognise what my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby said about local connection—a point that Women’s Aid has made very strongly. At a time when there are cuts and pressures on councils to make their housing revenue accounts stretch, there will always be a perverse incentive to try to put people off. We are all very sure of the positive motivations of people who work in local government—I certainly know that, as I have worked with lots of them for a long time. Nevertheless, it would be helpful to be clear on the face of the Bill that there is a cross-party, cross-Chamber understanding from Parliament that we mean secure tenancies wherever that tenancy is needed. That seems like a reasonable thing that will future-proof against a bad decision.
The secured tenancies would be applied sensibly in the vast majority of cases, but every time they are applied badly and that barrier is put in place, we create a significant risk of harming individuals and ruining lives. The cost of failure—of falling off that high wire—is extraordinary. The price of avoiding that is to set it out on the face of the Bill, which seems a sensible approach to removing that risk.
Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
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It is obviously a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, for this incredibly important piece of legislation. I do not think a single member of the Committee can be unaware of how important it is to get these issues right. We will have seen in our constituency surgeries the people for whom the system does not work. I want to start by giving an example of that to explain—[Interruption.] If the Minister has not, she is very lucky, because sadly, in my constituency—

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a good council.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
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I do not think this is about good councils; it is about how we deal with domestic violence cases in this country. Still too often, we require the victim to put the pieces of her escape route together. I say “her”, and I recognise that men are victims as well, but it is overwhelmingly women who we ask to try to work through a system based on service provision rather than their needs.

I want to give the Minister an example—which I hope will explain why Opposition Members are concerned about future-proofing this legislation—of one of the cases I dealt with in Walthamstow, near the boundary with Redbridge, because in London the difference between 33 boroughs can be the difference between life and death. It is the example of a woman whose secure tenancy was ruined because her abusive partner set fire to their flat. She fled to Redbridge, but as soon as she left the borough, a mere 10 minutes by car, everything fell apart for her. Suddenly, she was simply someone from another borough seeking housing, not a victim of domestic violence—as he stood on the balcony of the property that she had managed to find, tapping on the window and telling her that he had found her.

We could not keep that woman safe. I took to calling the borough commanders in my borough and in Redbridge every single day about her, because we could not get housing and could not get the police forces to work together, merely because they were 10 minutes apart by road. They were two different boroughs and two different housing departments. She started getting chased for her council tax and rent arrears on a property that was a burnt-out shell. If she had gone back to that property, he could have found her there, too. Every single day, that woman was on my conscience, all because bureaucracy could not see the victim, only the housing service and the policing requirements. The police in Redbridge said to her, “Close your windows, then he can’t knock on the windows,” not understanding what was going on, because we did not put the victim first.

The challenge is that that case is not unusual. It is not about London boroughs or co-ordination; it is simply that there are two different housing departments, one of which recognises that there might be a domestic violence case, while the other simply sees somebody whose postcode is in the wrong district.

I share the Minister’s desire to get secured tenancies right. She says that is already written into the legislation, but why not make it certain that it can be beyond a degree of reasonable doubt with any housing authority? That way, when MPs are faced with somebody who has come from a mere 10 minutes away, who is desperate for help, in fear of their life and has made that difficult decision to leave, there is no doubt that they will be housed. There should not be a point at which a housing officer says, “I’m sorry, this postcode isn’t in our borough and therefore this person is not our responsibility. They need to go back into the system.”

We have all seen the person who does not leave—the person who recognises that bureaucracy is going to be another hurdle and who, with everything else going on their life, does not want to take the risk. Each of us has had that conversation with that resident, pleading with them to talk to the independent sexual violence adviser and not go back. All too often, it has been a housing officer who has not understood their obligations and said to them, “I’m sorry, if you leave, you’re making yourself intentionally homeless.” That is the phrase we have to deal with, and that is why amendment 5 is so important. It changes the conversation and says that if someone is recognised as a victim of domestic violence—I appreciate that we also need to get some later clauses and amendments right—that person is more likely to get help.

The Minister does not look impressed. There are countless examples that I am sure other Members will give her. That is the lived reality of trying to get this right. We all want the best councils, the best police services, the best healthcare providers, the best social workers and the best MASH—multi-agency safeguarding hub—teams, who do not say, “Well, for the needs of the child we’ll try to keep the family together,” even though they have had perpetrators who put their partners into hospital and near death. The lived reality of trying to deal with these situations means that we have to make sure the legislation is belt and braces. Even if the Minister thinks the point is covered, I urge her to include it, to put it beyond reasonable doubt, because those cases, such as the person who moved between Redbridge and Waltham Forest, are not unusual.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Rosindell. I also welcome the Bill. As somebody who worked in the field for many years, it is revelatory to see this put into law. I am really pleased and feel that we are constantly surging forward, and 99% of the time that is done on a completely cross-party basis, with total consensus. When I first started working in domestic abuse services, that was not something I necessarily would have said or experienced, but times are changing. I am very pleased to say that this is no longer the bastion of noisy feminists such as myself; it is everybody’s business, which is great to see.

The concerns on this side of the Committee stem from memories of how localisation under new welfare rules after the 2010 general election changed the way that people moved across boundaries. It was not a willing Government, or even the Opposition, who changed the ruling about whether people could cross borders and seek tenancies; it was a woman who lived in the refuge where I worked and the Child Poverty Action Group. They took the case to court, on a judicial review, to stop local councils—in this instance Sandwell Council—being able to say, “You have to have lived in a local authority area for five years before you can have access to the housing list and be put on priority.”

It was not even five years ago that that was the case. Councils all over the country—certainly Birmingham and Sandwell—were saying, “Unless you have a link to this local authority area, you cannot come and live here,” regardless. There was no exemption for victims of domestic abuse. Thanks to brilliant victims of domestic abuse and brilliant charities that support them, that was overturned. Councils were told by the courts, not by any Government policy, that they had to allow victims of domestic abuse to be exempt from those rules. I had some personal issues with that, which I raised with my council in a public forum—when I was told by the then MP for Birmingham, Yardley, in a moment of horrendous dogwhistling, that I was trying to encourage anybody to come and claim benefits in Birmingham—so I have some form on arguing for this issue.

What we are trying to get across in the amendment is that that cannot happen again—that there should be no room for the Child Poverty Action Group and local authorities to have to go up against each other with individual victims’ cases. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow has said, there will be cases that come to light where there is difficulty, and we do not want the courts to have to be the place that makes the right decision.

We should remember there are lots of local authorities that are rubbish on this. We are living in a total postcode lottery. I remember a mantra where I used to work was, “Don’t get raped in Dudley,” because there were no services for rape victims in Dudley. We had to somehow give them a postcode for another area, so that we did not turn away children who had been raped, for example. Not all councils are brilliant on this stuff. It seems like a painfully political point to make, but the Prime Minister’s own council, where her seat is, does not fund a single refuge bed. There is good and bad—

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Neither does Southwark.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
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As the Minister says from her sedentary position, nor does Southwark fund a single refuge bed. That is not a case I have ever heard. However, if it does not, it should—absolutely it should. This is not said with a Labour cap on; we took a Labour council to court. I do not give a toss what colour the council is; I care that the law protects the victims when they cross the border. I do not think anyone who might be watching this, either in this room or outside, thinks I am afraid of criticising the Labour party. Some of us are more than keen to point out problems wherever they arise.

The issue is ensuring that councils that are hard up do not have any excuse. That is all we seek. If we do not do it in these rooms, if we do not get the legislation right, you can bet your bottom dollar that somewhere a judge will.

Robert Syms Portrait Sir Robert Syms (Poole) (Con)
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This is clearly an important issue. It is generally a rule in this place that Oppositions always want to put a lot more stuff on the face of Bills and Governments do not. My question to the Minister is: will guidance be issued by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government? Any of us who have sat in front of families and tried to work out what is a family, and what rights they have, will know that modern life is complicated.

It is important that there should be guidance and that there should be consultation on that guidance. People do not necessarily leave a secure tenancy; sometimes they go to stay with a friend, sometimes they go to a refuge and sometimes they go to stay with their parents. In most housing law, that diminishes their rights. It is important that the Government set out explicitly in guidance how a local authority would deal with this particular right.

It is also important for the Government to track how many cases there are, not only internally placed within a borough or local authority, but—picking up the Opposition point—how many people have to go outside. We all know examples of women, or indeed men, who are petrified of their partner and do not want to stay in the same community, for obvious reasons. It only takes somebody to stand outside the school gate; they can intimidate even if they do nothing.

My main question to the Minister is: will there be guidance? Will there be a consultation on it? Will there be clear evidence of what pathway local government housing officers should deal with? Will there be a method of reporting, so that this House will know after six months, a year or 18 months the sum total of these cases?

There is also a resource issue. I come from a local authority background, and it is very easy for the Government to put rights on local authorities and then say, “Well, that can be paid for out of the general grant.” If, for very understandable reasons, they give a right to somebody and that puts somebody else down the queue, Parliament has to know what the implications are for the funding of local authorities, all of which are struggling with the current resource implications.

09:59
Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have listened carefully to what everybody has said, and there is a genuine misunderstanding about what is currently in the Bill, and what that means going forward. Under the Bill, any local authority in England that has somebody presenting with domestic abuse issues must take on a secure tenancy if that person had a secure tenancy before. It cannot be plainer than that, and that why the amendment is ineffective: the measure is in the Bill. The courts have said that local authorities must not apply the local connection test to victims of domestic abuse who apply for social housing, which is again in line with guidance issued in 2013. The amendment does not change anything and is therefore unnecessary.

The Department collects data on all social housing lettings through CORE, the continuous recording of social housing lettings and sales system. That information includes the type of tenancy granted, the nature of the landlord—local authority or housing association—whether the new tenant has moved from another social home or local authority district, and the main reason why the tenant left their last settled home, including whether that was in relation to domestic abuse. Taken together, those data will enable us to monitor the impact of the Bill. The amendment is therefore technically ineffective because the measure is in the Bill, and I ask the hon. Member for Great Grimsby to withdraw it.

Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I find the Minister’s response disappointing. The amendment has been tabled in good faith, and I cannot see this measure in the Bill. The Minister said that “any local authority” must grant a tenancy, but the Bill does not say that.

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It says “a local”—

Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn
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The Minister speaks repeatedly from a sedentary position throughout every proceeding. Perhaps I may continue. The Bill does not say “any” local authority—the Minister’s words are important, as are those in the Bill. As I was trying to explain, the amendment has been tabled to try to ensure that there can be no mistake when it comes to the practical implementation of the Minister’s good intentions.

Let me return to the comments from Women’s Aid, which spoke about the very inconsistent approach taken by local authorities across England in discharging their current obligations to house women who are fleeing domestic abuse in another area. It states that on one day in 2017, 68.4% of women resident in refuge services had come from a different local authority area. That number is so significant that we cannot dismiss it. The danger is that when we draft legislation, we assume that what we think, believe and discuss in this room will automatically be understood by people out there who have to work within our words. Too often we find that that is not the case, that the situation is confusing and oblique, and the holes that I was talking about become ever wider.

Local housing teams have prevented nearly a fifth of women who are supported by the No Woman Turned Away project from remaining because they had no local connection, and we can consider the evidential base behind that. I also support the comments that the hon. Member for Poole made about ensuring that the implementation of the Bill is robustly monitored and reviewed. I disagree fundamentally that this measure is in the Bill. I am not inclined to push the matter to a vote today. However, I put the Minister on notice that we will not shy away from pursuing further amendments on Report, whereupon votes may indeed be pursued, to try to tackle this. If we cannot protect nearly 17% of women who are going out of area with their housing needs, we will all have failed in our duties and responsibilities.

I remind the Minister that this is an incredibly sensitive subject and the approach to it matters. We would not be in this situation—we would not even have to discuss it—if we had continued security of tenure within council housing, and if we had not removed the fixed-term tenures and applied limits to them. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley made it clear that this has been pulled and yanked to this stage, even to get the amendment that the Government are supporting. I will leave it there, but we may well come back to this. I hope the Minister will take time to consider this before the Bill is complete. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 25, at end insert—

‘(2BA) The Secretary of State must by regulations issue guidance as to—

(a) the identification of persons entitled to be offered a tenancy under subsection (2A) or (2B) including the evidence required of domestic abuse; and

(b) the training of local authority officials in matters relevant to the exercise of the duties of local authorities under subsection (2A) or (2B).

(2BB) Before issuing the guidance the Secretary of State must consult such persons and the representatives of such persons as he or she considers appropriate.

(2BC) Regulations under this section shall be made by statutory instrument and may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.’

I will begin by returning to the point that has just been made about a fifth of women being turned away by housing teams due to their not having a local connection. That leads to the issue of training. I have been discussing consistency across the country, which puts into sharp focus the training of local government staff, who will be charged with executing the new duty. I have worked alongside staff in local government and recognise the funding challenges that local government is facing—I say that in the kindest terms, in the hope that the Minister will have open ears to my arguments. Unfortunately, as in any industry, training is usually the first budget to be trimmed.

We are fortunate to have good connections across the House with experts from the refuge sector, whether that is Women’s Aid, Solace, Refuge or SafeLives—all those organisations work day in, day out, on this. Some hon. Members have personal experience of dealing with domestic violence on a day-to-day basis, so will have been deeply immersed in the realities and the struggles of women who present themselves at a refuge, then require additional support going forward. Those organisations have great depth of knowledge, understanding and personal connections with those victims. They approach the issue from a very different perspective from a local housing officer. It is fair to say that the housing officers in the local authority, with the best will in the world, simply do not have access to the same depth of knowledge and resource of experienced colleagues to be able to properly support the women who are presenting.

There are a multitude of pressures on local authorities. It is not just individuals who have suffered domestic violence who present themselves to a housing officer. There are people who feel like they have been on a housing waiting list since time immemorial. The council house waiting list in Southwark stands at 20,000, I think. There will be people there who are in extreme need—new babies coming along. [Interruption.] I am not sure why the Minister shakes her head on that point.

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With pleasure, if the Minister explains why she was shaking her head.

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have had the great pleasure of going to Southwark to talk about housing arrangements. Southwark’s statistics for getting people into homes and moving people out of B&Bs are stunningly brilliant. It has nobody in B&Bs now, and it has amazing statistics on temporary accommodation as well. Perhaps the hon. Lady would like to talk about a different council.

Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Well, I will talk about my local council, which has 2,000 people on its waiting list. It is a small local authority covering one and three-quarter constituencies. We have about 180,000 people residing in the area, and 2,000 people on a housing waiting list is a significant proportion of that.

Hon. Members may wish to intervene and discuss their areas. There is no point denying that there are councils that are under strain or that there are excessive waiting lists. That is the whole point: we have a crisis. We do not have enough social housing in the country; private rents are far too expensive for many people to afford.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I want to mention Birmingham which, being the largest council, probably has the longest waiting list. Currently, for temporary accommodation in Birmingham, those moving house can expect to be sent to Burton upon Trent. I believe we have some people in Manchester. There is no available temporary accommodation in Birmingham today.

Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes the point perfectly. I applaud Southwark. I understand that it is operating some Government pilot schemes and I commend it for its proactive approach. Having met with the portfolio holder responsible for housing, I know how seriously she takes it. She is very committed to making sure that Southwark residents have the best housing opportunities, but we know that there is significant pressure in the housing sector. People are being moved around the country. I have often knocked on doors and found that suddenly there is somebody from London living in a street in Grimsby—as unexpected for them as it is for me.

Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is being quite disrespectful. She wanted me to talk about another council, so I have done so. This is important. We are talking about the pressure on local authorities and the struggles and strains that they face. The Minister expects local authorities to implement this legislation and they are under significant pressure. I began by making a point about housing officers, who are under great strain in trying to meet the needs of many different people.

In my area, one of biggest housing needs is for adapted housing: there is a real shortage of adapted properties. One of my colleagues was saying that if thousands of bungalows were suddenly built in his constituency, he would absolutely have enough people to fill them, such are the demographics. That is the reality of the different challenges that housing officers are facing.

When it comes to dealing with a specialised issue, and we have heard testimony from hon. Members about individuals coming forward who have had some dreadful experiences. I understand that the Minister has had some contact and association with the domestic violence sector. Some of the stories we have heard are quite shocking. The level of abuse and degradation that individuals are subject to can often leave them without any self-worth or sense of identity. They often struggle to know how they will get through the next day, let alone plan their housing future and support their children—children are often involved.

That sensitivity is critical, whether people have gone through a court case, are trying to report a matter to the police, seek legal support or avoid the far-reaching tentacles of an abusive relationship and the abuser. It does not matter if someone changes their phone or goes into hiding, because in reality, persistent abusers can still find their victims. They will often use their children, through school routes, to try to undermine victims and leave them feeling unnerved.

10:15
I met survivors in my constituency at an event attended by more than 100 women. Five survivors gave a presentation about their experiences and how they were getting through with the support of the local Women’s Aid service. Knowing how to deal with those stories—how to receive and how to respond—with sensitivity and empathy does not always come easily.
Someone dealing with housing and the multitude of challenges it poses needs the right training. That training needs to be consistent across the country, so that it does not matter if a victim from Birmingham ends up in Manchester or north-east Lincolnshire. They should get the same treatment, including a full appraisal of what is expected of them, so they understand what is to be delivered and what the Minister’s expectations are.
I do not know whether the Minister has considered a single source of training. Earlier, there was a discussion about guidance. If there is not a single source and package of training delivered to achieve consistency, we will continue to see inconsistencies in delivery. I say that to assist, not frustrate, the Minister. I can see that she is rubbing her eyes and looking a little bored. I am sorry about that, because I believe that this is relevant and important.
I am sure that the Minister was as horrified as I was by the Women’s Aid brief in the “Nowhere to Turn” report that gave examples of domestic violence victims being told to return to the perpetrator or to come back for help when the situation got worse. How much worse did those officers expect the situation to get before they were prepared to assist with that individual’s housing need?
We have an opportunity to address that and ensure that every victim who needs housing support, wherever they end up in the country, receives the same treatment. It is not unthinkable that under pressure, public servants in town halls across England are not up to speed on the latest advances in the treatment of domestic violence victims. They will not have detailed knowledge and day-to-day experience of dealing with them in the same way as specialist support services.
We should not accept that this is the best that we can do. If we can do more, let us do more. Let us aim a little higher. I expect the Minister to draw my attention to the revised homelessness code of practice for local authorities but, again, this is about the practice on the ground of the concepts that we have in this place. It is about ensuring that our intentions here are delivered on the ground in the way that we intend.
Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It feels like the most helpful thing that many of us can do for the Minister today is to try to give her some examples of the things that we have been dealing with, so that she understands why these amendments have been tabled. I appreciate and understand that she has what she considers to be a fantastic local authority. Sadly, for many of us—not through a lack of wanting to get services right—the reality is that services are not right.

It is worth remembering that there is no actual requirement for a housing officer to understand what domestic violence is. There is no requirement for them to know why it matters to have, for example, a confidential space in which women can come forward and tell people what has been happening.

Many of the things that the Minister talks about assume that the initial conversation, whereby somebody discloses that they are a victim of domestic violence, happens in such a way that there will not be a culture of disbelief. Sadly, my experience of working with victims of domestic violence in my local area, which I do not think is unique, is that they are often not believed, or that barriers are often put up that affect their ability to access services.

That is why training and getting housing officers to recognise that they are often the frontline is necessary. For example, we could train every single housing officer to ask why somebody needs repeated repairs—“Why does that door keep getting broken? Why does that window keep getting broken?”—because the answer is often not that it was an accident but that somebody has been violent in that household, which is very hard for people to admit.

It is frightening how many people in my local area, when turning up at housing authorities and housing offices presenting as victims of domestic violence, have been turned away or told that they would say that because that is how to get a house. That is the culture we have to deal with. I will give the Minister some examples of real cases from my local housing authority which, like many others, has a massive waiting list and is housing people in Luton and Bedford—well out of the area—because it does not have access to housing. It is trying to build more housing in difficult circumstances but, like many others, it still has not got it right when it comes to dealing with victims of domestic violence. The Bill is intended to get that right, and if the Minister wants to do so we have to deal with the reality of how these services are offered and why training would make a difference.

For example, one woman attended the housing authority on six different occasions before she was assisted. It started when she was heavily pregnant and continued with her attending with a newborn baby. The baby was three days old during one visit, and she was made to wait all day without being seen. The woman was homeless and was sleeping with the baby for more than five months in a single bed in a room that she shared with three adults in a friend’s property.

Another woman with two autistic children was provided with temporary accommodation—one room in a shared property. One woman had six children and was refused assistance. The authority insisted that she obtain a court order against her husband and request a panic alarm from the police, despite her being a high-risk victim who did not feel safe staying at her address. Additionally, the woman had a 16-year-old child who required 24/7 care, which was not taken into consideration. Another woman was discouraged from making a housing application when it was stated that she would only be provided with housing in faraway areas, such as Birmingham, which is a very long way from Walthamstow. Other women have had problems because they do not speak English as a first language.

As I said in my first contribution, we ask victims to navigate this system, rather than having a system that understands that domestic violence is far too prevalent in our society, and that offering housing and safe refuge is therefore one of the most important things that we can do. Training would fundamentally change that culture.

I am ashamed that there is not a safe space for women in my local authority to say, “This has happened to me; can I talk to somebody about it?” I am ashamed that housing officers query whether somebody is saying that they are a victim of domestic violence as a way to get a house, as if anybody would go through the shame of having to admit that. I am ashamed that housing officers and social care workers very often do not work together, even though a social services officer might have first seen the signs that something was not right in that family.

Training is absolutely crucial to put domestic violence at the forefront of people’s minds, rather than it being one of the tests that they might have to set to see whether somebody is eligible for housing. I am sure that the Minister wants the Bill to change that tick-box culture, but sadly, without that new culture, it is not going to change; all this will be is another set of obligations. If we truly want to keep victims of domestic violence safe, we have to change root and branch the way in which decisions are made.

The Minister might have a fantastic local authority, but I would love to hear from her local service providers whether they think that it gets it right every single time; whether every woman, when she first has the confidence to say, “This happened to me; I need to be somewhere safe” gets the right response. Training is a crucial part of that—getting people to think about how they deal with somebody who is disclosing trauma. These are victims of trauma, which is not easy to deal with. Any Member who has had somebody come in to their constituency surgery to talk about their experiences knows that. Sadly, for my local authority, the examples I gave were provided by independent sexual violence advisers. Those are the most serious cases of domestic violence.

One challenge we face is that, too often, we wait until something escalates before we intervene. In the past eight or nine years, we have begun to recognise that we do not want to do that, which is good. Concepts such as coercive control have become part of our conversations: we recognise that we can spot the signs when somebody is in a toxic relationship and we can intervene. However, that is not the reality on the ground. I know we are going to discuss later the questions about evidence—people having to prove beyond reasonable doubt that these things are happening to them. The problem is that they are having to prove that to people who are not expert enough to be able to understand what they are being shown. Giving them training would start to change that conversation. Again, I say to the Minister: think of this legislation as a belt-and-braces measure. If, one day, somebody walks into her constituency surgery and this has not been got right, she will realise why belt and braces matter.

Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Like the Minister, I have a very good local authority. I have long admired the housing officers there, who are exceptionally skilled people. When they open that door in the morning, when they open their emails or answer the phone, they never quite know what they are going to get. It could be somebody suffering domestic abuse, as we are talking about today; someone with drug or alcohol abuse issues, or mental or physical health challenges; or someone does not speak English as their first language. They face all sorts of challenges, they have to be very adaptable to meet the different needs of the people who require their services, and they have to do that against a difficult backdrop. These officers can face hard councillors, which many of us in the Committee were, who prosecute the case for their resident because they want to get them the best deal, and have to balance that because there are five other hard councillors that morning trying to do the same thing.

I believe fundamentally in the best in people—I think that is a strength, but some say it is a weakness. However, I acknowledge that there is still dishonesty, and we have to be able to pick through. We know from our casework that what a case looks like might not be so when we dig into it. We ask our housing officers to be extraordinary generalists—multi-skilled and aware of many different things, at a time when local authorities are under unprecedented pressure. As my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby says, the first budgets to go are those for training, because they are not the immediate frontline services of the day. As a result we are giving our housing officers a difficult challenge, asking them to do more while others are asking them to do it with less. We are sending a real signal that we value their work by putting it on the face of the Bill.

Risk is an issue that weaves throughout the Bill and will do so throughout the next domestic abuse Bill, later in the Session. When I was in local government and had responsibility for domestic abuse services, it was not the women who were considered high risk who gave me the most anxiety, although of course those cases are really serious. Those women get the very intense, immediate support, wrapped round them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and there is some comfort in that. My concern was about those who were low and medium risk—cases that might escalate quickly, but one cannot know which ones might do so, or they would be classified as higher risk. The only mitigation against those fast-escalating, low and medium risk cases is to make every contact with people count. Someone might directly speak about their situation, or we can try to read other cues that give us a clue, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow said. That only works if, with every single contact, that person is skilled enough to read those cues. To give them a fair chance, we need to give them proper training. Putting that on the face of the Bill would send a strong signal.

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Though I understand the intention behind the amendment, I do not believe that it is necessary. Local authorities already have to identify whether a person who is applying for social housing or homelessness assistance has been a victim of domestic abuse. The purpose of the Bill is to provide important protections for victims and it does not require local authorities to make decisions in relation to domestic abuse cases that may be significantly different from those already made.

10:30
On 22 February the Government published the homelessness code of guidance, which took into consideration responses from a range of sources following a public consultation, including those supplied by Women’s Aid. The guidance, which will come into force on 3 April, at the same time as the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, provides extensive advice to help local authorities handle cases that involve domestic abuse. The guidance recognises that local authorities may wish to seek information from a range of sources, including friends and relatives, social services, health professionals and domestic abuse support services, as well as the police, but it also recognises that corroborative evidence of actual or threatened violence may not be available because, for example, there were no adult witnesses or the applicant was too frightened or ashamed to report incidents to family, a friend or the police. I therefore think that sufficient guidance is available on evidence and identification of victims, which takes into account the most recent public consultation. It would not be helpful for local housing authorities or indeed victims or charities involved in the sector to have to refer to different pieces of guidance on domestic abuse issues in relation to social housing.
It is up to local authorities to decide how they train their staff to best support victims of domestic abuse. To ensure a consistent approach by local authorities, we have deliberately drawn the definition of domestic abuse in the Bill along similar lines to those in the Homeless Reduction Act. The updated homelessness guidance also covers the Homeless Reduction Act duties, integrates separate documents published since 2006, and updates and streamlines guidance on existing law. It also advises local authorities about the need to have appropriate policies and training in place to identify and respond to domestic abuse. It advises that specialist training for staff and managers on domestic abuse will help them to provide a more sensitive response and to identify with applicants housing options that are safe and appropriate to their needs.
We are committed to helping local authorities to provide that support, which is why we already provide funding to the National Homelessness Advice Service to provide training on homelessness, including training courses specifically on domestic abuse. The NHAS training is being updated to reflect the Homelessness Reduction Act, and we will ensure that the revised material draws attention to the strengthened guidance on domestic abuse contained in the new code of guidance. We also provided funding to the National Practitioner Support Service to provide domestic abuse awareness training to frontline housing staff in local authorities in 2016, resulting in the training of 232 frontline housing staff across nine English regions and the production of an online toolkit. In addition, a number of local authorities used funding from our 2016-18 £20 million fund for specialist accommodation-based support and service reform to meet the priorities for domestic abuse services, to provide training programmes for their frontline staff.
It is not necessary to issue formal guidance on training to local authorities to support them in implementing the Bill. For those reasons, I do not believe that the amendment is necessary, and I therefore hope that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby and colleagues will agree to withdraw it.
Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for that response. I challenge her statements that housing officers are not required to make decisions around incidents of domestic violence. They are required to make such decisions. She talked about consistency of approach between local authorities across the country, which is one of the problems, and she went some way towards solving that in the later part of her comments. We will discuss later cross-border working and how we achieve consistency on that basis, but she does not seem to have a plan for monitoring and checking to ensure consistency among local authorities, within a certain tolerance—I accept that there will not be an identikit model—when people present in that situation.

I was pleased to hear the Minister talk about the NHAS and the Government’s funding and support for it, and her commitment to continue that support and to roll out further training. It is right that some training for housing officers comes from the likes of Women’s Aid and Refuge, because they are the experts. She says that 232 frontline housing staff were given that training. I do not know what that is as a proportion of housing officers around the country, but it does not seem very many given how many people are in housing need. How far has that programme gone, and have steps been taken to expand it? How many of the 232 are still in post, given that there has been significant restructuring in local authorities as they seek to manage their financial situations? On the basis of the training support in place at the moment, I am content to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 25, at end insert—

“(2BA) A local housing authority which grants an old-style secure tenancy under subsection (2A) or (2B) has discretion to decide whether or not the maximum rent for the old-style secure tenancy should be determined according to regulation B13 of the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/213) as amended by the Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/3040).”

This amendment will probably not find favour with the Minister as it relates to under-occupancy and the charges applied during the last three years, or even longer, that the bedroom tax has been in place. We know that that has caused significant difficulties for people not in a domestic violence situation. The purpose behind this amendment is to ensure that domestic violence victims are not penalised when they leave a secure tenancy and are then provided with a secure tenancy in another property with a spare room incorporated. The Minister will be relieved to hear that I will not speak ad infinitum on this. The principle behind the bedroom tax and its effectiveness will presumably be assessed over time.

We have to look at the Prime Minister’s intentions when she talks about her commitment to supporting victims of domestic violence, and we have to look at the circumstances. We should remember that every week two women die in domestic violence circumstances, ask ourselves why they do not leave their properties, and try to remove all the barriers to their doing so. I try to place myself in the situation that may befall some victims, and think about the significant barriers that would stop me leaving and trying to start again—not having a family network to rely on, not having the financial resources to fully support myself, the emotional difficulties that my children may be experiencing, and wanting to continue to support them and give them as normal a life as possible during a very challenging time. Given those burdens and blocks, had I been told that I was leaving a secure tenancy with the option of another tenancy that involved additional financial costs put upon me as an individual, it would worry me a great deal if I were on a low income or had limited means.

We must do everything we can to reduce the likelihood of victims returning to their abusers or ending up in an even worse situation through not having the security of a home. Removing those barriers is essential. We know that there are already exemptions to the bedroom tax, and victims of domestic violence should be included in that.

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for being succinct and for indicating that she will not push the amendment to a vote. I will also be brief, and try to give her some succour.

Under the Bill, we expect that a local authority offering a tenancy will ensure, wherever possible, that that does not result in a tenant under-occupying the property. Allocating a property that is too big for the tenant’s needs would not be in the interests of the tenant or the landlord. The tenant, if eligible for housing benefit, would be subject to the adjustment to remove the spare room subsidy, and under-occupancy would not be the best use of scarce social housing.

Statutory allocation guidance issued in 2012 clearly recognises that when framing the rules to determine what size property to allocate to different households and in different circumstances, local authorities should take into account the removal of the spare room subsidy. Where the victim wishes to remain in her own property after the perpetrator has left, or been removed, we would expect in most cases that that would not result in an under-occupation charge. Domestic abuse will normally occur between partners, and in this case between joint tenants, and in such instances the property is typically let on the basis that both tenants share a bedroom. Removing the perpetrator would generally therefore not result in under-occupation.

When deciding whether to grant a further tenancy to victims who remain in their home, local authorities must take into account a number of factors, including the particular circumstances of the victim and her household. In some cases it may be more appropriate to offer a new tenancy in another smaller property—but only where appropriate. There may be a small number of cases where, for whatever reason, the local authority allocates a new property, or grants a new tenancy in the same property, and that property has more bedrooms than the tenant needs, but I expect that number to be very, very small. Furthermore, in such cases it would be open to the tenant to apply for discretionary housing payment to cover any rental shortfall.

The Government’s policy is not to deal with personal circumstances unrelated to the size of the property by the inclusion of general exemptions to the regulations, but rather to take into account a person’s individual circumstances separately, through the process of discretionary housing payments. In 2016 the Supreme Court upheld that policy, and dismissed a challenge for the removal of the spare room subsidy brought by a victim of domestic abuse on the grounds that it amounted to unlawful sex discrimination. That case involved a victim who was being provided with protection under a sanctuary scheme. Since 2011, £900 million has been provided to local authorities for discretionary housing payments to support vulnerable claimants, including victims of domestic abuse. Funding for 2018-21 was set out in the summer Budget in 2015, and for 2018 there will be £153 million for England and Wales.

The spare room subsidy was introduced to bring parity in treatment between the social and private rented sectors, and to encourage mobility, strengthen work incentives, and make better use of available social housing. Rules on the removal of the spare room subsidy already exist, and include an exception for victims of domestic abuse in refuges. We do not intend to provide any further exceptions. Where local authorities grant tenancies to victims of domestic abuse, they have a choice: they can either ensure that they offer a property that meets the tenant’s needs, or they can consider providing a discretionary housing payment. For all those reasons, I do not believe that the amendment is necessary, and I hope that the hon. Lady and her colleagues will agree to withdraw it.

Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I naturally find the Minister’s view disappointing, but if she is confident that the current provisions will not result in any hardship—I accept that Women’s Aid say that the measure would impact on a relatively small number of people—I will therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10:48
Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 3, in clause 1, page 1, line 25, at end insert—

‘(2BA) The person making the application for an old-style secure tenancy under subsection (2A) or (2B) must not be charged for obtaining any evidence of domestic abuse if this evidence is required to make the application.’

For local authorities to certify the reason for someone’s housing need—we have heard about occasional dishonesty when people present, but I certainly do not think that that is the norm—they should be in a position to check and have rigour behind their processes, establish that people are given, correctly and accurately, the housing they need and that their circumstances are taken fully into account. When a new duty is placed on local authorities to establish a prescribed reason for housing need, such as domestic violence, there is a requirement for evidence.

To my mind, that evidence is not a medical note, so that people can fly abroad on their summer holidays while they are taking prescribed pills, or go potholing or canoeing, nor is it a legal affirmation or warning letter for which one might reasonably expect to be charged a fee. It is a piece of essential documentation that supports the person presenting at the housing office, confirming that the information they provide—however scant that information is—can be backed by an official in a position of authority who has knowledge and experience of that individual and the circumstances that have led to them presenting at the local authority.

Notes from doctors or lawyers can cost significant amounts of money. Women’s Aid tells us of occasions where people have been charged £100 for this sort of evidence. I do not understand how that can be justified, in any sense of the word. For example, we might expect a £10 charge in support of a passport application, but £100 seems excessive. Perhaps that is because it is outside the norms, because it is outside GP contracts, or because it is not prescribed, so there is a freedom at these offices, to which women might ordinarily go, to charge whatever the professional chooses. I am sure that GPs will say that their surgeries are in need of additional funding—perhaps not lawyers’ offices. It seems to me a crass and opportunistic charge, and somewhat of a money-making exercise on the back of quite vulnerable people. Should we not just say that, particularly with GPs, there should be no charges?

GP contract negotiations are ongoing. I wonder whether the Minister has approached, or intends to approach, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to determine an exclusion for this advisory note. I wonder whether there is already provision or whether provision could be made to say that other services are suitable in providing that evidence—that there are no statutorily prescribed individuals who must give the supportive evidence for an individual. For example, that could be a refuge support worker, social worker, police officer, children’s schoolteacher or headteacher, or even someone’s boss if their boss is in a position of relative importance or responsibility in their local area, in the same way that they might support a passport application. There should be somebody in a position of authority, who can be taken as trustworthy, to easily support the victim.

Again, it is about avoiding those unnecessary barriers to accessing a property. If there is an excessive charge, it will prevent people from obtaining that information, which will in turn prevent somebody from accessing the property, moving on with their life and setting up afresh. Anything that can be done to remove those barriers must be seen as a positive step that the Government can take to make the path as easy as possible. I will leave it there and hope the Minister will consider that carefully.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Many of us who were part of the change in how legal aid was divvied up, certainly in civil and family cases, are all too aware of exactly how it has become par for the course for someone to prove that they are a victim of domestic abuse. There was a time when believing was just a thing that most people did. I have had lots of experience. I continue to help victims of domestic abuse almost weekly to seek legal aid clarifications in the family courts, where they have been turned down because they are not believed to be a victim of domestic abuse.

The timescale for proving that has been extended once again by judicial review—from three years to five years, if my memory serves—and the Government have recently widened the group of those who can give evidence that a woman is a victim of domestic abuse, recognising that the freest piece of evidence they can have is something from the police. The police do not charge for any evidence, supplying a crime reference number or writing a letter to say that someone has been a victim. However, we all know that the vast majority of women will never report to the police, so we must recognise refuge providers, charities and even Members of Parliament as those who can provide evidence for free.

However, a lot of women seek out help from their GP. A lot of people seek support from a solicitor, especially those who are migrants to this country, as they are more used to working with solicitors through our immigration systems. I watch every day as women are completely and utterly swindled and asked for money. It fills me with no pleasure to say this about where I live, but I once had to put on Twitter that a GP in my area was charging a woman who needed evidence £100 for that service. A woman from Norwich—God love the people of Norwich—sent me a cheque for £100. Twitter is not the answer.

Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Were any explanations given about what the £100 charge was for? Were there administration fees, or excessive delving into records and so on?

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was about to say something really rude and ask why a dog does something: because it can. It is a bit like anything, just putting stamps on letters—it seems stamps are really expensive in certain GPs’ surgeries. That is happening not just in cases of domestic violence, but in cases of disability. There are a lot of agencies that are potentially under reasonable strain and kicking back against that reasonable strain, because they are in a culture where belief, proof and evidence matter so much. There is an awful lot of call on GP surgeries and hospitals—primary care and secondary care—and all sorts of agencies to help individuals to prove that they are not lying about the fits that they have or about their husband bashing them about, so there is strain in the system.

We are calling on the Government to make it very clear that what is happening is totally unacceptable, whether in cases of this type or in cases involving legal aid. As I said, I still have to write to the Legal Aid Agency every single week to say, “Why have you not helped this woman? She has given you proof. Why have you not listened to her?” That must not be the case under a Government who I know really care about this issue and would not want women to be disbelieved. Unfortunately, our bureaucracy is not currently on side.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What price is a bruise? That is the question that we are asking ourselves today. The Minister might have cases; I have cases of constituents who have managed to disclose to a healthcare professional what has happened to them. The healthcare professional has seen the evidence of the bruises and still the practice wants 50 quid to write a letter to confirm that. The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar screws up his face, and I can well understand why. It is shameful.

We wrote to our local clinical commissioning group to try to find out about charges, about why doctors are charging people, and the answer that we got back is very simple—it is not about dogs, which may disappoint my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley. GPs charge for non-NHS work, and that is what this work is; it is private. It is in the same category as providing a certificate to allow someone to go skateboarding at seven months pregnant or giving people a certificate that they might need for work. Actually, it is not in the same category. This is about risk. One thing that I think all of us would like to see society doing when it comes to things such as domestic violence is moving away from challenging victims to prove what has happened to them towards understanding risk and how we prevent it. That is the way we will save a lot of money if nothing else. It is also the way we will stop people dying.

When it comes to providing evidence and having paperwork to prove what has happened, let us just think for a second about how humiliating it is for people not to be believed when they say, “This has happened to me.” They summon up the courage to admit that someone they love has turned out to be a monster, and our housing officers say, “Well, I don’t believe you, so I need evidence. Is there someone who can verify your claims? Is there someone whom we consider to be trustworthy? Obviously, by default, you are not trustworthy, because you are after something.” The person turns to their doctor, and their doctor charges them, so this is indeed the question: what price is a bruise? What price is the evidence for something that someone has admitted has happened to them?

We know how hard it is to tell someone, when people are asking for help, what has happened. Often people disclose in healthcare environments, or they might disclose to other agencies. This is not just about the cost of doctors. In my list of cases, which I am happy to share with the Minister, the cost of interpreters is an issue. Who pays for someone to come and explain? If women do not have English as a first language and want to say what has happened to them, finding someone they trust and who can explain that to housing officers is impossible. I find that, even with the independent sexual violence advisers who are working with them: they have to pay for these services because they are not provided by housing. If people are presented with evidence, they have to act, and if they are presented with evidence that meets their standard test, they have to act.

Something that we are now seeing in my local authority area, which I am extremely worried about, is that even when women are scraping together the money to pay for the paperwork to meet the tests—they are not trusted to explain what has happened to them, so a third party has to verify it—it is still challenged. Then they have to find the money for a lawyer, because they need someone to fight their case. In my local authority area, there is no independent legal housing service, so they have to try to find and pay for someone themselves. Every single step of the way, a financial barrier is put in place, and these are not women who have access to independent means. They have often been saving up money—money that they do not themselves have control of—to try to get out of the situation; they might have small children. One woman was trying to get evidence that her partner had Asperger’s, because the local authority said: “Well, Asperger’s doesn’t make you an abuser”. No, he was an abuser who had Asperger’s, but the evidence was part of the case that she was trying to put in place.

11:00
Every time we add these barriers, money makes a difference. Every time that money makes a difference, it becomes less likely that we will keep somebody safe. It is not just about trusting victims, it is about recognising the barriers and how we can do something about them. Nobody is suggesting that GPs should not charge if a certificate is needed to be able to go snowboarding at Val-d’Isère. [Interruption.] Well, it is not my cup of tea, but I am sure it is a wonderful experience for many. If a GP sees somebody at risk, charging them £15 to get the letter is not acceptable, because there is a risk that the evidence will not be there.
We have two choices. We either get rid of the charges, as the amendment proposes, or we change the way that we take evidence and risk-assess people. Will the Minister consider both points? For now, making sure that no victim of domestic violence has to scrape funds together, borrowing money, perhaps taking out a payday loan, going hungry or having to steal money from the perpetrator to pay for paperwork is not something that should happen in our society. The day on which one of those cases walks through her door and one of those people turns up at her surgery she will know why belt and braces matter.
Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I came this morning more in hope than expectation. I can count how many Opposition Members there are and how many Government Members, which brings a certain likelihood to whether we will get what we hope for out of the sitting. Come what may, I want to know that we have made the case for the person who has made that incredibly difficult decision and weighed up the pros and cons, and removed all the artificial arguments against leaving that very dangerous situation. There cannot be any worse argument in that column than, “I can’t afford the money to do so”. That would be an awful reflection on us as a society. Wherever that happens, we must do our absolute best to remove it. We will have let people down if, in their moment of greatest challenge, they turn to the services we rely on to live our lives freely and find out that they are asked for a fee that they cannot afford.

We have heard lots of sums discussed so far in the debate. We will have seen it in our casework as well. Every single time, whether the fee is £25, £50, £70, £100 or £150, it is always a suspiciously round number. There is no calculation that sits behind it. I do not think anybody is saying that we want to see public service finance suddenly decimated by this extra requirement of support—that is not the case. Hon. Friends have made the point that it is done because it can be done. We have the chance this morning to make sure that it cannot be done and we ought to take it. There are very compelling arguments for amendment 3.

On evidence, will the Minister say what evidentiary standard she thinks local authorities will be looking for and whether there will be local variants? That comes back to the arguments that we made earlier about training, local discretion and any possibility of a postcode lottery. I hope that that will not be the case.

What will be the exemptions? I am conscious of the exemptions in other pieces of legislation. I think about benefits from the Department of Work and Pensions which have a domestic violence exemption. Similarly, there is the application for the exemption from the Child Maintenance Service. Are similar exemptions likely to apply here?

Rosie Duffield Portrait Rosie Duffield (Canterbury) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As Opposition Members have mentioned many times, the barriers to leaving are crucial. We are talking mostly about women who have spent months, years, sometimes decades making mental lists over and again about their route out. Their route out will be to sort out the children’s school, to talk to their friends, to reach out to someone and to go to services. All those things take huge amounts of courage at the first step and then the next step, and then it possibly gets easier.

Our main responsibility today is to remove all the barriers on that route out. If those of us here decide to do something, we mostly have the money to do it. These women have been controlled financially, which is the main way in which women are controlled in a domestic violence situation. The partner may have run up debts that the woman cannot deal with, or certainly will have stopped access to money for anything from children’s presents to basic sanitary products and food. We have a duty to make sure that that crucial element is included in the Bill.

Finances are the barrier—the brick wall with no holes. Someone might be able to deal with the other things; they might be able to borrow a little money from a grandparent for a children’s present or for Tampax, but they will not be able to find £100—from the list of desperate, emergency things in their head—to prove that they have been a victim. It is essential to make sure that that is not a thing that happens.

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sure we can all agree that we are not at ease with the idea of charging a fee to a victim of abuse who is seeking evidence of that abuse. The issue was raised when the Bill was debated in the Lords, and it was discussed on Second Reading in the Commons, particularly in relation to the medical profession.

As I understand the matter, the provision of notes or letters of evidence of abuse falls outside a GP’s NHS contract, and therefore a fee can be charged. Negotiations for the 2018-19 contracts are currently going on, and the Minister for Faith, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, who took the Bill through the Lords, has written to the Department of Health and Social Care to raise the concerns that arose among peers about this issue during the Bill’s passage through the Lords. As I said to hon. Members on Second Reading, I shall inform the House when we have a response to that letter.

It is, however, important to remember that victims of abuse may seek evidence from a wide variety of sources—not just GP letters or notes—as set out in the homelessness code of guidance. As part of the variety of evidence that can be supplied, an individual, as a data subject, can ask to be provided with their medical records.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

One of the things about this country is that we do not own our medical records. When constituents of mine have tried to do as the Minister describes, doctors have been able to say no. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care owns all our medical data and therefore access can be refused.

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady. Forgive me; I was not quite clear. From 25 May, the general data protection regulation becomes directly applicable and a data subject cannot be charged a fee except where a request is manifestly unfounded or excessive, or where requests are made for further copies of the same information. In that case, the fee must be reasonable and based on the administrative cost of providing the information. In the first instance, a person will be able to ask for their medical records from 25 May.

In addition, the British Medical Association advises GPs that where they intend to make a charge for providing a letter as evidence, they should inform the patient before doing so. The amendment has been introduced to deal specifically with GP charges, but it is widely drawn and, as a blanket prohibition, would apply across the public and private sector. I do not believe that regulating parts of the private sector is appropriate in the circumstances in question, or that it is a matter for the Bill.

For those reasons, I ask the hon. Member for Great Grimsby to withdraw the amendment.

Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I trust that the new measure due to be enacted at the end of April will go some way to removing some barriers that women face, although it will not go all the way. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 4, in clause 1, page 1, line 25, at end insert—

“(2BA) A private registered provider of social housing or a housing trust which is a charity that grants a tenancy of a dwelling house in England must grant an old-style secure tenancy if—

(a) the tenancy is offered to a person who is or was a tenant of some other dwelling-house under a qualifying tenancy (whether as the sole tenant or as a joint tenant); and

(b) the provider is satisfied that—

(i) the person or a member of the person’s household is or has been a victim of the domestic abuse carried out by another person; and

(ii) the new tenancy is granted for reasons connected with that abuse

and such a private registered provider of social housing or housing trust which is a charity shall be considered a person who satisfies the landlord condition under section 80 for the purpose of granting an old-style secure tenancy in accordance with this subsection.”

I was struck on Second Reading, and I have been struck more broadly within the housing sector, by how certain phrases are used interchangeably, particularly around social housing. When winding-up on Second Reading, the Minister mentioned council housing and housing associations. I am concerned—that is the best way to term it—about how the duty, which is conveyed on local authorities, can possibly be enacted in areas where there is no council housing and where social housing sits entirely within housing associations under the provisions in the Bill. Has the Minister given that any consideration, or does the broad term “social housing” mean that the duty conveyed on councils is also a duty conveyed on housing associations?

I know that some housing associations have a strong record of dealing with victims of domestic violence and other people in positions of vulnerability. During the Lords debate there was a conversation about Peabody and Gentoo, which set up the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance with Standing Together Against Domestic Violence. It is an admirable feat to go into that area independently. They have a mission to improve the housing sector’s response to domestic abuse through the introduction and adoption of an established set of standards and an accreditation process. There was a strong recognition during that debate that housing associations play a critical role in delivering the homes that we need up and down the country. They can only help to provide a home in these circumstances if they have the homes to put people in.

There is an obvious disconnect between a local authority duty and the liaison with a housing association. Is that the Government’s intention? I believe that the duty should be applied equally to whoever provides the broadest context of social housing in a local authority area. My local authority area only has a housing association, which provides all its housing stock. The local authority did not retain any of its housing stock. There are some that are mixed, so they will have different, more complicated issues, and London obviously has many different housing associations operating. How can a local authority ensure that the duty can be provided through those housing associations?

Has there been any consideration of the disclosure of private, sensitive information on the part of the individual—the victim? They may disclose information to the council, but may not be aware of how housing works and of that further disclosure to the housing provider, if it is not the local authority. The Bill does not specifically mention housing associations. It mentions local housing authorities, but people may well have had their lifetime tenancies with a housing association. If they then move from a housing association to an area that has retained all its local authority stock, will that be an issue in the interpretation of the legislation? Will housing association tenancies be recognised by a local authority, particularly if they are out of area? Those are questions aimed at providing additional certainty and comfort to people who might find themselves in this situation.

11:15
I am thinking of the thousands of people in my local authority area who are in housing association accommodation but consider it council housing, even if it is under the ownership and management of a different organisation. If they were suffering domestic violence, they would expect to have precisely the same treatment, on the same terms, as somebody who is in council-provided accommodation. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to that point.
Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am mindful that we break at 11.25, so I will be as brief as I can. Amendment 4 would extend the Bill so that it applied to housing associations. Generally, tenancies granted before 15 January 1989, the date the Housing Act 1988 came into force, were secure tenancies, even though they might have been granted by housing associations. With very limited exceptions—for example, in relation to their own tenants who already had a pre-’89 secure tenancy—tenancies granted by housing associations on or after that date have been assured tenancies under the Housing Act 1988 and not secure tenancies under the Housing Act 1985.

The amendment would ensure that, where a housing association decides to rehouse an existing lifetime tenant who needs to move to escape domestic abuse, it must grant a lifetime tenancy under the Housing Act within—

Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I want to be sure I understand correctly what the Minister is saying. Is that the housing association within its own organisation or is that between housing associations, perhaps in different local authority areas?

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am responding to the hon. Lady’s amendment, so I suppose that is a question for her. I do appreciate the motivation behind the amendment, which is to ensure that victims of domestic abuse are treated on the same basis, whether the landlord of the new property is a local authority or a housing association. However, I cannot accept the amendment for a number of reasons.

In the first place, local authorities and housing associations are very different entities, which are subject to different drivers and challenges. Local authorities are public sector organisations. When schedule 7 to the Housing and Planning Act 2016 comes into force, local authorities will generally be required to give fixed-term tenancies and will be able to grant lifetime tenancies only in limited circumstances specified in legislation or regulations.

Housing associations are private not-for-profit bodies. They will continue to have the freedom, as now, to offer lifetime tenancies wherever they consider them appropriate. The purpose of housing associations is to provide and manage homes for people in housing need. The vast majority are charities with charitable objectives that require them to put tenants at the heart of everything they do.

We would expect housing associations to take their responsibilities for people fleeing domestic violence very seriously. As some hon. Members may know, the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance was set up, as the hon. Member for Great Grimsby said, by two leading housing associations, Peabody and Gentoo, together with Standing Together Against Domestic Violence, a UK charity bringing communities together to end domestic abuse. The alliance’s stated mission is to improve the housing sector’s response to domestic abuse through the introduction and adoption of an established set of standards and an accreditation process.

I am sure hon. Members will agree that housing associations play a critical role in delivering the affordable homes that we need. That includes providing a home for people fleeing domestic abuse.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Many of us pay tribute to the work that Peabody, and particularly Gudrun Burnet, has done on this. Sadly, I have to say to her that not every housing association lives up to the standards that she just articulated. Many of them, including some in my area, seem to act as private landlords that are given public commissions. Why would we penalise those tenants, who have been allocated to those housing associations by local authorities, by not giving them the equal protection that we see organisations such as Peabody offering?

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I appreciate the hon. Lady’s comments. I have asked for guidance, and for clarification I will read it out so that we all know what we are talking about. Where council properties are moved over to an arm’s length management organisation—ALMO—that is included. These rules do not apply to separate housing associations, but they apply to ALMOs. That is crucial, because that will affect a lot of people across the country.

That includes providing a home for people fleeing domestic abuse, but we can only do that if there are the homes to put them in. It is vital that we ensure that housing associations remain in the private sector, so that they are able to borrow funding free of public sector spending guidelines. We must also avoid imposing any unnecessary controls that might risk reversing the Office for National Statistics classification of housing associations as private sector organisations.

The amendment would also require housing associations to offer secure tenancies. As I have explained, since 1989, housing associations have granted assured tenancies under the Housing Act 1988, except in very limited circumstances—for example, when dealing with a tenant who has an old-style secure tenancy. The rights of assured and secure tenancies are very different. For example, secure tenants have a statutory right to improve their property, and to be compensated for those improvements in certain circumstances.

The amendment would require private sector landlords to operate two different systems, which would be an unnecessary burden over and above the very limited circumstances in which they still manage pre-1989 tenancies. It would introduce unnecessary additional costs, which would introduce an element of confusion for tenants and would risk the re-classification of housing associations, as I stated earlier.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister has not answered my question.

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry about that. For the reasons I have given, I invite the hon. Member for Great Grimsby to withdraw the amendment.

Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is with some disappointment that I will withdraw the amendment. I reserve the right to bring something back on Report and explore this matter a little further. I am sorry that we are running short of time; this is something that warrants a bit more investigation, because it will impact on thousands of people. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Kelly Tolhurst.)

11:22
Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.

Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill [ Lords ] (Second sitting)

Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 27th March 2018

(6 years, 2 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Act 2018 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 27 March 2018 - (27 Mar 2018)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: Andrew Rosindell, † Joan Ryan
† Afolami, Bim (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)
† Burghart, Alex (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con)
† Creasy, Stella (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
† Debbonaire, Thangam (Bristol West) (Lab)
† Docherty, Leo (Aldershot) (Con)
† Duffield, Rosie (Canterbury) (Lab)
† Hughes, Eddie (Walsall North) (Con)
† Jones, Sarah (Croydon Central) (Lab)
† Lewer, Andrew (Northampton South) (Con)
† Norris, Alex (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
† Onn, Melanie (Great Grimsby) (Lab)
† Phillips, Jess (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)
† Philp, Chris (Croydon South) (Con)
† Syms, Sir Robert (Poole) (Con)
† Tolhurst, Kelly (Rochester and Strood) (Con)
† Wheeler, Mrs Heather (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government)
Nehal Bradley-Depani, Kenneth Fox, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 27 March 2018
(Afternoon)
[Joan Ryan in the Chair]
Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill [Lords]
14:00
Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
New Clause 1
Duty to review cooperation between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
“(1) By the end of the period of six months, beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must publish a review into the potential for future cooperation between local authorities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in relation to the provisions of this Act.
(2) The review under subsection (1) must consider how it may be possible to extend the provisions of the Act to ensure that applications for secure tenancies in cases of domestic abuse—
(a) from Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland may be considered by local authorities in England;
(b) from England, Scotland or Northern Ireland may be considered by local authorities in Wales;
(c) from England, Wales or Northern Ireland may be considered by local authorities in Scotland; and
(d) from England, Wales or Scotland may be considered by local authorities in Northern Ireland.
(3) The review must be laid before both Houses of Parliament.
(4) In this section, “local authority” means—
(a) in relation to England, the council of a district, county or London borough, the Common Council of the City of London and the Council of the Isles of Scilly;
(b) in relation to Wales, the council of a county or county borough;
(c) in relation to Scotland, the council of a district or city;
(d) in relation to Northern Ireland, the council of a district, borough or city.”—(Melanie Onn.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. The most common scenario in domestic violence cases is that of a woman fleeing her abuser. She escapes a harmful and dangerous situation and tries to find a place of safety—often a refuge. As we said this morning, for 68% of those women that is in another local authority area. The Minister said she does not think there is a problem with that in the Bill and decided not to accept amendment 5, which we withdrew following our discussion this morning, but we still hold that there may be a problem if the cross-boundary duty is not made explicit. The situations becomes even clearer if we think of people fleeing from another country in the UK—from Northern Ireland to England, from Scotland to Wales, from England to Wales, or from Scotland to Northern Ireland.

There are significantly fewer resources in towns than in cities. For those living in the more far-flung reaches of our country, access to support services, including housing, may be much more limited. The homelessness services provided by, for example, Crisis, are well known, but Crisis clearly operates somewhere where a significant amount of rough sleeping occurs—London. The excellent services it provides at its Crisis Skylight centre in central London are much harder to come by in, say, Norfolk or Wiltshire, although it now has an excellent service in South Yorkshire. The groundbreaking work and the centrepiece services tend to be in cities, and the same is true for domestic violence services. It stands to reason that the more people there are, the broader the range of support services catered for, and the greater the experience and knowledge base that is built up.

The anonymity of cities can be a draw for victims. If there are services to support those experiencing domestic violence, or if that is the nearest place where spaces are available, that is where victims will go. Complications may arise if someone who lives in a border town—for example, Wrexham—is directed to or heads to Manchester to seek sanctuary. Similarly, people from Northern Ireland may head to Birmingham, which my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley tells me contains the largest diaspora of Irish people in the country, to be supported by extended family members. Will the rights conferred by the Bill travel with them? Will the rights follow the victim? When the system differs among our devolved nations, will victims find that they do not receive the same treatment and housing opportunities as someone who straightforwardly moves from one council house in their local authority area to another in that same local authority area? I fear that the Government are looking at this matter far too simplistically and that down the line they will come a cropper as they realise that the Bill has not worked as intended.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth recognised the issue presented by the Bill and has committed to taking this particular matter to the Ministry’s devolved Administration roundtable, which I believe is due to convene in Cardiff in April. He has also committed to provide the Library with a copy of the letter that follows the outcome of that roundtable. I am unclear about what that might mean for the Bill, because the outcome of that roundtable will surely serve as some form of response to some of the issues that have been flagged up in debates so far.

I very much accept the difficulties and sensitivities involved, so the new clause will not force England-only duties on to the devolved nations. It strives to ensure that full collaboration is exercised and provided for to enable all victims to be treated fairly and equally, wherever in the country they come from and wherever they end up. To do that, there must be some method of reviewing the issue, and I personally prefer to understand the issue that we are trying to fix with the import of new legislation.

The new clause would recognise that there should be no detriment to anyone travelling between Northern Ireland, Scotland, England or Wales who requires security of tenure. At the moment, the Bill does not do that, despite the recognition of the problem. The new clause therefore proposes a review period of six months to establish where the problems lie in the legislation and to enable the Government to take steps to resolve them.

We do not want to see anyone dissuaded from getting themselves to a place of safety if that place is in one of the devolved nations. The matter was recognised in debate in the Lords. Rather than having to reflect on a missed opportunity, and in full understanding that this is an issue of a premise accepted by Lord Bourne, I urge the Minister to take the necessary steps to future-proof this Bill.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones (Croydon Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I want to speak in support of new clause 1 and the principle of co-operation, and to give a couple of examples. I used to work for Shelter, and I lobbied successfully for the Homelessness Act 2002. It was a groundbreaking piece of legislation because, for the first time, local authorities had to have a strategy in place to tackle homelessness. It also extended the definition of priority need to many different groups who had not fallen into that category before, including people fleeing domestic violence, as well as 16 and 17-year-olds and people leaving care, prison or the armed forces.

Shelter put a huge amount of resource into lobbying for the legislation. We worked during the passage of the Bill and lobbied civil servants on the guidance that followed. It was a good Bill and there was good guidance, but we knew that we could not necessarily guarantee that it would be implemented in the way that legislators had intended. As a charity, we funded about 15 full-time members of staff to work with every single local authority to help them understand the legislation and implement it.

My point is that even though we had a good Bill, good guidance and all this extra resource from Shelter, which was used widely by all local authorities, there were still differences in implementation, with pockets of good practice and pockets of bad practice. For example, the good practice was that a local authority should have a safe place—a safe room or a safe opportunity—for people once they came to the local authority and said that they were fleeing domestic violence. Not every local authority does that; there are differences in implementation. The implementation and what is written in the Bill are absolutely crucial.

We know that there are different definitions of priority need in different nations. If someone is fleeing domestic violence in England, the category of priority need is stronger than it would be for someone fleeing in Wales. If someone is fleeing in Wales, they have to have been the victim of domestic violence. In England, they have to be the victim or at risk of domestic violence. There is a slightly different way of interpreting that legislation, because it is different in the two nations. I would hate, as I am sure the Minister would, for us to introduce legislation that does not enable every single person we can possibly help to get the support that they need.

The new clause is a sensible addition to the legislation. Giving six months to look at this before anything has to be introduced is sensible. We can support those victims of domestic violence who need our support. Croydon, which I represent, has the highest number of applications by people fleeing domestic violence of any London borough. We have a fantastic service in Croydon. We have the only family justice centre in Europe, which brings together all the agencies that help to support people who are fleeing domestic violence, including housing and the police. We provide brilliant support, which I would like to see across the country and across the nations, but sadly that is not the case. I am supportive of co-operation and new clause 1.

Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Ms Ryan, this is the first time I have served under your chairship and it is a pleasure to do so.

In this morning’s sitting we had a long and interesting discussion on amendment 5. It was a shame we could not reach consensus. We ended up having a conversation about whether what the amendment said was already in the Bill and it became an almost semantic conversation about whether “a local authority” is the same as “any local authority”. That is what will happen when something is gone through line-by-line, and it is important that we get to that level, but it was a shame we were not able to establish consensus.

With new clause 1 we have basically the same principle, but grown out. We now know for a fact that “a local authority” falls once we get to the boundaries of England, but we also know that the need for refuges does not drop off that cliff as we meet that border.

We also spent a lot of this morning talking about not wanting to put up barriers. Our job is to remove whatever barriers there are to the survivor leaving that situation. Whether the barrier is money, housing, family or whatever, we should seek to remove it so that they can make that best decision for themselves. This is a pretty big barrier: it is a border. I almost hesitate to say that because we talk too much about borders, especially in the context of Northern Ireland, but mercifully we are not going in that direction today.

Nevertheless, we will clearly have to do something. As my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby said very eloquently, the need will be the same around border towns, but the facilities will be different. In a big city such as Nottingham, we might have things that they do not have in small border towns. From the perspective of people going from Scotland or from Wales to England, I should like to think that we would be there for them if that was best for them. I am sure that everybody would share that thought.

We have to be mindful of devolution and the devolution settlement, but it seems sensible, and to behove us, to accept the clause because it will give us a proportionate way of looking at how to get to something sensible. I suspect that it will be said that there are different arrangements in these countries. I am perfectly willing to accept that; nevertheless, how the arrangements marry up with our own is really important. It is important for English survivors, but it is also important for survivors in those nations.

I do not want to rehash everything from this morning, but I thought it regrettable that we did not push forward on the question of training in amendment 1. This is exactly the sort of situation that will be very complicated for a housing officer. We ask housing officers to understand an awful lot of things about an awful lot of different needs, and this is yet another one. We need them to understand that, if they are talking about people moving to different communities, that will need to be in England. We would not want people to be advised that their secure tenancy will apply somewhere else if those are not arrangements that we have been able to secure. I do not think that that is asking for much, but it will certainly give us more confidence that down the line we will get to a point where we will have a stitched-up nationwide look at the issue laid before Parliament, which would be desirable.

14:15
Robert Syms Portrait Sir Robert Syms (Poole) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have sat on a number of Committees in this House, and Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party have always asked one question: have the devolved Administrations been consulted? They say little else apart from that. Whether it is a good or a bad idea to add this measure to the Bill at this stage, as a Unionist I think that if we are to ensure a good relationship between the Governments within the United Kingdom the devolved Administrations ought to be consulted first. Even on something that may be reasonable from the point of view of Government-to-Government relationships, they ought to be consulted first.

We have not yet reached the end of the Bill. There is a further stage on Report and, as Lord Bourne has already undertaken to have some discussions with the devolved Administrations, it might be better for them to be concluded before we add to the Bill, possibly ruffling feathers north of the border. Whatever the Westminster Parliament does can sometimes seem to be used by the SNP grievance machine. Therefore, we ought to tiptoe in that direction. If discussions subsequently take place so that changes can be made to the Bill, that is fine, but at this stage I am wary of adding something that, in essence, is a UK diktat—or will be seen as such by some in Scotland. I am sure that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby wants the best legislation for the victims of domestic violence, but I think it might be better for us to wait.

Heather Wheeler Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Mrs Heather Wheeler)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The new clause calls for a review of the potential for future co-operation between local authorities in England and those in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with consideration of how it may be possible to extend the provisions in the Bill to apply across the UK. The issue was raised during passage of the Bill through the Lords and, indeed, an amendment was tabled and subsequently withdrawn.

As hon. Members are aware, housing is a devolved matter, so it is for local authorities, or the Housing Executive in Northern Ireland, and social landlords to decide whether to allow access to social housing under the law that operates in that particular country. Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland have their own homelessness legislation. There may of course be differences of approach, according to the requirements of the devolved area and the pressures on their housing stock. As I understand it, for example, in Wales, where social housing stock is in highest demand, the local authorities can and do discharge their duty to rehouse using the private rented sector.

The Minister for faith, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, wrote to peers on this issue following Second Reading, setting out how each devolved Administration would deal with the situation if a person, as a result of domestic abuse, were to flee from their home in England to a devolved Administration. I am more than happy to share that with the Committee.

I agree that there should be increased co-operation between England and the devolved Administrations on the question of victims of domestic abuse, including where a victim needs to move from one country to another to escape the abuse and to feel safe. Furthermore, I understand that the Minister, Lord Bourne, gave the commitment that he would raise the issue at the roundtable with the devolved Administrations, which I understand is next due to take place on 19 April in Cardiff. In fact, the noble Lord has written to ask whether the issue could be put on the agenda of that meeting. He has made it clear that he would like to explore whether we can develop a concordat or joint memorandum of understanding between the four countries on our approach to social housing and cases of domestic abuse.

I remind hon. Members that the purpose of the Bill is to remove an impediment that might prevent someone who suffers domestic abuse from leaving their abusive situation in England when the provisions under the Housing and Planning Act 2016 come into force. The Housing and Planning Act applies only to England.

In the current situation, a victim of abuse in another part of the UK, such as in Scotland, will not have an impediment to fleeing their situation from fear of losing their lifetime tenancy, as another council in Scotland will grant them a lifetime tenancy when they are rehoused. The commencement of the Housing and Planning Act does not change that.

I do not believe it would be appropriate to include a duty in the Bill, which applies to England only, to consider the potential for amending legislation in other parts of the UK. In this instance, I firmly believe that addressing the question at the devolved Administration roundtable is the correct approach, with a view to securing a memorandum of understanding or concordat. This is a common issue in which all parts of the UK have an interest, but, as I have said, the differences in housing legislation across the devolved Administrations mean that I do not believe a UK-wide provision in a Bill based on an Act that applies only to England is the correct approach. For all those reasons, I do not consider the amendment to be appropriate or necessary and I ask for it to be withdrawn.

Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes—yes please to the sharing of information that has been distributed by Lord Bourne. I very much welcome that, as I would a notification to confirm that the meeting of 19 April has taken place and the detail of the conversations that took place within it. I am slightly concerned that the legislation is almost being drafted with eyes shut to the reality of people’s lives. I would urge every consideration to ensure that that is not the reality.

For example, I do not know whether the concordat or memorandum of understanding would be legally binding, how it would operate in an enforceable way and how, if an individual felt that they were being treated differently because they happened to cross a nation’s border, they would go about challenging that, what the normal process would be, whether legal aid would be available, and so on.

There are still concerns that the legislation will not fully do what is necessary to meet the intention that has been set out, but I await the outcome of the meeting on 19 April. I agree that there should be a pause to establish whether that meeting can resolve this issue in an amicable fashion, rather that something that seems to have a UK parliamentary overbearing overtone, which may not be well received by the devolved nations, and I mentioned the sensitivities of the issue in my speech. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the Chair do report the Bill to the House.

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Wheeler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Ever so briefly, I thank everybody for the lively debate. It has been a very well-informed discussion. I think there will be some issues on which we will be able to give greater clarity and comfort to those who have asked questions. Ms Ryan, I thank you, and all the Clerks and staff who have helped us get through this Bill.

Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for listening in an open and honest fashion to the points that have been put genuinely to try to improve the Bill. I also extend my thanks to the staff of the House authorities and the civil servants [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]. I thank all of those who have participated in the debate for their contributions.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly to be reported, without amendment.

14:24
Committee rose.

Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill

3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage: House of Commons
Tuesday 8th May 2018

(6 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Act 2018 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 8 May 2018 - (8 May 2018)
Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee.
New Clause 1
Duty to review cooperation between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
‘(1) By the end of the period of six months, beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must publish a review into the potential for future cooperation between local authorities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in relation to the provisions of this Act.
(2) The review under subsection (1) must consider how it may be possible to extend the provisions of the Act to ensure that applications for secure tenancies in cases of domestic abuse—
(a) from Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland may be considered by local authorities in England;
(b) from England, Scotland or Northern Ireland may be considered by local authorities in Wales;
(c) from England, Wales or Northern Ireland may be considered by local authorities in Scotland; and
(d) from England, Wales or Scotland may be considered by local authorities in Northern Ireland.
(3) The review must be laid before both Houses of Parliament.
(4) In this section, “local authority” means—
(a) in relation to England, the council of a district, county or London borough, the Common Council of the City of London and the Council of the Isles of Scilly;
(b) in relation to Wales, the council of a county or county borough;
(c) in relation to Scotland, the council of a district or city;
(d) in relation to Northern Ireland, the council of a district, borough or city.”—(Melanie Onn.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
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