Debates between Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe and Lord Kennedy of Southwark during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 10th Feb 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Domestic Abuse Bill

Debate between Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe and Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I declare an interest as the chair of the National Housing Federation, the representative body for housing associations.

The amendment seeks to enhance the welcome improvements in relation to tenancies embodied in Clauses 71 and 72. They show that the Government have recognised that survivors of domestic abuse in this area are currently let down by the law. The tenancy laws can mean that where there is a joint tenancy a survivor of domestic abuse has only two options: to stay and endure further abuse or to leave the home and potentially become homeless. There is currently no way in which the survivor can exercise a right to stay in the home, with all the security and instability that that means, and require the abuser to leave. Indeed, an abuser could unilaterally terminate the joint tenancy, thereby effectively evicting the survivor into potential homelessness.

Where the landlord is the local authority or a registered provider of social housing, there is no requirement for alternative accommodation to be under the same security of tenure that the survivor and her children previously enjoyed. As Women’s Aid has said, the risk of losing a lifetime tenancy is a significant concern for survivors who fear the consequences of losing security of tenure if they leave. Yet, that is a frequent outcome for survivors and children who escape to a refuge.

As I have said, Clauses 71 and 72 are welcome. However, they assume that it is the survivor of abuse who must quit the family home and not the abuser. The amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, would ensure a legal solution for survivors with joint tenancies to retain their housing security and stay safely in their own homes long term. It is important that there be a range of housing options available to people experiencing domestic abuse and that if they wish to stay in their home they should be able to do so safely and affordably. They should not have to become homeless or struggle to afford their tenancy because of abuse.

I know that housing associations are keen to work to support people who are experiencing domestic abuse and I know that they have also worked supportively with survivors if there are any arrears on the tenancy and/or damage to the property caused by the perpetrator. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, has said, it would be useful if there were more workable rules for joint tenancy in general, but the amendment is certainly a good first step.

The Government have recognised the importance of guaranteeing safe accommodation for survivors who flee their home and their abuser. I hope that they will agree that the best outcome for any family is to have the safety and security of staying in their own familiar home, free from the abuser and free to get on with their lives.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I should declare a number of interests because this is a housing matter. I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association, chair of Heart of Medway Housing Association and a director of MHS Homes Ltd.

The amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, is one that I fully support. I am delighted to sign it with other Members from across the House. During our discussions on this Domestic Abuse Bill, we have heard how perpetrators can take control of all aspects of victims’ lives. The victims need help and support to get away from their abuser. The ability to live in your home without fear of the person you are living with is an important first step to getting control of your life. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, when she says that a victim being driven out of their home—to a refuge or other temporary accommodation or to stay with friends—is something that should make us all very angry. It is just part of the devastating consequences that abusers have on victims’ lives and their children’s lives. We all want to ensure that we stop this.

The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, again made an excellent contribution. I would be happy to support an amendment with his suggestion at the next stage. Maybe the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, could respond to that. It may be that we need something more expanded. If someone is not a tenant at all but is living in the house, perhaps they should have the right to take over the tenancy as well. I think it is an important point.

Both the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, and the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, listed the disadvantages that a victim can suffer. As the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said, we need to take away the power of the abuser in this situation. We can all see the situation in which an angry abuser wants to get even or cause trouble for the victim, for example by ending the tenancy or doing something else equally unpleasant and nasty. We need to ensure that we are doing what we can to stop those things. As my noble friend Lady Warwick of Undercliffe said, you can see the real concern of a victim, “I’m in this terrible situation. Even worse, I’ll be on the street”. It just makes it even more difficult for people.

This is a very important issue and a very good amendment. As we have heard, the amendment provides for a new mechanism whereby a survivor of domestic abuse can apply for the transfer of the tenancy from a joint tenancy to a sole tenancy. The amendment is welcome and it gives the victim support and another option as to the action they can take to protect themselves and their children. If they want to stay in their home, they can stay and get the abuser out.

I hope for a very positive response from the Government. Hopefully we can find a solution at the next stage.