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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:41 pm on 19th March 2018.

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Photo of Melanie Onn Melanie Onn Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Housing) 5:41 pm, 19th March 2018

I thank the Minister for that comment. I genuinely believe that this has been asked for as a result of the lack of clarity that came out of the Government’s review that ended on 23 January. The sector needs security and reassurance about its funding if it is to extend its provision and support the people who, as the Minister has rightly acknowledged, deserve all the support that the Government can afford to provide.

How can councils measure local demand when two thirds of victims of domestic abuse come from outside their local authority area? Are the Government finally ready to offer assurances to providers of refuges, and to guarantee that funding will be ring-fenced for 2021 and beyond and that the £500 million set aside by the Treasury for 2021-22 has been assigned to supported housing? According to Women’s Aid, more than half of refuges will have to close their service entirely or reduce the number of spaces available if these reforms go through as proposed. Will the Government therefore use the end of the consultation period on 23 January to finally listen to the experts in this field and to reconsider their reforms?

One thing that the Government must do to remove some of the pressure on short-term supported housing providers is ensure that victims and their families are rehoused in their secure tenancies as soon as possible. However, social rent capacity—whether provided by councils or by housing associations—is in crisis. New social housing is desperately needed, but the Government funded fewer than 1,000 new homes last year. In 2010, Labour left the Government a legacy of 40,000 new social rental houses a year, because we knew that having readily available social housing stock around the country is critical for so many people, including domestic violence victims. The Conservatives have taken a wrecking ball to that legacy, with fewer than 1,000 social rental homes being built in the past year, a number dwarfed by the 13,500 social homes that were sold off under the Government’s right-to-buy scheme.

That perhaps explains the Government’s rationale behind the Housing and Planning Act 2016. Rather than allowing councils to offer a secure, stable home to those who need it and building a sustainable amount of social housing, the Government decided to rip the heart out of social housing by making social tenancies more insecure. I note that the Government have not published plans to go ahead with the change agreed in the 2016 Act, and I wonder whether they have seen sense and have reconsidered the changes that they proposed in 2016. If not, perhaps they will tell us today when they plan to implement the changes.

The Government must solve the myriad problems with provision for domestic abuse victims as soon as possible. The Bill before the House today represents a small step in the right direction, and we will support it, but this legislation should have been enshrined in the 2016 Act. As such, Labour will be particularly hawkish in ensuring that the Bill carries out its intended purposes and lives up to the guarantees that the Government gave in the other place. The Bill must ensure that the many women who move local authority area after being victims of domestic abuse can transfer the right to a secure tenancy to their new local authority. The Government guaranteed that after an amendment tabled by my colleague Baroness Lister, as the Minister recognised.

Victims of domestic abuse need support after leaving an abusive relationship, and knowing that a safe pathway out of an abusive relationship exists will ease many of the worries that prevent the ending of an abusive relationship. Much more needs to be done to make that a reality. I hope that the forthcoming domestic violence and abuse Bill does much to improve provision, but we are happy to support this Bill’s Second Reading.