The Bill is a welcome step towards the provision of increased security and stability when those fleeing domestic violence are rehoused, and I definitely support it. Survivors should never be trapped in an abusive relationship for fear of losing their right to secure housing. The lack of safe, affordable housing is the single biggest barrier to people leaving abusive relationships. How can somebody leave when there is nowhere to go?
In December, Women’s Aid reported that of the 113 women killed in the UK last year, nine out of 10 were killed by their current or former partner or by another male family member. According to the Office for National Statistics, two women a week in England and Wales are killed by their partners or ex-partners. Those are not just appalling figures, but real people whose lives have been destroyed.
It is only right that social housing lifetime tenants who need to leave their home, often because their lives are at risk, are granted a further lifetime tenancy when they are re-housed. However, it must be said the Government’s plans to change refuge funding will undermine the Bill’s aims. By removing refuges’ last secure form of funding from housing benefit payments, the proposed changes will prevent survivors from escaping domestic abuse. The Government must understand that if they underfund the refuges that provide a safe haven for those fleeing domestic violence in the first instance, the Bill will fail to achieve what it has set out to do, which is to save lives.
I hope that those undertaking the Government’s review of the commissioning and funding of domestic abuse services will listen to what is said in the Chamber today. I eagerly await the domestic violence Bill that the Government have promised will come in this Parliament. Cuts to local authorities have meant less funding for domestic abuse services, which have suffered. As we have heard, some services have had to refuse referrals from victims because of lack of capacity.
One main issue is that the Bill’s success will depend on the training of local housing authority staff to guarantee that its objectives are implemented on the ground. That 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 if a lifetime tenant is rehoused, it will be with a lifetime tenancy.
Furthermore, to be able to house these women in safe and affordable social housing we must have enough safe and affordable housing. In 2016-17, some 12,600 homes were sold under right to buy, and, as was just mentioned, we continue to lose social housing, with only 5,000 new social homes built in the same period. Our social housing stock is at a record low. The Bill will be able to deliver on its promises only if a large amount of new social housing is built.
Under the Housing and Planning Act 2016, housing associations will retain discretion over whether or not to offer a flexible tenancy. In some areas, such as Bath, housing associations will be the only registered social landlord. 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? It is issues like that that must be resolved if we want the Bill to achieve its objectives. I welcome the Bill and its aims, but urge the Government to put their money where their mouth is.