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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:21 pm on 19th March 2018.

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Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Labour, Chesterfield 6:21 pm, 19th March 2018

I rise to speak briefly on this Bill. Like other colleagues, I welcome the limited but important steps that the Bill takes to ensure that one thing that victims of domestic violence do not have to consider when facing choices about their housing is whether they will lose their secure tenancy. It is important that this is clarified for victims of domestic violence. We all feel strongly about them and we all wish to protect their interests at what we know is an incredibly difficult time.

The debate has raised a couple of other issues on which I wish to touch. More broadly, there is the point about how well we, in this place and as a society, support victims of domestic violence with regard to housing and some of the other issues that have been raised today. Importantly, I am very conscious of the fact that there should be security for victims of domestic violence, who have often been left with absolutely no security—no financial security—and in psychological turmoil, as well as with the physical scars that have come from the situation from which they are fleeing.

The earlier exchange that I had with the Minister raised some important questions about the allocations policy for victims of domestic violence. In her response, she talked about the fact that, when it comes to victims who have moved into refuges, many authorities will consider that, because they are often there for four or five months, they have developed a local connection and will then consider that they should be allocated a property. From my perspective, the minute that someone flees domestic violence, we should recognise that the circumstances that they face are different. Often they need to escape their local connections, because it is those local connections—the wider family unit—that they are escaping from. Therefore, it is crucial that they can get to a place where they do not know anyone and where they do not have those local connections.

The Minister said that I was talking about something that did not really exist, but when I visited the Elm Foundation, an important domestic violence refuge in my constituency, precisely that issue was raised. The staff said that they faced different circumstances depending on which local authority they were dealing with. That is why I believe that it would be useful for the Government to clarify more broadly that we do not operate a postcode lottery here and that the rights of domestic violence victims should be the same wherever they live in the country. There should also be a recognition that once someone finds refuge in a hostel and is accepted by that hostel, a local connection should be established immediately at that point. They should not be stuck in the hostel for a long period to establish some kind of local connection. The moment that they and their family unit are ready to move on from the hostel, they should be accepted by that local authority area as having a local connection.

It is impossible to separate the needs of domestic violence victims in our social housing environment from the wider crisis that exists around social housing, homelessness and pressures on local authorities. That is why I took up the point that Robert Courts raised about right to buy. I very much support the right to buy. In its broader context, it plays an incredibly important role. My sister has just moved into a council house and is delighted to know that she is one of the last to get a secure tenancy and is delighted to know that there may be an opportunity in the future for her to take over the ownership of that property. However, an exemption should be put in place for brand new council houses. In Chesterfield, we have about 9,500 to 10,000 council houses, and a council that is very enthusiastic about taking up the opportunity to build more council houses. However, it also says that it would be unaffordable for it to build a new estate of the size that Chesterfield Borough Council used to build in the past, because, within three years, it would be vulnerable, as a large number of those houses would have been bought by tenants.