Domestic Abuse Bill - Committee (5th Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 8th February 2021.
Moved by Lord Young of Cookham
146A: Clause 71, page 55, line 15, after “abuse” insert “, or (ii) resides or might reasonably be expected to reside with a person who falls within sub-paragraph (i) and is not the abuser”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment allows the applicant for homelessness assistance to be either the survivor or someone who resides with the survivor or might reasonably be expected to reside with the survivor. However, the applicant cannot be the abuser.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lord Naseby for their support for Amendment 146A in my name.
I welcome Clause 71, which builds on the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, piloted through the other place by Bob Blackman and through this House by the noble Lord, Lord Best, in providing a better deal for those confronted with being homeless. As the Explanatory Notes say, the clause gives those who are eligible and are homeless as a result of fleeing domestic abuse priority-need status for accommodation provided by the local authority. Crucially, it removes the need for the person who is homeless as a result of domestic abuse from having to fulfil the vulnerability test of the 1996 Housing Act.
This change is needed because of examples such as that of Danielle, who was made homeless when her relationship ended, after a neighbour called the police following a two-day beating. Despite visible bruising and a letter from her partner admitting abuse, she was told by the council that she needed to provide further evidence of her vulnerability and that she was not a priority. She ended up homeless, sofa surfing for two years. Hopefully, the clause will mean that there are no more cases like Danielle’s.
Access to suitable housing is often the critical barrier to survivors fleeing domestic abuse. Inexcusably, some victims are forced to choose between returning to live with a perpetrator—a dangerous or potentially life-endangering situation—or facing homelessness because they cannot access housing. That is why I, along with many of my parliamentary colleagues and organisations across the domestic abuse and homelessness sectors, including Crisis, Women’s Aid, Refuge, St Mungo’s and many others, supported the “A Safe Home” campaign of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness, which urged the Government to extend automatic priority-need status for housing to survivors of domestic abuse through an amendment to this Bill. In May 2020, the Government listened to the expertise derived from the work of the group and amended the Bill, which I welcome.
However, the detail of that amendment as currently drafted concerns those same organisations, as the Government’s amendment on priority need fails to entirely protect survivors of domestic abuse. Critically, as it stands, the Bill does not give a legal assurance to allow anyone else in the household to apply for homelessness assistance on a victim’s behalf. This is only stated in guidance, which falls short of a legal guarantee and means that some victims are likely to fall through the gaps between the different practices of different local authorities. Although the circumstances may be rare in which this additional provision is necessary, they can occur. For example, an adult child living with the abused and the abuser may be able to help the victim by filling out the forms and formally making the application, particularly where the victim does not speak English or has difficulty with form filling. This situation could occur in a multigenerational household, perhaps in a BAME community.
It is clear from front-line services supporting survivors that it is not always safe for survivors of abuse to make the application for homelessness assistance themselves. This could be, for example, because it too dangerous for them to leave their home until they know that they have somewhere safe to flee to. It might also be the case that they are unable to attend in person because they are receiving hospital treatment as a result of the abuse that they have experienced.
Furthermore, this is not the case in other areas of homelessness legislation. For example, Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 allows for another member of a household to make the application for housing assistance, such as when a woman is pregnant or when an individual is vulnerable through old age or physical disability. The Government have argued that the requirement for survivors to personally make an application is to stop further abuse from a perpetrator. However, experts in the domestic abuse and homelessness sectors firmly disagree. In response to a possible objection, I understand that there is no known case where the individual for whom the application has been made has come forward to say that they did not support it.
I support the call of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness, which is also supported by Women’s Aid, for survivors in England to have the same support and legal protections as survivors throughout the rest of the UK and for the Government to address this anomaly or gap in the Bill. This change would not result in additional significant burdens on local authorities but would have a significant impact on survivors of domestic abuse, giving them an absolute, clear and guaranteed right to housing when they need it most. Given that we know that survivors are most at risk of homicide when they flee a perpetrator, it is vital that the Government look again at priority need and provide vulnerable survivors with a legal assurance of a clear, safe route out of abusive and life-threatening situations. This change will provide a vital safeguarding mechanism and a powerful lifeline for those in need. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, whose amendment I support. I will speak to my Amendment 147—I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for adding his name to it. I also thank Women’s Aid for pointing out the problem that I aim to solve with this amendment.
Women and men experiencing domestic abuse face long-term and often lifelong risks from the perpetrator. Domestic abuse does not end when a relationship ends and research has consistently found that women are at significantly high risk when leaving the relationship. Often a woman can access safety only when she moves far away from the perpetrator. However, in recent years, Women’s Aid has seen a worrying trend in local authorities introducing “local connection” rules to tenders, with local refuges being capped on the number of non-local women whom they are able to accept. The very existence of refuges depends on these services’ ability to accept women from out of the area, as women will often need to flee from their local area to be safe. Data from Women’s Aid’s annual survey in 2017 shows that over two-thirds of women in a refuge on one day crossed local authority boundaries to access it. Women often cannot access a refuge in their local area due to the severe and ongoing risks faced from a perpetrator.
Women fleeing to a refuge rely on these services being able to accept them and their children from outside their local area, with no “local connection”. Government guidance makes it clear that locality caps and restrictions should not be written into tenders or contracts relating to domestic abuse and violence against women and girls. However, this guidance is not consistently applied across England, leading to something of a postcode lottery of access to refuges and a major risk to the safe operation of this national network of services.
Similarly, there are real concerns about the inconsistencies between local authorities across England in meeting their obligations to house those from another area fleeing domestic abuse. I agree with Women’s Aid and many other NGOs that the ban on “local connection” rules and residency requirements must extend to wider homelessness duties and housing allocations, to ensure that all survivors can access safe housing.
Homelessness teams refusing to support women who are escaping abuse because they are not from their local area must also be included. Nearly a fifth of women supported by Women’s Aid’s No Woman Turned Away project in 2016-17 were prevented from making a valid homeless application on the grounds of domestic abuse for reasons that included having no local connection to the area, with local housing teams deprioritising survivors who do not have a local connection within their housing allocation policy.
Guidance from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government currently encourages
“all local authorities to exempt from their residency requirements those who are living in a refuge or other form of safe temporary accommodation in their district having escaped domestic abuse in another local authority area.”
However, this is not a requirement and does not apply to women who have not escaped into a refuge or other form of temporary accommodation. Local authorities often use blanket residency tests in allocation schemes, without accounting for exceptional circumstances, such as for a woman fleeing domestic abuse.
The Government already require local authorities to make exemptions from local connection requirements or residency tests for certain groups, including for members of the Armed Forces and those seeking to move for work. My Amendment 147 would include a specific bar on local authorities from imposing local connection restrictions on survivors of domestic abuse when accessing refuges and, importantly, longer-term housing. This is needed to sit alongside the government department’s proposed statutory duty on local authorities to fund support in refuges and other forms of safe accommodation. This will ensure that all women and children fleeing domestic abuse can access safe accommodation where and when they need to.
Women’s Aid has given me a real example that highlights the urgency and importance of why this amendment is needed:
“A has experienced domestic abuse for the last 10 years from two partners as well as witnessing domestic abuse perpetrated by her father against her mother growing up. She has been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and PTSD. After fleeing her abusive partner with three children, she moved into a refuge in a London borough to be near her mother, who was her main source of support. She was only able to find a refuge in a different borough to her mother, and after six months she was required to leave that refuge. She presented to the borough her mother lives in, but she was informed she was not entitled to be housed there as she did not have a local connection. The local authority stated she had a local connection to the borough she had been living in for six months. This is despite her being a survivor of domestic abuse, having no option other than to live in the first borough where a refuge space was available at the time of fleeing and the fact that she felt at risk from the perpetrator’s extended networks there.
The borough her mother lived in then housed A and her three children, who were all under 14, in one room in mixed-sex temporary accommodation. This was extremely distressing for her. She describes feeling retraumatised from the experience of being forced to live alongside men she did not know. She also felt scared for her children, who did not feel safe in the mixed-sex hostel. The room was highly unsuitable as the entire family lived in it and were required to cook in it, which is of course unsafe for a toddler. Another child had ADHD, so A struggled to provide them with any quiet time and appropriate support. This experience also exacerbated her PTSD, depression and anxiety, and she reported feeling low and stressed regularly due to feeling unsafe in the accommodation. She is now having to live there indefinitely while the boroughs have been assigned an arbiter to decide who has a duty.”
I would also like this to apply to victims of modern-day slavery who can equally fall foul of this problem, as I, as a deputy chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation, am only too aware. While I am aware that this Bill deals only with domestic abuse, I would ask my noble friend to look into this, whether people are the victims of domestic abuse or, indeed, of modern slavery. I ask that this should be done because housing has to be looked at seriously as a way of addressing the abuse that these victims suffer.
My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 146A, to which I have added my name. We know about the strong link between domestic abuse and homelessness, with access to housing often presenting as a critical barrier to survivors fleeing abuse. For example, in Wales, between 2018 and 2019, nearly 2,500 households were provided with assistance by their local authorities following homelessness caused by the breakdown of a relationship with a partner. Almost half of those relationship breakdowns were violent. In May 2020, the Government listened to the expertise of organisations across the domestic abuse and homelessness sectors, and the views of women who had experienced domestic abuse. In response, the Government amended this Bill to extend automatic priority-need status for housing to survivors of domestic abuse in England, as was already the case in Wales. This welcome amendment will provide a vital lifeline for many survivors of domestic abuse.
In Wales in 2018-19, over 300 households were owed a duty to secure settled accommodation as they were in priority need after fleeing domestic violence or being threatened with violence. However, organisations across the domestic abuse and homeless sectors have raised concerns that the government amendments will not adequately guarantee clear access to housing for all survivors of domestic abuse. Critically, it will not enable other members of a household to apply for this assistance on the survivor’s behalf, as is the case in other areas of homelessness legislation. For example, when a woman is pregnant, a partner is allowed to make the application for them. This sounds like a small distinction, but front-line services that are supporting survivors every day know that it is not always safe for survivors of abuse to make an application for homelessness assistance themselves. Allowing other household members to be the lead applicant provides a vital safeguarding mechanism which could give a vulnerable survivor a route to safety when they need it most.
The Government have argued that requiring survivors to make an application personally will help to prevent further abuse from a perpetrator. However, experts in the domestic abuse and homelessness sectors, who are, sadly, experts from experience, disagree. In Wales, where survivors of domestic abuse already have automatic priority-need status for housing, another member of a household is allowed to make the application for housing assistance on the survivor’s behalf. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness sought views from domestic abuse and homelessness organisations in Wales. It found no evidence that this had ever led to further abuse from a perpetrator. The chair of the national housing network reported that he had not come across further abuse in this way while working with the 22 local authorities across Wales. He went further when he said that he did not understand the logic behind the Government’s position.
What is clear from the experience of services working on the front line in Wales is that it is not always safe for survivors of abuse to make the application for homelessness assistance themselves. Restricting the ability of other household members to do this on their behalf puts another barrier in front of someone trying to flee a dangerous and potentially life-threatening situation. Given that we know that the greatest risk of homicide is when the victim flees the perpetrator, I ask the Government to take this opportunity, as the Bill passes through the Lords, to look again at priority need and remove this unnecessary barrier to accessing support by allowing other household members to apply for settled housing on a survivor’s behalf.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 146A and I support Amendment 147, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Randall. Like others, I welcome the provisions in the Bill, but this is rather typical of the pattern of responses to many aspects of the Bill: the amendment seeks to tweak the provisions to ensure that the Bill works as I believe is intended.
There is an assumption that refuges are the answer to abuse, but that they should be only temporary for reasons relating to the individuals who occupy them and because people who get stuck in them become, to use an unpleasant term, bed blockers, which is not how anyone would like to see themselves. Refuges are certainly not a permanent solution. There are not enough refuge spaces even for temporary provision, and it is very natural for victims to want the security of their own home for themselves and their children.
Like others, I am indebted to the organisations which know their way around the legislation that relates to their own services, as is the case here. Of course, domestic abuse is by no means the only cause of homelessness, which is why one has to look at priority need. But, given that the Government have addressed this, the Bill should be complete and replicate the provisions allowing applications to be made on behalf of vulnerable individuals, as other noble Lords have said. It must be safe for the survivor to access the housing.
As regards Amendment 147, there is no need to repeat the debate about why it may be essential for someone to get right away from her or his local area. No one with children would contemplate that; you only have to think about school and social connections. I have to say I am not entirely sure how one would administer “likely to become” a victim. I remember from my days as a local councillor the difficulties related to the size of a family, because you cannot take account of a child who is not yet born. But the importance of enabling someone to get away before there is too much harm is obvious, and the need to get away demonstrates how extreme the situation must be, because often you want the support of your community for yourself and your children.
The scope for more joint working between local authorities is outside this Bill, but the use of reciprocal arrangements has a very helpful, if not very big, place in this scene. But the real issue is the need for more support and, overall, more housing supply. Not for the first time, it is a matter of resources. For every housing offer to one person, someone else is not receiving an offer.
My Lords, Amendment 146A, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, is one I fully support. I would have signed it if there had been a space, but people got there before me. The amendment ensures that someone made homeless as a result of domestic abuse will have priority need for housing support. It cannot be right that a victim is left with the choice of staying with an abusive partner or becoming homeless. That is no choice at all. The amendment would allow the applicant for homelessness assistance to be either a survivor or someone who resides with the survivor—but, of course, not the abuser. Again, enabling somebody else in the household to make an application could be an important protection.
I was delighted to sign Amendment 147, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, which would ensure that local connection cannot be used as a restriction when someone applies for housing, either in a refuge, in other temporary accommodation or in longer-term accommodation. This is very important to enable someone to get the help and support they want, to get them near to friends, to get them away to a place where they are not known or to get them wherever they want. It enables those in difficult, dangerous situations to get somewhere where they can rebuild their lives.
I want to thank Women’s Aid and other organisations for the help they have given all noble Lords on this Bill and for their general work. I have always been grateful to Women’s Aid for its advice on a number of issues. The example that the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, gave from Women’s Aid highlights the reason his amendment needs to be agreed—or, if the noble Baroness cannot agree the amendment, I hope she recognises the problem and will try to resolve it by bringing something back on Report.
In our discussion last week, we looked at the risks to victims, at home or at work, of being murdered. We have to ensure that, if somebody leaves a relationship, they can get somewhere they are safe and can rebuild their lives. It might be that they want to move to a completely different part of the country where no one knows them at all. Some victims have to completely cut off contact with abusers, because some abusers would do their damnedest to find somebody. We know people can choose not to be on the electoral register and that there is anonymous registration, but what shops they go to and where their families and friends are will still be known, so we have to ensure that people who want to can get away completely and start life afresh. That is why the noble Lord’s amendment is so important—so that no local authority can suggest, “Oh, you can’t come here because you’ve got no connection”. “That’s exactly why I want to come here—I’ve got no connection.” That is a really important issue. I look forward to the response from the noble Baroness at the end of the debate.
My Lords, I rise to speak briefly in support of Amendment 146A, so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. Like him, I welcome the extension of automatic priority-need status for housing to survivors of domestic abuse, but I share his regret that there is no current right for anyone who lives with the survivor, or might reasonably be expected to live with them, to apply for this assistance on their behalf. This amendment aims to address this and to ensure that survivors have access to what one has been described as the first and most important priority for anyone escaping domestic abuse—a safe roof over their head.
Domestic abuse is often about control. There is a horrible, perhaps inevitable, consequence when that control is challenged, which is that abusers are likely to become even more violent as they seek to reinstate or retain their dominance over their victim. My noble friend Lady Finlay has already said the risk of domestic homicide is at its highest during separation. Research studies show that the worst incidents of abuse are triggered by the victim having left the abuser, and the abuse is even more extreme if the victim has left for another partner. In such cases, the risk of femicide increases fivefold. Interviews with men who killed their wives in the United States pointed to separation or a threat of separation as the most common trigger for the murder. This means that the difficult decision by a victim of domestic abuse to leave their abuser and seek out support may well result not in the provision of a safe haven but in further victimisation, physical risk and even risk to life.
Front-line services in both the domestic abuse and the homelessness sectors are clear about the potential risks to survivors of abuse in making an application for homelessness assistance themselves. They know that abusers will employ the most varied and creative tactics to track their partner, from using GPS locators in their partner’s phone to calling around women’s shelters or even filing a missing persons report. Front-line workers know that in some cases a call for help may become a death sentence.
This amendment addresses this risk and provides an important safeguarding mechanism by allowing an ally to fill in the application, thus allowing victims of abuse to make plans without running the risk of those plans, or the location of their future home, being discovered by their abuser. It has the backing of Women’s Aid and of the APPG for Ending Homelessness. I urge the Government to listen carefully to their arguments and to the arguments in your Lordships’ House and to adopt this amendment so that survivors of domestic abuse have a clear legal route to that most basic of needs—a safe roof over their heads.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bull. I agree with all she said and give my unreserved support to both these amendments.
In a long Committee stage, some amendments are, very properly, probing amendments. Others stand out as improving amendments. I really hope that this amendment, so eloquently moved by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, and the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, will be incorporated into the Bill. Perhaps there will have to be the odd change of word, but I have referred to the Bill on a number of occasions as a landmark Bill, and a landmark Bill, in this area, has to be able to deliver as near perfect, total security as it can.
In common with many constituency Members of Parliament, I saw young women—they were mostly young women—who had been harassed, bullied, tormented and beaten, who needed somewhere to go. They needed a safe and secure refuge. In the immediate future that was often a home of refuge, where others were similarly placed. But what they needed most of all, as they came out of the trauma they had suffered, was a secure permanent home. Very often, for the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge, that had to be some distance from where they had suffered.
Between them, these two amendments close a gap in the Bill. It needs to provide a safety net, and a safety net is no use if it has holes in it. I appeal to my noble friend on the Front Bench who will reply to this debate to accept the thrust and spirit of these amendments, and to say that they or something like them will be incorporated in the Bill on Report. I give my wholehearted support.
My Lords, the next speaker on the list, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top.
My Lords, I am pleased to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Young, and Amendment 147. Both deal with being clear about what the Government have sought to do in Clause 71 to extend to survivors or victims of domestic abuse the priority need for homelessness. It is very clear that women who are leaving or seeking to leave an abusive relationship need to be seen as a priority. I am delighted that the Government acknowledge that.
I am concerned that, with both these amendments, the Government are undoing some of their good intent by not making sure that those who live in a multigenerational household are not able to ask someone else to be their advocate in front of the housing department or homelessness unit. Someone is fleeing the locality that they live and are well known in to escape their abuser, but they are not automatically seen as being in priority need when using either of those routes.
I understand that the Government are reluctant to keep opening the category of priority need, because there is not enough housing and because waiting lists for social housing are getting longer, not shorter. But I think that they need to be clear in their will to support women who have experienced domestic abuse in both Amendments 146A and 147. I know that they will want to move words and so on, but I feel that they need a general acceptance that women who experience domestic abuse should be treated by the local authority homelessness unit as being in priority need. They need to make sure that that happens in the two cases that these amendments deal with.
It is very straightforward to accept this sort of amendment. I just hope that the Government recognise what the APPG is saying and what the Welsh Government have achieved in their legislation. We need that acknowledgement in our legislation in England. The sooner they do this, the more it will reassure people that they are going to get the sort of priority need that they are looking for, if they have been abused. The trauma of being abused is one that most of us can only imagine. I have met many of these women and this issue has been raised with me, on numerous occasions. I hope that the Government find a way to meet the aspirations of these women, so that they get the independent housing that they require of their local authority.
My Lords, these are two good rounding-out amendments, well argued for by all speakers, and I fully support them both. Like the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, I would have signed Amendment 146A too, if I could have.
Clause 71(5) deals with priority need for victims, as we have heard. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, introduced Amendment 146A, which seeks to extend the application of priority need for housing for homeless victims of domestic abuse to those who live with, or might be expected to live with, the victim. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, explained that this already works perfectly well in Wales. I am sure that the Government have looked at that and seen it for themselves.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, described the lengths to which an abuser will go to find out where the victim has gone, which is why it may not be possible for the application to be made in person. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, reinforced the need of so many victims to get right away. As my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, there is a great shortage of housing, which causes a lot of consternation. It is much better on every level for the perpetrator to move. I am just trailing my amendment that tries to achieve this, which is Amendment 163, coming on Wednesday.
Amendment 147, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, tackles the local connection issue for a victim fleeing an area. It would ensure that, even if the victim were not from that area, this would not count against them for housing priority, hence them being designated with a local connection. It stops local authorities from refusing survivors on the grounds of no legal connection. The example from the noble Lord, Lord Randall, shows exactly why this is needed. Both these amendments make a great deal of sense, and I hope that your Lordships’ House is minded to support them.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I come first to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. He explained that Amendment 146A seeks to amend Clause 71 to allow those who are not experiencing domestic abuse themselves, but are in the same household as someone who is, to be given priority need status. I share his ambition to make sure that all victims of domestic abuse and their household are supported by ensuring that they have access to a suitable offer of safe and secure accommodation. I agree that it is vital that domestic abuse victims who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, are supported to find an accommodation solution that is safe, meets their needs and reflects their individual circumstances. We think that this amendment is unnecessary because, when an applicant has priority need, the Housing Act 1996 already requires local authorities to provide accommodation that is available for occupation and is suitable for the whole household.
We see several risks with this amendment. We know that victims of domestic abuse may be vulnerable and at risk of being exploited, manipulated and controlled by those in their lives, including family members, the perpetrator or a new partner who may also be abusive. Allowing someone else in the victim’s household to be in priority need would mean that that person, not the victim, would be the primary contact with the local authority. They would receive all correspondence and the offer of accommodation would be in their name. For this reason, it is important that the victim of domestic abuse alone has the priority need for accommodation, guaranteeing the victim control of the application and the rights to secure the accommodation as it will be in their name. I recognise and share my noble friend’s intention to ensure that all victims are able to access accommodation, and that the process of making an application for homelessness assistance should not be a barrier to accessing support. However, for the reasons that I have set out, I disagree with him on how best to achieve that intended outcome.
I agree that it is vital that domestic abuse victims can be supported to make a homelessness application. That is why the Government have made clear in the published draft Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities that they should be flexible in their approach to taking homelessness application from victims, by enabling victims to be supported in making that application by a family member, friend or support worker if they wish to be. The guidance also reinforces that local authorities should facilitate interviews by phone or online, where this is most appropriate for the victim, and make sure that translation services are available. Lastly, the guidance highlights that local authorities, where appropriate, should accept referrals from concerned parties, allowing someone else to make the initial approach on behalf of the victim, provided that they have the victim’s consent and the application can be safely verified with the victim. In short, we believe that there is already provision in place to achieve the outcomes sought by my noble friend in his Amendment 146A.
Amendment 147 in the name of my noble friend Lord Randall seeks to amend the Housing Act 1996 to give victims of domestic abuse a local connection to all local authorities in England when seeking homelessness assistance under Part 7 of that Act. The existing legislation and guidance on this matter is clear that a housing authority cannot refer an applicant to another housing authority where they have a local connection if they or anyone who might be reasonably expected to reside them would be at risk of domestic abuse in that area. The Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities makes clear that a housing authority is under a positive duty to inquire where the applicant would be at risk of actual or threatened domestic violence. It stipulates that authorities should not impose a higher standard of proof of actual violence in the past when making their decision. If an applicant is at risk, they can present at another local authority.
As such, protections are already in place for victims of domestic abuse that ensure they are not housed in a local authority area where there is any risk of violence or abuse. The local connection test seeks to keep a degree of fairness to ensure that those who live locally are prioritised and that no one authority gets oversubscribed. The current provisions in place under Section 198 of the 1996 Act strike the right balance to support victims.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, talked about when women often flee to other local authorities, and the situation with social housing need. They are absolutely right that many victims of domestic abuse are forced to flee their homes to seek that safety and support in a refuge or other form of temporary accommodation. It is often in another local authority area because, of course, why would you stay where you were in danger? In November 2018, the Government issued statutory guidance for local authorities to improve access to social housing for victims of domestic abuse who are in refuges or other forms of safe temporary accommodation. The guidance here makes absolutely clear that local authorities are expected not to apply the residency test for victims who have fled to another district. I hope, with the points I have made, that my noble friend would be content to withdraw his amendment.
I have received one request to speak after the Minister, from the noble Lord, Lord McConnell.
My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity, having listened to a very interesting debate. At Second Reading I raised the issue of cross-border co-ordination within the United Kingdom—at that time, particularly in connection with European protection orders and how to ensure that an appropriate system would be in place within the jurisdictions of the United Kingdom. It strikes me that it is also an ongoing issue with those that flee across one of the internal borders of the United Kingdom and then seek housing. I would be grateful for any reflections that the Minister might have on what implications these amendments—or their rejection, as she is recommending—would have for women who have flown across borders, and for the internal arrangements that are in place between the local authorities of the whole United Kingdom, not just England.
Clearly, this Bill does not extend to the jurisdiction in Scotland, but I absolutely understand the point that the noble Lord is making. I will write to him with any updates on that because, of course, a woman should not be prohibited or stopped from receiving support just because she has crossed a border. I will write to him further on that and I thank him for raising the issue.
My Lords, I am grateful to all of those who took part in this debate and particularly to the Minister for her reply, which I will come to in a moment. The initial speech was made by my noble friend Lord Randall, who made a forceful speech about the importance of flexibility on local connection. He referred to the postcode lottery due to the different local authorities interpreting the guidance in different ways. In a sense, his plea was the same as mine, namely that it is not enough to leave this to guidance; one wants a legal assurance on the face of the Bill. My noble friend, and others who supported Amendment 147, will want to reflect on the Minister’s reply to that section of the debate.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, reminded us that in Wales the amendment is, in effect, already in place, and that there has been no abuse of it. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, put our debate in a slightly broader context, and reminded us of the need for move-on accommodation in order to free up capacity in the refuges, and she is absolutely right. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for Front-Bench support for the amendments and I am sorry that he was not quick enough off the mark to add his name to my amendment. I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, who rightly pointed out that the application for housing, if it is known to come from the survivor, can be a trigger point in a relationship and provoke a violent reaction. This is why it is important that somebody, who she referred to as an ally, should be able to make the application on behalf of the victim to avoid exactly that risk. My noble friend Lord Cormack said that, unlike the previous amendment that was a probing amendment, these amendments meant business. The noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, was too modest to say that she spoke with the authority of a former Housing Minister, which of course adds weight to the representations that she has made. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, for Front-Bench support from the Liberal Democrats. She used the opportunity to trail an important amendment later on, which puts the emphasis on the perpetrator moving out of the building rather than the victim.
The Minister, my noble friend Lady Williams, is of course a former Minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government as it then was, and so she will have a first-hand knowledge of the issues that we discuss. I am sure that she remembers the passage of the Housing and Planning Act 2016, if not always with happy memories.
I was grateful to my noble friend for saying she entirely shared the objectives of those behind the amendments. She made two points in rebuttal. She referred to the Housing Act 1996, requiring that the accommodation should be suitable for the whole household; however, the whole household may not want to move—it may just be the victim. She did not quite address the point that in Wales and Scotland they have already resolved the issues she described and enabled an application to be made, as I understand it, on behalf of the primary victim.
I very much hope there can be a way through. My noble friend said the guidance says that the initial approach can already be made with consent by a third party. If the initial approach can be made with the consent of the victim, it is not absolutely clear why the substantive approach could not also be made. While I am happy to withdraw the amendment, I very much hope we can have some discussions to see whether we can give the assurance that I think the whole House wants and avoid the issues my noble friend raised in her response. In the mean time, I repeat my thanks to those who have contributed and beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 146A withdrawn.
Amendment 147 not moved.
Clause 71 agreed.
Clause 72 agreed.