Part of Domestic Abuse Bill - Committee (5th Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 8th February 2021.
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.