Joint tenancies: removal of a tenant

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 17th June 2020.

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Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office) 3:45 pm, 17th June 2020

That is a reasonable point. This definitely happens, so I am more than happy for those issues to be dealt with as we go through this process. One thing about this Bill going through to the Lords is that it has some really keen experts who know an awful lot about housing law; I have been a licensed landlord through running refuges and other things, so I know a little bit about the law in this area, but it definitely bamboozles me. Some Lords know an awful lot about the criminal justice system and housing tenancies, so I feel keenly that we ought to make some assessment of the point the hon. Gentleman has made. I suppose the victim could give their consent by self-declaring—by saying, “I am willing to pay £3 a month until my arrears are paid back”, or “He has kicked out the fireplace; I am happy to get it replaced.” Any Member who has large numbers of council tenancies in their constituency will know that tenants would often much rather pay to have things replaced than wait for the council to replace them. It is not uncommon to hear, “I’ve had my whole kitchen done, because I’ve been waiting four years.”

In the new clause, any notice to quit served by the abuser is of no effect if an application has been made, therefore removing the need for an injunction or to protect the tenancy until the application is decided. The amendment also protects succession rights and right-to-buy rights on the transfer of the tenancy to a sole tenant—another classic casework thing I have to deal with all the time. This is a simplification of the current complex, potentially expensive and risky processes by which a victim of abuse can seek the transfer of a joint tenancy to their sole name. It gives greater certainty about the circumstances in which the court will transfer the tenancy to the victim, and it helps the victim of abuse obtain security in their home, free from the fear of the abuser ending their tenancy.

I will briefly touch on new clauses 43 and 44. Domestic abuse does not end when a relationship ends, and leaving an abuser is statistically a highly dangerous time. A survivor faces ongoing and severe threats to their safety. Anyone who has read domestic homicide reviews will know that very few things consistently crop up—the people involved can be of all races, backgrounds and classes—but the common thread running through them is that people often get murdered when they first escape. It is a very risky time, and therefore many survivors escaping abuse need to leave their local authority area in order to be safe. Women and children escaping to a refuge, in particular, will often need to cross local authority boundaries.

The very existence of refuges depends on those services’ availability, as this Committee has largely covered. The Government homelessness guidance for local authorities makes it clear that the local connection rules should not apply in cases of domestic abuse. It states that all local authorities must 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 into another form of temporary accommodation, which I am afraid to say is the most likely place for them to end up nowadays.