I am more than happy to answer that. I am quite fond of the particular bit of statutory guidance she refers to, because it did not actually exist until a woman who lived in the refuge where I worked took a case against Sandwell Borough Council regarding her local connections. Currently, the statutory guidance is explicit about refuge accommodation. This woman was living in a refuge, many years ago now, and Sandwell Borough Council said she did not have the local need that meant it had to pay her—what we call—housing benefit-plus, so it contested her application on the basis of local need. With the help of the Child Poverty Action Group, that was challenged in the courts in two cases specifically around refuge accommodation. All the new clause really seeks to do is extend that beyond being only about refuge to being about other forms of temporary accommodation.
Councils imposing local connection restrictions on their refuge funding contracts—exactly what I was just talking about—such as capping the number of non-local women able to access the refuge or requiring a specific proportion of the women in a refuge to be from the local authority area, has been one fall-out of that particular incident, because a refuge just cannot be run like that. We cannot know who will turn up. By and large, refuges will have people in who are from the local area, but it is not like a school, where someone has to live within a certain radius and has their needs assessed based on other things. People deal with the situation as it arises.
Homelessness teams are refusing to support women escaping abuse because they are not from the local area. Nearly a fifth of women supported by Women’s Aid’s No Woman Turned Away project in 2016 and 2017 were prevented from making a valid homelessness application on the grounds of domestic abuse—outside of refuge; just rocking up to the homelessness services—for reasons including that they had no local connection and that local housing teams were deprioritising survivors who did not have a local connection within their housing allocation policy.
As Members may know, the Government already require local authorities to make exemptions for certain groups from these local connection requirements or residency tests, including members of the armed forces and for those seeking to move for work. Nobody would argue with that. We just wish to add domestic abuse victims to that roster. Therefore, to tackle continuing inconsistent and unacceptable practices, a statutory bar on local authorities imposing local connection restrictions on refuges or any temporary or permanent accommodation should be included in the Bill, and needs to sit alongside the proposed statutory duty on local authorities to fund support in refuges and other forms of safe accommodation. The Government are essentially going to be paying for some of this from central funds. We look forward with bated breath to that big cheque, Minister; we should have a big-cheque moment.