New Clause 1 - Regulator duty to ensure continuity of secure tenancy in cases of threat to safety

Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 29th November 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

“(1) The Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 92K insert—

‘92KA Duty to ensure continuity of secure tenancy in cases of threat to safety

(1) This section applies where—

(a) a registered provider of social housing has granted a secure tenancy of a dwelling-house in England to a person (whether as the sole tenant or a joint tenant), and

(b) the registered provider is satisfied that there is a threat to the personal safety of that person or of a member of that person’s household which means there is a risk to their personal safety unless they move.

(2) When subsection (1) applies, the regulator must ensure that the registered provider grants the tenant a new secure tenancy which is–

(a) on terms at least equivalent to the existing tenancy; and

(b) in a dwelling where the threat to the tenant’s personal safety does not apply.

(3) In this section, a “threat to personal safety” means any threat of violence, including in circumstances of—

(a) domestic abuse where the perpetrator does not live at the same address as the victim;

(b) an escalating neighbour dispute;

(c) a threat of targeted youth or gang violence.

(4) In assessing the threat under subsection (1)(b), the registered provider must act in accordance with any relevant police advice provided to–

(a) the registered provider,

(b) the tenant, or

(c) any member of the tenant’s household.

(5) In the event that a registered provider is unable to ensure the provision of an appropriate new secure tenancy pursuant to subsection (2), the regulator must ensure that the registered provider concerned co-operates with other registered providers to ensure an appropriate new secure tenancy is provided in a timely manner.’”

This new clause would require the regulator to ensure that tenants whose safety is threatened are granted alternative accommodation by their housing provider on equivalent terms to their existing tenancy. It also requires the regulator to ensure that a provider which is unable to provide appropriate alternative accommodation co-operates with other providers to do so.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. The new clause proposes a small but significant amendment to housing law to give additional security to social housing tenants who suffer the consequences of a threat of serious violence. The clause arises from my experience of representing my constituent Georgia, an NHS worker whose teenage son was threatened by gang members. Georgia was a housing association tenant who had lived in her home for nine years. She and her children were happy in their home, which she had recently redecorated—then her neighbours told her that one afternoon, while she was at work, they had heard loud banging on her door. Georgia eventually coaxed out of her son the information that he had witnessed something that local gang members had not wanted him to see, and they had come to her home looking for him. Georgia contacted the police, who told her that she had to move immediately for her family’s safety. She got in touch with her housing association, which told her that it was the council’s responsibility to provide emergency housing. The council placed Georgia and her children in temporary accommodation, which was in another borough, of poor quality and expensive. Georgia’s children did not have enough space, the flat was damp and dirty, it was hard for her children to do their homework and Georgia started to suffer from panic attacks that affected her work.

By the time that Georgia’s friend got in touch with me because she was worried about Georgia’s health and the wellbeing of her children, they had been in the temporary accommodation for six months, and her housing association had started the process of ending her tenancy because she was no longer living in her flat. The consequence of this, in the context of the UK’s housing crisis, would have been Georgia and her children being added to the statistics of homeless households, in temporary accommodation—potentially indefinitely—and at the bottom of the housing waiting list. No one should become homeless because their child is threatened.

In one London borough, 47 housing association tenants—at the time that I did this research, earlier this year—have required homelessness assistance from the council as a result of a threat of violence since 2019. Across the country, that means that thousands of families have had to leave their home each year, with their secure tenancies potentially at risk, on top of having to rebuild their lives in a new area. Homelessness is fundamentally destabilising, involving the loss of a sanctuary and a place in one’s community. It is deeply traumatising to have to make an emergency move because of a threat of violence and start again somewhere else. Our housing system should do everything possible to help families in such circumstances to make the transition to a new, permanent home as soon as possible to limit the harm caused by that threat.

I am delighted that the new clause has the support of both Shelter and the National Housing Federation. Shelter has also highlighted the case of Corey Junior Davis, or CJ, whose mum had asked her housing association for an urgent move after her son had been threatened and told her that he feared for his life. CJ’s mum had done everything possible to keep her son safe, including sending him to stay with relatives in a different area, but six months after her initial request, while they were still waiting for a move, CJ was shot and killed. I have also met several constituents who have sent their children away to keep them safe, because they know what the consequences of an emergency move to temporary accommodation would mean and they fear those consequences. That is not a choice that any parent should have to make.

The new clause would have the effect of requiring social landlords to protect the tenancy rights of secure tenants who have had to move due to a threat of serious violence, and would place a duty on social landlords to co-operate in a situation in which the tenant’s current landlord does not hold stock in an area that is considered safe for the tenant to move to. The threshold for these new duties to be triggered is that the police consider an emergency move to be necessary. Georgia was troubled by what had happened to her son, but it had not occurred to her that she would have to move out of the home that she loved until the police said that that was necessary to safeguard her child’s life. The group of people who would be protected by the new clause are not net additional demand on the social housing system; they are already secure social tenants, and the current social home that they are vacating would of course be returned to the landlord to be let to a new tenant.

There are many reasons why people become homeless due to no fault on their part. The clause will not protect all of them, but I am tabling this new clause for two reasons. The first is that the loss of a secure social tenancy, and effectively going to the bottom of an impossibly long housing waiting list, is far too high a price to pay for being the victim of a threat of violence. Georgia and her children suffered a grave detriment, simply because some violent gang members decided to threaten her son. The second is that serious violence is a scourge on the lives of all those that it affects. Far too many young people are living with the deep trauma of things that they have witnessed or friends that they have lost to knife or gun crime. We have a duty to do everything possible to stop the cycle of violence and the trauma that it causes in our communities. Supporting the victims of threats of violence to regain stability and move on with their lives is one way in which we can do that. Plunging victims into the unstable, often appalling, world of temporary accommodation has the opposite effect. We have the opportunity to change that.

I was pleased to work with the hon. Member for Harrow East on his Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 in a previous Parliament. As members of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, we saw evidence that a change in the duties on councils could make a real difference to the prevention of homelessness. I was also pleased to have his support for Georgia’s law, as I am naming the new clause, when I introduced it under the ten-minute rule earlier this year. This is a similar situation. A small change in duties could make a big difference to a very vulnerable group of people who need more support.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 3:30 pm, 29th November 2022

Does my hon. Friend—I classify her as my hon. Friend because we have co-operated on so many other things—not accept that one of the problems is the shortage of suitable accommodation? I had a similar event in my constituency: a family was encouraged by the police to seek alternative accommodation, the registered social landlord said, “We don’t have any,” and naturally there was a problem as a result. Does she accept that providing suitable accommodation within a reasonable distance that allows children to go school, perhaps, and the tenant to get to work will be very challenging? I wonder whether she has considered that she is putting the onus on the registered social landlord to provide that. They may not operate within suitable areas, or may not be able to get co-operation from another registered social landlord. Would it not be better to have a range of potential organisations that might provide accommodation in what are, as she said, exceptional circumstances, rather than putting the onus on the registered social landlord?

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I understand that, Sir Edward, but this is an important issue that merits further explanation.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

I thank the hon. Member for that intervention. The new clause would impose a duty of co-operation on registered social landlords, which is designed to deal exactly with such a circumstance, where accommodation cannot be found that is safe for the tenant within the area in which the current landlord holds property. These are of course very challenging cases. I have certainly come across constituency cases in which the tenant simply cannot bring themselves to move from their home because the consequences are so dire for them, even when an offer has been made in an area that is considered by the police to be safe for them.

The new clause will not resolve every single circumstance, but in Georgia’s case, when I phoned a senior director in her large registered housing provider she was provided with a new tenancy in a safe borough, and signed that tenancy within a week. With greater will on the part of registered providers, and I believe that placing a duty would prompt that greater will, much more can be done to stop the cycle of violence in our communities.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I rise briefly to support my hon. Friend’s new clause, Georgia’s law. She made an extremely powerful case for it. I believe that it is sensible and proportionate, and will have a significant impact. I am sure that many hon. Members present have dealt with the kind of cases that she outlined—I certainly have. We are talking about a small but significant minority of tenants in England, but they find themselves, as the hon. Member for Harrow East said, in the exceptional circumstances of a police referral. All the new clause asks for is the protection of their tenancy rights, which should not be lost when they are forced to move, and greater co-operation between registered providers.

It is no surprise that the new clause is supported by organisations such as the NHF and Shelter. I think this is a very strong new clause, and I very much hope that the Government are minded to act on this issue, if not today then on Report. It is a crucial provision and will benefit the lives of many of our constituents.

Photo of Dehenna Davison Dehenna Davison Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood for tabling the new clause and for her engagement on the issue some weeks ago when we met to discuss it. I am grateful to her for raising the case of Georgia and her boys, and that of CJ. They are both horrendous cases, which give us all food for thought. I thank her for her words on the need to reduce violence more widely. That is something I am incredibly passionate about on a personal level too.

Before I begin, I want to clarify some technicalities. The new clause would provide protection where registered providers have granted their tenants secure tenancies. Secure tenancies are only granted by local authorities, so we will talk to the intention of the new clause, which is I believe around assured tenancies, as well as those in secure tenancies given by local authorities that are registered with the regulator.

We do not expect anyone who is threatened with violence to feel like they cannot move to safety for fear of losing their security of tenure. There are already a number of policies in place that seek to protect people at risk of violence who are in need of urgent rehousing. If a local authority grants a victim of domestic abuse, for example, a new tenancy for reasons connected with the abuse, it is required to give them a secure lifetime tenancy, rather than a tenancy with a fixed term.

Local authorities are also required to give people who need to move for their safety reasonable preference for social housing under section 166A(3) of the Housing Act 1996. Chapter 4 of the statutory guidance encourages local authorities to give additional preference or high priority to those fleeing violence, including intimidated witnesses, those escaping serious antisocial behaviour and people fleeing domestic violence.

By extension, those protections can be applied to private registered providers through duties to co-operate with their local authority in housing people with priority. Most private registered providers let 50% to 100% of their tenancies via nominations from their local authority. The current approach, which considers applicants for social housing on a case-by-case basis, and retains some flexibility, is the most appropriate means of determining whether a household should be granted a new tenancy.

The new clause would have the effect of requiring registered providers to relocate tenants and provide them with a new tenancy agreement. As we know, there are sadly many people with urgent housing needs who need to move immediately—for example, families who are living in conditions that pose a serious risk to their health. Going further than the existing protections by requiring registered providers to prioritise people fleeing violence above others would undermine some of the flexibilities given to housing providers to respond to the specific requirements of those in urgent need of social housing locally.

It is a fundamental right of the landlord to determine who they grant a tenancy to and who lives in their property. Retaining that right is key to registered providers being able to achieve their goal of creating safe and stable communities. It is therefore important to retain some flexibility for social landlords to decide their policy on allocations and who to house. That is integral to the effective functioning of the wider system.

Finally, as I am sure the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood will be aware, we are taking steps to reform tenancy law to protect the security of tenure for social tenants. After section 21 is removed, all tenancies given by private registered providers will have greater security of tenure.

On that basis, I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the new clause. I am very willing to work with her to see what more can be done in this area to prevent any more cases like that of Georgia and her boys emerging.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

I thank my hon. Friend the shadow Minister for his support for the new clause. I am grateful to the Minister for her engagement and discussions prior to Committee stage, and for her comments just now. I would be more than happy to work with the Minister to resolve any drafting clarifications and on the intention of the new clause.

The Minister mentioned existing protections, but surely if they were working as they should, cases such as Georgia’s would simply not be arising in their current number. When I first spoke to the local authority that covers the part of my constituency where Georgia was resident, it said that registered providers, housing associations, fall back on the local authority’s duty to provide emergency accommodation. It says that happens all the time, and that there is no regard for what happens to the tenant, given all the destabilisation that comes from a very long time in temporary accommodation.

Certainly in London, on paper the local authority has a duty to provide emergency accommodation and then to rehouse that resident. There is nothing in the priority need criteria, however, that would have given Georgia or her family any significant level of priority need—certainly not a sufficient level of priority, because the violence would not have been taken into account. She was housed with a roof over her head in another borough, where it was thought it was safe for her to be. As it turned out, it was not safe for her, but it was judged to be a borough distant from where the initial threat was made. There was nothing in her circumstances to give her a level of priority band above about band C. She was never going to be rehoused, and because of the consequence of a threat to her son, she went from being a secure tenant in a very stable situation to facing, realistically, an indefinite period of time in temporary accommodation.

I simply do not believe that that situation is fair, and the current system is not functioning as it should. I acknowledge that there are many people who need to move and that our housing system is absolutely full of people who have a pressing and real need to do so. We also have a duty as a society to prevent harm from serious violence, and that is why that additional protection is needed over and above the current protections in law outlined by the Minister. I am happy to withdraw the new clause, but it is my intention to re-table it on Report, when I will divide the House if there is insufficient evidence of progress, because I strongly believe that this needs to get on the statute book. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.