That the Bill be now read a second time.
My Lords, I am delighted to be moving the Second Reading today. Domestic abuse is a devastating issue which has serious impacts on the victim, the victim’s family and, indeed, society as a whole. According to the crime survey, each year an estimated 1.9 million people in England and Wales suffer some form of domestic abuse. Not only does domestic abuse often place the victim in immediate physical danger; its emotional effect can create damaging, long-term impacts on the victims and their families, and place huge costs on society and the public purse. This short, targeted Bill is an important part of the Government’s wider aim of supporting victims of domestic abuse to leave their abusive situation, and ensuring that they and their families are provided with the stability and security they need and deserve.
The Bill will ensure that if victims of domestic abuse who have a lifetime social tenancy need to flee their current home to escape abuse and are granted a new tenancy, they are able to retain their lifetime tenancy in their new social home. The Bill achieves this by requiring local authorities to offer a further lifetime tenancy to existing lifetime tenants where the tenant needs to move or has recently moved to escape domestic abuse, and the local authority is satisfied that granting the new tenancy will reduce the risk of further abuse. This will apply not only to situations where the tenant themselves is a victim of domestic abuse but also where a member of their household, such as a child, has suffered domestic abuse.
The Bill applies to all local authorities in England and protects all lifetime social tenants in these circumstances, whether they have a secure local authority tenancy or an assured tenancy with a private registered provider of social housing. It will apply not only to situations where the tenant is a victim of domestic abuse but also where a member of the household, such as a child, has suffered domestic abuse.
The definition of domestic abuse in the Bill has been drawn widely, so it will apply not just to those who have suffered physical violence but also to victims of psychological, sexual, financial and emotional abuse, as provided by Clause 1(2).
The Bill delivers on a commitment that the Government made to this House during the passage of the Housing and Planning Act 2016. We gave a commitment that when local authorities moved to fixed-term tenancies in the future we would ensure that the regulations which specify when local authorities may grant a further lifetime tenancy would make this mandatory for victims of domestic abuse. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, raised this issue—I am pleased to see her in her place—and I acknowledge her part in ensuring that we have come through with this legislation. It has been a pleasure dealing with the noble Baroness in that regard.
Primary legislation is necessary to deliver on this commitment. To be clear, the Bill does not create a new requirement for local authorities to rehouse lifetime tenants who are victims of domestic abuse, but it ensures that where a lifetime tenant is rehoused in these circumstances they do not lose their security of tenure. This is about removing an impediment that could prevent victims from leaving their abusive situation.
The Government are absolutely committed to supporting victims of domestic abuse—it is a high priority for the Prime Minister. That is why we have secured £40 million of dedicated funding in the spending review and invested £33.5 million since 2014 to support victims of domestic abuse. However, we want to go further and are carrying out a fundamental review of the commissioning and funding of domestic abuse services, which will conclude in the summer of this year. I look forward to updating noble Lords on the review’s progress.
The most recent lettings data show that from April 2015 to March 2016 about 1.6% of all social lettings were to existing tenants who moved to another social home to escape domestic abuse. While the numbers are relatively small, this is still more than 5,000 lives affected by domestic abuse and it is important that they are provided with the support they need to leave their abusive situation. The measures in the Bill will do precisely this and ensure that we do not create a barrier—
What happens in the case of the abuser? In such circumstances, are the rights of the abuser—who may well end up being a single person—in no way affected by this legislation?
My Lords, the aim of this legislation is certainly not to do anything in relation to the abusing party; it is to protect the abused party. It is about the protection of the victim rather than doing anything in relation to the perpetrator.
The measures in the Bill will provide that protection and ensure that we do not create a barrier to victims of domestic abuse who are considering leaving their abusive situation by protecting the security of tenure of those who move to a new social home.
We recognise that there will be other circumstances in which it might be appropriate for local authorities to continue to offer lifetime tenancies at their discretion. We will set out those circumstances in regulations that we are currently developing. These regulations are affirmative and noble Lords will have the opportunity to debate them when they are laid.
I repeat that this is a targeted and short Bill. It was a hard-won opportunity for a specific situation. I look forward to hearing noble Lords’ comments and views on the Bill, and I beg to move.
My Lords, today represents a double first for me. It is my first time at the Dispatch Box—as a day tripper, I should make clear—and I am grateful to the Minister for his kind words. More importantly, it is the first time in my seven years in your Lordships’ House that I have been able to welcome a Bill at Second Reading more or less unequivocally.
Before going further, I should like to thank Jacob Secker of Haringey Defend Council Housing, who brought to my attention the issue of the potential impact of loss of security of tenure under the Housing and Planning Bill on victims of domestic abuse. I also thank members of Arden Chambers and Giles Peaker, chair of the Housing Law Practitioners Association, for their advice. I should also make it clear that, while I am aware that men can be the victims of domestic violence, it is women who are the main victims, particularly of serious abuse, and therefore it is women about whom I will speak.
As the Minister has already underlined, the importance of this issue to women, and therefore the importance of the Bill, are stressed by the helpful briefing from Women’s Aid. It makes clear that secure housing is not only a practical need for women and children fleeing abuse, but is integral to their safety and recovery. Concerns about housing are a key barrier to many women trying to escape domestic abuse. Women’s Aid’s annual survey in 2016 showed that nine out of 10 women in a refuge required help with their housing needs. During the passage of the Bill, I drew on research by the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit and Solace Women’s Aid. One of the key messages was:
“Having a home in which women and children can be and feel safe is vital, removing the fear and insecurity which domestic violence creates”.
Housing insecurity interfered with all the processes that the study found,
“enabled them to begin undoing the harms of domestic violence”.
The research also demonstrated why it is insufficient to give local authorities a permissive power to provide victims of domestic violence with a new lifetime tenancy, which was the Government’s original response. The study found that all too often, women fleeing domestic abuse who present to local authority housing services reported that they found them unhelpful, with many describing housing officers as unsympathetic, uninterested and disbelieving. To Ministers’ credit, they listened to the arguments and agreed, as the Minister has said, that regulations would require rather than simply enable local authorities to provide new lifetime tenancies when rehousing a tenant in such circumstances.
It then transpired, however, that the lawyers had discovered that this was not permissible under the terms of the Act. Again to their credit, the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Evans of Bowes Park, said that they would announce a concession during the passage of the Bill and immediately apologised to me. At that stage I had understood that the primary legislation would be amended either through the forthcoming domestic abuse Bill or possibly through a Private Member’s Bill. I pay tribute to the Minister for pushing for this Bill to avoid further delay, but I am afraid I cannot resist pointing out that had the Government accepted my original amendment, or something like it, they could have saved themselves an awful lot of bother.
When I said that I can give the Bill a more or less unequivocal welcome, the less arises because of one key omission, also raised by Women’s Aid. I am grateful to the Minister for meeting with me just before Christmas and I am hopeful that we can resolve the issue. When I moved my amendment on Report, I emphasised that the regulations should cover not only the victims of domestic abuse who flee their home but also the situation where a joint tenancy had terminated and a new sole tenancy has been granted in the name of the victim. As presently drafted, the Bill would not cover this situation. Yet I have been advised that this is invariably what happens in the few cases where there is a joint tenancy and the perpetrator is removed by the local authority so that he does not benefit from the abuse by driving his victim from the home. This makes sense because otherwise the perpetrator could give notice to quit and terminate the joint tenancy at some future date, thereby depriving his victim of her rights. What if she dies? That would enable the perpetrator to move back in and continue as an old-style secure tenant, a question raised by my noble friend. I cannot believe that the Government would want that. Indeed, in their recent consultation on improving access to social housing for victims of domestic abuse, they propose that new guidance should strongly encourage local authorities to use their existing powers to support tenants who are the victims of abuse to stay in their homes if they wish to. The consultation recognises that they may well wish to, to avoid the upheaval that fleeing would have on their lives and, I would add, on the lives of their children. I therefore urge the Minister to look at this again and bring forward an amendment in Committee, because otherwise I will do so.
In addition, I would be grateful if he could answer a number of questions about the Bill, either now or, if need be, in a subsequent letter. First, can he confirm that the Bill will cover an abuse victim who gives up a secure tenure with one local authority and flees to a different one? According to Women’s Aid’s latest annual survey, more than two-thirds of women resident in a refuge on one day in 2017 had come from a different local authority area. Again, this would be consistent with the proposal in the recent consultation document that the guidance would strongly encourage local authorities to exempt from any residency requirements victims of domestic abuse who have fled from another area.
Secondly, when drawing up guidance for local authorities, will the Government consider the recommendations of Women’s Aid concerning the evidence requirements for accessing the domestic abuse exemption and specialist training for local housing officers who will apply it? They propose that the domestic violence gateway for legal aid could be used as a starting point for developing any evidence requirements. As for specialist training, the research to which I referred showed just how necessary it is. Moreover, Article 15 of the Istanbul convention requires relevant professionals dealing with victims or perpetrators of violence against women and domestic violence to receive adequate training.
My third question concerns the regulations on new lifetime tenancies, to which the Minister referred. In his letter to me of 24 October 2016, he stated that these regulations would cover other groups at risk of harm in their current social home and that there would be a consultation on them. In an earlier Written Answer, he suggested that the circumstances in which local authorities may exercise discretion might include tenants who downsize into a smaller home. Here, I emphasise those affected by the bedroom tax. Will he tell us where the department has got to on this and which other groups he envisages will be covered? In particular, during the passage of the Bill the noble Baroness, Lady Evans of Bowes Park, confirmed to me that consideration would be given to,
“whether the circumstances should include tenants with severe disabilities, mobility issues or significant care needs, as well as those who need to give or receive care”.—[Official Report, 14/3/16; col. 1715.]
Will he confirm that they will indeed be covered? Our concerns about the loss of security of tenure under the Act remain. My noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark will probably say a bit more about that later, but at the very least it is important local authorities have the necessary discretion to minimise its impact on these other vulnerable groups.
Finally, Women’s Aid makes the important point that the Bill’s goal of improving housing security for domestic abuse survivors is threatened by other areas of government policy. To reassure the Minister, I do not intend to try to amend the Bill to address these concerns, but given that this is a Second Reading they need to be placed on the record. First, the proposed devolution to local areas of responsibility and resourcing for domestic abuse refuges, which he made sound like rather a wonderful nirvana coming towards us, will, they warn, have a catastrophic impact on refuges and, therefore, their ability to help protect women’s housing security. Particular concerns have been raised that it could mark the end of specialist services for BME, disabled or otherwise marginalised groups of women who are already suffering under the localism model—a concern already raised back in 2015 by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I was then a member.
The JCHR also raised a number of concerns about the possible impact of so-called welfare reform on women subject to domestic abuse—in particular, the payment of universal credit into a single bank account. This could exacerbate financial abuse, which I am very pleased to see is included in the Bill’s definition of domestic abuse. Other concerns raised by Women’s Aid include the impact of the lower benefit cap, the two-child limit and the application of the underoccupation charge to move-on accommodation without any transitional protection.
I am sure these are issues to which we will return in the context of the forthcoming domestic abuse legislation. For now, I am very happy that we are able to give our full support to this Bill in principle. Once again, I thank the Minister for bringing it forward.
My Lords, this is a short but significant Bill, and from these Benches we welcome it. I thank both the Minister for his introduction and the noble Baroness, who is a redoubtable campaigner—the combination of energy and intellectual rigour cannot be beaten.
The term “secure” in the Title applies more widely than in the technical sense of the type of tenancy. The emotional security of one’s home plays a very big part in most of our lives. When I first became involved in the work of the domestic violence charity Refuge, I was quite shaken by two thoughts: first, what it must be like to distrust the person whom one should most be able to trust and, secondly, what it must be like not to feel safe in one’s own home? As the Minister has said, children as well as partners are affected by insecurity and instability.
It is a pity that we use the term “victims”. It should not imply, although it often does, some sort of passivity in the face of ill-treatment. That is certainly not the case in this context. We must not underestimate the strength needed to leave an abuser and to talk about a situation. This is not done lightly or quickly, so I welcome this legislative response to one housing situation.
I have some questions, which to a considerable extent reflect some of those already asked by the noble Baroness, and one fundamental observation: that this Bill is about the person abused and often her children—“her”, as the noble Baroness said—having to move, and not the abuser having to move. I understand that there will probably be considerable difficulties regarding rights to the tenancy of the abuser and evidence, but I am unhappy about the imbalance that we are recognising here.
I know that my noble friend Lord Shipley will ask why the obligation is on local housing authorities and not on housing associations. I therefore ask the Minister whether the obligation can be satisfied by a local housing authority procuring that a housing association grants an assured tenancy. How does the local housing association fulfil the obligation if it has no stock of its own? Do the Government envisage reciprocal arrangements between authorities—for instance, authority A making some provision for a person from authority B in return for an old-style secure tenancy for someone coming from authority A? I cannot really see how this could work, because, by definition, there will be a problem with housing stock, which is the elephant in the Chamber today.
Are the Government satisfied that the scheme can work if, for reasons of safety, the abused person needs to be in a different location from the abuser—indeed, to be somewhere unknown to the abuser? The noble Baroness raised a particular lacuna. I would ask as well whether the Bill applies if the victim is not a joint tenant of the original housing. I am a little unclear about whether someone leaving a home needs to be in the private sector to escape abuse. I assume not, because under new subsection (2A), one does not leave square one unless the local housing authority is required to grant a secure tenancy.
Can the Minister explain the eligibility a little more fully? As I understand it, not all victims of domestic abuse who do not have children are considered as being in priority need for housing, so does the woman—again, I will assume that it is a woman for the purposes of the debate—have to satisfy priority need for the provisions to apply? Will a victim have to accept whatever housing is offered, however unsatisfactory she considers it?
There is also the question of identifying domestic abuse for the purposes of the legislation. What evidence will be required? The Bill rightly extends to all forms of abuse—I note that the list of types of abuse is not exhaustive—but what level of proof will be required?
Local authority social workers, who have enough on their plates already, will not be unfamiliar with identifying abuse; for our part, we are familiar with training not always being adequate. In our debate last July, introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, my noble friend Lady Brinton and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, referred, I think to the Minister’s surprise, to the training of police officers in identifying stalking being satisfied by a 25-minute desk exercise. I see possible comparisons here. Is the Minister considering guidance in this connection for housing officers?
I looked back at a report, referred to in that previous debate, into the No Woman Turned Away project, which looked at the position of 404 women with 533 children in the period January 2016 to January 2017. I shall quote from that report, by Women’s Aid:
“Many women, supported by the NWTA caseworkers, faced structural barriers to accessing safety due to inadequate responses from statutory agencies … Social services failed to meet their duty of care towards 37 of the 115 survivors they supported … Several women who were refused help by social services were told that they were not experiencing domestic abuse or that they did not meet the risk threshold for intervention. Local housing teams prevented 78 … survivors from making a valid homeless application. 14 women were told to call the NDVH instead of making a homeless application and 11 cases did not consider the domestic abuse to be a significant risk factor to merit a domestic abuse application, with eight women being told to return to the perpetrator and three women told to come back when the situation got worse ... reasons given for preventing a survivor from making a homeless application”,
included being told to call the helpline, as I have mentioned,
“that the Local Housing Authority did not have the duty to her or her children … , being explicitly told that domestic abuse was not the responsibility of the LHA …, or refusing an application and giving no reason at all”.
A number of survivors were told,
“that they needed a local connection in order to apply … or were told to make an application in another borough … Local housing teams prevented 78 … survivors from making an application. Often their understanding of domestic abuse is limited to physical abuse with only partial knowledge of other aspects of abuse or coercive control”.
These are two major areas of concern. What does the Local Government Association have to say about these and other concerns? We might be about to hear the answer from the next speaker: I hope so.
I appreciate that this is one piece in the jigsaw of supporting adults and children who are subjected to domestic abuse. I, too, will not venture into the complicated field of benefits or no benefits—today, at any rate. That will be unavoidable when we get to the wider legislation.
The Minister mentioned regulations. Will those be regulations under the 2016 Act? This Bill seems to provide for regulations only in regard to commencement.
The Bill is not a silver bullet, but it addresses one unintended consequence of the 2016 Act, so my final small but important question is: when is this legislation likely to be brought into effect?
My Lords, it is probably pertinent that I declare my interests in so far as I am the chairman of the Local Government Association. I am also the leader of South Holland District Council, which is one of the few councils in the country that still owns housing stock.
I should congratulate my noble friend the Minister on his personal commitment to getting this legislation through. It is always good when good people do good things, so my congratulations. But one of the Bill’s shortcomings is that it addresses council tenancies, not all the social market. Given that most social properties are now owned by non-councils, some further work probably needs to be done—if not to compel RSLs forcefully, then at least to do so surreptitiously, so they do not know they are having their arms twisted to make them do it. A way of coercing them informally needs to be at least considered, given that the majority of those affected will be their tenants and the majority of the properties available will be theirs. To truly look after some of our most vulnerable citizens, widening the scope of the landlords covered would be a good thing to do.
I am really pleased that my noble friend the Minister said that we are considering widening the scope regarding vulnerable people, who may be able to access lifetime tenancies, or at least secure tenancies. Clearly, a number of other vulnerable groups really need the security of knowing that the home they live in will be the home they will always be able to live in, should they choose to and if their circumstances remain the same. That is particularly true for people with mobility impairments whose homes have been adapted for them, or people with mental health problems for whom there is no foreseeable chance of recovery. It seems pointless to make them look over their shoulder every five years at whether they might get a new tenancy.
I will not address directly some of the other comments made but they all stem from one problem. My noble friend the Minister would not forgive me—at least, he would think I had taken leave of my senses—if I did not take the opportunity to say that the reason we are having to ration the limited supply of available, affordable homes is simply that for the last 40 years, and under Governments of all colours, we have failed to build enough affordable homes in the right places for people to live in. This is not a criticism of the current Government but of all Governments. “Affordable” should not have just the interesting, latest variations in meaning; it should also mean social homes.
By social homes, I do not mean the fad from the 1980s of calling an RSL house a social home. That was a failed experiment. Social homes really does mean council houses, and if we are serious about this—clearly, the Prime Minister wants to be the most serious Prime Minister for years in tackling the housing crisis—the only way to do that is by allowing councils to take up their historic role as the main provider of social homes. I know from speaking to colleagues in all parties across the country that they are more than willing to do as much as possible, provided that the Government—whatever colour they end up being—give us the scope and freedom to do what we all know needs to be done: to build at historic levels again. I seriously congratulate my noble friend the Minister on getting this part of the legislation, at least, to address helping this most vulnerable group of people.
I wish to comment only briefly today, first by paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for her work on this issue and by thanking both her and my right reverend friend the Bishop of St Albans for their initial work during the passage of the Housing and Planning Act. Secondly, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for his commitment to addressing this issue. I also need to declare an interest as an ambassador for the charity Restored, an international Christian alliance that seeks to end violence against women.
As has been said, domestic abuse of any sort is demeaning, degrading and something that no one should have to endure. While not wanting to ignore the truth that men can be victims of domestic abuse, on average two women a week are killed by a current or former male partner, while approximately 750,000 children in England and Wales witness domestic violence every year. No woman should be forced to choose between her safety and that of her children, or maintaining a roof over her head. Yet this is a tragic dilemma for many women and children. I really hope that this Bill will make some progress in decreasing the number of people placed in this position.
As has been said, there is more work to do, particularly on securing long-term refuge funding. None the less, I am delighted to support the Bill at Second Reading. I hope it will progress through this House to ensure that the most vulnerable have increased opportunities to leave oppressive and unacceptable home environments.
My Lords, I first congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, on the part she played in getting this Bill put forward. I often get asked, particularly when I visit schools: what does the House of Lords do? What is the point of it? This Bill is surely an example of the Chamber operating at its best, with Peers raising an unintended potential consequence of a policy. The Government should also be praised for listening and doing something about it.
Housing and the continuation of domestic violence are inextricably linked. You will put up with an awful lot if you do not have a safe and secure escape route. To make the difficult and often dangerous decision to upend your entire life and potentially that of your young family, you need to know that a better and safer place awaits. It is for this reason that many women, quite understandably, put off the decision, and that has tragically cost lives on so many occasions. I sincerely hope this Bill gives victims the reassurance they need and helps them make that brave leap to end the abuse. As the Women’s Aid briefing sets out, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, pointed out, it is right that the provisions in the Bill apply to women who need to move their secure lifetime tenancy to a new local authority area to escape the perpetrator, and the exemption should apply to those seeking to end a joint tenancy and replace it with sole tenancy in their name.
I hope the House will forgive me if I use this debate to speak on domestic abuse a little more generally. It is incredibly important to raise awareness and to help tireless campaigners such as Women’s Aid and Refuge. Whenever I research this crime, I have to double check the facts as I cannot believe how startling they are. As was just pointed out, two women a week are killed by a partner or former partner. In 2016, 78 women were killed, 75 % of them at home, which highlights the urgent need for this Bill.
The UN and the World Bank have released data that estimates that women between the ages of 15 and 44 are more at risk from rape and domestic abuse than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria, that more than one-quarter of women in the UK will experience domestic violence in their lifetime and that one-fifth of children in this country have been exposed to domestic abuse. There was a 10% increase in the number of cases of domestic abuse last year. One hopes that this jump is down to the bravery of victims coming forward thanks to high-profile awareness campaigns, but it is clear that a lot more needs to be done and that improvement in some areas is thwarted by a decline in others. For example, advances in technology have in many ways given abusers more tools at their disposal. Smartphones tracking partners’ whereabouts, spoof emails et cetera can all add up to a virtual prison for many victims.
I think all of us in this Chamber will be looking forward to the domestic abuse Bill, which will be introduced by the Minister later this year. I hope it will take a whole-system, long-term approach, incorporating all elements that will not only make victims safe and punish perpetrators but, just as importantly, prevent the devastating cycle of abuse in the first place.
Refuges of course play a crucial part in keeping women safe when they flee abuse. These organisations are vital and in many cases save lives. One woman I read about recently was so desperate to leave her dangerous and abusive home that she slept on a bus with her three year-old until she could be housed at a refuge a week later. As a mother of two young children, I can only imagine such desperation. It is too long to wait, and no woman should have nowhere to run to. We also know that the most dangerous time for a woman is at the point of separation, which is when most murders happen.
The Government are committed to reducing domestic abuse and have provided an extra £100 million until 2020 and, within that, a £20 million fund to support refuges and an additional 2,200 bed spaces. They will therefore want urgently to allay fears that reforms to the funding of supported housing may somehow lead to closures. I do not believe Theresa May or this Government would allow that to happen—it is simply not the mark of a civilised, progressive society, and I hope the consultation from the MHCLG, when concluded, will support this.
However, in this context the words, “Local authority” and “ring-fencing” send a shiver down my spine. To touch briefly on a subject I know a bit more about, funding for disabled children and their families, especially concerning their legal right to short breaks, is supposedly ring-fenced and legally protected, but the reality on the ground feels very different and is geographically patchy. The fight goes on, and this postcode lottery absolutely should not be extended to women’s refuges.
More effective measures that encourage proper punishment need to be introduced. Victims all too often get let down by the justice system that should be protecting them. More reporting, police referrals, prosecution, specialist training and conviction rates have to be a key focus. But it is also right to point out that despite a slow start, progress is being made, especially on coercion prosecutions. I spent a morning with the police today and saw first-hand their commitment to improving the situation. But clearly, a 60% increase in reporting over the last five years and the challenges regarding resources will inevitably put a strain on forces, and this needs to be properly considered in the overall approach. I sincerely hope that we see a much more joined-up strategy that allows agencies easily to share information, a lack of which is often cited as a key failing in domestic homicide cases
Finally, however, prevention must be at the forefront of our thinking. I quite agree with the many experts who say that prevention and progress will really be seen only if we tackle the social norms that still pervade many people’s lives, leading to gender-based abuse and violence. Education and raising awareness have to be at the root of this. We must teach our children and young people that dignity and respect have to be at the heart of relationships, and we must properly care for those young and vulnerable people who have seen things no one should see, preventing any further cycle of abuse.
My Lords, immediately before this debate, we were discussing the pay of women at the BBC. I should make it clear I in no way condone the relative underpayment, but I wonder whether I am the only person in this House who really attaches rather more importance to the group of women we are discussing now, who suffer physically as well as materially and as a result of extraordinarily abusive partners or husbands who betray the person whom they should most care for. I therefore join with all other noble Lords who have spoken in welcoming the Bill.
I do not want to outdo the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, in generosity, but the Government have a commitment in this area, which I think stems from the Prime Minister herself. As evidence, it is really rather extraordinary that this measure should force itself into a Queen’s Speech, and now into a parliamentary programme, so burdened with other weighty matters such as Brexit, Brexit and Brexit. This is a wonderful triumph and is not the only such case: the Government are promising the domestic violence and abuse Bill, which will make a difference to women in this situation over a wider field. I pay great tribute to the Government’s motivation. What I will say though is that it is not uncommon to find that the good effects the Government are having are weighed against—or even outweighed by—things they are doing which have an adverse effect on the group they are trying to help.
My first example is that of legal aid to women. We know that the numbers getting legal aid when they appear in court fell by about a third after the Government’s restrictions. The Government have eased up a bit, but I bet the figures never get to what they were before. Think of the plight of an abused woman facing her abuser in court without professional legal advice at hand. That is no small thing.
There is a more serious problem lurking in the wings. It relates to the ending of the system whereby aid for refuges for women is given via the HB system, to be replaced by grants to local authorities that are—I share the view that has been expressed about this phrase—ring-fenced. I do not think you need surveys, although they exist, to show what effect this is going to have on refuges. Picture a local authority with terribly difficult choices to make because its expenditure is being slashed on every side, faced with claims from a refuge. On average, three-quarters of the women in that refuge will not come from that area at all; if you are subject to domestic abuse, of course you want to fly as far away as possible from the local area in which you lived to get away from your abuser. Councils therefore do not have an incentive to give that refuge the priority that they would give to services that really were for local people. There is some evidence now that this is going to cause the mass closure of refuges. The figures that I have seen suggest that 39% might close as a result, with a 12% reduction in beds.
From a scandal we proceed to a confusion. I do not know what the Government’s policy is in the area that I am talking about, and the reason why is that I do not really think they know themselves. A consultation was launched in October 2017, and people have to submit their representations by 23 January. Some are absolutely committed to money coming from HB to grants to the local authority. At the same time, though—this almost beggars belief—the Government are launching a separate review of support for supported housing that is not designed to report until November 2018. So they have a policy that they are reviewing even before it comes into force in 2020. Even odder, in a kind reply the other day to a Question from me, the Minister said,
“We are continuing to explore all options for future delivery of refuge services, including a national model for refuges”.
Here we have this new localism being instituted, based on grants, while at the same time a national model is being looked at. This really is chaos.
I know that government is not usually chaotic by accident; there is usually a reason. I will lay before the House—I expect the Minister to deny it, but that is his prerogative—what I think is probably going on here. On the one hand, his department, the MHCLG, can see perfectly well that this policy is a nonsense; that while there are many things that should be given to local authorities, this is not one of them; and that it is going to lead to closures and a hell of a row. Indeed, if the Prime Minister gets involved, it will be a hell of a row that rebounds on the MHCLG. Over at the DWP, on the other hand, there is another problem: the Ozymandian project to build universal credit. HB does not fit easily into universal credit, and HB for refuges does not fit into universal credit at all. So the DWP has taken its sabre, cut straight through this and got rid of a system that is working perfectly well in order to ensure that the prospects for universal credit are not further discredited, as they have been so regularly over the last few months. Support for refuges, support for the women in tragic circumstances who have recourse to them and even support for rebuilding their lives rank pretty low in the priorities in the battle between these giant bureaucracies.
I do not know how all this will be resolved. I am extremely optimistic that the degree of opposition to this change of policy, witnessed in the 140,000 signatures to a petition got up against it, will pressure the DWP to think again. Otherwise, the bad day when that system is introduced will more than outweigh the great good to be done by this excellent Bill.
My Lords, without wishing to trivialise in any way the important issues dealt with in the Bill, it has occurred to me that the question of continuing access to secure lifetime tenancies is probably close to the hearts of many people in this House. We and any future new Peers may find ourselves on a fixed-term secure tenancy and possibly even physically evicted from this House if parliamentary refurbishment requires it. So it is somewhat ironic that the Bill not only begins its passage at this end of the Corridor but also that Lords’ amendments to the Housing and Planning Bill led to its necessity. Indeed, it is a necessary piece of legislation and I do not disagree with the intent behind its provisions.
However, these provisions are very narrow and, in the absence of the forthcoming domestic violence and abuse Bill, it might appear that we are still, as a society and a Government, stuck on the question, “Why doesn’t she or he leave?”, when someone is the victim of abuse, rather than taking a more preventive approach and asking, with regard to the perpetrator, “Why doesn’t he or she stop?”.
Furthermore, while councils should not, of course, put any barriers in the way of victims being able to flee domestic abuse, the sad truth is that being able to leave one abusive partner all too often does not lead to freedom from a life of abusive relationships. Research has concluded that a high proportion of victims leaving abusive relationships are at risk of returning to their abusive partner—although I would expect the Bill to reduce the likelihood of that happening, hence my support for it—or of becoming romantically involved with another abusive person.
Extensive evidence such as that from Alexander, Kemp et al, Woffordt et al and Coolidge and Anderson, has shown that between 40% and 56% of women experiencing domestic abuse have had a previously abusive relationship. In one study of refuge residents, Griffing et al found that 66% had previously left and returned to their abusive partner, and 97% of these women had done so several times. Victims stay with or return to an abusive partner for a wide range of reasons, including practical problems such as a lack of financial resources, social support and alternative housing options—again, hence the welcome provisions in the Bill, although it does not require councils to rehouse, it just requires that any future tenancy will be on a like-for-like basis.
However, they also stay because they fear that ongoing separation could trigger worse abuse. They may have feelings of love for the perpetrator and a sense of dependency towards him or her. This may be due to the insecurity and low self-worth that can mushroom in toxic and dysfunctional relationships. They may nurse an expectation that they can rescue or reform their abusive partner. This, paradoxically, can ratchet up their commitment the worse the treatment becomes.
Stating these complex psychological processes which make a victim vulnerable to further abuse is not at all the same thing as holding them responsible for that abuse. On the contrary, a nuanced understanding of them is vital for rejecting decisively the blame that can be ascribed to victims for staying in or embarking on new abusive relationships. However, their ongoing vulnerability, which accumulates with each new abusive relationship, has to be acknowledged if victims themselves are to be able to understand and address it. Many will need support to grapple with these deeper psychological forces.
So, it is not simply about housing, as I am sure the Government realise. I have taken the opportunity that the Second Reading of the Bill provides to urge my noble friend the Minister, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, in her Oral Question in this House last November, to give much needed prominence to preventive approaches. This has been lacking in the past.
Our Prime Minister has made it a key personal priority to transform the way we think about tackling domestic violence. Diana Barran, the founder and former CEO of SafeLives, a national charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse, gives us an important starting point by asking the question: what would you want for your best friend? You would want her to be safe in her own home, with her things around her, rather than being forced to move or living in secrecy in a refuge, possibly at the other end of the country. This must be the goal wherever possible which will, without in any way deprioritising safety, require a paradigm shift towards early intervention, prevention and a family-based emphasis for domestic abuse. Again, to quote SafeLives: “We need to understand the whole picture for an individual and family to give an effective response”.
Previously in your Lordships’ House, I have described the work of the organisation Atal Y Fro, Welsh for “safety in the vale”, formerly the Vale of Glamorgan Women’s Aid. I explained that the name change reflects its broader base of working because, over years of practice, the organisation became convinced that if it works only with the mother and children, this just patches up the problem. It partners with a range of organisations in a one-stop shop to help families with medium to low-risk abuse to reshape and restore their lives. Current evidence suggests that two-thirds of families have been enabled to stay together safely through education, prevention and intervention in the community—the EPIC strategy. This involves different evidence-based perpetrator programmes for men and women, a healthy relationships programme in every school, and couples work.
I have not seen a more recent cost-benefit analysis but its annual cost in 2015 was around £83,000, with a conservative estimate of cost savings of around £1.4 million. It now works across Wales and has added extra elements such as programmes to tackle adolescent violence against parents—a very disturbing sequela of children witnessing domestic abuse.
In conclusion, I do not want to be hard on the Bill, as I said at the outset, because it addresses an important, albeit narrow, need. However, preventing violence within relationships has to become a mainstream preoccupation of policy and practice. I note that in his letter on the Bill to colleagues in this House, my noble friend promised a fundamental review of the commissioning and funding of domestic abuse services that will conclude this summer. He also explained that his department will work with the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice to make a robust and positive contribution to the non-legislative package that will accompany the forthcoming Bill on domestic violence and abuse to which I have referred.
Can my noble friend confirm that this non-legislative package will do justice to the need for prevention, early intervention and whole-family approaches? Without a policy shift in this direction, we stand zero chance of stamping out the scourge of domestic abuse, especially given the intergenerational transmission of violence that I described earlier. We will keep on picking up the pieces and incurring scandalously high costs, not just to the public purse but in terms of the wasted lives and squandered potential of victims and their children who inhabit the shadowlands of misery and unresolved trauma.
This is a necessary Bill but it must be a precursor to the much needed paradigm shift I have sketched out here, for which many domestic violence charities are also calling. The media will struggle to understand its nuances but that should not deter. Lives will be saved, children will be better protected and society will benefit when prevention and early intervention, instead of being seen as a luxury we cannot afford, are instead accepted as the policy of first resort.
My Lords, housing is not normally an area that I would venture into, and it is not something that I am an expert in, but I would like to make a short intervention today from the perspective of my role as Liberal Democrat spokesperson for women. The Bill is very much to be welcomed, arising as it does from the work of noble colleagues in this House during the Report stage of the then Housing and Planning Bill in 2016—which, as colleagues have already mentioned, changes and restricts the rules on lifetime tenancies. This Bill, as I understand it, applies only to victims of domestic abuse who already hold lifetime tenancies; those who do not will presumably fall under the duty to secure permanent accommodation for people unintentionally homeless in priority need. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that.
Those with existing secure permanent tenancies constituted only 1.6% of new permanent social housing acceptances in 2015-16, so the numbers affected are very small, but the principle is very important. As has been said, many victims have to move to new areas to flee from their perpetrator. My first question is whether the Minister can confirm that the rights conferred by this new legislation will apply across local authority boundaries. My noble friend Lady Hamwee questions the practicality of this. If the answer is yes, what consideration has been given to how to make it work?
In 2015-16, domestic violence victims constituted 11% of all homeless acceptances by local authorities. I appreciate that, in an already fraught situation, housing authorities may be reluctant to evict the perpetrator, but it is a shame that it is so often the victim and her, or his, children, who are the ones to suffer, sometimes for years, while the perpetrator sits snugly in the victim’s previous home. However, there are times when the perpetrator leaves so, secondly, can the Minister please confirm that the rules will apply when the victim stays and the tenancy is converted from joint to single? The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, raised this point and thinks not. Would the Minister consider, if that is true, an amendment to that effect?
I am grateful to Women’s Aid for its briefing and for all the incredible work that it does. If it were not for Women’s Aid, many more women would have nowhere to go—but last year 60% of all referrals to refuges were declined. Clearly, there is a crying need for more, but they struggle greatly for money, with more than one in 10 receiving no local authority support at all. So, thirdly, can the Minister, through his government colleagues, look seriously at what effect taking away the ring-fence of protected funding is likely to have on the ability of refuges to cope with the needs of women and their children who so desperately need refuge?
Women’s Aid mentions a number of changes that it would like to see. One, which I hope would not be too much of a stretch for the Government to implement, concerns the underoccupation exclusion from housing benefit—more commonly known as the bedroom tax. While refuges themselves are exempt, this may exacerbate their already vulnerable financial situation, through no fault of their own. So my fourth question is whether the Government will be prepared to consider a transition period of exemption for any women moved to a property technically underoccupied to enable her to better withstand the financial pressures that she is likely to be under—or could local authorities be given the discretion to allow a transition period? It is they, after all, who are tasked with finding accommodation in the first place. Given the much larger number of women fleeing violence who will not qualify under the old secure tenancy rules, will the Government consider extending this discretion to all those who qualify under the duty to secure accommodation for victims of domestic violence who qualify as unintentionally homeless?
Finally, will the Minister say a word about what evidence would be required to warrant rehoming under the provisions of the Bill? ActionAid welcomes the wider definition than that of simply whether a prosecution has been made: only one in five survivors in refuges has been involved in criminal proceedings. The pressures on a woman in this situation are enormous and leaving the security of the home has to be, in the vast majority of cases, a last resort. However, while the Bill defines what domestic abuse is, it does not enlighten us on evidence. Are we talking about evidence from health professionals, domestic abuse services in local authorities or the refuges themselves perhaps? I am sure that local authorities would appreciate a steer.
My Lords, this is a very short but very important Bill as it will make a significant impact on, and difference to, the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our society. As we have heard from my noble friend the Minister, the Bill’s aim is to ensure that individuals on lifetime tenancies in social housing are protected if they need to leave their home to escape domestic abuse. However, like my noble friend Lord Porter, I would like the Bill’s scope to be looked at and consideration given to widening it.
As has already been said, this legislation will enable local authorities to grant further lifetime tenancies when individuals are rehoused in local authority housing. However, we also need to ensure that more social housing is built, so that it is available for individuals who need it. If passed, the Bill will remove the housing insecurity faced by victims of domestic abuse and will help prevent women and their children being trapped in abusive relationships because of their fear of losing their right to secure housing through secure lifetime tenancies.
I note with sadness that in December last year the charity Women’s Aid reported that of the 113 women killed in the UK last year, 85 died in their own homes, while nine out of 10 were killed by their current or former partner or another male family member. The Office for National Statistics reported that for the year ending March 2016, on average two women every week were killed in England and Wales by a partner or ex-partner. These shocking statistics show the devastating impact of this abuse on families. Some research, albeit limited, shows that many homeless women are homeless mainly as a result of domestic violence or abuse in the home. As Women’s Aid points out in its excellent briefing, women and children fleeing abuse can face years moving between forms of temporary accommodation waiting for social housing, or being homeless. This is not only unacceptable but goes to the heart of the basic principles that we as a society must address, particularly around gender inequality, fairness and compassion. Why is it that the abused always need to leave their home rather than the abuser? Therefore, as I and other noble Lords have said, although the Bill has only two clauses, its impact on the physical and emotional well-being of many women and their children who find themselves in an abusive relationship will be significant. It will also bring significant advantages, particularly to women with children, and the stability a permanent home can bring.
The Bill, coupled with the recent announcement of greater flexibility regarding legal aid for domestic violence cases, is most welcome, and I look forward to the outcome of the Government’s review into domestic violence, particularly on specialist services and ethnic minority women. I, like Women’s Aid and other women’s organisations, support the Bill wholeheartedly, and I commend the Government on bringing it forward. As other noble Lords have already said, the Bill will deliver the commitment given by the Government during the passage of the Housing and Planning Act 2016. I pay particular tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for bringing this issue to light during the passage of that Bill and for her rigour in pursuing it. I also welcome the commitment that was given in the 2017 Conservative Party manifesto, which is also being delivered.
I conclude by thanking the Minister, my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, for his personal commitment to bringing forward the Bill and to this issue. I wish the Bill all speed on to the statute book. I certainly will not make any amendments to it.
My Lords, I too welcome the Bill, which seeks to provide support to victims of domestic abuse who have had lifetime tenancies of social housing and who have had to leave their homes, which are unsafe to remain in because of domestic abuse.
The Conservative Party has sometimes been labelled “uncaring”, but this is an example of how the Government are addressing social injustice by trying to make a country that works for everyone. Many points have already been raised this afternoon, so I do not intend to speak for long. In bringing forward the Bill today the Government recognise the terrible distress that victims of domestic abuse face. We have already heard many of the awful statistics about domestic violence, which occurs all too frequently: one in three women across the world suffers abuse—that is a staggering statistic—and it affects women in this country of all ages and all socioeconomic types.
Today in the UK, nearly 2 million people suffer some form of domestic abuse—as we have heard, the majority of them are women—and each year about 100,000 people are at imminent risk of being seriously injured or killed. In spite of all the publicity around and recognition of this dreadful situation, as we have heard, around seven women are still murdered every month in England and Wales. It does not affect just women but children, as the Minister said. It is so damaging and frightening for a child to see his or her mother being attacked. It is estimated that around 130,000 children live in homes where there is a high risk of domestic abuse. Of the children who witness this abuse, many will be directly harmed, too. It has such a terrible, detrimental effect on them that it often stays with them for the rest of their lives and can create a cycle of abuse. We heard, movingly, from my noble friend Lord Farmer about the importance of trying to stop this terrible cycle and to try to give support to families, which is so important.
For many victims, leaving home is a last resort; it is estimated that, on average, victims experience 50 incidents of domestic abuse before getting effective help and will live with violence for over two years before they leave. Sadly, as we have heard from many speakers this afternoon, too often the victims have to go, not the perpetrators. Having experienced such horror and devastation, it is only right that they should be supported and helped to pick up their lives again. Having a place to live and some security is fundamental to this. Too often in the past, women and children fleeing abuse have had to face years in temporary accommodation or have become homeless, which has added more distress.
Therefore, without more ado, I am absolutely delighted to welcome the Bill today, as it seeks to provide security and help to victims of domestic abuse to escape abusive situations. I hope that, in the long term, it will lead to a reduction in domestic violence.
My Lords, I speak briefly in the gap to congratulate the Minister on bringing forward this measure in the form of primary legislation, in response to a brilliant campaign run by my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett. I also want to comment on the speech given by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull. Her contribution was very interesting because it raised a number of issues and suggested some rather innovative ways of dealing with particular problems.
However, I want to talk about the unintended consequences and ask whether Ministers have really thought through how these can be dealt with. Let us take a particular circumstance: Mr and Mrs Jones are married with five children and live in a house in London. Mrs Jones goes to the local authority because she is able to substantiate her case that she is being abused. All the processes have been gone through. The local authority is satisfied that she is an abused person and therefore, with her five children, she will be rehoused. So a large local authority-owned—publicly owned—property is in the hands of the abuser. Following the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, I wonder whether it is possible to qualify the tenancy of the abuser; otherwise, as far as I can see, he can remain, perhaps even indefinitely, in a large house in London, while it might be costing the local authority as much as £1,000 a week to house another family, perhaps with a number of children. I wonder whether it is possible to qualify that tenancy, although of course that in itself raises the question of whether the abuser’s human rights would be breached. I just add that to the complication of dealing with this issue. If one were able to qualify the tenancy, it might concentrate the mind of the abuser to know that his housing situation could be compromised if he were to proceed with the abuse within the marital relationship. I just put that forward as a possibility.
Also, is it not possible that in these circumstances the abuser could move an alternative tenant into the property? He knows that in certain circumstances his abused partner can claim and obtain alternative accommodation, so he could move into the home—that is, the home of the abuser—another family where he may well be having a relationship with the woman involved. Those are situations that may well arise in the real world when this legislation is implemented, but it all goes back to whether we can qualify the tenancy of the abuser, and that is the issue that I hope we can deal with at some stage during the course of the Bill.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has raised a very important issue. My attention was drawn to the impact assessment sent out yesterday by the Minister. That makes it clear that in the situation that the noble Lord raises, social landlords have a power under the Housing Act 1985 and the Housing Act 1988 to seek possession against the perpetrator in appropriate circumstances. It is stated that this power would be expected to be used in appropriate circumstances, although of course a definition would be required of what those appropriate circumstances would be, to what extent they would be used and whether the sections of those two Acts were strong enough. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to that specific point.
I remind the House that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. This has been a positive Second Reading and the response from around the Chamber demonstrates strong support for the principles underlying the Bill. As we have heard, the Bill reflects commitments given during the passage of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and in the Government’s manifesto at the last general election. It is, therefore, extremely important that it progresses quickly. The Bill is a welcome step in giving greater security to those trapped in an abusive relationship who need to leave a home in which they have a secure lifetime tenancy.
One of the main conclusions I draw from the debate is that the success of the Bill will depend very much on the training of local housing authority staff to ensure that its aims are delivered on the ground. This is important, not least because the Bill does not create a new statutory requirement for the rehousing of lifetime tenants who are victims of domestic abuse, but will instead ensure that in circumstances where a lifetime tenant is rehoused it will be with a lifetime tenancy.
I would like to raise a number of other issues. We have heard from my noble friend Lady Hamwee and the noble Lord, Lord Porter, that the Bill does not apply to housing associations. Under the Housing and Planning Act 2016, housing associations will retain discretion over whether or not to offer a flexible tenancy. But what happens where there is no local housing authority? In some areas, housing associations will be the only registered social landlord—should they not also offer long-term tenancies to victims of domestic abuse where it is the best option?
The Bill could also be an opportunity to give councils the power to set their own categories for granting lifetime tenancies to other vulnerable tenants. Councils are currently the only landlords who issue secure, lifetime tenancies, but their ability to offer the right tenancies for some vulnerable tenants is too restricted. When will the statutory guidance arising from the Housing and Planning Act 2016 be published? It is significantly overdue. This Bill at least provides the necessary assurance for those who are victims of domestic violence, but what about others who are deemed vulnerable?
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, my noble friend Lady Burt and others raised the important issue of the termination of a joint tenancy where a victim is granted the sole tenancy. It is important that that should happen correctly, and I hope that the Minister will respond to this point, both in his reply and, should it be necessary, with an amendment when we reach Committee.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, the noble Lord, Lord Porter, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee made the point that because not all local authorities manage their own housing these days, the issue of tenants moving across local authority boundaries to a secure refuge is relevant. All noble Lords who talked about this asked the Minister to respond specifically to that point. There is, of course, a wider focus by the Government on domestic abuse. There has been consultation on new statutory guidance—it closed last week, on 5 January —which would disapply residency tests for those who have crossed a boundary. The guidance will help to define how local authorities can help victims of domestic violence and enable them to stay in their homes safely. Clearly, it is important that the outcome of that consultation is implemented very quickly, because it seems to me that it contains a number of issues relevant to this Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, raised the extremely important issue of funding. Currently, just over 300 refuges operate in England and Wales, but funding is stretched and is going to become more so. I hope the Government understand that they need to be very careful to not underfund the refuges that provide a safe haven for those fleeing domestic violence and in which local housing authorities can provide the necessary support for and assessment of an individual’s need. Then, of course, there is the review that the Government are undertaking into the commissioning and funding of domestic abuse services. It concludes in the summer, and I hope that actions arising from that will be speedy and not subject to long delays.
In the meantime, we have this short, targeted Bill, as the Minister described it in his opening remarks. It provides a foundation for further support for victims of domestic abuse. In that sense, it is absolutely welcome.
My Lords, I make my usual declaration of interests as a councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
I welcome the Bill as it corrects a terrible error and wrong in the dreadful Housing and Planning Act—one of the worst pieces of legislation ever put on the statute book by a Government in recent times. Thankfully, most of it has either been dropped or quietly not enacted or, as in this case, has had to be corrected by the use of primary legislation.
I am delighted that the Government have brought this Bill forward. I thank my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett for her tenacity in raising the issue and for getting a commitment from the Government to introduce the Bill. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, for his work in bringing the Bill forward and for meeting me and my noble friend before Christmas to discuss it before it was published. We are grateful to him for the work he has done to get the Bill to the Floor of the House today.
Domestic violence is a shocking, evil crime that only relatively recently has had the focus and attention that it deserves, with action being taken to protect victims and bring the perpetrators to justice. Labour Governments, the coalition Government and the Conservative Government have made it a priority for action, and that has been welcome.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, I wish to cover a couple of other issues in this debate. I recently spent some time with the Metropolitan Police in Greenwich as part of the parliamentary police scheme. During my three days there, I spent some time with police officers who work in the domestic violence unit. It is a unit of dedicated officers who work with the victims of domestic violence in the Royal Borough of Greenwich. To speak to the officers and to hear about some of the dreadful, vicious, serious assaults they have to deal with, the work they do to protect victims and bring perpetrators to justice was very distressing. Some of the stuff I heard was truly horrific. They do important work in dealing with this disgusting crime, and I pay tribute to them. It was good to hear how they work closely with other agencies, including the Royal Borough of Greenwich, led by my friend Councillor Denise Hyland. It was clear that partnership working was important in protecting victims and enabling them to get their lives back on track.
The victims and the children of the victims face serious challenges and a risk to their safety from abusive partners. Issues such as the lack of social housing, the cost of housing in the private sector and other matters can be a serious and dangerous barrier for many women who wish to escape from domestic abuse. The risk and fear of facing years in B&Bs, hostels and other forms of temporary accommodation will have a terrible impact on families as they try to get their lives back in order, with insecure housing being a major threat and barrier.
As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester said, it is shocking to think that on average two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner every week in England and Wales. These are figures from the Office for National Statistics. They are not disputed, but they are shocking.
As we have heard, the Bill will enable victims of domestic violence who have had to leave or have left their social rented home on a secure tenancy to be granted a new secure tenancy when being rehoused by a local authority. I have a couple of issues which I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, will be able to clarify in his response to the debate. First, can he confirm that the Bill will enable a victim living in social housing in, say, London, to move to another part of England or Wales? My noble friend Lady Lister made that point, as did other noble Lords and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. What happens if the victim is Scottish and wants to return to Glasgow in order to be closer to family and friends? The Bill states in Clause 2(1):
“This Act extends to England and Wales only”.
Has the department spoken to Scottish Ministers in the relevant department in Scotland to agree on what the process should be to extend the provision? Similarly, what if the victim wants to go back home to Belfast in Northern Ireland? On the face of it, we have an issue here that it would be good to resolve during the passage of the Bill.
The second point I want to raise has also been referred to by a number of noble Lords in the course of the debate, including my noble friends Lady Lister and Lord Campbell-Savours. What happens when the victim and the perpetrator hold a joint tenancy? It appears that there is a problem here.
Thirdly, Clause 1(2) states that a local authority.
“must grant an old-style secure tenancy if … the authority is satisfied that … the person or a member of the person’s household is or has been a victim of domestic abuse”.
Can the noble Lord explain how a victim is to “satisfy” a local authority that they are the victim of domestic abuse? Does he agree that if a victim seeks a letter from a doctor to show that they are a victim, they should not ever be charged for such a letter? A small minority of doctors have charged victims for letters so that they can access legal aid for domestic abuse. I think that that is completely wrong. No one should ever have to pay money to confirm that they are the victim of a crime in order to seek help and protection. Does he further agree that no one should ever have to pay anyone to satisfy a local authority that they are the victim of a crime and need help?
The noble Lord, Lord Porter of Spalding, raised the important issue of widening the scope of the legislation to include all registered social landlords. I agree entirely with that, as I do with his comments about the need for more social housing, more council housing and real social rents, not the unaffordable rent model that the Government are so keen on delivering.
It is also important to point out that, while this Bill is welcome, it cannot be considered in isolation. The proposed DCLG/DWP short-term housing funding reforms are seen as a real threat to refuges, a point mentioned by many noble Lords in the debate. The loss of places through the closure of refuges is unacceptable. My noble friend Lord Lipsey referred to this in his remarks. As a councillor, in the past I have had a limited involvement with refuges and I know what a valuable service they provide, and the wonderful, important work they do cannot be overstated. The reality is that we need more places and we should not be putting at risk the places we have at present. Combining refuges with other short-term supported housing services and removing them entirely from the welfare system is both cruel and risky, and something which I hope will be consigned to the dustbin before it gets off the drawing board.
The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, certainly highlights the fact that these issues need to be addressed across government and all departments; it cannot be dealt with in silos.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, referred to what happens when local authorities do not have any housing of their own. It is a very important point, which I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, will respond to.
In conclusion, I thank my noble friend Lady Lister and the Minister for introducing this Bill. It is the right thing to do as it corrects a wrong and we wish it a speedy passage through your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in what has been an excellent debate across a range of issues connected with domestic abuse, sometimes going quite a bit further than the targeted and specific Bill before us. However, I will try to do justice to the contributions that have been made. Where I do not do so either through lack of time, or more likely through lack of knowledge, I will make sure that those points are covered in correspondence to noble Lords and place a copy in the Library.
As many noble Lords have said, the evil and scourge of domestic abuse has come to the fore only relatively recently in the graphic terms it has. I am sure that in all quarters of the House, and indeed throughout the country, this issue is now very high on people’s agendas. As noble Lords have noted, most graphically the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, the Prime Minister is very much wedded to ensuring that action is taken in this area to tackle what, as I say, is a real scourge. That point was also made by my noble friends Lady Hodgson and Lady Bertin, by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester in a powerful contribution, and indeed by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. If this is what she can do on a day trip, imagine what she could do on a longer-term posting. I am not sure that the Labour Party will have the sense to ensure that that happens, but there we are. It has been a very good day’s work, if that is what it is—in all honesty, I think it has been more than that.
I also pay tribute to all the domestic abuse services throughout the country. I have seen some excellent examples of what has been done by local authorities over the last year to 18 months in Liverpool, Newcastle, Norwich, Fenland, Hampshire, London and elsewhere. I also pay tribute, as others have, to the work of some of our partner bodies: Refuge, Women’s Aid and many others that have worked incredibly hard on this area.
I thank noble Lords for their support for this targeted Bill. I repeat that it is very targeted—laser-like, almost. It is something I would like to see us bank. That is not to say that the other issues are not important, but to get this on to the statute book we have to keep it tight. That said, questions have been raised about the particular issue the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, raised on termination of a joint tenancy and somebody staying in the property. That is something I would like to have a look at, as I have indicated to her. Perhaps she and I, together with officials, could look to see a way forward there. I undertake to do just that.
Let me try to deal with some of the questions raised. For those that I am unable to deal with I will ensure that full responses go to noble Lords, who I am sure will appreciate that some of the questions are well beyond the department’s brief and certainly well beyond my knowledge, but I will make sure that full responses come forward.
I will deal first with the regulations. The noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Hamwee, in particular raised this, but many others touched on it as well, such as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. As I said, we are working on those regulations. I will certainly cover in a letter to noble Lords exactly where we have got to on them. When the Housing and Planning Act went through I think we discussed one particular situation where people downsize. That is certainly something that we would want to cover. I will make sure that noble Lords are updated on that ahead of Committee.
I was also asked by various noble Lords about evidential requirements. I am always grateful for noble Lords exaggerating my powers, but I do not think I am in a position to pontificate on precise evidential requirements that come forward relating to establishing domestic abuse. This is something that local authorities have to identify. I will certainly cover this again in a letter, but the legislation deliberately does not go into this because those decisions are currently being made, as far as the department can see, very effectively. Obviously practice will vary from area to area, but this is a matter that is dealt with at present.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. I do not think anyone is suggesting that it should be put in the legislation but, given that there has been a consultation on guidance to local authorities, which someone said has just ended, would it not be appropriate for that guidance to include guidance to local authorities about how to implement this Bill and the evidence they should be looking for? I think that is what noble Lords were saying.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness. As I said, this is something local authorities are doing already. They have to make decisions about identification of domestic abuse at present without this legislation. I am saying that the legislation is not altering the position. I will happily cover that in the letter, if I may.
There was a question regarding training for local authorities. Training goes on at the moment. The new code of guidance on homelessness will advise local authorities about the need to have appropriate policies and training in place. We provide funding to the National Homelessness Advice Service to provide training, which is taken up by many—probably most—local authorities. For example, we provided funding to the National Practitioner Support Service for domestic abuse awareness training for front-line housing staff in 2016. That trained 232 front-line housing staff across nine English regions. In addition, a number of local authorities used funding from our £20 million fund for specialist accommodation-based support and service reform to meet the priorities for domestic abuse services to provide training programmes. So training is going on at the moment. Again, I will expand on that in the letter that I will ensure goes to noble Lords.
Broader questions were raised, many of which I can understand and empathise with. The noble Lord, Lord Porter, said that I would have been disappointed if he did not raise the issue of supply. I am not sure that “disappointed” is the mot juste, but he is right that I would have been surprised. Clearly, there is an issue of supply, so perhaps I would have been disappointed; we cannot be complacent about the supply of housing across the piece, and we need to look at that.
Other noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Farmer, Lady Manzoor and Lady Hodgson, raised broader questions about the need to ensure that this agenda is carried forward however hard pressed the legislative programme is. I certainly agree with that and give the undertaking that the Government will do so, because it is absolutely at the forefront of our thinking.
The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, raised some pertinent questions, some of which were picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, is right that there is power in present legislation for perpetrators of domestic abuse to be forced out of the premises in question. I will endeavour to find out how that is being used, because, as noble Lords indicated, there is clearly a question about how effective it is. I will see what statistics we have and ensure that whatever evidence we have comes round before Committee stage. It is a valid point: we are tending here, understandably, to focus on the victim, but we want not to advantage the perpetrator of the domestic abuse. Often—perhaps not as often as one would like—there will be criminal proceedings and the perpetrator will end up in prison, but there is not any guarantee of that. As we know, some domestic abuse is more insidious; it is not always direct, physical violence, so I accept that there are issues of evidence and proof. I will see what I can find on that, because it is important to look at this issue further.
I understand that, under the Small Tenements Recovery Act 1838, it was possible for a local authority to go to a court and evict without having to produce the justification. The position as I understand it from the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, is that there would have to be a proceeding and the court would then have to decide whether it was satisfied that the abuse was sufficient to warrant. I am asking this question because I am not altogether convinced that local authorities, realising that they may have to go into proceedings to argue the scale of the abuse, will be prepared to do it. They may say, “It’s better from our point of view simply to leave the abuser in place without taking any action”. That is why it is important that the Minister follows this up in some detail.
My Lords, the noble Lord makes a powerful case that I accept. As I have said, I want to see how much this provision is taken up, how effective it has been over the years and the number of cases where perhaps it might have been used but has not.
I shall try to pick up some other points that were raised. Any that I have not covered I will ensure are covered in the write-around. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, raised a question about the consultation that has just closed on residence tests. I will ensure that that is taken up. It has just closed, he is absolutely right. We anticipate that the residence requirement—or the non-residence requirement—will be carried forward to ensure that victims of domestic abuse are placed in the position he indicated and that I agree with him that they should be in.
The most important thing I can do, in closing, is to give an undertaking in relation to the very pertinent point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, about the termination of joint tenancies. I will follow that up. Some of the other specific points that were raised were a little off-piste—legal aid and so on—but if the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, wants a fuller response I will make sure that it comes to him, but that will not be in the context of this Bill.
I thank noble Lords very much for their support, which will make it much easier to carry this legislation through and then to tackle the domestic abuse situation on a broader front. In closing I once again thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, whose rigour and charming determination has ensured that we are where we are today.
Before the noble Lord sits down, I think it is fair to say that in the debate this afternoon there were two groups of issues. One group covers a wider area and is probably not in scope for amendments and stuff, but there are some other points where noble Lords raised some practical issues about the legislation and how we go forward with things. I am sure that the noble Lord will be available to meet Members of the House to discuss these. We do not want to get the Bill on the statute book and find ourselves, six months down the line, thinking, “If we had only put a little amendment in, this could have solved another problem”. I think that some of the issues raised around the House deserve further attention before Committee.
I was not quite sure what the Minister meant when he talked about the current consultation. Did he go on to answer the specific questions of a number of noble Lords about what happens if, say, someone who has a tenancy in Luton leaves and goes to Leicester? Will this apply to them when they get to Leicester?
Let me deal with the devolved Administrations point first. As noble Lords can imagine, with my background I am usually very hot on devolved Administration situations. First, we clearly have areas where we can legislate and areas where we cannot. In Scotland, we are not in a position to legislate: this is something that is devolved. That said, we have established relationships with officials—I did ask this of officials—where this sort of issue is raised. I am sure that, in this event, it would be done at official level to ensure that something could be done on the basis of reciprocity. One thing I was very keen on in DCLG, and carried forward, is that we established a devolved forum where such issues are looked at, because we want to have best practice across the four legislatures within the United Kingdom. It is being done at that level, if I can cover it that way. I had a written note on this but I missed it when I was reading my notes.
In relation to somebody who has a tenancy in Hounslow, let us say, and wants to move to Doncaster, that will be, if not the norm, a pretty common situation. The intention is for the legislation to cover that. The point on the devolved Administrations is that it has to be done on the basis of reciprocity, rather than legislation, but it is central to the legislation that we want to cover the Luton-to-Leicester situation that the noble Baroness referred to.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, referred to points that we would not want to miss. I agree, but with the proviso that it has to be within the very targeted scope of this legislation. There may be very many desiderata that we would want to do that are not within the commitment that we gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and I would not want this legislation to be opened up on that basis. However, within the scope of delivering the commitment that we gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and that is in the manifesto, and extending it to look, as I have indicated we will, at the very particular situation. I would not want to open it up on too broad a front, otherwise we risk losing the legislation. I make that gentle point. I am very happy to discuss points but, as I say, I do not want to raise false hopes about having a large piece of legislation here: this is very specific and targeted at a specific promise.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.