Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to give social housing tenants the right to continuity of secure tenancy in circumstances when they have to move because of a threat to the personal safety of the tenant or someone in their household; to place associated responsibilities on local authorities and social housing providers; and for connected purposes.
If a member of our household were threatened with violence, and the police advised us that we had to move straight away in order to stay safe, any one of us would find that terrifying and bewildering. We might reasonably expect to receive support; we would not expect to lose our home altogether and find ourselves in the homelessness system. However, that is what happened to my constituent Georgia when gang members came to her home and threatened her teenage son.
Georgia is a housing association tenant who had lived in her home for nine years. She and her children were very happy in their home, which she had recently decorated. 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 some 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, who told her that it was the council’s responsibility to provide emergency housing. The council placed Georgia and her children in temporary accommodation. The temporary accommodation was in another borough, was of poor quality and was very 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 which affected her work.
By the time 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. Worse than that, 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 and on the housing waiting list.
No one should become homeless because their child is threatened. In one London borough, 47 housing association tenants have required homelessness assistance from the council as a result of violence since 2019. Across the country, that means that thousands of families have to leave their homes 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 of 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 make the transition to a new permanent home as soon as possible, to limit the harm caused by the threat. My Bill would do that. It would require social housing landlords, whether councils or housing associations, to protect the tenancy rights of their tenants who have to move owing to a threat of violence. It would also confer a new duty on social housing landlords to co-operate with each other in circumstances in which a tenant, for safety reasons, has to move to an area where his or her current landlord does not own any property. There are some good examples of co-operation already, such as the pan-London housing reciprocal, and I commend that work, but for as long as this remains voluntary, some tenants will fall through the gaps.
I am delighted that this Bill has the support of Shelter and the National Housing Federation. Shelter has highlighted the case of Corey Junior Davis, “CJ”, whose mum had asked her housing association for an urgent move after her son had been threatened and had 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 constituents who have sent their children away to keep them safe, because they fear the consequences of being placed in temporary accommodation and losing their tenancy. That is not a choice any parent should have to make.
We have a housing crisis in the UK, and we need a comprehensive plan to tackle it involving the building of genuinely affordable, secure social housing and reforming the private rented sector to give greater security and stability to private tenants. I pay tribute to councils and housing associations across the country that work tirelessly to provide social housing and to support their tenants, but there is more we can do, right now, to stop many families entering the homelessness system by preventing families that already have the security of a social housing tenancy from losing that security and being added to housing waiting lists. This is not asking social landlords to find additional properties, because the people who would be protected by this Bill are already their tenants. It would simply require them to do everything possible to limit the harm of the traumatic event that has resulted in a need to move home.
In the end, following my intervention, Georgia’s housing association found her a new home in a safe area, but the months in temporary accommodation took a devastating toll on Georgia and her children. What started as one traumatic incident spiralled into long-term consequences.
The provisions in this Bill would apply in any situation where the police decide that a tenant should move because of a threat of violence, including: domestic abuse where the perpetrator does not live at the same address as the victim; an escalating neighbour dispute; or the threat of violence to a young person in the household. It would not have any impact on the existing rights and responsibilities of either the landlord or the tenant under the terms of the tenancy.
This Bill enjoys cross-party support, and I am grateful to all the co-sponsors and the shadow Housing Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook)—I know he has seen similar cases in his constituency—for their support. I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes), for attending the Chamber to listen to the argument for this Bill.
I hope the Government will agree with us that no one should be made homeless because they or a member of their household is threatened, and I hope they will support this small reform that will make a really big difference to vulnerable families, such as Georgia’s, across the country.
Question put and agreed to.
That Helen Hayes, Mr Clive Betts, Bob Blackman, Ms Karen Buck, Stella Creasy, John Cryer, Florence Eshalomi, Robert Halfon, Dr Rupa Huq, Caroline Lucas, Luke Pollard and Christina Rees present the Bill.
Helen Hayes accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 25 February, and to be printed (Bill 243).