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Domestic Abuse Victims: Housing Benefit

Volume 826: debated on Monday 12 December 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure that housing benefit for domestic abuse victims living in exempt accommodation is only paid to providers that have recognised expertise and who meet the standards in Part 4 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

The Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill would introduce national standards for all supported housing, including domestic abuse safe accommodation, as well as locally led licensing schemes. This new system will drive out unscrupulous and poor providers who are exploiting vulnerable people. We will work with supported housing providers, including specialist providers of safe accommodation for those fleeing domestic abuse, using already defined standards for all of those in safe accommodation. The detail of the licensing regime will be developed through consultation and in regulations.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. In a report in October, the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee said that the exempt accommodation is a “complete mess”. Given this, I think the Minister needs to inform the House of situations where some women who are abuse survivors have had to run away, for the second time, from the housing that they were allocated, because the safe accommodation was as threatening and violent as the home they had just left, and sometimes even return to the violent home. It is therefore important that there is some timescale on this, because it is clearly an urgent matter.

The noble Baroness is correct: we cannot accept this. I am not sure that they flee from allocated housing; often, it is from rogue landlords. We are dealing with that in a number of ways, including through the supported housing improvement programme and the measures in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. Those measures license those houses within local authority control, which are the ones that are normally allocated. Through this and the supported housing Bill, the Government are sending out a clear message to rogue landlords in the sector that we will not tolerate that poor-quality support and the exploitation of very vulnerable people.

My Lords, there is exploitation. We see terrible conditions in our housing sector, such as mould on walls and damp. These women are fleeing domestic violence, often with young children. What will the exact timescale be to ensure that we do not see these kinds of cases, which we see flashing past our screens almost every evening?

My noble friend is bringing up two issues. First, on mould and damp, the Secretary of State has made it very clear to social housing providers that this is not acceptable and he is keeping a very close eye on what they are doing and the outcomes of that. Secondly, regarding very vulnerable people, I urge anybody who needs help and support to go to their local authority. What worries me is that they are looking online for housing, and that is where they are being very badly exploited.

My Lords, following the Minister’s response about urging women who are suffering domestic abuse to go their local authorities, perhaps it would help if she looked at last September’s report from the Public Interest Law Centre, which outlined eight ways in which local authorities are not providing the support that they should under the legislation. For example, they are making offers of unsuitable temporary or long-term accommodation, and survivors are being refused support until a threat of legal action is made. Has the Minister seen that report? If not, will she do so and refer it to her department so that they can make some changes in the legislation?

I have not seen that report, but I will certainly look at it. Under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, local authorities must commission enough of the right support to meet the needs of all of those victims and their children, and they must monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of that provision. Therefore, if they are not doing that, I will certainly take that back to the department and we will look into it further.

My Lords, when freezing the housing allowance yet again, did the Government assess the impact on domestic abuse survivors and their children trying to establish themselves in independent accommodation?

Yes, the noble Baroness is right that that was a difficult decision in the economic climate as it is, but, as I have said in this Chamber before, we had to make a very balanced decision on rent and social housing rents because of the effect on the provider as well as on the resident.

My Lords, in addressing this very important Question, I think we should also consider the experience of migrant survivors who may have insecure status or no recourse to public funds or may be frightened of repercussions for contacting the police. Will the Minister outline what progress the Government have made in the light of the DAC’s recommendation to develop a long-term funding solution that ensures that a clear universal pathway to support is available to domestic abuse survivors regardless of migration status and whether they will be reporting on the results of the pilot project to support migrant survivors?

I do not know when the report is coming through, but these are the vulnerable people I was talking about earlier. They may have English as a second language, and they may be concerned about anybody in authority so they may be frightened to go to the right area, which is the local authority. I ask that anybody who has any contact with these people asks them to do that. At the same time, once the Bill comes through, providers will have to be licensed and they should not be licensed if they are not fit to offer this accommodation.

Will my noble friend give an undertaking to the House, bearing in mind the stress that local authority budgets are under, that this funding will be ring-fenced for domestic abuse victims?

It will be ring-fenced and local authorities are well provided with money for this issue. There are also 26 pilots across the country that are getting £20 million. They are in the areas that are most affected by these rogue landlords. They will have money to spend to increase the learning of what they can do and to support them in getting rid of these landlords in their areas.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that some of the victims of domestic abuse are also victims of forced marriage? Many of them are very young, and some of them are under 18. Will she make sure that they are helped in a way that is appropriate for very young girls?

Of course I understand that, and I will certainly take that back and make sure we are looking at that particular group of young women.

Does the Minister accept that this needs to be seen in the context of a chronic shortage of truly affordable homes and that there has been a very considerable increase in the number of unscrupulous agencies exploiting gaps in the regulatory regime in order to claim higher benefit levels, effectively, without providing even the most minimal support? Can she confirm that the Government are aware of the extent of this problem now and where the problem arises and that the review that she has indicated has been undertaken will make sure that those unscrupulous agencies will be stopped completely?

Yes, the Government are aware and, yes, we always need more social housing. There are more and more pressures on social housing. The Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill, which had its Second Reading in the other place on 18 November, is being supported by the Government. It should, through licensing and regulation, stop these rogue landlords for the future.