All 1 Lucy Allan contributions to the Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Act 2018

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Tue 8th May 2018
Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill
Commons Chamber

3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage: House of Commons

Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities

Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill

Lucy Allan Excerpts
3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage: House of Commons
Tuesday 8th May 2018

(6 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Act 2018 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 8 May 2018 - (8 May 2018)
Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
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Before coming to this place, I served on my city council, where for a number of years I had responsibility for Nottingham’s efforts to tackle domestic abuse and to support survivors. I learned many things during that period, but one thing has particularly stuck with me ever since: when a survivor—usually a woman—makes the decision to leave their abuser, the state must be there to wrap around that person. There can be no grey areas and no “I’ll call you back on Monday”. It must be immediate and comprehensive. Whether it is housing, support for children or fostering for pets, it has to be there. It is with that in mind that I rise to speak.

The Bill enjoys support on both sides of the House, as we have heard, and from the charities that work tirelessly to protect women and children fleeing abuse. The intentions behind the Bill are decent, and while we in this place may not directly see the impact of the decisions we take today, those decisions will change the lives of very vulnerable people and allow them to escape their abusers and start to live their life free from fear. Nevertheless, there are some grey areas of outstanding concern that I want to focus on briefly.

The first is reciprocal arrangements, which are covered in new clause 1. The nature of the abuse that a survivor is fleeing means that they might need to leave Nottingham and go to Birmingham or even Cardiff or Glasgow, and it is vital that they are not disadvantaged. I am grateful for the assurance we were offered—not this morning, as the Minister said, but this afternoon, in letter form—that the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish Administrations are relaxed about their abilities to ensure such arrangements. Nevertheless, people change and circumstances change, and that letter will not be of much significance if co-operation is not properly monitored. That is all the new clause asks for, and whether it is accepted or not, I hope that the Government will continue to commit to that.

The Government have stated that the legislation will protect victims who need to move their secure tenancy across local authority boundaries and that amendment 1 is unnecessary because the courts and Government guidance state that the local connection test does not apply in domestic abuse cases. However, those who work on the ground know that that is not quite how it works. The organisations that work most closely with those fleeing abuse have made it clear that, as is so often the case, there is a difference between the best-intentioned Government guidance and the reality of the situation on the ground.

Women often have to flee across local authority boundaries to find safety, and we know that local authorities are at best inconsistent. In 2016-17, local housing teams prevented nearly a fifth of the women supported by Women’s Aid’s “No Woman Turned Away” project from making a valid homelessness application on the grounds of domestic abuse, for reasons including that they had no local connection. It is said in this place that the local connection test does not apply in domestic abuse cases, but it is not always filtering down. That is a good argument for putting that explicitly in the Bill, so that there is no doubt and no grey areas, and on the night or day when an individual leaves, whether they have a local connection or not, the expectation on the local authority is entirely clear.

Finally, on amendment 2 and the bedroom tax, I was really interested to hear from the Minister. She made it clear that this would happen in a very small number of cases, but I would be interested to hear what the evidence base was for that and what those numbers were. I am certain that none of us in this place would want finances to come into play when an individual is making the very difficult decision to leave their abuser. None of us would want that individual to be punished because the house they were moving into was deemed to have a spare room, because they were waiting to be reunited with their children or because of the way the housing stock we are talking about was structured. In Nottingham, there is not a suite of choices waiting for an individual, with the option of saying, “You’d be suitable for a one-bedroom place,” or, “You might be suitable for a three-bedroom place.” The fact of the matter is that we will be putting them wherever we can. I know that none of us would want them to be financially punished for that, which is an excellent reason for accepting amendment 2, so that we are very clear, because it is in the grey areas that we will struggle.

I am conscious that other Members are waiting to speak, so I will leave it there. I believe that the new clause and the amendments would strengthen the Bill. I do not think that much of their substance has been disagreed with; it is just about whether or not to write them down. I will make this clear argument: let us not leave it to guidance. Let us be explicitly, painfully, to-the-letter clear about the system that we are designing today. The consequences of it are life and death, so it is well worth our putting those words on the face of the Bill.

Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris), who made insightful remarks. Today’s debate has been incredibly valuable and informative. I am so grateful to all Members who have come here to share their experience, including the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips). Often we talk about her passion, for which she is renowned, but she brings to this place the very lucid voice of the women she has worked with and the chaos she has seen, and so often the work we do misses that voice. It is not just her passion for which we should be grateful, but her great experience and her capacity to bring it to us in this place in a way that we can all understand.

I would also like to comment on the hon. Lady’s remarks about children being taken into care as a result of domestic violence. She is absolutely right; the failure to protect so often causes women to lose their children to the care system, and anything we can do in this place to reduce that eventuality has to lessen some of the agony and pain that families go through in these circumstances.