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Wednesday, 09 May 2018

Bill to protect tenancy of domestic violence victims backed by MPs

Written by Jon Vale and Richard Wheeler

New laws to ensure victims of domestic violence will have access to social housing when they flee their abuser have been backed by MPs.

The Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill protects lifetime tenancies for those who flee their home because of domestic abuse, whether they apply for rehousing in the same or a different local authority in England.

It will also protect those who have lost their lifetime tenancy if they have fled their home, and those who want to return to their home after the perpetrator has left or been removed.

"It will ensure that in every case, where they are granted a new tenancy by the local authority, they will know that they are able to retain their lifetime tenancy in their new social home," said housing minister Heather Wheeler.

The Bill was given an unopposed third reading by MPs, having already passed through the Lords.

Shadow housing minister Melanie Onn earlier raised concerns about the resources available to different local authorities to deal with homelessness linked to domestic abuse, adding: "Getting the proper care is far too much of a postcode lottery."

She asked the Government to consider reports from charities about the difficulties faced by some women as they try to explain their situation to councils.

Speaking during the Bill's report stage, Ms Onn (pictured) said: "There are cases of women who are told to go back to the perpetrator or come back when the situation got worse - I think we can all agree this is completely unacceptable and the minister should look into these reports and take steps to improve the quality of advice in boroughs and districts where there are identified problems with the treatment of domestic abuse victims."

Ms Onn added there was a need to "knock down as many of the barriers to leaving as possible" after warning there were "countless" women who never manage to leave an abusive partner, with two killed every week.

Amendments tabled by Labour sought to ensure that those fleeing domestic violence were exempt from the so-called "bedroom tax", and they would have the same rights to secure tenancies in housing association properties as well as those owned by councils.

Ms Wheeler resisted all of Labour's changes to the Bill, saying on the bedroom tax that local authorities could already use discretionary housing payments to support victims of domestic violence.

The National Housing Federation has expressed an interest in considering tenancy issues as part of its work to help those fleeing domestic violence, she added.

Ms Wheeler also said that the issue of doctors charging fees for victims of abuse for evidence letters would be addressed in the negotiations for the GP contract in 2019/20.

When pushed to a vote, Labour's bedroom tax-linked amendment was defeated by 302 votes to 246 - majority 56.

Labour's Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) welcomed the Bill, describing it as good and necessary while also noting there was a "desperate need for training".

She said: "I think that if a woman turns up and says she is a victim of domestic abuse, that should be enough."

Ms Phillips spoke about the varying provision from different local authorities adding: "I've tried lots of them and I have found them completely wanting when it comes to victims of domestic violence needing housing.

"Add into the mix if you have no indefinite leave to remain and you go to your local housing office, you will probably be told that you won't be housed and that your children will be removed from you even if you're a victim of domestic abuse, because they don't have to house women who have poor migration status."

She went on: "And so we need to make sure that there is a good system that treats these people appropriately."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) The Labour Party.