Housing and Planning Bill: Bishop of Peterborough supports protections for victims of domestic violence

14.02 PeterboroughOn 18th April 2016, the House of Lords debated an amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill that would mean victims of domestic violence who leave a secure social tenancy would be able to access a new secure tenancy, rather than the proposed short-term tenancies. The amendment had been tabled by Baroness Lister, with the support of the Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Alan Smith. The Bishop of Peterborough, the Rt Revd Donald Allister spoke to the amendment on the Bishop of St Albans’ behalf.

The amendment was later withdrawn, after the Government committed to introduce it through regulations.

Lord Bishop of Peterborough: [extract] My Lords, my brother bishop, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, as we have heard, is unable to here. He has asked me to speak to Amendment 80ZB and I very gladly do so.

It is so important not only for women who may have been abused but for their children, who may have often witnessed abuse or been similarly abused, that they should have security. This is about children’s well-being and their development into stable and secure adults. Under the current proposal, if a woman who is being abused leaves the home, she will lose the secure tenancy. Unless discretion is brought in under regulations, the only option will be an unsecured tenancy, which is the worst thing possible for the children as well as the mother.

It seems completely self-evident that it should be written in that there should be no discretion, and that women who have to leave their home for reasons of violence against them or their children should be allowed to move to another secure tenancy.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: My Lords, before I turn to the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady Williams it may be helpful if I say a few words about why we are making the changes to secure tenancies. I apologise at the outset if that means my remarks may be slightly on the long side.

The provisions in the Bill will ensure that social housing is focused on those who really need it, for as long as they need it, and that tenants are provided with more appropriate tenancies as their needs change over time. Local authorities will be able to get the best use out of their homes, so that more households are able to access social housing and so that social tenants who aspire to own their own home are supported into home ownership where they can be. We listened carefully to the debate in Committee and, indeed, now on Report, and recognise the strength of feeling on this issue, so I am happy to be able to say that as a result we are prepared to give an undertaking that we will bring forward amendments at Third Reading to extend the maximum tenancy period to 10 years in certain circumstances and to enable local authorities to give longer tenancies to cover the time that children are at school. I am also able to give a commitment that we will meet the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, about domestic violence, through regulations. I will return to these later in these remarks, as well as in remarks on the next group.

Amendment 80ZB would ensure that where a tenant had to give up their lifetime tenancy as a result of domestic violence they would be granted a further lifetime tenancy in their new home. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for raising this important point again and, of course, for her commitment to protecting victims of domestic abuse. The Bill already includes provisions to ensure that lifetime tenants can be granted a further lifetime tenancy in certain circumstances and we will specify that in regulations. I am happy to give a commitment now that we will ensure that the regulations include those who need to move or have fled their homes to escape domestic violence. We look forward to working with the noble Baroness on how we can do this most effectively.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett: May I seek clarification? I made an important distinction between having a permissive power and making it clear in the regulations that those affected by domestic violence will be exempted. Will the Minister clarify that this will be the latter and not simply a permissive power, because that is not going to be enough?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: Yes, I can clarify that. I fear that I will have to find out what has happened on the equality statement and come back to the noble Baroness as soon as possible. I apologise—I know that she has raised it constantly. I fear I do not have any further news for her but I hope that what I have said previously makes up a bit for that.

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