I was hugely disappointed on Tuesday evening when the Government voted down Labour’s amendment to the Secure Tenancies Bill which would have protected victims of domestic violence from the Bedroom Tax – whereby the amount of housing benefit paid to a claimant is reduced if the property they are renting is judged to have more bedrooms than necessary.
Amendments tabled by Labour sought to ensure that those fleeing domestic violence were exempt from the bedroom tax, and they would have the same rights to secure tenancies in housing association properties as well as those owned by councils.
The Tories resisted all of Labour’s changes to the Bill claiming that local authorities could already use discretionary housing payments to support victims of domestic violence. This is not good enough. Getting the proper care is far too much of a postcode lottery. Local authorities differ too much when it comes to dealing with victims of domestic abuse.
Our amendments would have strengthened the Bill by helping to equalise the quality of care across the country and guaranteeing that domestic abuse victims who move authorities still have a secure tenancy in their new authority.
There are cases of women who are told to go back to the perpetrator or come back when the situation gets worse. Steps need to be taken immediately to improve the quality of advice in boroughs and districts where problems have been identified with the treatment of domestic abuse victims.
In the last period for which we have information on discretionary housing payments it was found that 121 councils ran out of money. This means that claimants have to reapply for a grant but in a domestic violence situation, this is another burden and payment cannot be guaranteed. This leads to further insecurity for victims and for their children, in particular in the very distressing circumstances where children have been taken away due to failure to protect. I hope the Government agrees to consider reports from charities about the difficulties faced by some women as they try to explain their situation to councils. We have an obligation to knock down as many of the barriers to victims leaving perpetrators as soon as possible. Countless women never manage to leave an abusive partner and it’s still the case that two women are killed every week by a violent abuser.