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Social Housing

6. Mr. Terry Rooney (Bradford, North): What measures he is taking to improve the management of social housing. [28440]

The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Nick Raynsford): Under best value, all social landlords are expected to seek continuous improvements in standards of housing management with their performance subject to inspection. Our new financial framework for local authority housing encourages robust and innovative management. In parallel, the Housing Corporation is introducing a new regulatory code and inspection regime for registered social landlords.

Mr. Rooney: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. In accordance with Government guidelines, local tenants in my local authority were consulted by postal ballot on the future management that they wanted. Some 82 per cent. said that they wanted to stay with the council, but the Tory-Liberal alliance then decided ideologically to go for stock transfer. Since then, it has spent £750,000 putting one side of the case. That amounts to political electioneering. Does my right hon. Friend not think that both sides of the argument on each of the options should be put to tenants so that they can make an informed decision?

Mr. Raynsford: My hon. Friend makes the absolutely valid point that tenants should decide in a ballot on the future management arrangements for their homes. It is right that information should be made available and we encourage it to be provided impartially and objectively. Ultimately, it is for the tenants to decide.

In respect of Bradford, I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that, as a result of the Government's substantial increases in investment, Bradford city council now receives under the housing revenue account something in the region of £13.5 million for the maintenance of its housing stock. That is approximately

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£500 for each property per annum. That is an indication of the Labour Government's commitment to improving the management and maintenance of council housing.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): Does the Minister recall the Prime Minister's speech on the 30th anniversary of Shelter? He vowed:

Why then has the number of social housing units—in the four years before 1997 compared with the four years after 1997—gone down by 37 per cent. when the number of empty council houses in the period of the Labour Government has gone up by 7 per cent? Staggeringly, the number of people in bed and breakfast during the period of the Labour Government has also gone up by 152 per cent. Is that not an indictment of the Secretary of State's Department's failure to live up to the high ideals of the Prime Minister or to protect the most vulnerable in our society?

Mr. Raynsford: On the contrary, it is an indication of the hon. Gentleman's ability to find details that he is very happy to quote without looking at the bigger picture. If he looks at the wood rather than the trees, he will see that there has been a two and half fold increase in investment in tackling the problem of underinvestment in social housing. The investment has predominantly gone in to tackling the appalling backlog of sub-standard housing that was left behind by the previous Conservative Government and that totalled £19 billion of overdue repairs. That problem is now being put right. Equally, substantial increased investment is coming in through registered social landlords to increase the output of new social housing.

The hon. Gentleman would do well to remember the overall picture. It is one of a Government committed—as the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) said—to tackling homelessness, to reducing the number of people living in sub-standard housing and to offering genuine choice of a decent home to all our people.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton): Will my right hon. Friend consider the problems that negative subsidies have caused my authority in the management of its social housing? They mean that rents will have to be increased to meet the extra costs that the Government charge. Will he consider the representations received from Wakefield district council on the very question of negative subsidies and on the help that is required to repair and to improve the condition of council houses?

Mr. Raynsford: My hon. Friend will be aware that as a result of the new major repairs allowance introduced by the Government less than a year ago, there is a substantial increase in the direct funding for the maintenance of housing stock. The overall subsidy system seeks to achieve a fair distribution of subsidies between authorities throughout the country so that those that are able to meet their costs help those that are still in need of substantial additional funding. That is the natural corollary of a fair

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national system to tackle need wherever it arises. However, we shall certainly pay attention to representations from my hon. Friend's authority and others.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): Is the Minister aware that I spent part of yesterday visiting constituents in Terrington, St. Clement who complained about the dumping of rubbish on the edge of a housing association estate, opened a few years ago by one of his predecessors? In one location, I saw beds and chairs. About the only thing I did not see were fridges, and no doubt they will arrive next week. The residents said that it is difficult to find out whom to contact about the problem because many housing associations, although doing an excellent job, can be remote. What advice will he give my constituents?

Mr. Raynsford: I was not aware of where the hon. Gentleman was on his constituency visit yesterday. My guess is that his constituents would not particularly welcome his remarks, which might act as an incentive to the dumping of fridges in that area. They should be looking for effective action to deal with the problem of antisocial behaviour. That is exactly why the Government introduced antisocial behaviour orders and have been encouraging all local authorities to deal effectively with antisocial behaviour by council tenants and others who are making their neighbours' lives a misery.

7. Margaret Moran (Luton, South): What measures he intends to take to monitor the number of evictions by social housing landlords. [28441]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Ms Sally Keeble): My Department is currently discussing with the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Court Service ways of achieving a better breakdown of the data that they are currently collecting on possession orders by social landlords. That will make it possible to monitor the trends much better and to improve our understanding of the causes of homelessness.

Margaret Moran: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and welcome the proposals to reinstate the collection of statistics from registered social landlords on the number of tenants evicted and the reasons for their eviction. I am sure she is aware that on Friday the Lord Chancellor's Department issued figures that show a 12.2 per cent. increase in the number of tenants evicted. Does she agree that, for some social landlords, eviction and subsequent homelessness is the first rather than the last resort? Will she also consider ways in which we can introduce new projects, especially mediation, to prevent eviction and homelessness so that we retain families in their own homes?

Ms Keeble: There are two points about the figures. First, we need to understand why people are being evicted, and there is some discussion of whether that is because of rent arrears or antisocial behaviour. Secondly, my hon. Friend is right: we need to know better how to deal with some of the problems that lead up to eviction.

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We are considering some of the different projects, including one in Dundee and one in Bolton, to ensure that we learn lessons from them that we can apply elsewhere.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Will the Minister give an undertaking that no one is evicted from social housing as a result of a failure by authorities to process housing benefit that is due to a tenant? If she cannot, will she issue an instruction, or take whatever other action is required, to ensure that from now on no one, whether in council or housing association property, is ever evicted because of such a failure?

Ms Keeble: We are getting the figures broken down to see which evictions are due to rent arrears and which are due to antisocial behaviour or to other types of action. Obviously we do not know how many of those might be due to unprocessed housing benefit claims. Action is being taken to deal with the problems of processing housing benefit, and we hope that that will not remain a reason for people to be evicted.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): May I raise a problem found in my constituency, in villages such as Grange Villa, where private landlords are buying property—in some cases, entire streets—to house people who have been evicted by the council and social landlords? The majority of those people are on housing benefit, and landlords pay no regard to the problems and chaos that they cause in small communities such as those villages in North Durham. Can steps be taken to enforce a code on such landlords?

Ms Keeble: My hon. Friend has identified an extremely important problem. First, we are considering licensing private sector landlords, which will hopefully ensure that they take some responsibility for housing management and do not indulge in benefit grazing, as I think it is called. Secondly, we have set up a research project into ways of dealing with antisocial behaviour, particularly in private sector housing. We recognise that there is a problem of antisocial people being dumped in private sector housing where landlords take no steps to try to manage their behaviour.

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