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Baroness Hamwee: Before the noble Lord withdraws the amendment, will he consider relating the outgoings more explicitly to needs? As the second paragraph of his amendment is drawn, the outgoings could be wide and I suspect that that is not what is intended. I had not read the proposal in that light until the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, interpreted it more widely. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, may care to relate the terms more closely in a later amendment.

Lord Lucas: I echo what the noble Baroness says. I hope that that was the burden of what I said to my noble friend. I wish to reassure him that the twitch of my shoulders was merely a twitch and nothing to do with what he was saying.

Lord Swinfen: Of course, the outgoings are not intended to take account of a champagne and caviar lifestyle. They are intended to take account of the genuine needs caused by a person's disability. If my amendment needs redrafting I shall be happy to take that on board. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 54:


Page 20, line 10, at end insert--
("( ) Regulations may make provision requiring any information or evidence needed for the determination of any matter under this section to be furnished by such person as may be prescribed.").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 52. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 55 not moved.]

Clause 33, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 34 [Determination of amount of grant in case of landlord's application]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 56:


Page 20, line 18, leave out ("an owner's") and insert ("a landlord's").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 57. These two government amendments are drafting amendments intended to clarify the provisions of Clause 34 relating to the determination of grants to landlords. The amendments distinguish landlords' applications for disabled facilities grants from an owner-occupier's application and correct an error made at the drafting stage. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 57:


Page 20, line 19, at end insert--
("( ) The reference in subsection (1)(c) to a landlord's application for a disabled facilities grant is to an owner's application in respect of works to a dwelling which is or is intended to be let, or to the common parts of a building in which a flat is or is intended to be let.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1657

Lord Lucas moved Amendments Nos. 58 and 59:


Page 20, leave out lines 23 to 25.
Page 20, line 35, at end insert--
("( ) Regulations may make provision requiring any information or evidence needed for the determination of any matter under this section to be furnished by such person as may be prescribed.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 60 not moved.]

Clause 34, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 35 agreed to.

Clause 36 [Power to specify maximum amount of grant]:

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 61:


Page 21, line 24, at end insert ("except for a grant in respect of the purposes in section 24(1) (mandatory disabled facilities grant).").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 62. The purpose of these two amendments is to remove the ceiling on the maximum amount of a disabled facilities grant in order to allow grants for the full amount for disabled people who require considerable adaptations to allow them to continue living in their own homes.

Disabled facilities grants are the main source of funding for disabled people who require adaptations to enable them to continue in their own homes. The majority--that is, 60 per cent. or thereabouts--of disabled facilities grants are awarded to owner-occupiers but council and private tenants are also eligible for those grants. The grants are means-tested and there is a limit on the grant.

In 1993 I understand that over £70 million was spent through local authorities on provision of disabled facilities grants with the average grant being £3,700. It becomes apparent that the grants are enabling a very large number of disabled people to continue to live in their own homes. A very small number of those grants are for amounts of £20,000, which is the current upper limit. In 1993, that was about 2 per cent.

However, those grants are for people who require considerable adaptations to continue to live in their own homes. In some areas, social service authorities provide some help with meeting costs over £20,000 but that support is patchy and often authorities offer only a loan. The people who require those larger disabled facilities grants are a very small group for whom the assessment procedure has clearly indicated that they require those adaptations and that there are no other alternatives. Therefore, the disabled facilities grant system should support fully those people and meet all the costs.

The proposed provision of discretionary grants above a certain limit is not satisfactory as that again will lead to different decisions in different areas and a variable decision for disabled people. Very few authorities award discretionary grants and that would leave a small group of disabled people who cannot meet the additional costs and are therefore unable to live in their own homes. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs: Earlier today the Minister chided me for not having enough confidence in the ability of local authorities to exercise their discretion in a sensible

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1658

manner. I hope that he will therefore be very sympathetic to this particular amendment because we are saying in this amendment that there should be no constraint on local authorities' ability to assess what grant should be paid under the heading of a disabled facilities grant. If the amendment is passed, a local authority will be able to exercise fully its discretion.

As the Bill stands, it is for the Secretary of State to decide whether he wishes to make an order specifying a maximum amount. We do not know what that is to be. Therefore, it seems to me that the choice is between allowing the Secretary of State to set a maximum or allowing a local authority to decide what is appropriate in terms of the needs of a disabled person. I hope that the Minister will think again and decide in favour of local authorities exercising their discretion in the interests of disabled people.

Lord Lucas: And so I will, by proposing that the Bill stays exactly as it is. My noble friend's amendment would remove the discretion from local authorities and make the grants mandatory whereas the current position is that grants over £20,000 are discretionary, and in those cases the decisions are for the local authorities.

Statistics gathered from local housing authorities have shown that the adaptations needed by most disabled applicants can be carried out well within the current limit, with the average grant around £4,000, well below the present limit on mandatory disabled facilities grant. For the comfort of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I can say that it is not intended that any lesser amount should be specified in an order under this clause.

I accept that most adaptations needed to the home of a disabled person are unlikely to add to the value of the property and the statistics show that it should be possible for those adaptations to be carried out within the grant limit.

However, I recognise that there will be cases where more extensive works are essential for the disabled person to remain living in his home or to enable him to move into the home of relatives, who will provide the care he needs. That is why subsection (3), which Amendment No. 62 seeks to remove, provides for the order to allow an amount additional to the grant limit to be paid, where the local authority considers that appropriate.

Grant resources, unfortunately, are finite. A great many adaptations at the average grant of £4,000 could be carried out for the cost of just a few grants in excess of the proposed limit. Therefore, it is necessary to think very carefully about the benefits of carrying out such works and whether there is any other way of meeting the disabled person's needs for a lesser amount.

Local housing authorities must have discretion to consider, together with social services departments, whether the works proposed in the grant application are necessarily the only or even the best option available to meet the needs of the disabled person. That means that the local authority must also have the power to exceed the limit where it is satisfied that that is necessary.

Our proposals give the applicant a full mandatory entitlement to assistance, yet retain some control on the level of grant with the local housing and social services

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1659

authority. We believe that local authorities will be well able to exercise their discretion to make sure that those disabled people who really need grants in excess of £20,000 are able to access the necessary funds. For those reasons, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw the amendment.


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