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Lord Monkswell: Although I support my noble friend Lord Williams, I believe that we must respond to the Government's reply. The Minister said that the Government will not allow local authorities a discretion as to whether to waive the right to reclaim grant that has been paid. We must explore the Government's thinking as regards the consents which are likely to be

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forthcoming from the Secretary of State. Have the Government appreciated the change in the housing market and the employment scene during the past five or 10 years?

Perhaps I may give an example in order to ascertain the Minister's response. I take the case of a person on low income who made an application for a grant, improved his property and then lost his job in city A. He found another job in city B 100 miles away and also found a house at almost exactly the same price as his own and to the same standard. Will that person be permitted to retain the full value of the house that he is leaving in order to enable him to purchase the house into which he is moving or will the Secretary of State require repayment of the grant, which will force the person to move into a house of a lower standard?

We should bear in mind that the house has been improved and will stay as part of the local authority's housing stock. Therefore, the local authority and the local community will have the benefit of any improvement but the person leaving the house will not have that benefit. Because of the repayment of grant which might be demanded, he will effectively be required to purchase a property of a standard lower than that which he was used to living in.

Earl Ferrers: It is always difficult to set down specific standards and to have a general discretion to disapply the recovery of grant because there are so many variables.

The point which the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, makes is quite straightforward. The value of the house of the person who has obtained the grant will have increased. If he then moves to another area, the noble Lord says that it is unfair if he must pay back his grant. But the fact is that the house will be worth more than it would have been worth had he not had the grant. Therefore, theoretically, he will be left with the same amount of money with which he started in order to purchase a house somewhere else.

Lord Williams of Elvel: What if it is worth less?

Earl Ferrers: The simple answer is that it will be very difficult for him. But the purpose of obtaining a grant is to enable the house to be improved. Whether the house is worth more or less depends on the state of the market and nothing else. However, I believe that it is reasonable to say that that part of the money which has formed part of the grant should be repaid because theoretically the person is left with the same amount of money that he had in the first place in order to purchase a house elsewhere.

I do not deny for one moment that in various places the shoe may pinch. However, if every conceivable eventuality is allowed for, one finds that a great deal of abuse takes place.

Lord Monkswell: But I suggest that that is rather unfair. This will be a low income household. I assure the Committee that it is quite a palaver to obtain a grant. You have to make the application, engage builders to provide estimates and so on. It can consume an

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enormous part of one's life. Is the Minister saying that such a person should then have to go through the whole process again if he moves house?

Perhaps I may suggest a mechanism to solve the problem. One may set limits in terms of the market movements which one may expect which are acceptable or not acceptable as regards repayment of grant. The applicant's current financial circumstances should be compared with what they were before. Criteria should be set which could be applied. Everybody would then see those to be reasonable. But I am sure that the Minister will agree that, in the case which I mentioned, it would be unreasonable for an applicant to be required to repay the grant.

Earl Ferrers: I do not deny at all that one must comply with rules and regulations and that it involves a certain amount of palaver to obtain a grant. That is so. The situation which the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, postulates may raise sympathies because one thinks of an unfortunate person who has bought a house, obtained a grant, finds he is without a job and then has to find a job elsewhere and pay back the grant.

On the other hand, what if the unfortunate fellow bought a house, obtained a grant and then got fed up with his wife and decided to go and live with "Fifi" in the county next door? In that situation he would sell the house, claim the money that he had got from the grant and go to live in more luxurious conditions with "Fifi" which would be quite inappropriate. One can always find curious examples, but one really has to rely on the basic principle that, if a person receives a grant for a certain house and then sells it, it is only fair that he should pay back the grant.

Lord Williams of Elvel: The noble Earl has given us a most interesting run around the circumstances in which people may wish to move house. I still believe that it is really up to the local authority to decide such matters rather than the Secretary of State. Of course when we say the "Secretary of State" we are actually referring to the wording in the Bill, whereas what we mean is the Department of the Environment and its bureaucracy which may or may not be efficient and which may or may not take into account particular circumstances such as those described by my noble friend Lord Monkswell. Nevertheless, we have had a reasonable debate on the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 80:


Page 29, line 22, leave out from ("intestacy)") to end of line 24.

The noble Lord said: I spoke to this amendment when moving Amendment No. 78. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 48, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 49 [Condition for repayment on disposal: common parts grants]:

[Amendment No. 81 not moved.]

Clause 49 agreed to.

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Clause 50 [Condition for repayment on disposal: HMO grants]:

[Amendment No. 82 not moved.]

Clause 50 agreed to.

Clauses 51 and 52 agreed to.

Clause 53 [Conditions as to occupation: HMO grants]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendments Nos. 83 and 84:


Page 31, line 42, after ("cause") insert ("--
(i) a breach of the duty under section 353A of the Housing Act 1985 (duty to keep premises fit for number of occupants), or
(ii)")
Page 31, line 44, leave out ("the Housing Act 1985") and insert ("that Act").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 53, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 54 agreed to.

Clause 55 [Power to impose other conditions with consent of Secretary of State]:

[Amendment No. 85 not moved.]

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 86:


Page 33, line 10, leave out from ("date") to ("and") in line 11.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 55, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 56 agreed to.

Clause 57 [Meaning of exempt disposal]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 87:


Page 34, line 25, at end insert--
("( ) a disposal by way of enfranchisement or lease extension under Part I of the Leasehold Reform Act 1967;").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 57, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 58 to 61 agreed to.

Clause 62 [Index of defined expressions: Chapter I]:

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 88:


Page 37, line 49, column 2, leave out ("section") and insert ("sections (Meaning of "owner" of dwelling) and").

The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 93 and 118 to 120. The group consists of an amendment adding after Clause 97 a revised definition of "owner" and various consequential amendments to include references to that definition. The definition of owner in the Bill was reproduced from the current legislation and refers to the "net annual value" of a property. That reference has its roots in the old rating system but has acquired an established meaning outside that system. To ensure clarity, we seek to add the established definition of "net annual value" to the grants legislation. The amendment makes no change to the substance of the measures. I commend the amendments to the Committee. I beg to move.

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1679

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 62, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 63 agreed to.

Clause 64 [Qualifying buildings]:

10.15 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 89:


Page 39, line 14, leave out from ("prepared") to end of line 21 and insert--
("(a) it comprises a minimum of two houses,
(b) the houses in the building are adjacent to each other,
(c) the exterior of at least 75 per cent. of the houses in the building is not in reasonable repair.").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 89 stands in my name and in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak to Amendment No. 90.

The purpose of Amendment No. 89 is to permit group repair schemes in a wider range of circumstances than is currently allowed, covering a single pair of semi-detached houses to a whole street of terraced housing, provided that at least three-quarters are in disrepair externally.

Group repair schemes were first introduced in the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 to enable groups of mainly privately owned houses to be renovated externally in order to put them in good repair. The concept is based on that of envelope schemes, which were successfully used by local housing authorities in the 1980s.

Many authorities appear to have been reluctant fully to pursue group repair schemes due to the restrictive criteria specified in the 1989 Act and associated Department of Environment guidance notes and circulars. We believe that the provision is an important element--it is not vital--in improving the group repair schemes.

Amendment No. 90 also extends the scope of group repair schemes, in this case to include structural instability in the range of external defects which can be repaired. The amendment is intended to create greater flexibility in delivering strategic renovation programmes through group repair schemes. I hope that the Government will be aware of the problems faced by group repair schemes and by local authorities trying to operate them and will be sympathetic to the amendments. I beg to move.


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