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Earl Ferrers: I think that I can assure the noble Lord that we are aware of the problems of group repair schemes and sympathetic towards the aim underlying the amendment: to simplify the eligibility rules and definitions of a group repair scheme. That is our intention, too, and we have framed the current clauses on group repair in such a way as to leave the detailed rules and conditions to be prescribed in regulations. We think that that is a better approach, as it gives more flexibility and enables the rules to be changed if, in the light of experience, they turn out not to achieve the objective required. It also gives us the opportunity to consult local authority practitioners on the regulations.

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While I disagree with the proposal in Amendment No. 89 to place some simplified conditions on the face of the Bill, I would go along with some of the simplifications which the amendment makes. For example, we propose to remove the need for all the buildings in a scheme to be "contiguous or adjacent" to the primary qualifying building, and we propose to review the number of dwellings in a scheme. But we also intend to make some changes which are not mentioned by the amendment. For example, we would like to include certain types of purpose-built flats.

Under Amendment No. 90 it would become a requirement that group repair schemes ensure that buildings were made substantially free from instability. I do not believe that there is any difference between the noble Lord and myself on the principle that it would be stupid to put public funds into any building which is liable to collapse. However, the amendment itself is unnecessary. The Bill provides various ways of ensuring that a building is stable. Clause 65(1)(a) enables an authority to include the necessary works in a group repair scheme, and that may well be the usual way of proceeding when such schemes are being undertaken. But a quite common alternative approach is for group repair schemes to be undertaken at the same time as other works, to make a building fit. In those kinds of cases, it may well be more appropriate to pay for stabilisation works through a renovation grant. The Bill as it stands provides flexibility for authorities which the amendment might reduce.

Our intentions are similar to those of the noble Lord and I hope he will perceive that what we are trying to do is what he is trying to achieve and it is accomplished by what is already in the Bill.

Lord Williams of Elvel: Did I understand the noble Earl to say that what I am trying to achieve in Amendment No. 89 would be achieved by regulation? I thought he said that he was sympathetic and it would all be achieved by regulation. Did I hear him right?

Earl Ferrers: I said in regard to Amendment No. 89 that I went along with the idea of placing simplified conditions on the face of the Bill. We propose to remove the need for all buildings in the scheme to be contiguous or adjacent. I do not believe that I said that that would be done by regulations, but we have framed the current clauses on group repair in such a way as to leave the detailed rules and detailed conditions to be prescribed in regulations. That is the point about which the noble Lord is concerned.

Lord Williams of Elvel: Is it right that the Government are not prepared to accept anything on the face of the Bill or am I again mishearing the noble Earl?

Earl Ferrers: It would be hard if the noble Lord were to say that the Government were not prepared to accept anything on the face of the Bill. We believe it is wrong to put the proposals on the face of the Bill because then it becomes too constrained. It is better that that is done by regulations because if the proposals are not correct,

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it is possible to amend and alter them by regulations in a way which would not be possible if it had to be done by primary legislation.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am grateful to the noble Earl. As I understand it, the thrust of my amendment, Amendment No. 89, is accepted by the Government but it will be implemented by regulation rather than on the face of the Bill. I am grateful for that and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Monkswell: I was hoping for clarification of the reference to instability in Amendment No. 90. The Minister suggested that it was covered by works to the exterior of the building. Will he give me clarification that the "exterior of the building" will include the foundations of the building? It is a technical point, but in some interpretations of the phrase the foundations beneath the building might not be considered to be part of the exterior. I hope that the Minister can clarify that because it would provide a degree of security in the implementation of programmes to correct any instability that might be apparent.

Earl Ferrers: Clause 65(1)(b) states that:

    "The works specified in a group repair scheme must be ... so far only as may be necessary to give satisfactory effect to such works, additional works to other parts of the buildings".
The foundations will be covered by that.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 64 agreed to.

Clause 65 [Scheme works]:

[Amendment No. 90 not moved.]

Clause 65 agreed to.

Clause 66 [Approval of scheme by Secretary of State]:

[Amendment No. 91 not moved.]

Clause 66 agreed to.

Clauses 67 to 70 agreed to.

Clause 71 agreed to.

Clause 72 [Condition as to payment of balance of cost on disposal]:

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 92:

Page 43, leave out line 21 and insert--
("(b) in such other cases as they may specify,").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is to seek to remove or modify the period following completion of a group repair during which participants who move home will be required to pay back the balance of the cost paid by the local authority. That is rather a complicated purpose; nevertheless the amendment seeks to allow local authorities to waive the requirement to repay costs. Again, it is a question of giving local authorities discretion in such cases as they may specify to waive the costs. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers: The amendment would give local authorities discretion to specify cases in which the requirement is waived that an assisted participant in a

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group repair scheme must pay on demand the difference between the cost of the works to his property and the amount he has already paid towards that cost if he disposes of the property before the end of the five-year protected period.

The noble Lord's amendment would replace a provision enabling authorities to seek the Secretary of State's consent for such waivers. The Bill already provides for certain disposals not to trigger this requirement and gives local housing authorities discretion not to demand payment or to demand a lesser amount in certain cases when the condition is breached. These include the case where the person is elderly or infirm and is moving back in order to be cared for by somebody else, or where he is himself moving to look after an elderly or infirm relative.

We recognise the concern among local authorities that the requirement to pay the balance of the cost might deter some people from joining a group repair scheme if they were uncertain as to whether they could meet the conditions. It might mean that some schemes would no longer be viable. We want to encourage authorities to take a strategic approach to renewal. Group repair is a useful instrument for strategic action, so we need to take seriously the concern that Clause 72, as it stands, might undermine the effectiveness of that instrument.

The noble Lord's amendment would give local authorities a great deal of discretion not to insist on the repayment condition. But the discretion would be limited to cases which are specified by authorities. Each authority would therefore need to draw up and approve a list of cases to which it might then have to keep adding new hardship cases as they arose. That seems rather cumbersome.

An alternative approach would be to give an open discretion which allowed authorities to treat each case on its merits. That would seem more flexible. If the Committee and the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will be good enough, I should like to consider the matter further and see how we can best resolve the problem. If the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment, I give an undertaking that I will look at it further between now and the next stage.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am most grateful to the noble Earl for that assurance. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 72 agreed to.

Clauses 73 and 74 agreed to.

Clause 75 [Index of defined expressions: Chapter II].

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 93:

Page 45, line 12, column 2, leave out ("section") and insert ("sections (Meaning of "owner" of dwelling) and").

The noble Earl said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 88. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 75, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 76 [Home repair assistance]:

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10.30 p.m.

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 94:

Page 45, line 29, after ("works") insert--
("(a) to an elderly or disabled owner or tenant of a dwelling, of repair, improvement or adaptation;
(b) to adapt a dwelling to enable an elderly or disabled person who is not an owner or a tenant of the dwelling but who is or proposes to be resident in the dwelling to be cared for; or
(c) for other works").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall at the same time speak to Amendment No. 100. Grouped with the two amendments are Amendments Nos. 95 and 96, 99, 101 and 102 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs; Amendment No. 98 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel; and Amendment No. 103 in the name of my noble friend Lord Ferrers.

The purpose of Amendment No. 94 is to ensure that the grant for home repair assistance is available for staying put, as is the minor works assistance which it replaces. The home repair assistance grant replaces the minor works assistance, which was introduced in Part VIII of the 1989 Local Government and Housing Act, which is repealed by the Bill.

The purposes for which the grant was available was specified in the legislation. They included works to enable people over 60 years of age to stay put in their homes and to adapt a property to enable a person over that age to move into it to receive care. The grant was of particular use to older people in enabling them to remain living in the community, either in their own homes or with carers. In 1994, I understand that the Department of the Environment estimated that nearly nine out of 10 recipients of the grant were over 60.

The purposes for which minor works assistance was available are not specifically stated in the new provisions for home repair assistance. That may lead to works enabling older people to stay put or receive care being given less priority by local authorities. The amendment is intended to ensure that those purposes are specifically included in the Bill.

Older people consistently state their preference to remain in their own homes as they get older and government policy recognises that. The intention of care in the community legislation is to ensure that those people who require care or support should be able to receive it in their own home. Minor works assistance has been an important contribution to that policy and it is important that it should continue.

The amendment extends the provisions for older people so that they would also apply to disabled people. For many disabled people minor works will be of assistance in enabling them to remain in their own home or will enable them to receive care or support in another home. Where only minor works are required for this purpose, the home repair assistance grant may be more appropriate than the disabled facilities grant, which often requires an

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occupational therapist's assessment for which there can, as already mentioned this evening, be very lengthy delays.

Amendment No. 100 seeks to ensure that local authorities can give home repair assistance grants to older and disabled people who require them in order to stay put in their homes but who have not lived in their property for three years. It is very similar to the previous amendment but enables those who have only just moved into a house to stay put. I beg to move.

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