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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I have given that assurance. It may be that I did not express the matter very well. I explained where the words can be found in the Bill, and that they were already in the 1985 Act. I also explained that those words could be used in the future, as in the past, to allow authorities to have flexibility in the operation of their allocation policies. I know that I am not allowed to read directly from what my right honourable friend Mr. Curry said in the other place, but it does not seem to me to be inconsistent with what I have said.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Nor is it inconsistent with what I have said. Therefore, there is some dispute between us. The Minister's statements in the other place--I hope that I express myself in a way that does not sound derogatory--were clearly regarded as a concession to the very real pressures facing local authorities. The Minister there was not merely discussing the current implications of the wording of the Bill. He was allowing that there were circumstances where it would be reasonable for local authorities to depart from the Bill. When pressed by my honourable

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friends Mr. Raynsford and Mr. Betts on the point that that would lay local authorities open to action, it was agreed that the Government would seek to clarify, and to protect, the position of local authorities on the face of the Bill.

Clearly, we cannot pursue the point further at the moment, but I suspect that we shall want to return to it on Report. In the light of discussions today, and after consultation with his right honourable and honourable friends, the Minister may realise that in an amendment such as this we are seeking only to embody on the face of the Bill the understandings which the Minister gave in another place which, so far, the Bill does not carry. However, with the leave of the Committee--

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I should not like the noble Baroness to leave the Committee with the idea that my right honourable friend in the other place made a concession from which I am now backing away. In fact, my right honourable friend did not make a concession; he made a clarification. The noble Baroness can find it in the report of the Committee stage that took place down the corridor. He used pretty well identical words to those that I have used: that an authority may on an exceptional basis decide to treat sympathetically a household with almost enough priority to be made an offer of permanent accommodation. Members of the Committee may remember that I said that that was sometimes called the "Laird protocol".

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: We shall obviously want to revisit this matter on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 143 agreed to.

Clause 144 [Allocation only to qualifying persons]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 263ZAM:


Page 89, line 39, at end insert--
("( ) Any person to whom an authority owes a duty under section 172 (duty to persons with priority need who are not homeless intentionally) is qualified to be allocated housing accommodation by that authority.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, which stands in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 263ZAP, which also stands in both our names. The second amendment is perhaps a stronger version of the first.

The amendments have something of the thrust of the previous amendment, but are not the same. They are intended to give someone who is accepted as being unintentionally homeless the right to be included on the housing register either of the authority to which that person has applied or, if referred to another authority because he has no local connection with the first, on the register of that other authority. The first of the amendments seeks to give the right only to homeless applicants who have priority need; the second would extend that right to applicants who are not in priority need.

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Homeless people are a distinct group to whom a duty of the highest order is owed morally and, I suggest, legislatively. It would therefore be appropriate to refer on the face of the Bill to people who are homeless and not leave them to be dealt with by way of regulation, with the natural concomitant that they may lose the right to be included on the register if the regulations were to change. It is appropriate that their housing needs should at least be considered alongside those of other applicants. That is what the amendments are intended to do. I believe that the Minister in another place undertook to consider the matter further, but I am not aware that any further proposals have appeared.

One purpose of the amendments is to find a way through the difficult situation when residential and other local connection qualifications restrict the right to appear on the waiting list. Such restrictions were one of the issues raised in the Government's consultation paper. Many authorities currently require that a person must have lived in its area for a certain time, often 12 months. That is one of the factors which give rise to the current list being thought of as a "waiting list", as if one had only to wait for a certain time, make one's way to the head of the list, and then housing would appear. Sadly, that is not the case.

Homeless people are protected by the present legislation because a local authority has a duty to consider their application. If the local authority finds that the applicant has no local connection, but does have a local connection with another authority, it is entitled to refer the applicant to the second authority. That means that some authority somewhere has a duty to provide housing. However, under the changes proposed by the Bill, homeless applicants could be excluded from any right to permanent housing in the authority to which they apply as homeless if that authority continues to operate a residence criterion. If the housing register is to be the route into local authority and other social housing, homeless people should not be denied access to the register.

I expect that the Minister may again refer to the inclusion of such groups in regulations. If that is to be the Government's approach, it would clearly be helpful to have a response to the wording I have proposed. That means that rather than waiting for the regulations, we can have the debate now as to whether this is the right way in which to refer to those two groups. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I support the amendment. As the Minister emphasised on the previous amendment, a local authority may house only those people on the housing register. That means that somebody who is not entitled to go on the housing register cannot get housed. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, the amendment would ensure that anyone accepted as unintentionally homeless may be placed on the waiting list. That is essential if homeless families or homeless people generally are to be eligible for local authority housing.

The amendment has another purpose. Many local authorities, particularly rural local authorities, exclude certain categories of people from being eligible for the

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waiting list. A common test is requiring 12 months' residence in their area. Other authorities have age restrictions, such as requiring applicants to be over 21. I recall some authorities which required single applicants to be over 40 before they could go on the housing waiting list. Such restrictions mean that homeless people in those categories are not eligible for housing. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will support the amendment.

4 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, probably has in mind a similar amendment proposed in the other place by the honourable Member for Greenwich. His concern, like that of the noble Baroness today, was that without such a provision as this, a household to which an authority owed a duty to secure accommodation under the homeless provisions might be excluded from qualifying for accommodation through the authority's housing register. We would not expect this to happen as it would be in an authority's own interest to ensure that it was able to offer a long term tenancy through the housing register to households towards whom it might otherwise have a recurring homelessness duty.

I have some sympathy with the concerns that have prompted these amendments. With reference to Amendment No. 263ZAM, which relates to those with priority need, we are clear that such provision should be made by regulations under Clause 124(2) rather than in primary legislation. In January this year we issued a consultation paper discussing how the main regulation-making powers in Part VI of the Bill might be used. Paragraphs 8 to 14 of the consultation paper discuss this particular power. We suggested that as a minimum a household rehoused by a local authority under the new two-year homelessness duty outside that authority's area should have a right to go on the placing authority's register. That would discourage authorities from "exporting" families towards whom they owed a homelessness duty. We also discussed the case for extending this right to households who were owed a duty under the homelessness legislation. We received over 300 responses to the consultation paper. In the light of our consideration of those responses, we are minded to do a number of things. I hope that this answers one of the questions posed by the noble Baroness. We are minded to give every homeless person over 18 who is given housing under the proposed two-year minimum period of duty the right to have his application considered by the authority that has accepted the homelessness duty towards him. There is an appreciation that some authorities can impose a 25-year limit. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, referred to a 40-year limit. That is what we are minded to do in relation to the age problem. We are also considering whether to extend the entitlement more generally; for instance, to include everyone over 18 who meets certain minimum requirements relating to residence in the area and previous behaviour as a tenant.

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One of the important points about regulations in this regard is that they will allow us to go into some detail and deal with various scenarios and, in addition, deal with any that come up in the future. If authorities believe that they have found a new way to limit access to the list, the power of regulation gives us the opportunity to address these problems without trying to find time to come back to both Houses of Parliament with primary legislation.

We believe that in general as wide a range of people as possible should be able to have applications considered, although we recognise that many authorities feel that some restrictions should apply. Any provisions that we make are likely to be detailed, and we will need to discuss these with the local authority associations. We also want to be able to react to anything that happens in regard to restrictions being placed on entry into housing lists in future.

I hope that in the light of that assurance and indication of the kinds of actions that we are considering through regulation, and our reminder of the consultation paper and the discussions set out in that consultation paper, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.


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