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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I wish that were true. We will only know that there is a problem of the kind

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I suggested when somebody faces eviction. The amendment would stop us ever reaching that point. It must surely be better to go for prevention of the problem--assessing someone's needs when he or she is about to be rehoused--rather than trying to see what needs should have been met at the point of eviction and, because that person's needs have not been met, he or she is now to be evicted. That is the difference between us.

The Minister says that the Government will look at the issue. Perhaps the Minister or his officials could consult the directors of social services as well as the local authority associations. The guidance will need to spell out the situation, particularly in the context of introductory tenancies and the protection of tenant's rights, and also the situation where medical evidence is discovered afterwards which should have suggested that support mechanisms should have been in place from the beginning but were not. The Minister indicated that he is taking these points very much on board and therefore I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 263H:

Page 90, line 31, leave out ("it appears to them") and insert ("they are satisfied").

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 263H stands in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. It concerns the circumstances in which a local housing authority can remove someone from the housing register or, perhaps more accurately, the prompt for it to do so.

If a request is made, then the name will be removed. Under subsection 4(b) of the Bill as drafted, if it appears to the authority that the person in question is not a qualifying person, then it can remove his name. The amendment proposes to introduce a level of objectivity, suggesting that the local authority be "satisfied" that the person is not now and has not been a qualifying person, and to ensure that arbitrary decisions are not made by the authority.

The clause provides that the authority "shall remove a person" in the circumstances set out. There is no discretion available to the authority and yet the applicant must only appear to be non-qualifying. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that somebody could go on and off the register in an unhappy game of tag in those circumstances. I am concerned that the Bill does not provide, for instance, for it to be a decision reasonably arrived at by the local authority, though the Minister may assure me that that is implied.

The criteria for qualification and the bars to qualification are in many cases likely to be complex. There is a lot of potential for inaccurate decision making. As we have already discussed, immigration status and a decision whether somebody is in breach of immigration law are often complex issues. There is the possibility of bad decision making, with local authority housing officers, whose first responsibility is not immigration law and practice, taking different decisions. It is possible for them to misinterpret information contained in passports. The test of habitual residence will depend on a number of factors which can change

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over a short period and be interpreted in different ways. It is possible, for instance, for there to be a refusal of income support on the basis of failing the habitual residence test but the award of housing benefit when the same test is applied by local authorities.

Those are but two examples of what may be a challenge for local authority housing officers. It is therefore appropriate that they be required to carry out proper investigations to satisfy themselves of an applicant's status before removing that person from the register. I beg to move.

Lord Swinfen: Would not the local authority be considered to be behaving unreasonably if it did not satisfy itself that the action it was about to take was correct?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: If I may turn to my noble friend's rather brief question, I suspect that we may be discussing that point when we come to the next series of amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. They refer to the right of someone who has been refused admission to the register or been removed to request a review. Perhaps that is the point at which I might address my noble friend's question. The areas the amendments cover are reasonably close.

As I may be saying when we come to the next series of amendments, I understand the concern which has prompted this amendment. However, I think that it would place undue restrictions on an authority's ability to form its own view on the matter of whether someone is a qualifying person. It is important to ensure that, in admitting a person to the register, an authority is able to form its own view of his or her entitlement on the best evidence available to it. If the authority subsequently becomes aware of new information that leads it to revise its view, then it should be in a position to remove that name.

When the matter was discussed in another place, it was pointed out that the amendment would impose a stronger test for the removal of a name from the register than is required to place a name on it. There should be symmetry between the two processes. The noble Baroness has not, quite understandably, tackled that problem, but for the sake of symmetry the words used to govern getting on to the register ought to be the same and the test should be the same for being removed from it by the local authority. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment. We can then go on to discuss the question of the potential for review in the case of someone who is aggrieved at either not being put on or about being taken off.

Baroness Hamwee: I am all for symmetry where it is fair. I asked in the middle of my speech the same question as the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, because one should understand whether reasonableness is implied by this provision. I think reasonableness should be implied generally in local authorities' decisions. We are left a little in the dark. I am content for the moment to leave the issue because, as the Minister said, we shall consider the question of review in a few moments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 263J:

Page 90, line 35, leave out subsection (6) and insert--
("(6) Where a local housing authority--
(a) decline a person's application to be put on the register, or
(b) remove a person from the housing register,
they shall comply with such requirements as to the right of the applicant to request a review as the Secretary of State may prescribe by regulations.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 263K which is a fuller version of the same point. As the Minister has already anticipated, this amendment seeks to create a right to request a review of a local authority decision to remove an applicant from the register or to refuse an application to go onto the register.

Authorities have wide powers to remove a person from or to refuse access to the register. Access to the register is access to housing. I believe that the powers should be open to scrutiny through some form of review procedure. A review procedure is proposed in the next part of the Bill for decisions about homelessness. I am suggesting that that should be extended to decisions on access to and removal from the register.

The register is the route to permanent affordable accommodation. Someone who is refused an application or is removed is denied access to housing. I should have thought that as a matter of justice and practicality it is right for an applicant to be able to request a review of the authority's decision and to require the evidence to be taken into account where the person concerned believes the authority has made a wrong decision. Some local authorities will have a review procedure as a matter of good practice. However, given the impact on the individual, it is right that all housing authorities should be directed to have one. It will also encourage better informed decisions and reduce the scope for arbitrary decisions. The more checks there are, the better the practice in the first instance, given the scrutiny that might follow. Housing authorities are publicly accountable bodies. It is right that their decisions should be scrutinised. I beg to move.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I support the amendment. The Minister has accepted that the Bill embodies a review procedure for decisions on homelessness in Part VII with regard to those whom the local authority should rehouse. But as the only route to that rehousing is via the waiting list, a similar right of review must apply there. If the local authority makes a mistake at the waiting list point and the individual applicant has no right to have that decision reviewed, he never, so to speak, gets to first base at all. If he cannot get onto the list, he can never be rehoused off it. He cannot make use of an appeal mechanism at the point of allocation of housing if he has not been able to get on the list in the first place and has not been able to have that decision reviewed.

When this matter was being discussed in the other place the Minister seemed to think that the amendment was unnecessary because he thought that "entitlement to

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be on the register" was based on hard facts. He was quite right. Often that is so. But in quite a large variety of circumstances discretion comes into play; and even where it does not, there may well be faulty information. If a local authority has made a decision on faulty information and that cannot be scrutinised by review, the person will never be rehoused. Their immigration status and the habitual residence test are obvious examples. But someone who has been an owner occupier but is in the process of divorce and in the process of losing the matrimonial home may seek to go onto the waiting list. There may be a dispute again about the hard facts of the situation.

In the name of fairness we should encourage good practice to become required practice and ensure that any person who is not permitted onto the waiting list and will therefore never get access to housing should have the right of review.

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