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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: One does not want to send out a signal to all 16 and 17 year-olds that they are eligible for inclusion on the housing waiting list and therefore for allocation. However, at present 16 and 17 year-olds are denied benefit, except those who are suffering severe hardship. I believe that approximately 14,000 youngsters are in receipt of severe hardship payments from income support on the grounds that they

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are not living at home, are not gainfully employed, and are vulnerable, at risk and suffering hardship. Will the Minister consider including in any guidance that youngsters who are suffering hardship and who are at risk will be eligible for inclusion on the housing waiting list?

Baroness Hamwee: Perhaps, before the Minister responds, I may ask a related question. How are these issues linked to the sentence at the end of subsection (2) which refers to someone who needs settled accommodation on welfare grounds? I may have missed a reference to that in his response to my noble friend, but it appears to be a wide provision.

Lord Hylton: It is possible that the noble Earl has tabled this amendment slightly too early in the Bill. It may be that something needs to be written in later on Part VII.

Nevertheless, he has raised some very important points which include in particular the situation of young people emerging from the care of local authorities. We know that the arrangements which exist for them at that point in their lives--when they cease to be in care--are extremely variable. Some are reasonably good. In some cases, voluntary organisations work in with local authorities and provide a kind of bridge into normal adult life. But that does not apply universally across the country.

The second case to which the noble Earl rightly drew attention is to young people who have been forced to leave home, very often because of domestic violence or abuse in their parents' or relatives' home. Those young people leave apparently of their own free will, but in reality they leave under pressure. There is almost no escape hatch or safety bridge for them, hence the importance of the spirit and principle of this amendment which I support.

Earl Russell: I am grateful to the Minister for his reference to the code of guidance. He is right that there are many good things in that code. The difficulty about relying on that is that it merely asks local authorities "to have regard" to it. Some time ago in this Chamber the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, observed that the phrase "have regard to" means almost exactly nothing. While in general terms that may be a slight overstatement, my own local authority, the London Borough of Brent--and I say this regardless of what political control it happens to be under at the particular time--says that it has had regard to the code of guidance and is doing exactly the opposite. Therefore, in cases where it is most needed, the Minister cannot rely on the guidance to provide the answers which we need because it just does not do the job.

I was extremely disappointed by what the Minister said about sending the wrong signals to 16 and 17 year-olds by encouraging them to think that they might like to leave home. That is not what is going on. The Minister has doubtless noticed that hitherto I have exercised great self-restraint in not mentioning the issue of benefits. But in the face of that reply, I cannot continue that restraint because, of course, people in that situation do not have a right to benefits and therefore do not have the opportunity to obtain housing by lawful means which older people have.

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The youth training allowance has not been uprated since 1988. I can find no sign that the Department for Education and Employment even thinks about whether or not it should be uprated. I hope that it will be uprated next time, but I do not have great confidence that it will be. That is not something which leaves people in a good position to find somewhere to live while they have food in their mouths.

Now that that issue has been introduced, the Minister will doubtless rely on severe hardship payments. But those are discretionary and temporary. They normally need to be renewed every eight weeks. Therefore, people receiving those payments are not in the same position as homeless older people. Even without challenging the policy on benefits, which is wide of this amendment, it means that those people are likely to be in much greater need than anybody else and in a much worse situation to cope with that need. That is why it would be perfectly reasonable for local authorities to allow them reasonable preference.

The Minister relied quite heavily on the Children Act 1989. I should like to quote some figures. It appears that 25 per cent. of local authorities do not have a policy to assess all homeless 16 and 17 year-olds and 41 per cent. of authorities do not consider rooflessness as a ground for accommodation. That suggests that in the present situation the Minister has relied too heavily on the Children Act, much good though there is in that Act.

Of course, the present situation is not where we shall be next year. It will not have escaped the notice of the Committee that under the asylum Bill and attendant regulations, very large numbers of children will become the responsibility of social services departments because the Department of Social Security has washed its hands of them. So the strain falling on those departments in a year's time is likely, especially in some areas of London, to be immeasurably greater than it is now. Therefore, if they are not coping now, how much less will they be able to cope in a year's time?

I clearly have not made the Minister see that there is a problem. I wonder whether I have been more successful with the Committee. I should like to seek its opinion on the matter.

6.46 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 264ZA) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 18; Not-Contents, 99.

Division No. 1


Beaumont of Whitley, L. [Teller.]
Falkland, V.
Geraint, L.
Hamwee, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L.
Hylton, L.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L.
Kirkhill, L.
McNair, L.
McNally, L.
Prys-Davies, L.
Redesdale, L.
Russell, E. [Teller.]
Sandwich, E.
Seear, B.
Southwell, Bp.
Williams of Crosby, B.


Ailsa, M.
Aldenham, L.
Arran, E.
Ashbourne, L.
Balfour, E.
Belhaven and Stenton, L.
Berners, B.
Blake, L.
Blatch, B.
Blyth, L.
Boardman, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L.
Bridgeman, V.
Butterworth, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Carnock, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B.
Chelmsford, V.
Clark of Kempston, L.
Coleridge, L.
Colwyn, L.
Courtown, E.
Craigavon, V.
Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Crathorne, L.
Cross, V.
Cuckney, L.
Cumberlege, B.
Dean of Harptree, L.
Denham, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Elton, L.
Feldman, L.
Ferrers, E.
Flather, B.
Gisborough, L.
Goschen, V.
Greenway, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L.
Harris of Peckham, L.
Henley, L.
Holderness, L.
HolmPatrick, L.
Inchcape, E.
Inglewood, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L.
Kimball, L.
Kingsland, L.
Lane of Horsell, L.
Lawrence, L.
Leigh, L.
Lindsay, E.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Long, V. [Teller.]
Lucas, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Lyell, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L.
McConnell, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Marlesford, L.
Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Mersey, V.
Miller of Hendon, B.
Monk Bretton, L.
Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Mountevans, L.
Newall, L.
Northesk, E.
O'Cathain, B.
Oxfuird, V.
Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Perry of Southwark, B.
Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Rankeillour, L.
Renton, L.
St. Davids, V.
Selsdon, L.
Shannon, E.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Shrewsbury, E.
Skidelsky, L.
Stewartby, L.
Strange, B.
Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Sudeley, L.
Swinfen, L.
Teynham, L.
Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Trumpington, B.
Vinson, L.
Wilcox, B.
Willoughby de Broke, L.
Wynford, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

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6.54 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 264ZB:

Page 91, line 26, at end insert--
("( ) persons to whom the authority are, or have been, subject to a duty under sections 169, 172, 176 and 179 of this Act.").

The noble Baroness said: I realise that we are close to the dinner hour but I hope that the Committee will allow me to develop my arguments on this amendment. I believe this is one of the core amendments in this part of the Bill. Clause 148 spells out the allocation scheme a local authority must adopt, and requires that it should be constructed so that reasonable preference is given to those listed in the Bill; that is, those occupying insanitary, overcrowded or unsatisfactory housing and

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the like, people living in insecure accommodation, families with dependent children, applicants who have medical or welfare needs for permanent housing or those whose economic and social circumstances make it difficult for them to find settled housing.

However, nowhere on the face of the Bill are homeless families as such to be given reasonable preference. Why is there this silence? I suggest that the Government may have two arguments: either that someone who is homeless is already included in the categories of applicants listed--in other words, it is unnecessary to refer to homelessness as such--or that to include homelessness in the categories would encompass additional people whom the Government do not think merit reasonable preference. In other words, the homeless are in some sense undeserving of preference if they do not fit into the categories listed in the Bill. Which argument are the Government using? Do the Government think that reference to homelessness is not necessary, or do they think it is undesirable? Let me assume that the Government think it is unnecessary because it is covered by the other categories. I really believe that that is not true. Earlier this year the Department of the Environment published important research which followed 2,500 homeless applicants from when they first made their applications to a period 18 months later. It was a unique and important study of 2,500 applicants.

What that research of the Department of the Environment showed is that being homeless constitutes an additional pressure and strain over and beyond all the other factors involved in unsatisfactory housing. It is not just that accommodation is temporary and insecure--that applies to any six months shorthold tenancy--but that the people concerned are usually living in someone else's home and can be thrown out at 10 minutes' notice after a row. That is the degree of insecurity which a homeless family may experience and which someone living under a shorthold tenancy would not experience.

Nor is it just a matter of homeless people experiencing overcrowded and insanitary conditions. Often an entire family of three or four people might have to share one bedroom in a friend's house. Nor is it just that their economic and social circumstances make it difficult to find alternative accommodation, because if they have no fixed home they have no job, and if they have no job they can get no fixed home. It is not even simply that they are unsettled. As the DoE research has shown, many will have made something like six or seven moves between long-suffering family and friends in a couple of years, spending two months here, three months there, with all the stress that that imposes on children and family.

I seek to argue tonight that the experience of homelessness, and of having nowhere to call home, is worse than any situation--short possibly of violence--that anyone else in the categories listed in the Bill will experience. If an applicant in the categories listed in the Bill is living in a home, however poor, overcrowded or temporary, at least it is a home of some sort or other. I suggest that being homeless is qualitatively worse and qualitatively different from any other housing experience and therefore should be included, on its own

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grounds in Clause 148. How can the Government ignore the fact that homelessness is different? I emphasise that I do not seek to say that homeless families should jump the queue. I suggest merely that they should be listed with those who have other forms of housing need to whom reasonable preference must be shown.

I fear the Government will resist this key amendment not because homelessness is already covered in the categories but precisely because it is not. Precisely because it is such an extreme and desperate situation any reasonable authority would use its best endeavours to offer such a family a permanent home immediately. They would then--in my view rightly--take preference over other groups in housing need, thus undermining the Government's insistence on a common waiting list. My argument is that they simply cannot wait. Hence the Government's insistence that they must be parked in temporary housing, and their needs then assessed along with others. Rather than allowing local authorities to meet their needs and build more housing, the Government require local authorities to construct a conflict between different victims of the housing crisis.

In another place, the Minister called this distinguishing between the symptoms and causes of housing need. That is a distinction without a difference. The symptoms are one and the same: the absence of a home.

Let us remember to which homeless people local authorities will still be obliged to offer temporary accommodation: those who are unintentionally homeless through no fault of their own; those who have children; those who have been in care; or those who have mental and physical health problems. Those people have tried to help themselves. Two thirds of the homeless have made efforts to help themselves, as the DoE's research indicates. Even so, more than any other category, the homeless listed in Clause 148 have been buffeted from pillar to post. They have lived out of suitcases and on the charity and tolerance of friends. They cannot be sure that they will even have a home for their children next week. Why refuse them access to the waiting list? Why visit on them even more misery for the sake of ideology? Why cannot we respond decently and allow such people to be included in the local authority's allocation scheme. I beg to move.

7 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Southwell: Although it may be argued that the subject of homelessness is covered elsewhere, in particular in regulations, nevertheless, in drawing up their register according to agreed criteria, there is a need to ensure that local housing authorities recognise that homelessness is one of the criteria that should be considered when reasonable preference is being determined.

The Government's 1989 review of the homelessness legislation stated:

    "There is little doubt that [homeless] people would and should expect to have priority in any system of housing allocation based upon need".

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The amendment does not ask that homeless people should have automatic priority but that, alongside the other criteria, homelessness would be acknowledged as a legitimate factor to be taken into consideration when assessing reasonable preference.

The allocation of housing and the determining of priority needs will be helped by the register, but only if it reflects a consistent and adequate list of the variety of needs and circumstances affecting people in need of housing, as well as a full picture of housing accommodation currently available within the authority. The objective is to ensure as far as possible that the allocation is fair and open and that those with the most acute problems are assisted.

I believe, as do many involved within the Church and voluntary sectors, that the amendment recognises that homelessness is a legitimate factor to be taken into consideration when compiling a list of criteria to ensure that the local authority allocates housing accommodation in a manner that reflects the true priorities of those who are homeless. I support the amendment.

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