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Baroness Hamwee: From comments that I made earlier, it must be obvious that I, too, support the amendment on the simple grounds of fairness and reasonableness.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Amendment No. 264ZB seeks to give reasonable preference in the allocation of housing to people who are owed a duty under the homelessness legislation. I do not think that the noble Baroness will be in the least surprised when I tell her that I do not find her amendment appropriate. It goes to the very kernel of our proposals to change the current position and to try to bring into being a housing allocation system which is even-handed between those people waiting patiently on the housing list and those who have become homeless.

It is our firm view that the needs of homeless households are not necessarily the same as those of people who require long-term housing. But having said that, I would point out that something like three-quarters of those people who become homeless are already on the housing register. We do not believe that just because they become homeless they should then jump over the other people waiting patiently above them on any list in order to gain the next available house. For those people who become homeless, the overriding need is for accommodation to be made available immediately.

The noble Baroness painted her usual lurid pictures, quite oblivious of the fact that some time ago I pointed out that only some 2 per cent.--a very small number--came into the homeless category on a roofless basis. Therefore, the proposition that people were being put out at 10 minutes' notice may be good dramatics but it

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does not accord with the great bulk of the cases that come to local authorities as homeless. They come because they foresee that they will become homeless.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Given the number of local authority acceptances for homelessness, will the Minister tell the House the number of people that that figure represents?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I do not see the total number on my piece of paper. I cannot answer. It is not insignificant--

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: How can the Minister tell the Committee that it is a trivial number if he does not know the figure?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: When one considers the range of people, 2 per cent. is trivial in terms of the total number of people applying. I should have thought that that was perfectly clear. There is a huge divide between us. I have no doubt that the noble Baroness will wish to divide the Committee on this issue. I shall, therefore, continue.

We are talking about 2,400 people in total. That is 2 per cent. of all the people who present as homeless. Therefore, the picture painted by the noble Baroness is not one which applies to the great bulk of homeless people. That is the point I made; and I think that it is a fair point considering the noble Baroness's suggestion that almost everyone who became homeless was thrown out "at 10 minutes' notice". That is simply not the case.

People who are about to become homeless can be dealt with in a number of different ways. In a significant number--a good deal more than 2 per cent.; in fact the figure is 10 times greater--an arrangement is made by the local authority to keep those people in their current accommodation until an alternative can be arranged. The scheme is called Homeless at Home. Various other methods are used in order to find people temporary accommodation up to at least two years' duration if that is what is required. Under our proposals anyone who is given assistance under the homeless legislation will receive that assistance for up to two years in the house to which they go. I do not think that that adds up to a huge army of people who will be insecure once they become homeless.

Once these medium-term needs have been met and those people have been found accommodation by the local authority, the nature of the requirement changes. Whether they have been homeless or threatened with homelessness is no longer an issue. They have been provided with accommodation under the homelessness legislation. That seems perfectly reasonable. What is then at issue is their present and future needs for long-term housing compared with those other households on the housing register and the extent to which their present accommodation meets these needs.

Part VI of the Bill is intended to establish a single consistent route into social housing so that all applicants--homeless and non-homeless--can be sure that their needs will be assessed fairly. It has always been our view that such assessments should be on the

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basis of an applicant's present and future needs. What has happened in the past should not influence their priority for housing.

Clause 148 goes into detail on the priorities that ought to be sought when people are being considered for social housing. We have discussed some to date and I believe they cover in a reasonable and broad way the people who require long-term social housing. Part VI of the Bill will ensure that the needs of everyone on the housing register are assessed fairly, regardless of whether they have become homeless. A formerly homeless household may receive a degree of priority under the allocation scheme on a number of grounds. These could, for example, include insecurity of tenure or the fact that the applicant has dependent children or has a pressing need for a settled home on medical or welfare grounds. In many cases, formerly homeless households will get priority because of the limited economic opportunities available to them. If the applicant is in greater overall need than other households on the register, then he or she will get priority accordingly.

The noble Baroness seeks to suggest that homelessness of itself should give people priority. Therefore, if someone becomes homeless they should be able literally to jump the housing queue over other people whose needs are every bit as great but who are waiting patiently. They may have tried to arrange their own accommodation in which to wait until they reach the top of the council's list. Their position may be every bit as serious as that of the person who has been declared homeless. Once that person is homeless--

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He said that people would jump over the heads of those whose needs were as great or even greater than those on the list. Can he tell me whose needs would be even greater than those of a homeless family?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The noble Baroness once again predicates the position where the homeless person is roofless, out on the streets, with nowhere to go. As I tried to explain, but clearly failed, under the homelessness legislation the local authority will have attended to that person's immediate needs. It will have found that person accommodation of some kind and ensured that he or she is properly accommodated, so there will not be an immediate pressing need any greater than for the person waiting at home, perhaps with parents. There might be a young married couple, living with parents and waiting to reach the top of the list and get a house. The needs of the homeless person may be no more pressing than those of the young couple, with or without children, who may be in the same position.

The noble Baroness tries to pick a totally artificial argument. People who are homeless will not be camping in the street; their needs will be dealt with. Their position with respect to long-term housing will be considered in exactly the same way as other people in the community who are waiting patiently for the same long-term housing. I wish to make that important point again and again. The noble Baroness tries to lull the Committee into believing that homeless people will be

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so totally disadvantaged that they should be given absolute priority over everyone else waiting patiently on the list and who may have taken the precaution of not becoming homeless because they made arrangements. They may live with their family or in rented accommodation which is not entirely suitable. That is the kernel of the change we are making.

I ask the Committee to consider this. Is it right to give priority to applicants just because they have become homeless and are now being looked after temporarily but perfectly well over other people who are in exactly the same position but have looked after themselves and found their own temporary accommodation? Is it right that one group should receive priority on the housing list over another? I do not believe that it is. Their position in the housing list will not be disadvantaged because they are homeless but we do not believe that it ought to be advantaged. That is the difference between us.

7.15 p.m.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal: I followed what the noble Lord said, but he was talking about getting to the top of the housing list. It is not just one list. Different people need different types of property. I come from the City of Birmingham. There, 50 per cent. of the people who are said to be homeless may have been staying at the houses of relatives and friends. Fifty per cent. are on the housing register and have been on it for a long time because they have nowhere to live. Some may be quite high on the register.

It is a big problem. Last year in Birmingham 11,879 people put themselves forward as homeless. When they went through all the interviews, 1,717 were declared not to be homeless. That left the local authority with 10,162 families who were homeless. In that way, some housing goes to people who are perhaps not the most deserving, as suggested by the noble Lord. Furthermore, nearly 2,000 of those declared homeless had left home because of violence from their partner in marriage. Obviously one must deal with those cases quickly.

I am seriously worried about the Housing Corporation. Far more money is given to it than to local authorities, yet it is not being called upon to take on the homeless. That is important. The Bill concerns the responsibilities of local authorities. I hope that at a later stage the Minister will put forward actions that the Housing Corporation must take regarding social housing.

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