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Lord Dubs: I should like to follow that line of argument. I hope that I do not repeat the question posed by the noble Baroness. With regard to Clause 166(5), it provides that the Secretary of State may give information to the local authority in order that it can carry out its functions under this part of the Bill. That information is related to whether or not the person has become an asylum seeker. Surely if an individual has been given exceptional leave to remain, the fact that he or she is entitled to certain housing

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services is made more definite. Although at that stage the individual may still have a right of appeal in order to attain asylum status, surely the local authority will benefit from knowing that the person has been given ELR, because that means that its obligations to the individual are quite clear.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: It may be that we are getting into a bit of a pickle. If that is my fault, I apologise. Clause 166 provides a mechanism which enables the Home Office to notify a local authority when the asylum claim of a homelessness applicant has been finally determined. Clearly when the Home Office has come to a view it will have decided either that the individual is eligible for asylum and is granted asylum or-- I am not sure whether I should use "either/or" because I think that there are three possibilities: the person is granted asylum, is given exceptional leave to remain, or neither. The application has been rejected and the individual has not fallen into exceptional leave to remain. It is clearly right that the authority needs that information. That is what the clause does: it gives the Home Office the power to give that information.

I believe that we are all clear about the person granted asylum. The person granted exceptional leave to remain has also ceased to be an asylum seeker. That is the problem. He has ceased to be an asylum seeker, although he could still appeal. I think that is where my confusion has arisen. He has ceased to be an asylum seeker; he has become someone with exceptional leave to remain, and as such he has full rights.

Baroness Hamwee: I thank the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 265BF not moved.]

Clause l66 agreed to.

Clause l67 [Interim duty to accommodate in case of apparent priority need]:

[Amendment No. 265BG not moved.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 265BH:


Page 98, line 10, leave out subsection (3) and insert--
("(3) Irrespective of the applicant's request for a review, the duty of an authority shall cease upon written notification to the applicant, which notification shall contain reasons for the termination of the duty and shall inform the applicant of his right to request a review of that decision (see section 181)").

The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 265BL. Amendment No. 268ZAC is grouped with these amendments, and I leave it to others who may be able to find it to decide whether to speak to it.

Amendments Nos. 265BH and 265BL return to the subject of information in the context of a review. I hope that the Minister can give further assurances. The first amendment relates to the written notice provision and is designed to ensure that an applicant is informed fully of his rights to a review at an early

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stage and, as a practical matter, in the hope that it will avoid unnecessary delay in making an application if an applicant is ignorant of his rights in that respect.

My second amendment is intended to ensure that a homeless person refused temporary accommodation is notified formally of the refusal and of the reasons for it. It is a matter of natural justice to which the Committee has been referred earlier, and again a matter of practical importance, reinforcing the duty of local authorities to deal with it in a correct manner and to account for the process by which they have arrived at an unfavourable decision. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I appreciate the noble Baroness's concern that an authority should be required to give written notification of its decision not to accept a duty to accommodate under the homelessness legislation. The homelessness duty is an important one, and a person refused that duty is entitled to know the full reasons for this, so that if he is unhappy with it he can seek redress through a review under Clause 181.

That is why we have provided in Clause 164 that written notice is given of the outcome of inquiries under this part. These provisions substantially repeat what is currently in Section 64 of the Housing Act 1985. They require an authority to give its reasons in writing. If the noble Baroness looks at Clause l64 I hope that she will see that what she is seeking in Amendment No. 265BH is contained in Clause 164(3) and (6) which provides:


    "Notice required to be given to a person under this section shall be given in writing".
I hope that answers that point.

With Amendment No. 265BL the noble Baroness is seeking to require authorities to give written notice of reasons for refusing the interim duty. I question whether that is necessary or indeed practicable. Local authorities are approached by a range of people seeking assistance with their housing problems, many of whom are not homeless within the meaning of the legislation and some of whom, although they may pass the test of homelessness, are certainly not owed a duty. It would be unreasonable for a local authority to be required to give a written response with reasons to each and every inquiry it receives, however casual.

Local authorities take their duties under homelessness legislation very seriously. They consider each case on its merits. The disposition of the law is to require them to consider all applications and, where necessary, to provide interim accommodation where they have reason to believe that someone may be owed a duty. So the balance of advantage already rests with the applicant. The code of guidance stresses the need to consider all applications fully and we will maintain this advice when we issue a new edition. It would be unrealistic to require authorities to go further. I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: I remain a little concerned about the second point. It is dangerous to suggest that,

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in an area as fundamental to people's well being as this, notice in writing should not be required. I should have thought that any sensible local authority would keep proper file notes of what it is doing and what its responses to any application for housing have been. If it does that, it is only a small further step to giving the notice in writing. If it is not given in writing, there is an awful temptation for people to behave rather carelessly. However, I think that it is rather late to pursue the matter now. I thank the Minister for both those replies. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 265BJ:


Page 98, line 10, leave out subsection (3) and insert--
("( ) The authority shall continue to secure that accommodation is available for the applicant's occupation pending a decision on a review.").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment concerns the provision of accommodation pending a review. We know that the local authority has an interim duty to provide temporary accommodation for people in priority need while it considers whether people come within the remit of the Act and of local connection. If it decides that it does not have such a duty, the Government have sensibly agreed that the applicant should have the right of review.

This amendment does something very simple. It provides that the applicant should continue to stay in the interim accommodation while the review is being conducted and not be evicted, even though it is quite possible that the review may subsequently be found in his favour and he be reinstated again. We do not expect review cases to occur that frequently. But if they do, as a result of the amendment, the local authority will have to ensure that the proceedings take place as quickly as possible. However, a right of review is meaningless if, while that right of review is being considered or while the review is taking place, the applicant has been evicted from the accommodation he was in temporarily. If he has family or friend to go to, he will be fine. But if he has not, he may be in real difficulties. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Local authorities are generally very assiduous about the way in which they assess an application for assistance under the homelessness legislation. However, we see the new review procedure as an important safeguard for the rights of the applicant and we wish to see it as open as possible so that the aggrieved applicant can access it without specialist or professional help. We want authorities to conduct reviews as speedily as possible and we will be issuing guidance of the target times they might wish to set themselves for the turnround of appeals, although in many cases it will be several weeks before this can be arranged.

Nevertheless, given this situation, the amendment appears to be an invitation to anyone who is refused assistance by the authority to put in an appeal on wholly unmeritorious grounds with the sole objective of requiring the authority to accommodate him for a few more weeks pending the resolution of his appeal.

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We have been over this ground of general principle once or twice this evening. Therefore, it will not come as a surprise to the noble Baroness that I am attempting to continue what I consider my logic, and what no doubt the noble Baroness considers my lack of logic, in relation to this appeals situation.

The existence of a continuing entitlement to benefit would, we fear, merely encourage appeals without foundation. Therefore, we prefer to follow the model which is applied to social security appeals where entitlement to benefit is withheld pending the outcome of an appeal which has been made against a decision to suspend benefit.

The authority has a discretion to continue to provide interim accommodation where it feels that that is appropriate. I believe that that should be a sufficient protection for somebody in a difficult position. That is a small chink in the otherwise impenetrable logic which I am attempting to throw up in regard to the way in which we treat social security appeals across the field. We do not believe that it would be right to do as the noble Baroness suggests, but I point out that the interim accommodation procedure exists if the local authority feels that that is appropriate.

11.30 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I am now left utterly confused by the Minister's reply because he was moving between this procedure, which is not a social security procedure, and social security procedure.

Let us go back to where we were. I am seeking to say that it may take a few weeks for a local authority to decide whether a person who is currently enjoying interim accommodation is unintentionally homeless, in priority need and has a local connection. During that time the person is in interim accommodation. A decision may then be reached that the person does not fall into one of those categories. The individual may then appeal against that decision. Do I understand the Minister to say that a local authority has a discretion to continue to extend the period of interim accommodation while the appeal is being heard?


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