Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I thank all Members of the Committee who have taken part in the debate. I am sorry that some Members felt that it was a waste of time but I assure them that this will be a key area because, if the Minister cannot guide us on this and local authorities have different interpretations of what are exceptional circumstances, that will produce a recipe for legal challenge and judicial review. That is not desirable if we can possibly avoid it, which is what we seek to do.

I return to the substantive point of the amendment. I am sorry that the Minister cannot help us, but we will revisit the matter on Report and Third Reading in order that local authorities may understand what the Minister had in mind when he permitted local authorities a tiny amount of discretion in exceptional circumstances. It

25 Jun 1996 : Column 820

relates to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, on hard-to-let accommodation and our concern over obtaining nearly enough points. We need that guidance, as do local authorities. We have not had it and it is a legitimate and significant point. I am afraid that we must revisit the matter, however cumbersome it may seem to the Committee. I regret it, but it is necessary.

On the substantive point, my noble friend Lord Monkswell was right. The amendment does not propose a fast track into permanent council housing. It requires local authorities to ensure that accommodation continues to be available after two years. It may be in permanent council housing in the sense of it being permanent stock, or the requirement may be to ensure that families are able to continue in private rented accommodation, in housing association places or in a leased flat. There are a variety of ways to meet the need of continuing to ensure that people have secure accommodation after two years. The preferable way would be for secured tenancy.

The amendment does not produce a fast track into permanent homes. Families will still have to wait in the usual way on the waiting list. We seek to avoid an insecurity that plagues people in the housing world and the world of work. However, I do not believe that we shall get far on the matter tonight, and with the leave of the Committee I shall withdraw the amendment and hope to return to it on Report.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 266B not moved.]

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 266C:


Page 100, line 44, at end insert--
("( ) In any case where the local housing authority decline to secure that accommodation is available for the applicant's occupation under section 173, they shall notify him accordingly not later than 2 months before the expiry of the minimum period.").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment stands in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. Although it still comes under Clause 172, it is less contentious than the other amendments. Nevertheless, it is important.

The amendment proposes to create a requirement for the local housing authority to tell the applicant of its intention to end the temporary accommodation duty at the end of the two years. As the Bill is drafted, authorities can end their duty to accommodate after a two-year period. However, they do not have to notify the applicant. That is inconsistent with the authorities' other requirements to give notice under Part VII. It will also result in confusion, from which will come hardship for the households affected.

A number of other provisions in the Bill require notification. For example, Clause 172(7) states that if the applicant turns down an offer of accommodation the authority must notify the applicant of the position. Under Clause 173(4) where the authority carries out a review it must give notice of the outcome of the review. There are provisions in other sections. Where a household is accommodated for a two-year period and does not

25 Jun 1996 : Column 821

become ineligible or intentionally homeless or does not receive an offer under Part VI, the duty expires. However, the applicant is not informed.

Under the first draft of the Bill when it was considered in another place, there was a duty to serve notice. It has been removed and it will be helpful to understand the reason for the omission, particularly when authorities are required to notify the applicant of their intentions to continue to provide accommodation. That is the converse of the present position. It would be good practice, and we may hear that guidance will suggest that local authorities give notice. But it is not necessary to go into the detail of the confusion that can arise, for example, with people whose English may not be good or who are vulnerable in many ways. They may have mental health problems and so on. I may not be using the word "vulnerable" in its technical sense. There are people who do not understand what I find a complicated process. I suspect that if I were an applicant, with all the additional emotions which I would suffer, I should find it almost impossibly complicated. For those reasons, I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would require that where an applicant was being accommodated by an authority under the two-year duty in Clause 172, two months before that period of duty comes to an end the authority must give the applicant notice if it does not intend to exercise its power under Clause 173 to continue to provide accommodation.

Clause 173 gives authorities a power to continue to provide accommodation when the two-year duty has come to an end. It is entirely at the authority's discretion whether or not it chooses to exercise that power. It seems onerous to give authorities a statutory obligation to give notice of a decision not to do something that they are not obliged to do.

Part of the purpose of the reforms in Parts VI and VII of the Bill is to make the homelessness legislation a last, rather than a first, resort and to encourage individuals to take more responsibility for making their own arrangements for accommodation. Where an authority accepts that it owes the two-year duty under Clause 172, it will inform the applicant of that by notifying him in accordance with the provisions of Clause 164. The applicant will be aware from the outset that he is being accommodated for a two-year spell.

I do not think that it is unreasonable to expect the applicant to take the initiative when the end of that period approaches. It will be open to him to make his own inquiries of the authority if he wishes to determine what the authority intends to do when the two years are up. If the authority's response is that it does not intend to use its power to continue to provide accommodation, it will be open to the applicant to make a fresh application for assistance which the authority must consider. If the applicant still meets the appropriate criteria--that is, he has priority need and is still eligible for assistance--and if there is no suitable other accommodation available in the district, the duty under Clause 172 would recur.

The noble Baroness asked why the duty to notify was removed from the Bill in the Commons. If she examines the clause and its precursor, she will notice that the whole

25 Jun 1996 : Column 822

architecture of the clause has been changed. The first draft envisaged an on-going duty, terminated by the notice after one year. Now there is the substantive two-year duty. So much more has changed than just the notice. The period has changed to two years. The noble Baroness will accept that that is considerably longer. It is felt that in those circumstances the duty could reasonably be removed.

For many people there will be no need for any notice of the kind the amendment envisages. Most of them will have been offered accommodation through the housing register long before the end of the two-year period. There is, of course, no inherent reason why the person accommodated in the private sector under the two-year duty need leave the accommodation at that point. It may well be that the landlord is willing to continue to accommodate him on a continuing basis. If not and if notice to quit is served, that will be sufficient reminder that he needs to take further steps to secure his own future. We hope it will be by seeking his own accommodation and solution or, if that fails, applying to the local authority under the homelessness provisions of Clause 172.

I hope that that explains why we decided, when altering the rest of the clause in a major way, to change this provision. When we issue guidance on the operation of the new legislation, we will draw authorities' attention to the need to ensure that people rehoused under Clause 172 are fully aware of their position right from the start. I hope that that is a better way forward. With that explanation, perhaps the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: The Minister says that the architecture of the clause has changed. The length of the duty may have changed. I do not follow that it has led to such a substantial change in the approach to the matter that there is a difference with regard to an applicant's potential confusion.

I accept that it is important that the applicant has his position clearly explained to him. However, it seems to me that the local housing authority will have to keep records. It must do so in order to operate the provisions. With modern technology one can have diary reminders. I should have thought it not inappropriate to share those reminders with the applicant. We are back again to what the guidance will provide. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 172 agreed to.

Clause 173 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 266D not moved.]

Clauses 174 and 175 agreed to.

6.45 p.m.

Clause 176 [Duty where other suitable accommodation available]:


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page