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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Clause 181 provides a means of redress, following the 14 days--perhaps, on reflection, it may be 28 days--in which the individual has the right to appeal. The clause introduces a new responsibility on local authorities to establish a procedure for reviewing decisions that they make in discharge of their duties under the homelessness legislation. It is a form of internal appeals procedure. We certainly do not recommend that the review be carried out by the same official who reached the original decision. It should be conducted at a different level within the authority, perhaps by a senior officer or officers or even by councillors. We intend to cover that matter in our guidance when it comes out. That review procedure will cover all of the main areas in which the applicant has a substantive right.

In considering this amendment, we must bear in mind also the other remedies. My right honourable friend in another place touched on these matters. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, mentioned the possibility of judicial review, although I fully appreciate that is very much a back-stop.

We have to bear in mind the scope for vexatious or speculative appeals which could be caused by too wide a right of appeal, and I do not think that that would be in anyone's interest. However, I have some sympathy with the case put forward by the noble Lord. If he were prepared to withdraw his amendment, I would like to reflect further on what he said, bearing in mind the burden on the courts and the potential for unnecessary appeals. Depending on the outcome of this consideration, I may consider bringing forward alternative provisions at a later stage.

We are very much alive to the issues which the noble Lord has raised this evening. They are receiving our active consideration. I hope on that basis, having made his points, the noble Lord can withdraw his amendment.

Lord Dubs: The spirit of harmony is washing all over us. I appreciate what the Minister has said and, of course, I look forward with interest and enthusiasm to the outcome of his deliberations on this matter. In the meantime, I thank him and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Dean of Harptree): I should inform the Committee that if Amendment No. 268ZAEA is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 268ZAF.

[Amendments Nos. 268ZAEA and 268ZAF not moved.]

Clause 182 agreed to.

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Clause 183 [Suitability of accommodation]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 268ZAG:


Page 107, line 6, leave out from ("to") to end of line 7 and insert ("Parts VI, IX, X and XI of the Housing Act 1985 (repair notices; slum clearance; overcrowding; houses in multiple occupation)").

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 268ZAG stands in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham. I hope this is a straightforward amendment. Its purpose is to require the local authority to have regard not only to those matters which fall within the parts of the Housing Act 1985 listed in the Bill--slum clearance, overcrowding, houses in multiple occupation--but also to repair notices when they assess the suitability of accommodation.

Part VI of the 1985 Act provides powers for local authorities to tackle disrepair. It deals with properties which are in such a state of disrepair as to make them unfit for human habitation and with properties which are in substantial disrepair but not unfit, as the term is defined.

We debated earlier in Committee the problems arising from the poor condition of housing in certain parts of the private sector. We have debated the need, as we see it, for a national licensing scheme for houses in multiple occupation and the effect that poor quality accommodation has on matters such as health, children's education and so on.

The extent of disrepair is not something with which any of us can feel comfortable. Nor can we feel comfortable knowing that a very human and understandable attitude on the part of the tenant is that he does not want to make a fuss because he might upset the landlord and be turned out of his property as a result. I understand that about three-quarters of landlords say that their properties are not inspected before homeless households move in. That does not surprise me. But it is important that a local housing authority should have regard to the state of repair as well as the matters listed in Clause 183(1).

Anticipating that the Minister may refer to the regulation-making power under Clause 183(2), I wonder whether I may take this opportunity to ask him when an order may be published for consultation--I assume there will be consultation--and when an order may be implemented, as it is important that there is certainty when the primary legislation comes into effect. I beg to move.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: We now turn to the definition of "suitable" accommodation for the purposes of this part of the Bill. The provision we are now discussing ensures that where functions are being discharged under the homelessness legislation the accommodation to be provided is suitable. I have referred to Clause 183 on a number of occasions during the course of the day when the word "suitable" has fallen to be discussed. Perhaps I may restate what Clause 183 seeks to do.

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Apart from the new order-making power to which I shall refer in a minute, Clause 183 re-enacts provisions contained in Section 69 of the Housing Act 1985.

The Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 did not contain express provisions as to suitability of accommodation. We introduced that concept in the Housing and Planning Act 1986 (following the 1985 judgment in the case of Puhlhofer). The intention was to strengthen the homelessness provisions by setting out the factors that authorities should take into account in determining whether accommodation is suitable. The Housing and Planning Act 1986 amended Section 69 of the Housing Act 1985 to require authorities to have regard to the parts of that Act which deal with slum clearance, overcrowding and houses in multiple occupation. It was not then thought necessary to extend "suitability" to encompass repair notices, and given that the state of the housing stock has since improved, I do not think we need it now.

The new order-making power which we are taking in Clause 183 will allow the Secretary of State to specify, first, circumstances in which accommodation is or is not to be regarded as suitable for someone; and, secondly, matters which are to be taken into account or disregarded in determining whether accommodation is suitable for someone. Those powers will provide an important safeguard for homeless people and, if it proves necessary, we shall not hesitate to use them to extend further the definition of the term "suitable".

Amendment No. 268ZAG seeks to extend the existing provisions by ensuring that they refer to statutory provisions on the repair of the property and its fitness for habitation.

Although I appreciate that the noble Baroness is concerned about the interpretation that some authorities might give to the term "suitable accommodation", I believe that her fears are largely unfounded. In general, I am sure that we would want authorities to take account of the state of repair and fitness of the property.

The duty of authorities to secure suitable accommodation for households to whom they owe a duty under the homelessness legislation is not qualified by the availability of stock, and to impose too many restrictions on the stock they may use could present them with serious problems. We would not, in general, expect an authority to use accommodation that is subject to a repair notice for the discharge of its functions, although there could be cases where that might be a temporary expedient, either until repairs are effected or until something more suitable becomes available.

The current Homelessness Code of Guidance does not address the question of suitability in relation to accommodation used in the discharge of duty to any great extent; we shall consider what more needs to be said when we revise it, and in doing so will take note of the remarks made by the noble Baroness. I doubt that we need specific reference to the requirements of Part VI of the 1985 Act. If clear problems emerge about the way in which authorities are discharging their new duty, the option of an order under Clause 183 remains available.

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As to when the order under Clause 183 will see the light of day, any order under the clause would have to be in place when the legislation commences. We shall discuss the possible content with interested parties over the summer before finalising anything. It will not be a formal consultation, but it will be a discussion with those interested. I hope that with that explanation and assurance the noble Baroness can withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: I thank the Minister for that response. Without trading statistics about housing conditions, perhaps I may remind him that my amendment would require a local housing authority only to have regard to Part VI. In other words, can the Minister have regard to the fact that I want it only to have regard to that part? That appeared to be precisely what he was saying when he explained that he would expect local housing authorities to take condition into account. Therefore, I am going no further than wanting the point to be made clear on the face of the Bill.

Having said that, and looking forward to the consultation on the order on suitability, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


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