Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Flather moved Amendment No. 270BB:


Before Clause 191, insert the following new clause--

Emergency communication system

(".--(1) A local housing authority shall have power to provide, inside or outside its area, a facility whereby occupiers of dwelling houses or other residential accommodation who are vulnerable as a result of old age, disability or other special reason may, by agreement, be connected to an emergency communication system.
(2) A local housing authority may make a reasonable charge for any facility provided by it under subsection (1) above.").

The noble Baroness said: This new clause forms a modest and uncontroversial addition to the Bill. It regularises the position which exists in local authorities up and down the country. Many local authorities provide alarm systems for vulnerable elderly people in their area for a charge. The ADC is worried that there seems to be a problem as to whether the authorities can charge for the service and therefore provide it. That is causing anxiety to members of the association. So I am bringing forward the amendment to try to get the position sorted out.

The service can clearly be provided to council tenants, but we are talking about those who are not council tenants. The ADC has made considerable efforts to try to negotiate, initially with the DoE. It was then referred to the Department of Health and had considerable discussions with it. It at first suggested that the provision could be tagged on to a l994 Bill. Eventually the matter was referred back to the DoE, and that is where we now are.

When one of the Members of the other place approached the DoE it was suggested that the Member should again go to the Department of Health. This

25 Jun 1996 : Column 905

matter cannot be sent around the departments and not clarified at some stage. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will consider this matter and try to clarify the situation for local authorities and allow them to continue to provide this much-needed service for people living in their area. It should clearly be for the vulnerable only and not those who do not need extra services.

The Audit Commission's 1995 annual report stated:


    "Auditors have not been eager to mount a challenge since the amounts involved are not usually significant and the approach fits in with the Government's care in the community initiative. The Commission would strongly support primary legislation to enable districts to provide such schemes".
Notwithstanding that helpful statement, some auditors are raising questions with authorities and putting the brake on further developments. That is creating anxiety for existing developments in case some kind of a challenge is mounted. I strongly urge the Minister to consider this small change in the legislation. It regularises an existing position, does not introduce anything new, is not political, is not controversial and does not wreck anything. I beg to move.

12 midnight

Lord Swinfen: I strongly support the amendment. It is eminently sensible. It seems absolutely daft that an organisation or a local authority can provide such a service to some houses in a street or small area and not to others. It would cut costs in the long run and it would be most sensible.

Baroness Hamwee: Perhaps in a non-political spirit I may show solidarity with the noble Baroness. I have seen these systems and know their value. I was surprised to see the cloud that might be hanging over them. The noble Baroness is entirely right to seek clarification and a resolution and not to leave the matter on the Whitehall merry-go-round.

Lord Lucas: It gives me no pleasure whatever to disappoint my noble friends and so I shall not. The work is in hand. It is our intention to consult the local authority associations and others on our conclusions and proposals and we expect to do so soon. The amendment before us raises many problems which we would hope to solve in the course of those consultations, and I hope that with that considerable comfort my noble friend will feel able to withdraw it.

Baroness Flather: It is rather surprising that my noble friend says that he is consulting the local authorities, as the amendment has been put forward by the Association of District Councils, which is the local authorities' association. It is involved in the issue; no other local authority association is involved. The county councils and parish councils are not involved. Only the Association of District Councils has anything at all to do with the issue. I am amazed that as this amendment has come directly from the ADC my noble friend suggests that he is involved in a consultation with it. Is it a consultation in the future?

Lord Lucas: The consultation will be shortly in the future. It has not happened yet and I believe that this is

25 Jun 1996 : Column 906

the first time we have indicated publicly that it is about to happen. I am not surprised that the local authorities did not know about it, but they do now.

Lord Swinfen: Before my noble friend sits down, may I ask whether the results will be ready to be dealt with before the end of the Bill, because it seems to be an excellent vehicle for this matter?

Lord Williams of Elvel: I believe that Members of the Committee opposite are pressing the Minister rather hard. He has said that there will be consultation. If I may advise the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, we ought to leave it at that. It is absurd to suggest that consultation can take place and that it can come immediately.

Lord Lucas: Being supported by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, makes me extremely nervous. I shall have to read my notes carefully to make sure that I have said the right thing. On this, as on other occasions, I believe that the noble Lord is right.

Baroness Flather: Perhaps I may finish what I was going to say. With all due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, I did not rise to advise him not to interrupt my noble friend so many times and perhaps he will refrain from advising me on this particular issue.

The matter was first raised in 1994. It went to the Department of Health and was then referred back to the DoE. It was referred back by the DoE for the purposes of going back to the Department of Health. It would be helpful if my noble friend would look at the history of this matter and talk to members of the ADC, because I am afraid that if this opportunity passes there will not be another for some time. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 191 to 194 agreed to.

Schedule 15 [Miscellaneous provisions]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 270BC:


Page 175, line 48, at end insert--

("Additional succession arrangements by agreement

.--(1) In section 89 of the Housing Act 1985 (succession to periodic tenancy) after subsection (4) insert--
"(5) A tenancy which is a secure tenancy may contain a term providing for succession in cases where no succession takes place under this Act and may contain provisions restricting the removal or amendment of such a term."
(2) In section 17 of the Housing Act 1988 (succession to periodic tenancy) after subsection (5) insert--
("(6) A tenancy which is an assured tenancy may contain a term providing for succession in cases where no succession takes place under the provisions of this Act and may contain provisions restricting the removal or amendment of such a term".").

The noble Baroness said: The amendment seeks to give legal effect to agreements between tenants and landlords in relation to extensions to the right to succeed in the case of people such as carers and same sex

25 Jun 1996 : Column 907

couples. The prospective successor has no right at present to enforce the contract since he is not a party to it. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: Secure tenants enjoy the right of succession. This means that their spouse, or a close relative who has been living in the home for the previous 12 months, may succeed to the tenancy on his death. Assured tenants also have the right of succession for the spouse or someone living with the tenant as husband and wife. In both cases there can only be one succession.

The amendment seeks to extend the right of succession by allowing a landlord to insert a clause into the tenancy agreement to provide for succession where no statutory right exists. Despite its superficial attractions, I believe it to be unnecessary.

There was considerable discussion of succession rights in another place. Examples were cited of unfortunate cases. As a result the Housing Minister gave an undertaking to issue unequivocal guidance to local authorities on how they should deal with such cases. The guidance was issued on 14th May and addresses the same problem as these amendments--the case where a member of the household dies and there is another member of the household left who does not have the right to succeed--but in the context of local authorities' general role in ensuring effective use and fair allocation of their housing stock.

The circular advises that where members of a household have a long-term commitment to their home, local authorities should normally grant a joint tenancy. This will ensure that other adult members of the household who would not otherwise have the right of succession can remain in the house or flat after the tenants' death. Where there is no joint tenancy, and the tenant dies, provided the remaining person has been living with the tenant in the year before the tenant's death; or had been looking after the tenant; or had accepted responsibility for the tenant's dependants, the guidance states the local authority should normally grant a tenancy to the remaining person.

The tenant's guarantee produced by the Housing Corporation already contains some advice on this point for assured tenants of housing associations. It is proposed to amend the guarantee later this year to reflect the position set out in Circular 7/96 as well as the legislative changes in the Bill.

We believe therefore that there is no need to attempt to extend statutory succession rights in the way in which the amendment suggests because of the substantive advice offered by the circular, which has been well received by local authorities, and the tenant's guarantee.

The amendment would give social landlords too wide a discretion to add to succession rights. It suggests that any person who does not have a statutory entitlement to succeed to a tenancy could be given a tenancy. This undermines the generous package of succession rights that exist already.

The amendment may appear to offer greater opportunity to those sharing a home but in reality it leaves the initiative solely with the landlord, allowing

25 Jun 1996 : Column 908

him to pick and choose on a case by case basis. Circular 7/96 on the other hand offers firm advice to local authorities on how these cases should normally be dealt with. A person left in a home after the death of a tenant will be quite clear as to what he might expect the local authority policy to be and will be in a position to draw the Department of the Environment's advice to the authority's attention.

With that comfort, I would urge the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page