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Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Earl for rising again. I welcome the amendment generally, but ask another question. Subsection (6) of Amendment No. 17, which is repeated as subsection (6) of Amendment No. 18, effectively says that:


which, normally, I would submit, would be expected to mean that a letter would be posted to the applicant advising him of the situation. Then it goes on to say:


    "and, if not received by him, shall be treated as having been given if it is made available at the authority's office for a reasonable period for collection by him."

We need to appreciate, when considering this subsection, the actual situation in housing offices. Some of them are very busy indeed; some of them deal with an enormous number of inquiries by tenants and applicants for housing. One of the risks associated with this particular subsection is that it may encourage applicants who fall into this category to keep going along to their local housing office to inquire whether the relevant notices come forward. It also would imply that a local authority would not have to post the letter. It just says "given in writing". Then they have a fall-back position of saying that as long as there is a copy in the office available for collection that appears to be all right. I should have thought that that was not a terribly satisfactory way for a public service to go about its business.

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Having said that, there is a genuine difficulty, if one considers those people who may apply to go on the local housing register and who are literally homeless and living on the street. Obviously, people in that kind of category will not be in a position, generally speaking, to receive mail from the local authority. I wonder, first, whether we could have some explanation of the Government's interpretation of how they would envisage the subsection working and whether the reference to notices being made available at the authority's office is in fact constructed to ensure that homeless and roofless people living on the streets have some mechanism for being in contact and receiving those written notifications. If that is the case, I wonder whether it might be useful to identify separately that particular category of persons. It may be that that is the Government's interpretation of that subsection anyway, but it would be useful for the House to have some explanation.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, there is an interesting and somewhat unusual provision in Amendment No. 18, which states that:


    "Provision may be made by regulations ... requiring the decision on review to be made by a person of appropriate seniority who was not involved in the original decision".
I do not know whether anywhere else in the Bill there is a definition of "appropriate seniority" and I do not know--it is my ignorance--whether a similar provision is included in other legislation. The expression "appropriate seniority" is one on which there could be differing views. It would be helpful if my noble friend could explain exactly what the Government have in mind there and what "appropriate seniority" in this case means.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, perhaps I may deal at the same time with the questions of my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. There are probably hundreds of thousands of decisions on housing made throughout the country. They are quite often made by relatively junior people and it is possible that there may be mistakes. The idea behind the Bill is that when a person appeals, it will go to a more senior person than the first one. It will not go to the person who made the original decision but to a more senior person. Some authorities may wish that the reviews go to one person and another authority may wish them to go to another. It is even possible, as the noble Baroness asked, that they go to members. They could be involved. The point is that they should go to a person who is above the rank of the person who originally took the decision. It will be up to the local authority to decide how best to do that.

The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, is worried about the notice being required to be given to a person. It shall be,


    "given in writing and, if not received by him, shall be treated as having been given".
I do not believe that there is anything sinister in that. Sometimes people move away. Sometimes a person can be given a letter and, if he is in a particularly fractious frame of mind, he throws it back into your face.

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Sometimes he might even tear it up and say, "I'm not going to take any notice of that." It is not good enough to say that a person has to have read it because a person cannot be forced to read it. If one has gone through every reasonable method of getting in touch with that person to tell him what is being done and he is either not available or refuses it, then it is lodged with the local authority and one says, "We've done our best. This is the fact, which he can come and see whenever he wants." That is the reason for having that passage in the Bill. We do not feel that there is anything sinister in it.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, can my noble friend say whether there is a similar provision in any other legislation, or is this one unique?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I beg my noble friend's pardon. I forgot to answer that question. If I were to have answered it, I should have had to say I do not know. I shall find out whether or not it is unique.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 17:


After Clause 155, insert the following new clause--

Notification of adverse decision and right to review

(".--(1) If a local housing authority decide--
(a) not to put a person on their housing register who has applied to be put on, or
(b) to remove a person from their housing register otherwise than at his request,
they shall notify him of their decision and of the reasons for it.
(2) The notice shall also inform him of his right to request a review of the decision and of the time within which such a request must be made.
(3) A request for review must be made before the end of the period of 21 days beginning with the day on which he is notified of the authority's decision and reasons, or such longer period as the authority may in writing allow.
(4) There is no right to request a review of the decision reached on an earlier review.
(5) On a request being duly made to them, the authority shall review their decision.
(6) Notice required to be given to a person under this section shall be given in writing and, if not received by him, shall be treated as having been given if it is made available at the authority's office for a reasonable period for collection by him.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I spoke to Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 with Amendment No. 16. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 18:


After Clause 155, insert the following new clause--

Procedure on a review

(".--(1) The Secretary of State may make provision by regulations as to the procedure to be followed in connection with a review under section (Notification of adverse decision and right to review).
Nothing in the following provisions affects the generality of this power.

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(2) Provision may be made by regulations--
(a) requiring the decision on review to be made by a person of appropriate seniority who was not involved in the original decision, and
(b) as to the circumstances in which the person concerned is entitled to an oral hearing, and whether and by whom he may be represented at such a hearing.
(3) The authority shall notify the person concerned of the decision on the review.
(4) If the decision is to confirm the original decision, they shall also notify him of the reasons for the decision.
(5) Provision may be made by regulations as to the period within which the review must be carried out and notice given of the decision.
(6) Notice required to be given to a person under this section shall be given in writing and, if not received by him, shall be treated as having been given if it is made available at the authority's office for a reasonable period for collection by him.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

5.45 p.m.

Clause 157 [Allocation in accordance with allocation scheme]:

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 19:


Page 100, line 11, at end insert ("including disabled people occupying inaccessible or unsuitable housing").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak at the same time to Amendment No. 70. Grouped with those two amendments is Amendment No. 73, which I tabled to ensure that the Government themselves tabled an amendment, as they said in Committee they would. Indeed, they have done so. It is Amendment No. 71 which, strangely, is grouped with Amendment No. 42. Even more oddly, my noble friend Lord Mottistone tabled an amendment to that amendment (Amendment No. 71), which is Amendment No. 72, and that amendment is grouped with Amendment No. 56. So there is bit of a mare's nest. However, I propose to deal now with only Amendments Nos. 19 and 70, as I said. I shall not move Amendment No. 73 in due course. No doubt some government department responsible for grouping amendments will make certain that my noble friend Lord Mottistone has word that his Amendment No. 72 (his amendment to my noble friend's Amendment No. 71) is grouped with Amendment No. 42.

Amendment No. 19 is designed to ensure that the allocation criteria for priority in social housing includes disabled people living in inaccessible or unsuitable housing. Clause 157 refers to the priorities for local authorities when allocating permanent social housing. There are serious concerns that disabled people living in inaccessible or unsuitable housing will receive no higher priority under this system than a disabled person living in accessible accommodation who wishes to move for other reasons.

There must be some mechanism for making a distinction between a person who requires settled accommodation and who is currently in reasonable accommodation and a person who requires settled accommodation who is currently in completely

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unsuitable accommodation. This amendment seeks to ensure that the first category--category (a) as listed in the clause--is clearly applied not only to those living in


    "insanitary or overcrowded or ... unsatisfactory housing conditions",
but also to disabled people whose housing is unsatisfactory, not because of its condition or state of repair but due to its inaccessibility or unsuitability for the needs of that disabled person.

If reasonable preference is given to non-disabled people for a variety of reasons, including living in unsatisfactory housing conditions, the same category of preference must be open to disabled people because they are living in inaccessible housing.

At Committee stage, the Minister placed considerable emphasis on category (e), which refers to reasonable preference being given to:


    "someone with a particular need for settled accommodation".
However, the Minister stated that the words "unsatisfactory housing conditions" in category (a) would cover a disabled person who occupied inaccessible or unsuitable housing. He did not, however, state that the guidance would specifically point that out to local authorities. Rather, the Minister said that guidance would draw the attention of local authorities to their responsibilities towards people with physical disabilities.

It remains a serious concern that the guidance may simply make reference to general responsibilities rather than pointing out the wider interpretation of category (a), which the Minister gave. It is still important therefore that the issue is clarified on the face of the Bill. That will ensure that disabled people and local authorities have a clear view as to how category (a) applies to those people living in inaccessible accommodation. It will further ensure that there are no disputes or legal cases surrounding the interpretation of general statements within guidance. If the Government are not prepared to add the information to primary legislation, a commitment that local authorities should include inaccessible or unsuitable housing for disabled people within category (a) should be clearly stated in guidance.

The purpose of Amendment No. 70 is to ensure that when the local authority discharges its duty towards homeless people in priority need by satisfying itself that other suitable accommodation is available that accommodation meets the needs of the household, including any disabled members of that household. This section of the legislation allows local authorities to discharge their duty towards homeless people in priority need by satisfying themselves that suitable accommodation is available in the district. It is important that that accommodation meets the needs of the household and, in particular, the needs of any disabled members of the household.

In practice, local authorities could satisfy themselves that suitable accommodation is available by being aware that local letting agencies have vacant properties or that local private landlords have vacancies. Their only duty is to provide the applicant with advice and such assistance as they consider appropriate in the

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circumstances in any attempts he may make to secure such accommodation. Without regard to the needs of the household, particularly those of the disabled member, there could be considerable difficulties.

I am advised that RADAR is aware of a case which effectively illustrates the problems of local authorities putting homeless disabled people into completely inappropriate accommodation. A London borough agreed in 1994 that a young disabled woman was unintentionally homeless and in priority need. As it could find no suitable accommodation within its own housing stock, it gave her one offer of temporary housing association property which was completely inaccessible to her. Due to her disability, the young woman had extreme difficulty using stairs and required warm accommodation. The accommodation she was offered was on the third floor with no lift and no heating. It was also extremely expensive, requiring not only housing benefit, but also taking a considerable contribution from her small medical pension.

As she was literally homeless, with nowhere to go, the young woman accepted the offer of accommodation; it was the only offer she had. Two years later the young woman is still living in that third floor flat. She requires daily support from social services, including doing all her shopping. She cannot get out of the flat independently and her condition has worsened. The local authority agrees that she requires wheelchair accessible accommodation but has made no offers of ground floor accommodation.

During the Committee stage my noble friend the Minister stated that the homeless code of guidance already referred to the need to ensure that any accommodation provided meets the needs of disabled persons where necessary and that that advice would be repeated in the revised code of guidance. However, there appears to be no specific reference within the current code to accommodation specifically meeting the needs of disabled people. The relevant section of the code states in paragraph 12.4:


    "The sort of accommodation a council can secure will depend on the circumstances of the particular household. Do they need special care and support from the health services or social services? What is their own preference? How will they pay for it?"

Local authorities must also have regard to other duties and legislation concerning slum clearance, overcrowding and houses in multiple occupation. That section does not refer to the need to ensure that any accommodation provided meets the needs of disabled people. It does not address the issues referred to in the amendment. There is no specific mention of disabled people or the requirement for accommodation to be accessible. In practice, this rather vague guidance does not have the effect of ensuring that disabled people are offered accessible accommodation which is suitable to their needs, as illustrated by the case I quoted. The result is that disabled people rely on case law definitions of suitability and contemplate legal action. That is not a good solution to the problem, particularly as people are often literally roofless with nowhere else to go and do not have the time for lengthy arguments about case law or to look at legal action.

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The other suggestion made during Committee stage was that the Secretary of State should specify by order other matters which could be taken into account in determining whether or not accommodation is suitable. Surely it would be preferable to decide at this stage whether the criteria set out in the amendment should be taken into account when determining whether or not accommodation is suitable. They are the basic criteria which determine whether an individual can live in a property and are best placed on the face of the Bill rather than being left to order-making powers at a later stage. I beg to move.


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