Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 102, line 18, after ("tenancy") insert ("and secure tenant").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 165 [Homelessness and threatened homelessness]:

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 27:

Page 102, line 22, leave out ("there is") and insert ("he has").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 27 and, if I may, I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 28, 29, 30, 32 and 34. All these amendments are small but significant, particularly as they relate to Clauses 165 and 166. The need for them has to some extent been identified by Shelter, to whom we are most grateful. The amendments are necessary because the current drafting of Clauses 165 and 166 has an effect which was not intended. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will welcome these amendments generally. The present homelessness provisions in Part III of the Housing Act 1985 deal separately with two different issues concerning whether accommodation is available to an applicant. The first condition is whether the applicant is homeless because he does not have accommodation available to him. The second

8 Jul 1996 : Column 63

condition relates to the duty that he is owed once unintentional homelessness and priority need has been established. That duty is to secure that accommodation is available for the applicant and his household. Broadly speaking, the drafting restates the provisions in Part III regarding the assessment of whether someone is homeless and the question of a duty to secure that accommodation is available for an applicant.

The current drafting of subsection (1) of Clause 166 means that subsections (3) and (4) of that clause, together with all the provisions of Clause 167, which broadly deal with the question of whether it would be reasonable for somebody to continue to occupy their present accommodation, would apply also to Part VII as a whole, which includes making available fresh accommodation. This is not what was intended. It is not needed and it would upset the structure of the legislation, which follows that of the 1985 Act and the case law which is based upon it. Instead, we are seeking to apply the definitions only to the assessment of whether a person is homeless. These amendments therefore combine to rectify the drafting of Clauses 165 and 166 and in short put the situation back as it was under Section 58 of the 1985 Act. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I should like to speak to Amendment No. 31, which is in the group of amendments referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. This amendment stands in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. Perhaps I should specify what is meant by "family member". This Bill reaffirms much of the old Section 75 of the 1985 Housing Act, that where an authority has a homeless applicant accommodation should be suitable for him and his family or

    "any other person who might reasonably be expected to reside there."
In the Government's amendment, to which Amendment No. 31 is an amendment, the Government have changed the wording to,

    "any other person who might reasonably be expected to reside with him as a member of his family."
We cannot believe that is an oversight: it must be deliberate. That would therefore exclude all those who are not considered members of his family, even though they naturally and normally reside with the applicant: for example, a carer. If somebody was severely disabled--the importance of this was confirmed by the recent direct payments Act which was recently guided through your Lordships' House--the legislation expressly forbids any resident family member from being employed as a carer. Therefore, any paid live-in carer must expressly not be a member of the family. If you therefore seek accommodation with sufficient sleeping accommodation for that carer, it will be ruled out for consideration under the Government's phraseology. It would also, I believe, possibly apply to a same-sex partner, whether family member or not.

The court rulings seem to conflict on this issue. This amendment, therefore, would allow the authorities to decide who might reasonably be

8 Jul 1996 : Column 64

expected to reside with the applicant, be they a family member or not, which would be done on the individual circumstances of the case. No local authority would be exploited by this amendment, as the local authority would decide and not the applicant himself or herself. Particularly in those two situations, it seems that people who at the moment under the 1985 Act would have a right to be considered--carers and same-sex partners--would be excluded by the Government's amendment as it currently stands from acquiring accommodation which is suitable and large enough for them all. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I always long to be helpful to the noble Baroness and it would be so encouraging if I could be helpful to her. Indeed, it would be a surprise and a delight to the noble Baroness too, but she does sometimes make life terribly difficult.

When speaking to the earlier Amendment No. 30, and others, I explained that it was our intention to rectify the drafting in Clauses 165 and 166 and to return the situation to what it was under Section 58 of the 1985 Act. Therefore, we would not have expected the amendment of the noble Baroness to be necessary. However, on looking at the matter further it became apparent that in drafting the provisions which relate to other persons who might reasonably be expected to reside with the applicant as a member of his family we have in fact cut out the provisions for professional carers who may be required to live in. This was not our intention, and I am delighted to tell the noble Baroness that I shall be happy to accept her amendment. I am very grateful to her for drawing the matter to my attention.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, let me thank the noble Earl most warmly. As he put it, it has indeed been a delight.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 28:

Page 102, line 29, at end insert--
("( ) A person is also homeless if he has accommodation but--
(a) he cannot secure entry to it, or
(b) it consists of a moveable structure, vehicle or vessel designed or adapted for human habitation and there is no place where he is entitled or permitted both to place it and to reside in it.
( ) A person shall not be treated as having accommodation unless it is accommodation which it would be reasonable for him to continue to occupy.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 166 [Meaning of accommodation available for occupation]:

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 29:

Page 102, line 32, leave out subsection (1).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

8 Jul 1996 : Column 65

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 30:

Page 102, line 36, leave out from ("or") to end of line 37 and insert--
("(b) any other person who might reasonably be expected to reside with him as a member of his family.").

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 30, Amendment No. 31:

Line 3, leave out ("as a member of his family").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move this amendment, as an amendment to Amendment No. 30.

On Question, Amendment No. 31, as an amendment to Amendment No. 30, agreed to.

On Question, Amendment No. 30, as amended, agreed to.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 32:

Page 102, line 37, at end insert--
("References in this Part to securing that accommodation is available for a person's occupation shall be construed accordingly.").

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 32, Amendment No. 33:

Line 2, at beginning insert--
("Accommodation made available subject to a tenancy shall not be regarded as available for a person's occupation if he is unable to comply, or it is unreasonable to expect him to comply, with the terms of the grant of the tenancy or the terms of the tenancy at the time of the grant, having regard, where such terms relate to the payment of rent or service charges or deposits of rent, to his own resources and any public assistance as is likely to be available to him.
The Secretary of State may by order specify--
(a) other circumstances in which accommodation is or is not to be regarded as available for a person, and
(b) other matters to be taken into account or disregarded in determining whether accommodation is available for a person.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I should like to move Amendment No. 33, standing in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, as an amendment to the Government's Amendment No. 32. I should like also to speak to Amendment No. 92, with which it is grouped. These are a pair of amendments on an issue raised earlier by my noble friend Lord Monkswell on affordability. I listened carefully to what the Minister said, but I was not persuaded that his reply fully covered all the points that had been raised. These amendments offer alternative routes to the same goal; the first amendment is about availability and the second amendment concerns suitability. There is no disagreement between us, I think, that if private rented accommodation is to be a realistic option for homeless families, it has to be affordable. It is increasingly important, given the fact that housing benefit only covers the full rent in something like 60 per cent. of cases and that the housing benefit situation has now been tightened up even more ruthlessly.

All the research I have seen suggests that eviction from the private rented sector is probably the single most common reason for homelessness, following only

8 Jul 1996 : Column 66

the breakdown of shared arrangements with families and friends. Looking at the quarterly returns to the Department of the Environment on homelessness--these are randomly chosen but fairly typical district councils--I notice that in Northampton, in the last quarter that I looked at, something like 13 of the 87 families accepted as homeless had been evicted from the private rented sector. In Eden District Council, five out of 12 had been accepted in that quarter. In Bury St. Edmunds, 12 of the 40 had been accepted in that quarter. For anywhere between a quarter and a third of homeless families, according to the statistics of district councils I have seen, the loss of private rented accommodation was the main reason for homelessness. It is often, though not always, because they cannot pay the rent and their benefit does not cover it, but it may be that the situation has been worsened because of the issues of rent deposit schemes and rent in advance.

This situation is likely to get worse, not better, given that in this Bill the Government make the six-month shorthold tenancy the residual tenancy with landlords having to opt out rather than opt in. In future, housing insecurity in the private rented sector will grow, not diminish. The Awua judgment accepted, as I am sure do the Government, that affordability is a material consideration. This is particularly a private rented sector problem. Rents in the private rented sector are likely to be anything between two-thirds and three times as much as equivalent council housing, especially in inner cities.

The Government accepted all of this in the consultation paper on allocations earlier this year. They stated that reasonable preference should be given to those with limited opportunities to secure settled accommodation to reflect the particular difficulties that some households on low income might have in obtaining such accommodation in the private sector. Such households may also find that higher rents in the private sector are a deterrent to taking employment, given the rate at which housing benefit is withdrawn. Recent Rowntree research shows that families who are locked into housing benefit face a 65p taper before adding in the taper from council tax. If they find a part-time job and are on family credit they will pay a marginal tax rate of about 97p in the pound.

The only question is whether it is better to do it through the first amendment, which regards affordability as part of the consideration of what is available, or the second amendment, which defines what is considered to be suitable. We hope that the Minister will indicate his preferred route and support one of the two amendments. I beg to move.

6.30 p.m.

Earl Russell: My Lords, the points that have been made are important. I am happy to support them. I do not believe that it is widely understood how far housing benefit now regularly falls short of meeting the rent. Shelter has today published a survey of a number of people rehoused in the private rented sector after homelessness. It finds that one fifth of them have had to find money from their benefits to pay their private sector rents. Shortfalls met from income support range from £2.15 to £23 a week. Twenty three pounds a week

8 Jul 1996 : Column 67

out of income support does not leave one with very much to buy something to eat. We would welcome an assurance that in cases like that the accommodation would not be regarded as suitable. This is particularly important now that it will be universal practice, as it has been previous common practice, for people to be given only one offer and then to be found to be intentionally homeless if they do not take it up. It is even more important than before that that one offer should be suitable.

The noble Baroness said only one thing with which I disagreed. I refer to her reading of the Awua judgment. I have read that judgment with care. The precise point in that case was that Miss Awua had received an offer of permanent accommodation which she had refused. Since that was the central issue in the case everything else in the case was really obiter. As I understand it, it was not a finding by the court that temporary accommodation by itself was enough to prevent a person from being homeless. It was temporary accommodation only in the context of an offer of permanent accommodation which had already been made and refused. According to my understanding, the last paragraph of the judgment--which I regret I do not have to hand at this moment--made that point entirely clear. Since that is to be superseded by this Bill I do not need to spend too long on it. It would be a pity if a myth entered housing law based upon a judgment which caused confusion because there were too many reasons why the judge decided the matter as he did. Therefore, to find the ratio decidendi would require a considerable number of further cases. I hope that we will concentrate on the fact that, if there is only one offer, it must be suitable. It is not suitable if one has to find a large part of the rent out of one's income support.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page