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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has picked up the clause and the amendments wrongly because the Secretary of State involved is the Home Secretary. The Secretary of State for the Environment does not come into this issue at all. The information seems to be going in the opposite way because the new clause in Amendment No. 53 states,

So the information is going the other way, from the Home Office to the local authority, after information has been requested on the person before it.

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I have already mentioned on a number of occasions the code of guidance and the information that already exists for local authorities when they ask people for their details. The local authority has to ask everyone particular questions when they present themselves under the homelessness legislation. It has to be established whether they are homeless, where they have been living, how many children there are and what is the position. All these questions have to be answered. I believe that the local authorities, as I have said before, have plenty of experience to be able to decide when they may have to ask a question about immigration status. That is perfectly clear. I imagine that many people will just say, "Yes, I am an asylum seeker and I claimed at the port of entry". It will then be fairly easy for the local authority to check that information. If the applicant is not telling the truth to the local authority then the Home Office will be unable to confirm that the person is an asylum seeker who claimed asylum at the port of entry. Therefore, I do not believe there is a great problem there. These procedures have to take place already in certain cases under the 1993 Act. I do not believe that there will be any great difficulty about the information which will pass largely from the Home Office to the local authority regarding the individual under consideration. Of course, nothing may be known about a person.

As I have said, the code of guidance on the screening procedure applies to absolutely everyone. We shall discuss the code with the Commission for Racial Equality, as we did with the last code. To be honest, there is no evidence that the current procedures are not working well. I believe that that answers the points raised about the code of guidance and the information passed to the Home Office, which will largely be sufficient information to allow the Home Office to identify a person and to check whether he is who he says he is.

On the question about workload, the arrangements provided in the new clause, which is Amendment No. 53, are broadly the same as the present arrangements which are provided under the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993. Therefore, I do not believe that there will be any great increase in the workload.

The noble Lord also asked about recompense. As he knows, if somebody appeals against an asylum decision and wins that appeal, I announced a fortnight ago today--we introduced legislation last Monday to give effect to this--that that person's benefits will be backdated. On the point about recompense in relation to the homelessness legislation, that does not involve money one way or the other so there will be no recompense for that aspect. However, if somebody who has been helped by a charity wins his appeal--I have explained that only three in 100 do so--his benefit will be backdated and he will be able to pay back some of the money that he has received from the charity or whoever has helped him.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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10 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendments Nos. 51 and 52:

Page 105, leave out lines 42 to 44.
Page 106, line 21, leave out subsections (5) and (6).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to these amendments with Amendment No. 50. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 53:

After Clause 175, insert the following new clause--

Provision of information by Secretary of State

(".--(1) The Secretary of State shall, at the request of a local housing authority provide the authority with such information as they may require--
(a) as to whether a person is or has become an asylum-seeker, or a dependant of an asylum-seeker, and
(b) to enable them to determine whether such a person is eligible for assistance under this Part under section 174 (persons from abroad not eligible for housing assistance).
(2) Where that information is given otherwise than in writing, the Secretary of State shall confirm it in writing if a written request is made to him by the authority.
(3) If it appears to the Secretary of State that any application, decision or other change of circumstances has affected the status of a person about whom information was previously provided by him to a local housing authority under this section, he shall inform the authority in writing of that fact, the reason for it and the date on which the previous information became inaccurate.").

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

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 176 [Interim duty to accommodate in case of apparent priority need]:

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 54:

Page 107, line 6, leave out subsection (4).

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 54, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 57 to 59, 65 to 67 and to Amendment No. 75. These amendments seek to disapply the "alternative accommodation" provisions of Clause 185 in cases where only a minor duty is owed to households accepted as homeless. These are people who are intentionally homeless or not in priority need. The provisions are also disapplied in cases where there is a referral on the grounds of local connection.

We wish to ensure that these provisions apply only in certain limited circumstances: we do not want authorities to be required to consider whether suitable alternative accommodation is available in every single case.

We shall shortly be considering a further amendment to this clause. We are proposing to strengthen the provision so that the authority will be under a duty to provide such advice and assistance as the authority considers is reasonably required to enable the applicant to secure such accommodation. In the light of that strengthening of the duty, we do not think it right that authorities should be subjected to it in cases where it is clearly inappropriate. I beg to move.

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On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 177 [Priority need for accommodation]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 55:

Page 107, line 18, at end insert--
(" ( ) a person who qualifies for advice and assistance under section 24 of the Children Act 1989.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment stands in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham. It seeks to add another category of people who have a priority need for accommodation to those listed in Clause 177(1). In this case we seek to specify that young people leaving care have a priority need.

This amendment is not dissimilar to one moved in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. His amendment went to the issue of suitability. Section 24 of the Children Act 1989, to which I referred, places a duty on a local authority which has been looking after a child to advise, assist and befriend the child with a view to promoting his welfare once he ceases to be looked after by a local authority. It is a limited duty. A person qualifying for advice and assistance means a person within the area of the authority under 21 and one who, after reaching the age of 16, was looked after by the local authority, accommodated by and on behalf of a voluntary organisation, accommodated in a registered children's home, by a health authority, an LEA, a residential care home or privately fostered.

Most young people leave home in their early 20s. The average age for people leaving home among the general population is, I understand, 22. People leave with the support of their family, no doubt taking their washing back at weekends--we have all either done that or had it done to us--and find their feet over a period. Approximately 8,000 young people leave care before their 18th birthday. For them it is a much sharper, more sudden and clearer demarcation. Some continue to receive support from a statutory or voluntary agency to find suitable accommodation. Many will set about the task of finding a home on their own, with little or no support or chance of returning to their family. The lack of family cuts them off not only from minor things like taking the washing home, but help with rent deposits and even help with finding a place to live. Young people leaving care are, I believe, particularly vulnerable to homelessness.

At present some local authorities carry out assessments on homeless young people and may provide them with accommodation if they consider them to be vulnerable; but only just over half the local authorities regard homeless 16 and 17 year-old care leavers as vulnerable in every case. The amendment is intended to ensure that the vulnerability of young people is recognised on the face of the Bill.

At the last stage on 25th June, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, said (at col. 875 of Hansard) that he regarded the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, as unnecessary. He talked of the obligations of a housing authority, but the

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housing authority only has a duty to comply with a request from social services in this context if that does not conflict with its other duties. So if the housing authority's other duties do not include preference for care leavers then these young people will be in no better a position than anyone else. On a more practical level, people working as housing officers are rather more versed in housing law than in social services law. So I think it would be better to have an explicit duty on the face of the Bill. I do not believe that it is unnecessary; nor indeed do I believe it is a duplication. I beg to move.

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