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Lord Hylton: My Lords, I should have liked to support this amendment when it was previously moved by my noble friend Lord Northbourne. I think it is a fact that provision for young people leaving care varies enormously across the country. Some excellent work has been done on it by such voluntary bodies as the Coram Foundation and various children's societies. Nevertheless a considerable number of young people do leave care without assistance from anybody. They are particularly vulnerable, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has pointed out and, in my view, they are extremely likely to drift into crime, to be drawn into crime or to find themselves before the courts for one reason or another. The amendment highlights a very sensitive situation. It is a valuable proposal that should be accepted by the Government.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, it is right that the noble Baroness should draw attention to the situation of children because they are very important. However, I am bound to tell her that I do not believe that the amendment is needed. The first reason is that children leaving care may well be determined by the local authority as vulnerable within the categories specified in subsection (1) of Clause 177 and will therefore be in priority need for accommodation. The department's homelessness code of guidance for local authorities picks up the point. It states that some groups of young people will be less able to fend for themselves than others and gives those leaving local authority care as a specific example of how the provision should be applied.

The second reason is that the Children Act itself makes provision to ensure that support will continue for young people leaving care. Apart from defining who such people are, Section 24 also requires social services authorities to advise, assist and befriend young people when they leave their care. Further, a social services authority, under Section 27 of that Act may call on the assistance of a housing authority in discharging its duty to that young person. If such a request is made the housing authority is under a duty to comply with it. There are already two statutory safety nets for children leaving care--the vulnerable category in Clause 177 of the Bill and the provisions

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of the Children Act 1989. I suggest that there is no need to identify them specifically on the face of the Bill.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I am not sure that the provision in Clause 177 is as obvious as the Minister suggested. He refers to the vulnerable category in Clause 177(1)(c):

    "a person who is vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special reason".
There follows a provision which allows the Secretary of State to specify further descriptions. The Minister referred to the homelessness code of guidance. That is a code, not a statutory provision. He also referred to the section of the Children Act which requires the local authority to advise, assist and befriend. That is not a requirement to provide accommodation. I would have wished to see the direct obligation on the face of the Bill. I anticipated that the Minister would tell me that the housing authority had a duty but I am advised that the duty is to be observed if it does not conflict with other duties. For that reason, I am concerned that if the other duties do not include preference for care leavers this group of young people will not be covered.

I am not sure that we will get any further tonight. I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. There appears to be a difference of interpretation between myself and the Government. Perhaps I should look at the matter again.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, perhaps I may assist the noble Baroness. Clause 177(1)(c) refers to

    "a person who is vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special reason".
The courts have held that those other special reasons can also include young vulnerable people. So I think she will find, as far as concerns the results which have appeared in the court, that young people fall in the category to be found in Clause 177(1)(c).

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, that is obviously helpful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.15 p.m.

Clause 178 [Duties to persons becoming homeless intentionally]:

Lord Mottistone moved Amendment No. 56:

Page 107, line 31, after ("satisfied") insert (", after a medical examination and report if there is reason to suspect that a person may be suffering from mental illness,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 56 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos 68, 69 and 72. As your Lordships will see, Amendments Nos. 56 and 68 are similar. They are designed to ensure that Clauses 178 and 183 give proper consideration to fair treatment for people who are specifically mentally ill.

Your Lordships may wonder why I picked out these particular people. As I see it, the reason for their inclusion on the face of the Bill, in addition to the point

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that my noble friend Lord Ferrers has just drawn to our attention in Clause 177, is that from time to time, unlike other disabled people who are not mentally ill, as well as other homeless people, people who are severely mentally ill are sometimes not responsible for what they do. I made this point to your Lordships in Committee at col. 851 on 25th June so I shall not press that point any further at this stage.

Amendment No. 69 makes a similar point--but from a slightly different point of view because of the text of the clause--in relation to Clause 184. I suggest to the Government that in the case of Amendment No. 72, which seeks to amend Amendment No. 71, the local authority should take into consideration an applicant's health including, but not by any means exclusively, mental illness. That is important for all people who are affected by Clause 185, as are characteristics and personal circumstances. It seems to me that that would be a very important further aspect which Clause 185 needs to cover.

I truly believe that these particular points need to be included in the Bill. They are very small points and I hope that my noble friend will feel that he can accept them. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, when we discussed this in Committee one of the distinctions drawn by noble Lords on these Benches was that we believed, and pressed the Minister, that somebody who suffered from mental illness or a severe learning difficulty whose actions gave rise to some concern about anti-social behaviour, may very well need to be rehoused because their behaviour may be intolerable to other tenants who may themselves be frail and elderly and have a need for quiet enjoyment. But though they may need to be rehoused in a different form of accommodation they should not be regarded as making themselves intentionally homeless, which is what these amendments address.

At the time, when we pressed the Minister on this with the help of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, he said he believed that such people would have made themselves intentionally homeless. But I believe that the Government may now be able to widen that point--I try to put it diplomatically--to suggest that there may be other considerations and it may not be the case that such people have made themselves deliberately homeless if they were not aware of the consequences, or could not appreciate the consequences, of their activities.

I repeat, that does not remove the need--not invariably but very probably--to rehouse such a person if their behaviour is intolerable to others who may be equally frail. But at least it would ensure, if that is the case, an ongoing duty of responsibility to the local authority, which is clearly appropriate in these cases.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Mottistone. A number of people will be in that position because of the closure of mental hospitals and because they are no longer able to have a bed there as a result of the Government's care

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in the community policy. I feel that this is part of care in the community and will assist in their care. Therefore, I support the amendment.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, this is a rather difficult area of life with which we must deal. Again, I believe that my noble friend and other noble Lords are quite right to draw attention to it because those who are mentally ill have a way of behaving which makes it difficult sometimes to assess whether their behaviour is due to their illness and they do not know what they are doing or whether they know perfectly well what they are doing and, therefore, their behaviour cannot necessarily be ascribed to their illness.

All these amendments seek to ensure that the local housing authority shall have regard to the physical or mental health of the applicant when it fulfils certain of its duties under the provisions of Part VII. In particular, the amendments would require authorities to have regard to that when considering the vexed issue of what is rather indelicately called "intentionality".

I believe that these amendments are not necessary. Your Lordships will recall that this matter was discussed in some detail in Committee when the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, asked whether someone suffering from mental or physical ill health would be regarded as intentionally homeless if his behaviour was such as to cause the local authority to evict him. My noble friend Lord Lucas wrote to the noble Baroness on 3rd July about this matter and he copied his letter to all who spoke in the debate on Parts V and VII of the Bill. He arranged that a copy should be placed in the Library.

My noble friend made it clear that under Clause 179 a person becomes homeless intentionally if he deliberately does or fails to do anything in consequence of which he ceases to occupy accommodation. The same consideration applies to becoming threatened with homelessness. The action or inaction must be deliberate and, clearly, it would be for the local housing authority to determine in each case whether a person's actions or inactions were deliberate and therefore whether the extent of the authority's duty towards the person under the homelessness legislation continued.

The homelessness code of guidance will be revised. The existing code advises that an authority should not, as a general rule, consider certain situations to be deliberate. One of those is that the authority had reason to believe that the applicant is incapable of managing his affairs--for example, as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap. The revised guidance will reiterate that point, but the assessment of whether actions or inactions are deliberate must rest with the authority and must be determined in each separate case.

The issue of vulnerability, in whatever form it comes, is, in the long term, bound to be one for the authority to determine. It would be wrong to tie down the authorities in their consideration of individual cases in the way in which my noble friend's amendments propose. Therefore, I understand my noble friend's concerns and I think that he is quite right to raise them. But in the

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end, the vulnerability must be a matter for the authority to determine. Therefore, the Bill as it stands covers the matters about which my noble friend is anxious.

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