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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 92 not moved.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 93:


Page 115, line 44, at end insert--
("( ) In particular, the authority shall not consider accommodation in a house in multiple occupation suitable for a person unless the house is registered under a registration scheme, as provided for in Part XI of the Housing Act 1985.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 93 amends Clause 192 as regards the question of suitability. It proposes that an authority shall not consider accommodation in a house in multiple occupation to be suitable unless it is registered under a registration scheme.

It will remain within every local authority's discretion whether or not to make a registration scheme for HMOs in its area. The amendment requires certain conditions to be met before such registration. Therefore one would hope to set a minimum standard.

I anticipate that the Minister may say that the Bill makes registration schemes a matter for discretion. Perhaps I may use the amendment to ask him what guidance the Secretary of State will be giving in the order provided for under Clause 192 in respect of houses in multiple occupation. I imagine that the Secretary of State has it in mind to give specific guidance. Unless he outlaws the use of HMOs for homeless households, in particular families with children, then by definition he will consider such accommodation suitable. I have reservations about whether HMOs are suitable. Therefore the use and content of guidance concern me. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, as your Lordships know, Part II of the Bill contains a package of provisions designed to achieve a marked improvement in the condition of houses in multiple occupation. The package contains a number of separate provisions. There has been considerable debate in your Lordships' House and in another place about whether local authorities should be required to introduce a registration or licensing scheme to cover all houses in multiple occupation.

The Government's view is that local authorities are being given a wide range of powers to enforce standards in houses in multiple occupation and that they should retain a discretion about whether or not to introduce a registration scheme.

I believe that the provisions in Part II of the Bill will bring about a substantial improvement in the standard of houses in multiple occupation. The noble Baroness's amendment is therefore unnecessary. I also think that it would be inappropriate to impose the

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type of restrictions envisaged by the noble Baroness's amendment on the discharge of an authority's homelessness functions. This could limit the amount of accommodation available--much of it perfectly adequate--which authorities would be able to use in the discharge of their functions.

The general guidance on suitability will apply to houses in multiple occupation in the same way as it applies to all other types of occupation which an authority may use to discharge its duty. The guidance will stress the need for accommodation to be suitable. Houses in multiple occupation cover a range of properties, some poor, but many quite good.

We are taking order-making powers to enable us to specify the term "suitable" and will not hesitate to use the power, if necessary, to safeguard the rights of people who are accepted as homeless. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: There is some circularity in that. I shall read what the Minister said, but his point was: HMOs will be suitable if they are suitable. That is what it amounted to and I am not sure that it took us any further. In putting down the amendment, I suggest to the House that HMOs tend not to be suitable or are more likely than other forms of accommodation to be unsuitable. However, for the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 193 [Protection of property of homeless persons and persons threatened with homelessness]:

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 94:


Page 116, line 19, leave out subsection (4).

The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment I wish also to speak to Amendments Nos. 95, 96 and 97. They all introduce a new provision which will enable the individual to have a say in where his property is moved. The new provision fulfils a commitment given by my right honourable friend the Minister for Housing in another place to accept the substance of an amendment tabled by the honourable Member for Sheffield Attercliffe, but to reconsider the drafting so that the local authority is not left with an undefinable liability which would be difficult to discharge. I believe that we have achieved that.

The redrafting of Clause 193 and the insertion of the new clause combine to clarify the position and also to insert an important new provision. As amended, the clauses allow a local authority to deal with any personal property of an applicant in any way which is reasonably necessary, in particular by storing it or arranging for its storage. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

8 Jul 1996 : Column 145

Earl Ferrers moved Amendments Nos. 95 and 96:


Page 116, line 33, leave out subsections (6) to (8).
Page 117, line 9, at end insert--
("( ) Section (Protection of property: supplementary provisions) contains provisions supplementing this section.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 97:


After Clause 193, insert the following new clause--

Protection of property: supplementary provisions

(".--(1) The authority may for the purposes of section 193 (protection of property of homeless persons or persons threatened with homelessness)--
(a) enter, at all reasonable times, any premises which are the usual place of residence of the applicant or which were his last usual place of residence, and
(b) deal with any personal property of his in any way which is reasonably necessary, in particular by storing it or arranging for its storage.
(2) Where the applicant asks the authority to move his property to a particular location nominated by him, the authority--
(a) may, if it appears to them that his request is reasonable, discharge their responsibilities under section 193 by doing as he asks, and
(b) having done so, have no further duty or power to take action under that section in relation to that property.
If such a request is made, the authority shall before complying with it inform the applicant of the consequence of their doing so.
(3) If no such request is made (or, if made, is not acted upon) the authority cease to have any duty or power to take action under section 193 when, in their opinion, there is no longer any reason to believe that there is a danger of loss of or damage to a person's personal property by reason of his inability to protect it or deal with it.
But property stored by virtue of their having taken such action may be kept in store and any conditions upon which it was taken into store continue to have effect, with any necessary modifications.
(4) Where the authority--
(a) cease to be subject to a duty to take action under section 193 in respect of an applicant's property, or
(b) cease to have power to take such action, having previously taken such action,
they shall notify the applicant of that fact and of the reason for it.
(5) The notification shall be given to the applicant--
(a) by delivering it to him, or
(b) by leaving it, or sending it to him, at his last known address.
(6) References in this section to personal property of the applicant include personal property of any person who might reasonably be expected to reside with him.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 194 [Co-operation between relevant housing authorities and bodies]:

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 98:


Page 117, line 19, at end insert--
("(1A) Where a social services authority request a relevant housing authority or body to assist them in the discharge of their functions under the Children Act 1989 or in the provision of community care services, the authority or body to whom the request is made shall co-operate in securing that accommodation is available for the benefit of any person (including a child) in respect of whom the request is made or in rendering such other assistance as is reasonable in the circumstances.

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(1B) Where a social services authority which is also a local housing authority is subject to a duty to provide community care services or services under the Children Act 1989 for the benefit of any person (including a child), and the authority determines that such services comprise or include the provision of accommodation for that person, the authority shall secure that suitable accommodation is available for occupation by that person.
(1C) In this section "community care services" has the same meaning as in section 46(3) of the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 (which for the avoidance of doubt, shall include services provided under section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970.)").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am sorry that this amendment comes so late, perhaps we should have grouped it more brutally. Even though it is late I still wish to air the issue. The amendment concerns co-operation. As we know, it is not just housing departments who have housing responsibilities. Social services may have them as a way of discharging functions under the Children Act 1989; social services may also have a housing function as part of the community care package.

I think we all agree that it is essential that housing services should avoid being splintered. It is essential that housing policy be integrated with social services child care and community care policies, otherwise, some of the most vulnerable, homeless children and those who are mentally and physically ill may slip into the gap between providing authorities.

Section 17 of the Children Act states that a local authority has the general duty to promote the welfare of children, including providing them and their families, if appropriate, with accommodation. Section 20 includes an explicit additional duty for the local authority to care for homeless children of 16 or 17. The local authority can meet those duties with its own accommodation or by ensuring that privately registered accommodation is available. Similarly, under the National Assistance Act 1948 the local authority may make available residential accommodation for those who are vulnerable through age, disability or illness. In other words, most children and most vulnerable people come within the categories of allocation policies in Part VI, but not all of them--and those others remain the responsibility of social services.

Perhaps I may give some examples of those remaining at risk. There are the children of parents who become intentionally homeless. Perhaps the family fails to keep up mortgage repayments which a reasonable person might judge they could pay. There are the children of someone who is homeless and who has refused an offer deemed suitable by the local authority. There are children fleeing, for example, racial harassment, where the local authority believes it is reasonable that the family should continue to live in their former accommodation but the family does not. Another example would be a 16 year-old who has left home following family breakdown, whom the local authority does not accept as vulnerable. Someone may need accommodation suited to his disability or to support from a carer but is nonetheless not regarded as homeless by a local authority. There may be a case where a single person has been discharged from a psychiatric or other hospital whom the local authority

8 Jul 1996 : Column 147

has not accepted as vulnerable. An asylum seeker may have applied in country, be destitute, have serious medical, physical or psychiatric problems, have no income, be unable to work, have nowhere to live and fall within community care responsibility.

I have listed just eight examples. I could add many more. All of those groups might be entitled to help from social services, even though they had been refused help by housing departments.

What happens then? Either social services have to become a housing department as well, and may therefore need to acquire a stock of dwellings or may need to place people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation; or we need to ensure that co-operative arrangements are in place. Co-operative arrangements, while desirable, are especially difficult where there is not a unitary authority. All social services can do is make a request, under Section 27 of the Children Act, or invite help under community care arrangements.

I remind the noble Earl of the case of R. v. Northavon District Council ex parte Smith 1994. The House of Lords held that Northavon District Council was entitled to refuse a request by Avon County Council social services department for assistance in housing a family with young children on the basis that the family was intentionally homeless.

This amendment would allow local authorities' social services departments to acquire and secure effective co-operation from housing departments while still leaving it open to the housing authorities to decide whether or not to secure accommodation or help social services in some other way.

At the moment the requirement of housing departments to respond to a social services request is too weak given the responsibility of social services under the Children Act and under community care. This amendment would strengthen the position of social services vis-a-vis housing departments and therefore, I hope, ensure that co-operation follows. I beg to move.

11.45 p.m.

Earl Russell: My Lords, the most remarkable example of inconsistent provision I know was in the regulations for the Civil Service in Northern Ireland about 30 years ago. Women in the Northern Irish Civil Service were allowed up to three children--but they were not allowed to be married. That is the result of applying to them the regulations about children which were designed originally for men while putting in a separate regulation prohibiting marriage. I am thankful to say that that is no longer the case.

These particular cases of inconsistent provision are mostly ones about which I remember my noble friend Lady Seear warning the House during the 1990 National Health Service and Community Care Act. Most of the fears she then expressed have proved to be justified. The purpose of the noble Baroness's amendment is only to connect. I think it is good advice and I am happy to support it.


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