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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am bound to tell the noble Baroness that I have difficulty with the amendment that she proposes. It could prevent a landlord from regaining possession of his property for over six months after the end of the initial six-month period or the end of a

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pre-agreed fixed term. The tenant would simply have to apply to the rent assessment committee for a rent determination or write to the landlord saying that he intended to commence legal proceedings to enforce his rights in order to get the tenancy extended. Unlike the previous proposal of the noble Baroness, this one would allow a court or rent assessment committee to reduce the notice period if it thought it reasonable to do so. I appreciate that this is intended to address the objections that I raised to the last proposal that the landlord would be prevented from getting the tenant out for the extended period even if he had reasonable grounds for doing so. I do not believe that rent assessment committees should be asked to arbitrate in a dispute between landlord and tenant about whether the landlord is taking action for repossession in retaliation for the tenant seeking to exercise a legal right. I do not believe that it is appropriate to give the committees that role. After all, their primary function now is to determine rents. They should not have the role of deciding who has the better case in those circumstances.

If we impose this role on the courts we will create enormous scope for dispute, delay and confusion. It is extremely difficult to establish what someone's motive may be for acting in a particular way. How is a court to decide who has the best case where, for example, the landlord is required by the action of the tenant or a local authority to carry out repairs? If the landlord cannot afford to do the repairs and decides to sell the property instead, should he be able to regain possession as quickly as possible within the existing procedures, or should the tenant be allowed to stay on in his home which the landlord needs to have possession of in order to do the repairs for an additional six months? I assure the noble Baroness that I have sympathy with the minority of tenants who have difficulty getting their landlords to do repairs or to meet some other obligation under the tenancy agreement.

The noble Baroness asked whether we intended to do any research. I gave an undertaking to look at the legislation and the guidance in other countries to see whether there was any merit in applying their legislation or guidance to our own situation. I do not know whether the noble Baroness would regard that as research. I believe that it falls within the general ambit of what most people would call research. We want to see what others are doing to find out whether we can best apply it ourselves. I do not believe that we should rush into imposing a complicated structure such as the one proposed by the noble Baroness. It could undermine all of the progress made in the private rented sector since 1988. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept my undertaking.

7.15 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, perhaps one needs to be a little cautious in assessing the arguments advanced by some landlords--I do not attribute this to every landlord by any means--for not undertaking repairs. I do not need to repeat how important is the private rented sector. I do not seek to discourage landlords. I seek to encourage good landlords and to do something more than just discourage bad landlords. To put a tenant

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in a position where he cannot complain without fear of losing his home is a very sad situation. In New South Wales and a number of states in the US I understand that the courts have no difficulty operating retaliatory eviction procedures. I look forward to hearing the results of the Government's investigations. I do not attribute any particular qualities to the term "research". We all know what we are talking about. But I suggest that in furtherance of the Government's own policy it would be wise to pursue the matter with some vigour. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 35:


After Clause 122, insert the following new clause--

Consultation on amendment of housing benefit regulations

(" . After subsection (1) of section 123 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 there shall be inserted--
"(1A) Before making any amendment to the prescribed scheme for housing benefit in relation to non-dependent deductions from benefit, the Secretary of State shall lay a report as to his proposals and the responses to consultation on them before each House of Parliament.".").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment is concerned with housing benefit. In particular, the amendment picks up an issue relating to non-dependent deductions. At the moment, if an adult son is living at home with his parents who are on housing benefit the parents will have their benefit reduced by £6, £12, £16 or £32 a week, depending on the earnings of the son. A fortnight ago the Government announced that they intended to increase the deductions from housing benefit from April 1997 by two further higher bands of £36 and £39 for those earning £250 a week or more.

Had the timing been more appropriate we would have raised the matter at an earlier stage, but the details have only just emerged from the Government. Why does this matter concern us, and why is it raised in this part of the Bill? First, most adult sons and daughters who live at home are not aware of how deductions operate. Local authorities are not in touch with them. Therefore, they are unaware how much housing benefit their parents lose if the parents do not know their income or they do and declare it. The Government's own research shows that three-quarters of adult non-dependants do not know how the system works and therefore do not pay the money to their parents in lieu of lost housing benefit, even if they could.

Secondly, the scale of non-dependent deductions takes no account of the rent paid and housing benefit received or the quality and size of the accommodation in which the family is living. I take as an example a Bengali family living on income support with a daughter earning £152 per week. Her parents will suffer a deduction of £30 a week from their housing benefit, even though the family is grossly overcrowded and she is sharing a double bed in one bedroom with three brothers, for which she pays £30 a week. If an adult son or daughter does not pay over the money elderly parents face arrears because the housing benefit does not cover the rent. If it is paid over the adult child is likely quickly to find that he is better off moving out. Thirdly, young

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people living at home, with housing benefit deductions at this level, will find it cheaper to rent a bedsit or flat at £30 or £35 a week outside London than pay the same sum over to their parents and crowd their parents' home. When they move out the parents must have full housing benefit, so it will cost the taxpayer more. It is possible that the son or daughter, depending on income, will in turn be eligible for housing benefit in the new accommodation, which may also cost the taxpayer more. It also puts pressure on the family to break up. If an adult son leaves home elderly parents may be under-occupying their accommodation, while at the same time the adult son is competing in the private rented sector for his own home. As such accommodation is in short supply, it encourages rents to rise and thus encourages housing benefit to spiral up. Those are tunnel vision policies. To achieve short-term savings by reducing housing benefit to elderly and often disabled parents, the Government will knowingly incur additional expenditure on housing benefit as well as putting pressure and strain on family relationships. Effectively, the Government are returning to the hated household means test.

Nearly half the parents of the adult non-dependants affected are elderly or disabled. The Government's own research shows that one-fifth of them do not know how much their adult sons earn. The loss of an adult son or daughter from the home loses also a potential carer from that home. That is particularly important if the elderly parent is becoming frail. That is what the Government will be doing. Last November the Government reduced housing benefit for young people in their own independent rented accommodation because, as the Secretary of State said:


    "Housing benefit should not provide an incentive for young people to leave the parental home unnecessarily or to take on high price accommodation at the taxpayer's expense".
Yet, by increasing the adult non-dependent deductions that is precisely what the Government are doing. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, this is an interesting new clause. The noble Baroness has explained why she tabled it. I do not know whether she wants to deal particularly with the detail of the amendment; she herself did not deal with it. She wanted to discuss the policy and principle of non-dependent deductions. Anyone who was listening might have reasonably come to the conclusion that the party opposite was saying that it was against non-dependent deductions, and that therefore it might wish to abolish them with the additional costs on housing benefit and income support that that would bring to the taxpayer.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, perhaps the Minister will give way. He has a habit of trying to assume that because one criticises the latest extra cut in housing benefit that one is therefore automatically opposed to all adult non-dependent deductions. That is

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not what I have said. That is not what I have ever said. I wish that the Minister would stick to his brief rather than try to give me mine.


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