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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, on 14th May this year my department issued a circular which set out the circumstances in which an authority should normally consider granting a tenancy to a surviving member of an existing tenant's household who would otherwise have no right in law to succeed to the tenancy.

Subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 159 state that the needs of someone with succession rights need not, in certain circumstances, be considered in the context of the authority's allocations scheme. However, those subsections do not necessarily cover all cases where it is appropriate to set aside the provisions of Part VI. Noble Lords will be aware that we have taken powers under subsection (4) of Clause 159 to prescribe by regulations other circumstances in which the provisions of Part VI do not apply. We are considering how to use these powers to give authorities the discretion to grant tenancies in the circumstances which are described in the circular.

The reason for making provision in regulations is because the circumstances which we wish to cover are not as straightforward as the noble Baroness envisages in Amendment No. 58. For example, we might wish to include people who have been responsible for caring for the tenant or his dependants regardless of whether they had lived with the applicant. With that assurance, I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, perhaps I may use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and say that if the Minister is ensuring that ways are being sought to enable local authorities to take sensible decisions, of course I shall be happy to accept that assurance. There are occasions on which guidance has its place. No doubt very full consultations will be carried out as to what

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extensions there should be to allow this provision to come into effect. I hope that the Minister will nod at my reference to consultation. I am not sure that he has even heard what I said.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I heard perfectly well. The noble Baroness wanted me to nod. I did nod, albeit it was a fairly slow nod. I do nod.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I thought it was a rather old-fashioned look over the top of the Minister's spectacles.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I never give old-fashioned looks.

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

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 161 [The housing register]:

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 59:

Page 104, line 2, after ("it") insert ("and other relevant matters").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 60. Amendments Nos. 59 and 60 are both intended to make small improvements to the provisions about the housing register.

Subsection (4) of Clause 161 contains a regulation-making power to prescribe the type of information about applicants which must be contained on the housing register. We want to be able to ensure that the register contains information, not only about the applicant but also about members of his household and the circumstances in which he lives. By broadening the scope of the regulation-making power, Amendment No. 59 would ensure that these circumstances are covered. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the Minister said that this is about members of the household and so on. I am worried as to how benign the amendment is; perhaps the Minister will help.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I think the noble Baroness asked how benign the amendment is. I am not quite sure what she means by that.

8 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, where details about an applicant are held on file, the amendment allows the Secretary of State very wide powers to include information on that file. For example, it might include information about a prison sentence. Will the Minister say what information he would expect to come within that rubric?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the purpose of the housing register is to enable such information to be held as will in turn enable the local authority adequately to provide housing for the people concerned. The kind of detail that would be on the register would be whether the person

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is married; whether he or she has children; and whether he or she may be unwell and need somebody to look after them. Those are the sorts of matters which will be held on the housing register. A prison sentence does not come into it, as far as I know.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am worried because in the past local authorities have been known to keep and collect information, including newspaper cuttings and the like, in order to allocate housing to a tenant based on his or her background. I am talking of somebody with a prison record being allocated to one sort of estate rather than another.

If the Minister can assure me that it is not intended that the register should contain such information, and that the records will be open and available for inspection by the persons concerned (as I believe will be the case) then I shall not worry. But I have seen such information misused in the past.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I believe I am right in saying that the information to be contained on the register will be available for that person to see and no one else and it will only be information relevant to the application. It may be that a person is notorious for bashing up all the houses that he has been in and that may be a relevant piece of information. If he has been given a prison sentence for bashing up somebody's property or the property in which he was housed, then that would be a relevant piece of information. One cannot be categorical, but the information which will be contained must be relevant to the application.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 162 [Operation of housing register]:

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 60:

Page 104, line 16, leave out subsections (5) and (6) and insert--
("(5) A local housing authority may remove a person from their housing register in such circumstances as they think fit.
(6) They shall do so--
(a) if it appears to them that he has never been a qualifying person or is no longer such a person, or
(b) if he requests them to do so and he is not owed any duty under section 192 or 194(2) (main housing duties owed to persons who are homeless or threatened with homelessness).").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, Amendment No. 60 would allow an authority to choose whether to remove someone from its register if asked to do so and if the person is owed a duty by that authority under the homelessness provisions in Part VII. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 166 [Allocation in accordance with allocation scheme]:

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 61:

Page 106, line 9, at end insert--
("A person within paragraph (a) who becomes homeless, and not intentionally homeless, shall not lose preference by reason only that he no longer occupies accommodation within paragraph (a).").

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The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment arises because of an exchange during the Report stage between the Minister and ourselves. It seeks to ensure that families in unsatisfactory housing who become homeless and are rehoused into more satisfactory but temporary housing do not lose their existing priority on the waiting list as a result.

Comments from the Minister in another place seemed to suggest originally that a family who become homeless from unsatisfactory housing and are placed temporarily in short-term housing while waiting to get to the top of the queue, carry the points from their original housing with them--rather like a passport--and do not lose priority. To use a snakes and ladders example, they do not slide down the snake by being offered more satisfactory but temporary housing in which to wait.

The wording of the Bill suggests that the opposite may be the case. Paragraph (a) of subsection (2) of Clause 166 requires that reasonable preference is given to people "occupying" insanitary or overcrowded housing or otherwise living in unsatisfactory housing conditions. The use of the present tense "occupying" may mean that authorities are prevented from giving adequate priority to people who are unintentionally homeless--for example, if a family was living in overcrowded conditions or living in an HMO which is not safe because of inadequate fire protection and which is insanitary. They would have high priority on the waiting list. There might then be a fire. They would lose their home, be accepted as homeless and placed in acceptable but temporary housing.

Under this clause they would no longer have the points they had. They would lose their points and would go down the snake. I may have misunderstood the points situation, but in my local authority such a homeless family would gain no more points than if they were already in a shorthold tenancy. Certainly they would not have enough points to ensure that they would reach the top of the waiting list within the two-year period.

Surely that is not what the Government intend. If families lose points when they move into temporary housing, and if that means that they would therefore not reach the top of the queue within the two years, they could be caught endlessly in a downward spiral of temporary housing simply because the temporary housing was not quite as bad as the housing from which they became homeless in the first place.

What would be the implications? Temporary housing would--to use the rather ugly phrase--"silt up" and become semi-permanent housing because such families would never reach the head of the queue.

If the Minister thinks that that is hypothetical, I will give him an example from Shelter which I believe to be correct. In 1989, the Sovereign Housing Association set up a single waiting list for their housing when they took over Newbury DC's--now soon to be the Newbury Unitary Authority--housing stock. Homeless people were put into a need category based on the temporary accommodation provided by the district council rather than on their previous circumstance. Because that accommodation was of a reasonable standard, homeless people immediately went to the bottom of the list. In

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consequence, the council found its own temporary homes were filled with people waiting to be rehoused and it therefore had to find other temporary accommodation, which meant that it had to triple the use of bed and breakfast accommodation. In other words, the temporary housing became quasi-permanent because it stripped away enough of the points that the applicants originally had and they could not therefore reach the head of the queue. The accommodation was better than that from which they had come but not as good as their temporary housing. They were therefore in never-never land, suspended between the two.

It will also mean that some applicants--and I would not blame them--will be reluctant to go into temporary housing, certainly if they were near the head of the queue, if it costs them points on the waiting list. They might prefer to spend two or three months in bed and breakfast accommodation rather than two or three years in temporary housing.

Such a process would take no account of the experience that homeless families have had, many of them moving from temporary property to temporary property. It would be extremely unfortunate that if, by offering a family temporary housing, one is therefore effectively denying them permanent housing for many years. Perhaps the Minister can reassure us on that point. I beg to move.

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