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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I shall try to satisfy the noble Baroness. She is worrying unnecessarily. The wording of Clause 166(2)(a) is identical with the wording in the Housing Act 1985. Of course the authorities take sensible decisions now and they will be able to continue to do so.

I understand the anxieties expressed by the noble Baroness. We should remember that those who are homeless are given accommodation for up to two years. One also has to remember that people who are homeless very often get themselves out of that situation.

I believe the noble Baroness gave the example of Newbury putting people into temporary housing accommodation. That meant they dropped down the housing list. She will understand that I cannot comment in detail on an individual case. However, the case to which she referred appears to show inefficiency. I believe the noble Baroness also said that that authority had changed that scheme. Perhaps one ought to take into account the fact that research shows that over three-quarters of households who are rehoused are granted the tenancy of a permanent home within two years.

We also know from another study that 18 per cent. of people accepted for rehousing under the homelessness legislation have "dropped out" of the system, before being permanently rehoused, over a period of 18 months; they have found other housing solutions. People often present themselves as homeless because of some underlying crisis such as marital breakdown or unemployment. As they resolve the underlying problem, they may also resolve their housing problem. We are therefore concerned with only a small minority of

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households who still require social housing but who are unlikely to be rehoused within the period of the two year minimum duty.

Amendment No. 61 would prevent authorities from taking account of improvements in applicants' housing circumstances after they have become homeless. I think that would be wrong. The provisions in Clause 166 are designed to ensure that the needs of households who have been placed in accommodation under the homelessness provisions are adequately reflected in local authorities' allocation schemes. For example, they may get preference because of their social or economic circumstances or because of the insecurity of their accommodation. The immediate needs of people who become homeless are best addressed through the homelessness provisions in Part VII. It would be wrong to give such households additional priority on the housing register because of an event which had already been addressed by other means.

Let us suppose that the authority secures the applicant an assured shorthold tenancy in the private rented sector, perhaps with the help of a rent guarantee. The family settles quickly into its new accommodation, and the landlord indicates that he is content for the tenancy to continue after the two year duty ends. Clearly, that household's circumstances will have changed for the better, and it would only be right to take account of those changes. If it did not, the authority would be failing to cater properly for other applicants. In other words, if such a person had settled into private accommodation and was content with it--and the landlord was content for him to stay after two years--it is right that that person should not therefore retain the same priority on the housing list as someone who had suddenly become homeless, for whatever reason.

To take another example, let us suppose that someone approaches an authority because her marriage has broken down. The authority secures accommodation for her and her children and puts her name on the housing register. During the period of duty she meets someone else and moves in with him. He happens to own his own home. Clearly, it would be unreasonable not to take account of the change in that applicant's circumstances.

The principles contained in Clause 166 are designed to create the conditions in which all applicants for social housing--whether they have been homeless or not--can have their needs assessed on a consistent basis. By requiring authorities to take account of factors which are no longer relevant, Amendment No. 61 would create one set of rules for people who had become homeless and a different set for those who had not. I think the noble Baroness would accept that would run counter to common sense and also to the central aims of the Bill.

8.15 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am sorry but I think the Minister is profoundly wrong on this. I do not think he has fully appreciated the effect of the scheme. I repeat that he is profoundly wrong. I believe the scheme will sabotage a major part of local authorities' efforts to continue to help homeless families.

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Let me go back a step. The Minister started by saying that the wording in the clause was the same wording as the 1985 Housing Act. I do not believe that is the case. In the 1985 Housing Act local authorities were expected to give reasonable preference to people accepted as homeless. The words "accepted as homeless" are wiped off the face of this Bill because those people are not in the categories of those eligible to be considered to have additional points, or additional preference, by virtue of their homelessness. Other factors qualify, such as insecure accommodation or insanitary accommodation, but not homelessness. That is one discrepancy.

I give the Minister an example. Let us say that someone is living in poor quality accommodation--they may use shared facilities--and they have been waiting one and a half years for permanent housing. With three months to wait for that, they become homeless. By going into temporary housing, instead of waiting for just three more months to have a permanent home in which they can settle their family and start again, they may have to wait a further two or three years because their number of points will be based not on the accommodation they were in but on the accommodation they are now in. Therefore the better the temporary housing the local authority provides, the fewer the points the applicant will have, and the longer the applicant will then have to wait for permanent housing.

The perverse effect of that is that as a result temporary housing silts up and the local authority has less ability to house other homeless families in temporary housing because that is all filled up with people whose points total is now so low that they will have to wait the full two years, three years or more, in that temporary housing. In other words, if the Government pursue their policy they will convert temporary housing into semi-permanent housing. That will mean that a local authority will have to continue to find more and more temporary housing. Instead of temporary housing being a route through from unsettled housing to permanent housing, it becomes itself a staging place which may last for several years at a time. That is not what it is meant to be. This is an important issue. I repeat that I think the Government are profoundly wrong on this issue. Can the Minister help us further?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall try to help the noble Baroness further. She says she thinks I am profoundly wrong. I have a horrible idea that she is profoundly wrong, but we may not be understanding each other well. The noble Baroness said that the provisions were not the same as those in the 1985 Act. However, the provisions on bad housing conditions are the same as in the 1985 Act. However, the particular provision concerning homelessness is no longer needed as we have other provisions concerning need.

I was worried when the noble Baroness said that temporary accommodation should be a route through to permanent housing. That is where I think we disagree. One needs to look at this matter as two separate issues: one concerns how one deals with homelessness, and the

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other concerns how one deals with permanent housing. We think it is right that homelessness should be dealt with immediately. Someone who is homeless through no fault of his own--he may have lost a wife, or had a mental breakdown or whatever--is homeless and is given accommodation.

At Report stage I gave the example of a person who was living in a house which has burnt down. It may have been a scruffy house and that person may have had many children. Therefore he had accumulated many points because the house was scruffy and because of the number of children. If the house burns down, that person will be given a house immediately on the basis of being homeless. That house might be a good one. Obviously the conditions under which such a person lives at present will be bound to affect the number of points he has when he reaches the end of the two year waiting period because he is now in a better house than he was when he lived in the scruffy house. The number of points must reflect that fact. The fact that he may be near the end of the waiting period and he will become homeless if he is not offered a house will also affect his points total on the register.

We do not want to stipulate that because a person is homeless he should be put in a house--which may be a local authority property--where he then stays, to the disadvantage of other people who may have been on the waiting list for a long time and who have climbed to the top of the list but they find they cannot occupy a property because a person who had once been homeless is now occupying it.

As I explained earlier, within two years something like 74 per cent. of the people who are homeless are rehoused. If they know that they can stay on in their house, they may not be rehoused. That prevents the house becoming available for other people. Households should not have to wait a further two to three years if their circumstances include other factors which attract reasonable preference under the allocation scheme, such as social characteristics and dependent children.

The noble Baroness said that temporary accommodation would silt up, but most people do get permanent accommodation within two years. We seek to ensure that people who come to the top of the housing list have a proper chance of being allocated a house but that those people who are homeless are given a separate allocation for the period during which they are homeless. When they go on to permanent housing, their position should be reassessed. The fact that they were once homeless should not enable them to jump to the top of the queue on the housing register.


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