Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 77:

Leave out Clause 199.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 200 [Application of referral provisions to cases arising in Scotland]:

Earl Ferrers moved Amendments Nos. 78 and 79:

Page 121, line 9, leave out (" 199") and insert ("(Duties to applicant whose case is considered for referral or referred)").
Page 121, line 10, leave out ("persons whose applications are") and insert ("applicant whose case is considered for referral or").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 201 [Right to request review of decision]:

Earl Ferrers moved Amendments Nos. 80 and 81:

Page 121, line 28, leave out from ("section") to (", or") in line 29 and insert ("(Duties to applicant whose case is considered for referral or referred)(3) or (4) (decision as to duty owed to applicant whose case is considered for referral or referred)").
Page 121, line 32, leave out ("to") and insert ("or").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

17 Jul 1996 : Column 939

Clause 203 [Right of appeal to county court on point of law]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 82:

Page 122, line 37, at end insert--
("( ) Subsection (2) shall be deemed to be a County Court Rule applicable to review under section 201").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 82. The amendment adds an extra provision to Clause 203 which deals with the right of appeal to the county court on a point of law. I have found it slightly difficult to deal with this matter in drafting terms. My concern is that the time limit for appeal is absolute in the absence of any kind of discretion.

Unlike the Court of Appeal, the county court has no inherent power to allow appeals out of time. On other amendments noble Lords have given examples of people being in hospital or, due to suffering from mental illness, not taking the necessary steps in time, and so forth. The county court however has power to extend the time for something to be done under a court order or under its rules.

Currently, the time limit for appeals in homelessness cases is three months. That is under the judicial review procedure. An appeal to the county court has to be within three weeks. I accept that 21 days is the traditional time for appeals to the county court, but most appeals with which it deals currently are commercial matters and not legal aid, welfare-type matters.

To get to grips with the need for an appeal to be made, to find a solicitor, and so on could well jeopardise a prospective appellant in that the 21 days could slip quickly away. A number of people in that situation could probably not be expected to watch the timetable, in contrast to a landlord who might well be able to do so. In any event, a landlord applying, for instance, for registration can re-apply. I am seeking for a way in which, in exceptional cases, it would be possible to appeal outside the 21-day limit. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, before I turn to the main point of the amendment perhaps I may say that on the previous amendment the noble Baroness looked sad and frustrated as she sat down because she felt that she had not got anywhere. She said she did not want to deal in a way that would be regarded as horse trading. I did not mean to give that impression. If I did, I apologise to her. I was trying to explain that the points that she had rightly made were already covered in the Bill, which is why I was not so enthusiastic about them. The enthusiasm referred only to not accepting the amendments as opposed to the point that she was making.

With the amendment the noble Baroness's main concern would seem to be where an authority fails to complete its review within the specified period. An appeal would then have to be made within 21 days of when the applicant should have been notified. In such a case, it might not be obvious to the applicant when he should make an appeal.

17 Jul 1996 : Column 940

I hope that I shall be able to address those fears. Local authorities will be required under Clause 202(5) to inform the applicant of the period within which an appeal may be made. An applicant will therefore be in no doubt as to the time within which an appeal must be brought.

The noble Baroness is concerned also about the time that it could take to find a solicitor and to obtain legal aid. I hope to be able to put her mind at rest on that matter too. Solicitors who have a legal aid franchise may grant an "emergency" legal aid certificate immediately. Other solicitors may apply for an emergency legal aid certificate which would normally be processed within 24 hours.

It is in everyone's interests, especially the applicant's, for applications under the homelessness provisions to be resolved swiftly. There is nothing to be gained by encouraging delay. That is why I believe that the amendment is unnecessary.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I am happy to acknowledge the Minister's remarks with regard to the previous amendment. I am also amused to note that he referred to legal aid which I do not believe I mentioned. In doing so, he implicitly acknowledged that he was aware of the thinking behind the amendment. So, despite it having been tabled late, some of the wheels turned properly and he got my notes before I did. I thank him for his comments, and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 83:

Page 122, line 40, leave out from ("duty") to end of line 43 and insert ("under section 187, 189 or (Duties to applicant whose case is considered for referral or referred) to secure that accommodation is available for the applicant's occupation, they may continue to secure that accommodation is so available-").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 83 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 87 to 89. I apologise for the late tabling of these amendments. They are, however, important provisions and I am grateful to the National Federation of Housing Associations for drawing my attention to the need for them.

Amendments Nos. 87, 88 and 89 seek to plug a gap in the provisions in Part VII. This concerns the situation where a local housing authority enlists the help of another landlord--perhaps a private landlord or a housing association--in discharging one of its lesser duties under Part VII to secure accommodation for a short interim period.

Amendment No. 83 would clarify that, pending a decision on an appeal to the court, an authority may also continue to secure accommodation for an applicant where it had been under a duty to secure accommodation pending a decision as to whether the conditions for referral of the case to another authority are met. The amendment would also provide that the authority may continue to secure accommodation, pending a decision on an appeal, where it had owed a duty under Clause 189 to secure accommodation for a limited period for someone with priority need but who

17 Jul 1996 : Column 941

was intentionally homeless. The amendment will improve the clarity of the provisions as drafted, in the interests of homeless applicants. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 206 [Discharge of functions: provision of accommodation by the authority]:

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 84:

Page 124, line 11, leave out ("as a member of his family").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 85:

Page 124, line 23, leave out from ("direction") to end of line 24.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, throughout the Bill one of our concerns has been the situation of those occupying local authority owned temporary housing. Under the original Bill the local authority was required to evict them after two years, whereupon they would be churned around the housing circuit before they could be rehoused. On Report we were happy to welcome a government amendment which allowed local authorities to continue to house a family in its own temporary accommodation with the permission of the Secretary of State, who could make exemptions for one year and then for a further year if appropriate; for example, for large families or for families with special needs.

However, that dispensation was only for one year at a time. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said that he wished to give local authorities the right to make sensible decisions. That is a charming phrase and we believe that it is right. In tabling the amendment we are trying to be equally helpful to the Minister because we wish to give him the right to make sensible decisions, not to find himself bound by primary legislation and able to make sensible decisions only for one year at a time.

The amendment would remove the unnecessary fettering of the Secretary of State's own discretion. It would remove the time limit which the Minister has placed on his own decisions allowing him, if he wished, to take account of local circumstances and thus remove the burden on the department. It does not affect the principle of the Government's position that exemption would come only with the express consent of the Secretary of State. It merely frees him from a self-imposed and, in our view, unnecessary constraint which fetters and shackles his judgment. I beg to move.

9.30 p.m.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, as usual, the noble Baroness makes a persuasive case, saying that she wants to enable the Secretary of State to be able to make sensible decisions and that is why she has put down this wonderful amendment. Of course, she knows perfectly well that it would create a backdoor route into long-term social housing which would be unfair to other people who are still waiting on the housing list.

The amendment would remove the 12-month time limit which would apply to a direction. In other words, the noble Baroness wants the direction to be capable of

17 Jul 1996 : Column 942

being indefinite. That runs counter to the intention of our provisions, which are to ensure that there is no way of by-passing the housing register.

We listened sympathetically to the concerns which were expressed by the noble Baroness and other noble Lords during the passage of the Bill. In response to those concerns I tabled a number of amendments at Report which inserted the power to enable the Secretary of State to waive the two in three year provisions in certain cases. The amendments of the noble Baroness says "Yes, let us waive that not for a year but for as many years as he likes". I am afraid we would find that hard to accept.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page