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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I am not sure I can answer all the questions raised by the noble Earl. I agree that it is important that local authorities are given as much information as possible and are properly consulted about the changes.

The noble Earl mentioned concerns of local authorities. We have been working very closely with colleagues in the Department of Social Security and the local authority associations to ensure a smooth transition. I accept that local authorities are particularly keen to ensure that the amount of money allocated to them for their new responsibilities is both sufficient and is calculated fairly and equitably.

So far as concerns the money, the money the DSS would have spent on people with preserved rights is to be given to local councils. That amounts to £528 million in 2002-03 and a projected £474 million in 2003-04. This money will be paid to councils with the money being transferred in respect of changes to the residential allowance within the new promoting independence grant of £862 million in 2002-03 and £873 million in 2003-04.

Conditions will be attached. They will be announced shortly. They will enable us to ensure that this money is spent in the right way. Brief details of this decision have already been notified to local authorities in a circular issued on 27th November of last year.

There is the question of how the money is allocated to individual authorities and what conditions will be linked to its use. Our intention is to consult with the local authority associations about this change over the next few weeks and months. As part of those discussions we shall also seek their views about the statutory guidance we plan to issue later in the year and about how authorities should carry out their new responsibilities.

To sum up, we want to ensure that the local authorities have the resources they need. We also want to ensure that the allocation is seen to be fair and equitable. I hope that answers the main points that the noble Earl raised.

Earl Howe: I thank the Minister for his reply. If I am honest, I cannot discern from his answer whether he has covered every point that I raised. He said that he

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was not able to cover every point. The main point was whether local authorities will find themselves suddenly with an unfunded liability. I think he said that that was not the Government's intention. If I am right in having understood him in that way then that is reassuring. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Rix moved Amendment No. 274:


    Page 60, line 25, at end insert--


"(11) Nothing in this section shall authorise any movement of a person other than in that person's interests and with that person's consent."

The noble Lord said: In rising to move Amendment No. 274, I realise that it has echoes of its immediate predecessors. Charity being the chief of virtues, I hope that I shall not be accused of lack of charity in suggesting that the presentation of the benefits of abolishing preserved rights for people in residential care has been a little one-sided.

For people under pension age, the possession of preserved rights has never stopped local authorities topping up where the social security funding falls short in meeting the Bill. It is people over pension age who have been disadvantaged by rules which mean broadly that, if you have preserved rights, the local authority cannot top up. So for the person under pension age with a learning disability, preserved rights have meant greater personal financial bargaining power without loss of other rights and less likelihood that the local authority will want to move them.

Given the age at which people with learning disabilities tend to leave the family home, many people do not particularly want to move again. The change that the Government propose to make can be an unmixed as opposed to a mixed blessing if the Government, by legislation, regulation or direction, ensure that nobody will be moved from their present home unless it is in their interests and with their consent or, if they cannot consent, with the consent of their independent advocate.

Nobody should be put under pressure to move. I add that condition because vulnerable people are indeed vulnerable to pressure, many of them having spent most of their adult lives being subject to choices made by other people. The choice directive, which concerns choosing where you live if you move, is applied to those who move following the loss of their preserved rights.

There is another aspect to all this where I am less confident of seeking government reassurances. The transfer of preserved rights funding to local authorities is, as I understand it--if I understand it at all--to be accompanied by a top up from the Government to allow some catching up where the preserved rights of older people have fallen behind the costs of their residential care. However, the concern is whether, over time, annual local settlements will be adequate to sustain good quality provision. What none of us wants is an increasing gap between local authority responsibilities and the ability of local authorities to discharge those responsibilities. I look forward to such reassurances as the Minister can give. I beg to move.

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10.45 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I understand the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, which we have already debated to a certain extent. I am very conscious that people with preserved rights have been in residential or nursing accommodation since before April 1993. Many will have lived in the same home for all that time and, as I have said, clearly it would be utterly traumatic for those people to have to move.

The Government accept that. We gave a commitment in the NHS Plan that the abolition of preserved rights would not disadvantage anyone. To fulfil that commitment, after consulting interested parties, we intend to issue statutory guidance to local authorities--I stress that this will be statutory guidance--to make it clear that no one must be removed from their existing care home under the new arrangements against their will unless there is a compelling reason why that should be so. I should also like to stress that the guidance will make it clear that no pressure must be put on people to move.

The kind of situation which would be regarded as a compelling reason might be a circumstance where the current home closes or in which it cannot meet the person's assessed needs. I hope that, given those assurances, the noble Lord will feel that this matter is being handled in an acceptable way.

Lord Rix: I am most grateful to the Minister for that response. I am delighted that he was able to say that statutory guidance will be given covering all the points which I raised. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 57 agreed to.

Clauses 58 and 59 agreed to.

Lord Rix moved Amendment No. 275:


    After Clause 59, insert the following new clause--


"MANDATORY DISREGARD OF PROPERTY IN CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES
(1) The Secretary of State shall, by regulations subject to approval by both Houses of Parliament, make provision requiring local authorities to disregard the value of an individual's property when that property is occupied in whole or in part, as his home, by a person or persons as prescribed.
(2) Regulations under this section may, in particular, make provision prescribing the categories of person, and the conditions to be satisfied by a prescribed person, in relation to a mandatory disregard."

The noble Lord said: The reality of community care is, as we all know, that most people are cared for not by the community, not by the state or the local authority, not by their wider family, but by one family carer. This makes it particularly objectionable that when the parting of the ways comes, and the person cared for has to move into residential care, the family carer may lose his or her home.

Those whose favourite bedside reading is LAC(99)9--Charges for Residential Accommodation Guide--and its regular flow of amendments, will be familiar with the detail of which carers are or are not

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protected in possession of the home they have shared with the person they have cared for. In support of this amendment, I need only say that not all are protected by legal rights; and that while local authorities have discretion to protect others, that is a much more fragile safeguard.

Age Concern has highlighted cases where the carer is left high and dry, and a whole range of voluntary bodies which are united in support of this amendment have similar experiences to relate. From my own experience, I can point to a grand-daughter who devoted herself to looking after her grandmother for some 10 years until the old lady's needs got beyond her capacity, and who then faced the prospect of becoming homeless. Her grandmother died before the house they shared had to be sold to pay the bills--but the chance of death is not an adequate substitute for the guarantee of justice.

The amendment is worded cautiously, because I recognise the need for safeguards. It is conceivable that in protecting the relative who has lived with and cared for the elderly or disabled person for half a lifetime, protection might also be given to the absent relative who moves in the day the elderly or disabled person moves out. The possibility of abuse is not justification for inaction. It is justification for caution.

I want to conclude this short statement of the case with a worst case scenario. The argument can seem to be one for rewarding the carer for past caring responsibilities by protecting his or her home at the point when those responsibilities cease. It is, of course, not like that. The carer normally carries on caring--not just by regular visiting but commonly by actual, physical caring in the new setting. To say to that carer, "We want, immediately or in due course, to take away your home in order to pay for the care you are helping us to provide", seems to me--as I hope it does to all Members of the Committee, including the Minister--simply untenable. I beg to move.


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