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Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I hope the noble Baroness will forgive me for intervening. The enfranchisement of houses was a matter decided in the period of a Labour Government before this Act was introduced. The Act was concerned with the enfranchisement of long leaseholders of flats.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I take issue with the noble Lord on that point. The previous enfranchisement Act allowed one to enfranchise only if one had a low rateable value and was very restrictive, whereas the last leasehold Act extended it to houses irrespective of value or size. There was a considerable advance in the leasehold enfranchisement of houses under the leasehold enfranchisement Act, on which noble Lords worked in this Chamber.
Leaseholders who had, perhaps, lived for 50 years in large and expensive houses often could not afford to enfranchise. I talked about people who were locked in to such properties. But when that Act was introduced it made their homes saleable to incoming leaseholders who would be able to take up that enfranchisement right at a later stage. In the case of houses, I believe that the last Act worked to a considerable extent; but it has not worked well for most leaseholders in blocks of flats who consider that the hopes that were raised have not been fulfilled. I consider that those in central London have been particularly disadvantaged.
At the time that this House debated the leasehold reform Act the public perception was that leaseholders looked forward to "something for nothing". Your Lordships emphasised that that was not the case and that money would be payable to the freeholder, which in some cases would be a very large amount. It was clear that many people would be disappointed when they discovered that there were no free gifts in that Act, and there was none.
However, I am surprised and sorry to see just how unsatisfactory the process has been. All kinds of heavy costs have had to be met by leaseholders before they can be in a position even to consider whether or not it
As long speeches are not welcome in your Lordships' House, even on Second Reading, I shall concentrate today on Part III and save my comments on the other parts for later stages. I also intend to raise the question of tenants' deposits or bonds, which are not included in the Bill but which I believe would be of benefit and are relevant.
At the Report stage in the other place the Government tabled amendments which I believe to be very fair, and I support them. Those amendments were concerned with: first, the removal of the need for professional valuation of interests to be acquired in collective enfranchisement; secondly, the provision of general legal advice about residential tenancies, as set out in Clause 87 (which I am pleased to see will ensure that that service continues to be funded); thirdly, the extension of rights in relation to the low rent test; fourthly, the transfer of jurisdiction to a leasehold valuation tribunal to appoint a manager; and, fifthly, compulsory acquisition under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987.
I believe that most of these changes make it easier for tenants or leaseholders to deal with their own affairs particularly in financial terms, as the costs under the leasehold reform Act were often intimidating. Those costs had to be met up front; that is, before the leaseholder could decide whether or not he was in a position to proceed. I ask my noble friend the Minister to clarify whether the changes in this Bill will benefit those who deal directly with the freeholder and also deal with cases where the head lessee intervenes between the freeholder and the leaseholder or lessee. Does it apply in the same way in that part of the Bill which deals with management?
All of the amendments tabled by the Government at Report stage on the topics that I have listed were reversals following Opposition amendments moved at Committee stage which went much further. I strongly support the changes made by the Government. I do not believe that they are an outright rejection of the points made by the Opposition; they are a sensible, middle-of-the-road compromise on very difficult issues.
There are many controversial points in the Bill, and we will have a good deal to debate. I hope that the Government will continue to give careful consideration to sensible, practical points made in Committee and at later stages in this House. I also hope that noble Lords opposite will take the same realistic attitude in any amendments that they table. However, one may say that that is a fine hope.
In the second chapter of Part III of the Bill amendments are made to assured shorthold tenancies. I intend to table an amendment on this subject. I have in the past made the following declaration to your Lordships' House. For many years I have had tenants of a furnished property. That is now dealt with on an assured shorthold basis. In the customary way, and in accordance with the tenancy agreement, I ask for and
Here, I have used a number of different letting agents over the years. Some have a form of bonded insurance, others do not. I always check the position, but only the best informed tenants ever query it. If the agent has no bond or system of guarantee, I insist that I hold the deposit. I open a building society account in which I place the tenant's money. It is kept entirely separate from my own money. My amendment would not give me a personal financial advantage, although it would save the bother of having to make clear to the Inland Revenue that that money and the interest earned upon it belonged to the tenant.
I have taken soundings on this idea from agents who are involved in residential lettings and property owners. Most people believe that it is a sound idea. Certainly, it works very well in New South Wales. I will ask the Government to consider this matter when I table my amendment. It did not occur to me when I read the Bill that that might be even more relevant to those people in houses of multiple occupation. Often, they do not have the best landlords, although some are excellent. It would ensure the safe keeping of any deposit that such people had to make.
Lord Stallard: My Lords, like the noble Baroness who has just spoken, I will try to be brief. It is inevitable that noble Lords who for many years have been interested in housing issues are involved with voluntary organisations. I declare two interests. I am chairman of the all-party group in your Lordships' House which deals with issues associated with ageing. The secretary of that group is sponsored by Age Concern. I have recently been approached to become a patron of the Abbeyfield Society, which appointment I have accepted. I am interested in the whole subject, but those are two instances that I thought I should mention.
I, too, congratulate the Minister on introducing the Bill. I imagine that he is delighted that he did not have to introduce the two Bills together. They would have amounted to about 650 clauses. I thought that this was a jumbo Bill, but the two parts together would have been horrendous. I can understand my noble friend Lord Williams expressing the comments that he did. The Bill has 205 clauses and 16 schedules. It comes to us at a time when voluntary organisations, childcare organisations, local authorities, church organisations such as the CHAS, Church Action on Poverty, the
Anyone who has been interested in housing for any length of time knows that whatever Bill is produced, whatever palliatives are discussed, the basic problem is the shortage of affordable rented housing. We cannot get away from that. Until someone accepts that and brings forward a Bill to increase the supply of affordable rented housing, we shall be talking from now until Domesday about Bills like this. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford made a number of salient points on these issues.
I wish to express gratitude and thanks to all those voluntary organisations which took the trouble to send us detailed analyses of what they see in the Bill, what should be in the Bill, and so on, because with a Bill of this length and importance, God knows how long it would take some of us merely to read through the Bill let alone analyse what is meant by it. I am grateful to all those organisations for their assistance.
I remember well when the White Paper was issued in 1994. At that time, 120,000 homeless households were accepted for housing by local authorities. Over 50,000 of them were in temporary accommodation, much of it unsatisfactory. There were over 1 million households on local authority housing waiting lists. It was estimated that an annual supply of between 100,000 and 125,000 additional homes at affordable rents was needed to meet the demand. Yet it was proposed to build fewer than 30,000 houses. I do not believe that the 30,000 materialised, but that was the proposal at that time.
I shall highlight one or two of the areas which are of particular interest to me. Like the noble Baroness, I hope to be able to participate fully in later stages of the Bill. Other speakers will highlight other aspects of the matter, as has already been done. First, I am concerned about changes in the Bill to housing policy which may adversely affect older people. That point was mentioned. Age Concern has gone to a great deal of trouble to try to analyse what that will mean. Parts VI and VII seek to alter the duties of local authorities with regard to homeless people and allocations policy. Among the groups affected by those changes are older people who become homeless. Not many people know that older people do become homeless. They believe that older people are secure in homes for life. We understand that that is not true.
Between 1990 and 1994 approximately 6,000 people per year were accepted as homeless and in priority need due to old age. That represents 5 per cent. of all acceptances, similar to the percentages of those homeless people who suffer domestic violence or who are vulnerable due to mental illness or disability. Older people can become homeless for a variety of reasons, including the loss of insecure private rented accommodation. Believe it or not, many of them become homeless as a result of a breakdown of their marriage. I do not know about relationships; they may be too old for that. It may be due to the breakdown of arrangements for living with the family. That often causes an older person to become homeless. We have heard of hundreds of older people who lose their tied accommodation when they retire. It is a problem for many older people.
At present, under the Housing Act 1985, local authorities have a duty to secure accommodation for all those people in priority need who are homeless and who are not found to be intentionally homeless. Local authorities are also required to give reasonable preference in their allocations policies to those people whom they accept as homeless and in priority need. The Bill removes the requirement on local authorities to give preference to homeless people in their allocations policies, and gives local authorities a duty to provide only temporary accommodation to homeless people. That creates all kinds of problems.
Local authorities only have a duty to provide accommodation for homeless older people where there is suitable accommodation available in the area. That itself presents a number of problems. Such accommodation is likely to be in the private rented sector. It may be difficult for older people to have access to that type of accommodation, for a number of obvious financial reasons. They may be on low incomes and have little access to money for a deposit or rent in advance, which such landlords require.
Accommodation in the private rented sector is now let almost exclusively on short-term tenancies, usually for six months. The insecurity of such accommodation is particularly unsuitable for older people who rely upon informal and formal support networks, such as family and friends, health services, home helps, meals on wheels, and so on. Older people need stability and not constantly shifting six-month tenancies. Older people are also likely to be less able to cope with the physical and emotional upheaval of the frequent moves which may be necessitated by living in insecure accommodation. Some older people require adaptations to homes to enable them to live there. It will be difficult to arrange for the necessary adaptations in a short-term tenancy.
If the local authority is satisfied that there is no suitable accommodation in the area, they will have a duty to house the homeless household, but they will be able to provide temporary accommodation only. The Government conceded in Committee in the other place that that could be for up to two years. It was originally to be for one year, but they made the concession, and we are grateful for it. The case must be reviewed within two years to ensure that the individual is still in priority
Even those who meet the tighter definition of homelessness under the Bill no longer have a right to a permanent home. As I said, in the other place the Government made that concession, for which we are grateful, and we hope that it can be built upon. I wish to mention briefly the question of houses in multiple occupation. For many years I was a founder member of CHAR in the other place. We were very much concerned with the problems of houses in multiple occupation, especially fire hazards and the lack of statutory provision to control those places. Nothing in this Bill puts that right.
There are a number of provisions in the Bill--and I do not have time to go through them all--which improve the situation with regard to houses in multiple occupation. But the Government still fight shy of mandatory regulations in relation to fire. We know for a fact that the risk of dying in a fire in a house in multiple occupation is 20 times greater than in an ordinary house. There have been many examples in and around London of serious fires in houses in multiple occupation which could have been avoided had there been a mandatory obligation on the part of the people who own the houses to make adequate fire and safety provision. Therefore, I wish to see amendments in that sphere.
The right reverend Prelate referred to young, single people. I am particularly concerned about that because a number of youngsters have raised with me the problem of what happens when they leave local authority care. When they leave care, they are virtually abandoned. They take their few bits and pieces in a carrier bag and say "Cheerio" at the gate. That is that. They are then left to fend for themselves. There is no provision and in many cases there is no one there to help them at that stage. That becomes a problem.
I am grateful to the National Council for Voluntary Child Care Organisations which sent me some examples. I shall not refer to them all because there are too many of them but one or two seem to typify what I have found. First, there is the case of Martin, who is 17. The example states:
Those are probably typical examples of many cases in inner city areas which nobody seems to be picking up. When the youngsters themselves try to do something about their situation, they do not seem to be very successful. I hope that the Bill will be suitably amended to deal with such cases. I hope that I shall be able to participate in the remaining stages of the Bill.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I hope not to detain your Lordships very long. I wish to address one or two issues in relation to the Bill; I wish to mention in particular young children, young people and their families. Before doing so, I should like to give one piece of background which seems extremely important. I draw your Lordships' attention to the report on housing benefit fraud published yesterday by the Social Security Committee of another place, the chairman of which is the honourable Member for Birkenhead, Mr. Frank Field.
I turn now to possible opportunities for improving the Bill in relation to children, young people and their families. There is a strong interaction between housing and families. Inadequate or non-existent housing is a major cause of relationship breakdown in families. On
There is incontrovertible evidence now that family dysfunction leads to many of the evils of our society which are extremely costly to the taxpayer; for example, truanting, juvenile crime, drug and substance abuse, and unemployability. Those can all be linked positively with an unhappy family background. There are also positive links with mental and physical ill health. Together those social evils represent an enormous annual cost to the taxpayer and to that cost must be added the cost of additional housing when family relationships break down.
Of course, it is true that governments cannot make people good and they cannot make members of families love one another. But what they can and should do is to create an enabling environment in which families have a chance to thrive, to care for one another, and to look after one another. Is it not time that some government looked seriously at the links between family breakdown and homelessness to see whether more support for parents and more preparation for the roles of father and mother, husband and wife, could not, at minimal cost to the taxpayer, reduce that gigantic cost created by housing subsidy, crime and so on?
I now turn to two areas in the Bill where I feel there is need for further amendment and improvement. The first relates to temporary accommodation. The disastrous effects of unsatisfactory bed-and-breakfast accommodation on families with young children is well documented. I accept the need for some temporary accommodation but why must it be of such low quality? Surely standards could be raised by law or regulation and rigorously enforced. Bed-and-breakfast accommodation is paid for by the taxpayers. We must ensure that the minimum standard of accommodation provided for families with children is higher than at present. Should we not limit the length of stay of families with children in such accommodation?
The second group about which I am concerned was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard. I refer to the problem of young people coming out of care and young people who leave home at 16 as a result of abuse or violence. Each year 10,000 people leave care. Sixty per cent. of them are aged 16 to 17 whereas the average age of someone leaving the family is 20 to 22. In Great Britain there are 195,000 homeless young people under 25. It is estimated that 40 per cent. of homelessness among 16 and 17 year-olds is directly as a result of leaving care.
I have met such young people during my work at Toynbee Hall; I know they have suffered major traumas. They have not grown up with the support of both or even one loving adult to care for them and guide them. Often the preparation for adult life they were given in children's homes was inadequate. In many cases, they were moved from one children's home to another, never able to put down roots. The psychological problem of children who have been abused or subjected to violence I do not need to stress.
I am not being negative; I want to be positive. Such young people need more than just accommodation. I welcome the Government's initiative in providing for advice but we need more than advice. Some people need pro-active support. They need support in coping with the problems of finding a home and a job and learning how to work the system and get on with neighbours and the people with whom they work and live. Giving such young people support is not very expensive, and later savings will be made in respect of crime, health and extra housing.
What I am suggesting is not pie in the sky. At the moment a number of schemes are operating in this country. Perhaps I may briefly introduce your Lordships to such a scheme in which I can declare a modest interest as my wife is chairman of the charitable organisation which runs it. It is an organisation run by the Kent Community Housing Trust called Moving Forward. It is for young people aged 16 to 21 who are homeless or living in insecure or unsuitable housing who would benefit from support and advice in gaining access to education, training, employment and housing opportunities and who are sufficiently motivated and willing to enter into an agreed plan of action which identifies the steps they can take towards moving forward.
If a young person decides to join Moving Forward a plan will be agreed with the keyworker setting out immediate and long-term goals. The keyworker will then help the person to find training and accommodation. Sometimes the organisation guarantees the rent to a private landlord and enters into a contract with the young person about standards of behaviour. It helps them and guides them but, more than that, it picks them up when they fall. When a number of times they do not get up in the morning and are kicked out of their training programme, they will be told, "Come on, you can do better than that. Let's try another way." That is the kind of help which such young people need and it is being given by Moving Forward. I believe that at low cost it could be widely extended across the country.
The children's organisations which are concerned about the Bill are unanimous in saying that some local authorities are doing an excellent job. The problem is that performance across the country is uneven. Some local authorities are doing very badly and always argue that the Government are not giving them enough money. That may be true, but it does not sound convincing bearing in mind that other local authorities are doing a good job.
If local democracy were really working the voters would throw out the authorities which are not doing their job properly. However, as we all know, it does not work because in local elections people cast their votes on the basis of what the national government are doing. Therefore, with great regret, I believe there is no alternative to more intervention by central government to try to ensure that local authorities provide a more uniform standard of performance. It is necessary for the Government to set minimum standards and to provide a strongly worded code of practice which will be enforced to ensure that local authorities are aware of their obligations under the Housing Act and the Children Act
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I wish to mention three matters with which we need to deal as the Bill goes through your Lordships' House. Under the Bill, housing association tenants will acquire the right to buy their homes at a discount. I am all in favour of that, including the right of tenants to buy accommodation specifically designed or adapted for physically disabled people. I say that in particular because an amendment which I moved to a Bill some years ago gave disabled people the right to buy such local authority-owned homes.
The primary purpose of housing associations is to provide homes at a low rent. The sale of a home does not mean that it ceases to exist. What concerns me is that the right to buy is to be at a discount. Will the Housing Corporation make up the difference in order to enable housing associations to replace the home that has been sold?
Furthermore, housing associations now raise an increasing proportion of their finance from private sources, often on a mortgage. The whole of the loan, not just the discounted proportion, becomes repayable on the disposal of the home. In some cases, the disposal of one flat in a block could mean that the loan on the block as a whole would have to be repaid. Will those points be taken into account when the housing association seeks funds to build replacement accommodation? Will those funds be sufficient to replace accommodation properly designed or adapted for disabled people to the same standard and not just to ordinary needs standards?
I turn to introductory tenancies. I understand and appreciate the need for them but I have some anxieties about how they may adversely affect some people with physical or mental disabilities. They could become a focus of harassment or discrimination. Some people with disabilities exhibit unusual and sometimes noisy behaviour or appear to be different. Although measures to deal with anti-social behaviour are to be welcomed, there must be no possibility of these measures being used to discriminate against disabled people or any other members of the community who are seen as being different.
As regards social housing, the new system proposed in the Bill would give priority to some disabled people. However, I consider that there are flaws which could result in many disabled people in extreme housing need receiving a low priority. The present housing situation of disabled people should receive proper consideration as the proposed new system would not include disabled people living in accommodation which is not accessible or is inappropriate for other reasons. We shall need to look at all those points carefully in Committee.
I have one final point, on community alarm systems. The Bill fails to clarify the powers of district councils to provide community alarm systems. I understand that local authorities are not allowed to charge for alarm systems. Yet it seems senseless to have an alarm system in an area where there is mixed local authority and
Baroness Fisher of Rednal: My Lords, I rise to express my feelings about this Government's policy on housing. I may have been around a long time, but I remember when political parties used to extol the number of houses they would build in a year. In the Birmingham area, I remember that housing estates were built in the late 1930s by the Birmingham City Council under a Conservative Government. All the large council housing estates that we have around the City of Birmingham were built under good Conservatives. There is a great difference between the Conservatives we now have and those we used to have.
I remember when we opened the first multi-storey block of flats in Birmingham. No other than Mr. Harold Macmillan, MP, the Minister of Housing, opened it. We heard of the virtues of the many houses they had built that year. I believe the figure was about 200 more than we had built the previous year.
However, this Government no longer wish to build any houses for ordinary people. When did that change take place in Conservative philosophy? The mind boggles at how that swing took place. No doubt the noble Lord now sitting on the Front Bench will have to ask his noble friend when he returns; he may have more knowledge of that period. The philosophy has changed but it is a change for the worse.
I accept that there has to be a reasonable balance between owner occupation, private renting and social renting. We know that in our society people earn differing amounts. Some will have a choice. But if a person is in one specific area, he does not have that choice. It will be local authority housing, or housing association housing.
Therefore, we have to ask ourselves whether the Bill will deal with the serious matter of helping families to a decent home. I believe that a home is a fundamental priority for everyone. Decent homes mean better health for most people, especially those who live in the deplorable conditions which we all know about. Good housing helps children at school. We have had statistics about children who are not doing so well at their primary schools. In its audit, the Audit Commission should discover what kind of housing those children are in. Are they in bed and breakfast accommodation? Are they in appalling properties that should be pulled down? It should consider the difference that a decent home makes in the education of school children.
We know that a secure home reduces tension in the family. Therefore, if we are building for secure homes, tension is relieved in the family. Often families can stay together for longer periods. There is a release of the tension of close living and disharmony.
There is a powerful case for more investment in housing. Housing has been cut more severely over the past two decades than any other area of social expenditure. The White Paper indicates that fewer than 300,000 new homes a year for rent are proposed. The mind boggles when one considers that figure divided around the country.
The White Paper proposes, as does the Bill, a tighter definition of homelessness. That will deny to thousands of homeless people living in insecure private accommodation or living with relatives any right to help. The Minister told us that local authorities will receive an edict from government to make sure that the people they house are not jumping the queue. It is easy for someone in Whitehall to lay down an edict. The situation is different when you are the person behind the counter in the housing office with someone in front of you. You meekly say, "I have to fill in this form", and the applicant replies, "I don't want you to fill in any forms. I want you to find me a house". The tension that builds up when people are homeless is immense. I know that because for a long time I was the chairman of Birmingham's housing committee, then as now the largest housing authority in the country. You see the tension of these people who say "We've nowhere to go. Tell us where we can go". It is no use saying to a person who has three children and has to trail around, "Here's a list of private landlords. See what you can do". Many parts of the country do not have the types of houses that one sees in the London area, where a landlord may have 10 flatlets in a house. In many parts of the country there is no such accommodation.
When we consider the Bill in Committee, will the Minister accept that it is no good laying down cast-iron rules telling the local housing authorities, "This is what you have to do, and this is what you have to tell the people". That will lead to friction. Instead of the harmony that we can have at present, we shall have disharmony. Therefore, the needs of homeless people and those on the waiting list are best met by allowing local authorities and housing associations to act in the capable way that they know.
The noble Lord, Lord Stallard and the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, referred to the opportunities for young people. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, mentioned an organisation with which his wife was involved. I am involved in the Birmingham area with St. Basil's, an organisation for the young homeless not unknown to Ministers in this House and in another place. Such agencies provide accommodation in the Birmingham area. They set the young people on their way again. They look after them and try to find them job opportunities. Such bodies are well organised in many parts of the country. I speak with knowledge of St. Basil's. I know that there are similar organisations in various parts of the country.
All that work will be completely lost in the future if they cannot prepare people to return to the community. In the main, that help will only come when they have been with the agencies for 12 months or more if the local authority does not help to put them on the road to success in permanent local authority homes or housing corporation properties.
In my view, this White Paper contains no new ideas. It provides for no new money and no new housing. There is nothing to get a house-building programme under way. There is only the old dogma and the measly attitude which this Government show to the homeless and to those who are ill-provided for in terms of housing.
The problem with the Housing Bill is that many of its provisions, such as those relating to changes in legislation concerning the homeless, the reduction in rights for private sector tenants and changes in the allocation of social housing, will not address the big housing issues in Britain today. Without adequate funding, the measures contained in the Housing Bill will simply amount to tinkering at the edges and the impressive words about decent homes being within everybody's grasp will not turn into reality.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I cannot claim to have the experience of the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, of being chairman of a housing committee, but rather a long time ago I was for a year or two chairman of the housing committee of what was then Hornsey Borough Council. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, has left the Chamber. When I drive along Turnpike Lane in what was Hornsey and see the monstrous block of flats that stands at the end of it, for which I and my committee were responsible, I have a deep sense of shame. Whatever else one tried to do then, one had absolutely no idea that building these massive blocks of flats would provide such poor long-term secure homes for the tenants. I should be slightly surprised if the noble Baroness, from a point of vantage in her great city, looks at the huge, towering blocks and feels that she has given the tenants the right sort of accommodation. She may do so, in which case all I can say is that we have heard the authentic voice of old Labour this evening.
Most people recognise that housing policy took a very bad wrong turn in providing tower blocks. Condemning families with small children to live in these high tower blocks is now costing this country dear in terms of social problems.
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