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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I ask the leave of the House to intervene. I draw the attention of the noble Baroness again to the point that has been brought out in earlier debates; namely, that in certain large cities and inner London in particular there are particular difficulties, but those difficulties are not typical of everywhere. I believe that the Government are well aware of the particular need in the inner city areas, and that might have to be dealt with differently. That does not mean that the provision will apply everywhere else.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. This amendment would not need to apply, I hope, to most parts of the country. But there are places, which I was at pains to point out, where the pressures are so acute that this situation will arise. As the noble Baroness said, they include the inner London boroughs and many places in the south, including the coastal towns and some rural districts. Those are places where applicants have special needs for large accommodation. We have discussed this before. There may be two step-families coming together or a member of the family may be disabled. From what the noble Baroness has suggested, in those situations she will be asking her noble friends on the Front Bench to modify their approach. That will be no more and no less than this amendment does.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I ask the leave of the House once again to intervene. I had asked my noble friends to allow a period of two years, in those exceptional circumstances, to be extended to perhaps three years, but not in the way proposed in this amendment.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, in that case I look forward to the support of the noble Baroness on an amendment later this afternoon which will do exactly that. I believe that we are using the same hymn sheet, but possibly different parts of it.
Perhaps I may now comment on the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes. I agree with her on the first point, but perhaps not on the second. The substantive point on which she is right is that the problem originates from the fact that there is a shortage of social housing to rent. That is why there is pressure. At this stage your Lordships will not particularly welcome a debate as to why there is that pressure, but it is certainly due to the fact that local authorities have
From my experience of chairing a housing committee for 11 years, for the most part the difference, as the DoE said in 1989, between families on the waiting list and those who become homeless is that the homeless cannot wait. That was my experience from local authority work and that was confirmed by the Government in 1989.
I now come to the Minister's point. He described this Bill as offering a safety net for homeless families. I believe that his advisers have failed to engage with what this amendment does. I say categorically that it does not do what the Minister asserted, which, according to his phrase, allows homeless families a direct route into permanent housing. It does not do that. I am genuinely distressed that his advisers thought fit to put that interpretation on the amendment. I do not know whether our amendment was so opaque, but the Minister said that is what it did.
Those who have been involved in these debates for many hours will know that that is not what this amendment does. It does not give homeless families a direct route into permanent housing. Under this Bill homeless families go into temporary housing for a statutory period of two years. The question which this amendment seeks to deal with--and I apologise to the House for perhaps not making this as clear as I should have done at the beginning--is what happens to these homeless families if, after two years in temporary accommodation, they have not got to the head of the queue. My noble friend Lord Monkswell is right in saying that that is the question.
As the Bill stands a local authority may continue to rehouse them after two years: the word is "may" and not "must". If the local authority decides not to continue to house them then the family is out. However, if in the process of housing them for two years the local authority has used its own hard-to-let housing, they have to be evicted. The Minister said that that was wrong, but he simply misunderstood my noble friend and that is why I shook my head. I was respecting the conventions at Report stage so I did not intervene during his speech, but perhaps another time I should do so.
The Minister has misunderstood this amendment. It does not give a direct route for homeless families into permanent housing. It states that if after two years a tiny minority of families who have been in temporary housing have not reached the head of the queue and otherwise face eviction--which must take place if they are living in local authority owned property--then this amendment allows local authorities to review all the circumstances. If it thinks it reasonable, the local authority should ensure that the family is given enough points to be rehoused into permanent housing. There is
Rented social housing is in very short supply in the inner London boroughs, as the noble Baroness suggested, and in other areas, as the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, pointed out in an earlier debate. He referred to families being hard to house because, for example, a member of the family may be disabled and need a large property. Those families may face eviction from temporary housing after two years and if they are living in a local authority owned house they must be evicted. Is that reasonable? Is it right to send fragile, vulnerable families, often with several children, into the churning of going in and out of temporary accommodation such as bed and breakfast accommodation, hotel or private rented accommodation and so on? It is not that they queue jump or that there is a direct route into permanent housing but merely, as the Minister himself said, that there should be a safety net for them.
However, if after two years a family in temporary housing has not qualified for permanent housing, then the local authority may, if it believes it reasonable, in comparison with other people on the list, ensure that they have enough points to qualify for permanent housing, which they would get if they lived in a different authority area. That is all this amendment does. It simply does what the Minister said it should do, which is to put in a safety net. If we do not there remains a black hole for some of the most vulnerable and fragile families.
It is a modest amendment. It will probably affect only a few thousand out of the 120,000 homeless families who present themselves to local authorities each year. But those families are in an acute situation. They are not queue jumping. The amendment merely provides that after two years' waiting, in often poor quality temporary housing, we should not send them churning back into bed and breakfast accommodation to go through the cycle again. Remembering that this is not providing a direct route into permanent housing and it is not queue-jumping--it is merely including a means of rescue and a safety net for those who would otherwise be turned out after a wait of two years--I should like to test the opinion of the House on the amendment.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.