House of Commons
Monday 5 November 2018
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Housing, Communities and Local Government
The Secretary of State was asked—
Before I answer these questions, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering our condolences to the family and friends of Sir Jeremy Heywood, who passed away at the weekend. He demonstrated all that is precious in our civil service through the way in which he supported Governments of all colours, and the manner in which he supported four Prime Ministers. He showed leadership, real focus and ingenuity in dealing with challenging issues, as well as calmness and a real sense of humour. I know that he will be missed by everyone on both sides of the House.
Unfair leasehold practices have no place in a modern housing market, and neither do excessive ground rents that exploit consumers. I will be making clear to developers at a roundtable meeting later this week the need for the industry to provide greater support to existing leaseholders.
I thank the Secretary of State for his response, and I would like to associate myself with his remarks about the sad death of Sir Jeremy Heywood.
Will the Secretary of State explain how the steps he has outlined will help my constituent, Linda Barnes, who owns a flat that is valued at £80,000 and pays an onerous ground rent of £400 a year on it? What help will he give so that such flats can become attractive to buyers again?
I am conscious of some of the bad practices in the leasehold market, which is why I will be meeting the industry later this week to underline the need for redress and for solutions to be offered to people who have in some cases been mis-sold. I certainly take this seriously. I have also written to the Competition and Markets Authority and to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority, in the knowledge that there are serious questions about some of the practices involved, in order to ensure that we are taking action on a number of fronts in response to the challenges that the hon. Lady rightly highlights.
Three weeks ago, members of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee held a roundtable for leaseholders at the start of our inquiry. They told us about the problem of escalating ground rents that trap them in homes that they can no longer sell. They made it clear that they wanted existing leaseholds to be ended; does the Secretary of State agree with them?
We are working with the Law Commission around greater enfranchisement in order to bring leaseholds to an end. I am also conscious that at least one provider in the market has offered some means of redress and of dealing with some of the issues, but the point is that we need to go further, and that is what I shall be challenging representatives of the industry on when I meet them later this week.
The House will be grateful to the Secretary of State for saying that he is going to commit to doing all he can for residential leaseholders on existing leases, which are abusive. It is still not too late for the Competition and Markets Authority to declare some of those leases to be so unfair as to be unenforceable.
I hope that, in time, the Secretary of State will meet representatives of the industry, along with the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership and the Leaseholder Association —and perhaps the Chairman of the Select Committee, which is having hearings this afternoon—and that the campaigners and the industry will all meet together so that the Secretary of State is not hearing one thing in one ear and another thing in the other. We have to represent the leaseholders.
I hear my hon. Friend’s message very clearly indeed. We have been provided with a number of examples of egregious practice, and I intend to challenge some of the concerns that have been flagged to me. I am sure that we will continue to have this conversation, but I have noted his points.
The Law Commission process grinds on, but what advice can be given in the meantime to constituents who present with the most outrageous charges?
Advice is being given by LEASE and others, but this is about transparency and providing more support, which is where the industry has a key role to play. That is why we will be making these points to the industry later this week, as well as looking at where the regulatory aspects might sit.
Leaseholders in several private blocks in Leeds are being asked to pay huge bills to deal with unsafe cladding. The cost is between £10,000 and £28,000 for each leaseholder at Skyline Apartments, and the total cost of replacing the cladding in the Saxton development could be as high as £8 million. Given that my constituents are being asked to pay money that they do not have to deal with a problem that they did not create, when will the Government stop urging freeholders not to charge leaseholders and actually prevent them from doing so by law?
We have taken several steps and put significant pressure on the industry, and that is starting to have an impact as many freeholders take the necessary steps to make buildings safe without passing on the costs to leaseholders, who should not bear them. I am happy to consider the right hon. Gentleman’s specific examples, because we are in direct contact with several different agencies, and indeed with local government about taking enforcement action, to see that work is done.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his answers. I urge the Government to bring in legislation to bar such charges in future, but we would still need to address those who have been unfairly put in this position in the first place. I therefore urge my right hon. Friend to consider not only legislation for the future, but retrospective legislation to address the egregious practices that have taken place.
As my hon. Friend will know, we are consulting on the implementation of a ban on inappropriate leaseholds on homes, which are the core of what we are discussing. Legislation will come forward once we have seen the responses to our technical consultation, and there will obviously be plenty of opportunity for colleagues to debate the matter further.
I start by formally echoing the Secretary of State’s comments about Sir Jeremy Heywood. Many of us were privileged to work with Sir Jeremy, and he was an exceptional civil servant who gave outstanding service to this country. Our deep sympathies are with his wife and family at this time.
As we have heard, many of us have constituents who bought their home but then found that they do not own it and feel ripped off by unfair leasehold contracts. When we hear, repeatedly, that leasehold buyers did not choose their own solicitor, were wrongly told that they could buy their freehold cheaply at any time, or found out later that they had to ask and pay freeholders for permission to own a pet, change their carpets or build a conservatory, the individual cases add up to something bigger. The Government must act, just as with other mis-selling scandals, such as on pensions, mortgages or payment protection insurance. Will the Secretary of State today back an inquiry into this systematic mis-selling to leaseholders?
I recognise and appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s comments about Sir Jeremy Heywood. I know that that message will have been heard throughout the House.
The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s investigation into leasehold is live, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman recognises the seriousness with which we take the issues that he and others have flagged, and the troubling matters that pertain to some of the practices within the leasehold market. That is why I am taking action.
It is not the Select Committee’s action that counts, but the Government’s action, which has been too weak and too slow and, critically, largely overlooks the plight of existing leaseholders. An industry survey shows that six in 10 leaseholders did not even know what being a leaseholder meant until after they had bought, and that nine in 10 regret having bought a leasehold at all. Those are classic signs of mis-selling—it is a national scandal. I will give the Secretary of State another chance: when will he stand up for leaseholders and launch an inquiry into mis-selling?
Nobody is ignoring the issue. That is not only why we are legislating to address the inappropriate use of leasehold for new homes, but why I have underlined today the requests that I have made of the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Competition and Markets Authority. We recognise that there are serious issues, which is why we are taking action. We want to ensure that leaseholders’ concerns are heard and fully understood, and that redress can be provided.
Homeless Families: Accommodation Outside Home Borough
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. As usual, I ask people to note my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
In December 2017 we updated the homelessness code of guidance for local authorities, chapter 17 of which makes it clear that, when possible, local authorities should place families as close as possible to where they were previously living.
There has been a 40% rise in London households being moved out of London by their local authority, and my own experience shows that local authorities are also moving families in unprecedented numbers away from their community, their children’s schools, their workplaces and their support. The code of guidance is clearly not working, so can the Minister tell us unambiguously that local authorities should, under no circumstances, expect children to commute to school from temporary accommodation for two, three or even four hours every day?
I do understand the particular problem that the hon. Lady is having in Westminster, but it is the London boroughs. We have been clear that placing families out of borough should be a last resort, and we have now committed £40 million to a London collaborative project that will ensure that families are placed in temporary accommodation close to home. We also recently launched the £20 million private rented sector access fund to support those who are homeless, or who are at risk of becoming homeless, to access sustainable accommodation. Finally, our specialist homelessness advisers are working closely with London boroughs in particular to provide support to limit the number of out-of-borough moves altogether.
The Housing First initiative has clear potential to prevent homelessness. What is the Department doing to monitor the effectiveness of pilots in Manchester and other cities, and what are its plans for taking the evidence forward?
My hon. Friend is right. The Housing First projects in Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool are backed by the £1.2 billion that we have committed to tackle all forms of homelessness and rough sleeping across the country through to 2020. Housing First and the private rented sector access fund are also providing local authorities with flexible funding to tackle the homelessness pressures they are facing.
The guidance also says that an authority moving a homeless family out to another area should inform the receiving authority within 14 days. I have written to the Minister twice about this issue, and she has replied that Peterborough City Council is systematically dumping homeless families in Travelodges across South Yorkshire without telling the receiving authority. What will she do to ensure that the statutory guidance passed by this House is actually enforced and that authorities do not continue to flout it?
The hon. Gentleman is an assiduous Member and does such a good job of chairing the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee —[Interruption.] Do you mind? We are trying to get there; let us have a bit of civility, shall we?
I have written again to the hon. Gentleman, and the important thing is that we have now had frank words with the local authority in Peterborough to say that it should have informed the receiving authorities—it has now done that. The team we have put together to help with homelessness is having a special word with Peterborough and other councils that were thinking of placing homeless people out of borough.
Homelessness has risen in each and every one of the past seven years. In the last year alone, 440 homeless people have died. The Budget pledged nearly £10 billion to a poorly targeted help-to-buy scheme, but it failed to mention homelessness once. Now the Secretary of State has scrimped together a measly £15,000 each for councils to tackle winter pressures. Will that guarantee that we will not see any rough sleepers on the streets this winter?
Sadly I do not have a crystal ball, but what I do have is a team of fantastic advisers who are making sure that councils have put in really good bids to help rough sleepers. Secondly, there is money: £40 million, £30 million, £75 million and, now, another £5 million. This Government take homelessness and rough sleeping extremely seriously, and we are the only Government who have put it in our manifesto that we want to halve homelessness and rough sleeping. We will be looking after the most vulnerable people in 2020, and we will finish this altogether in 2027. The answer is that the Government and the money that taxpayers are providing are doing their best.
Local Government: Departmental Support
Councils will receive a real-terms increase in financial resources both this year and next. Furthermore, the Department funds the Local Government Association to provide support for local authorities to build leadership capacity, conduct peer reviews and facilitate efficiency initiatives.
I thank the Minister for that. What help is being provided specifically for Somerset County Council to cope with the escalating demands of adult social care and children’s services? Will he bear in mind that Somerset County Council desperately needs £80 million from the housing infrastructure fund in order to cope with providing much-needed future infrastructure?
My hon. Friend is tireless in pressing Somerset’s case. We listened carefully to her and others, and the Budget confirmed an additional £650 million for social care next year, and indeed an additional £500 million for the housing infrastructure fund. I am sure that the Minister for Housing will have heard her submission, but given what I have said, and the LGA’s specific support for Somerset with its children’s services, I hope she feels that we are responding to Somerset’s concerns and hers.
I do not know whether the Minister has ever heard the song “Streets of London” by Ralph McTell, but it is worth listening to just to be reminded of what the streets of every town in this country are like: how run down they are; how many rough sleepers there are; how much deterioration there is; how much graffiti there is; and how many broken pavements there are. That is what my constituents see in my town, and it is happening up and down this country because this Government have starved our country’s local government service.
The hon. Gentleman may want to talk this country down, but Conservative Members have enormous faith in towns and communities up and down this country, which was why in the Budget we backed Britain’s high streets with a £675 million fund. We did that because we believe in local communities taking control of their high streets and developing vibrant communities that we will enjoy for years to come.
What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that local authorities in rural areas can deliver public services effectively?
My hon. Friend has met me and others to discuss the cost of delivering services in rural areas, particularly in Leicestershire. His local county council has been a vocal proponent of a new fair funding formula, and I am pleased to tell him that we are engaged with his council and others to take into account those concerns, and we will shortly be issuing the latest round of consultation on those proposals.
When one of the councils serving my constituency still faces £43 million of cuts over the next four years—more than the combined total it currently spends on recycling, parks, libraries, children’s centres, roads and pavements, and community safety—does the Secretary of State agree with the Prime Minister that austerity is over, or does he share the incredulity of so many of my constituents who wonder how she could possibly be so out of touch?
This Government believe in backing local authorities to build strong communities. The hon. Lady mentioned parks and roads. Perhaps she heard in the Budget about £420 million for our councils to fix potholes this winter. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently announced another round of our hugely successful pocket parks programme, and I encourage her local authority to bid as well.
In Northampton- shire, the borough councils, the district councils and the county council are all working together to set up two new unitary authorities. Is the excellent Minister able to say when he is going to consult on that? Secondly, is he able to say when he will make a decision on whether next year’s borough and district council elections need to go ahead?
May I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to all the local councillors in Northamptonshire, who are working very constructively together through a difficult situation to ensure that their residents benefit at the end of the process? I can tell him that reasonably shortly we will be issuing details about the next step of that process. As he rightly points out, as part of that the Government may have the ability to delay the elections next year, should that be requested by the authorities and make sense in the context of the new unitisation proposals.
This Government’s record on local government is clear: since 2010, the Department’s budget has fallen by at least £13 billion; and, by 2020, the revenue support grant will be cut by 80%—£8 billion—putting more pressure on to council tax, which is an unequal levy. Northamptonshire has, in effect, gone bust, with the media reporting that Surrey, East Sussex and Lancashire are next in line. Services are under pressure—cut, slashed or stopped altogether—and councils are at breaking point. The Public Accounts Committee asked Ministers to publish a definition of “financial sustainability” for councils, methodology for assessing authorities at financial risk, and projections for spending and demand in service areas, so why have they refused? This is common sense; what has the Minister got to hide?
The hon. Gentleman has a job to do, and I appreciate that—it is his job to put pressure on us—but I would have thought that this week, after all the question sessions we have had, he would have joined me in welcoming last week’s Budget, which includes £1 billion extra for local government across two years.
The publication of the national planning policy framework provides greater clarity and certainty for the development of homes. We are examining the recommendations of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) on the build-out review and will respond in full in February.
The Government would see greater progress in their quest to shorten the time it takes to build new homes if people were able to have greater confidence in the design and layout of large housing developments. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the steps he is taking to get that done, but does he agree that what really worries people is not only the housing but the inability to provide adequate social infrastructure to cope with massive amounts of new housing where there simply is not currently the infrastructure to support it?
I recognise the points that my right hon. Friend highlights and welcome his support for the Building Better, Building Beautiful commission, which will look at that sense of place and the identity between our built environment and how we live our lives. He also rightfully highlights the issues relating to infrastructure. I hope that he will welcome the extra £500 million that the Chancellor committed in last week’s Budget to the housing infrastructure fund to deal with the issues that he rightly points out.
Some 140,000 children are waiting in temporary accommodation for new homes. In the meantime, how long does the Secretary of State think it is acceptable for a child to have to travel to school—two hours? Three hours? Some children are getting home at 9 pm because their school is so far away from where they are placed.
The point that the hon. Lady makes is about the need to build more homes, which is precisely what we are doing as a Government. We are ensuring that housing associations are building more with the £9 billion fund, and by lifting the borrowing caps we are ensuring that councils can build more, along with what the private sector is doing. That way, people can have strong communities and the services that they need close at hand.
Does the Secretary of State recognise that one of the best ways to bring forward more new homes quickly is to support my Housing Reform Bill, which has support from Members from all parties, including some of the House’s most distinguished Members? The Bill’s requirement on the Secretary of State to provide serviced plots for sale or for rent to rich people and poor people, social tenants and others, would do a lot to solve our housing crisis.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his tireless championing of the issues that he has highlighted. The Minister for Housing will meet him shortly to discuss a number of the elements that he has highlighted. I hope that he recognises some of the steps taken through the national planning policy framework that will support his agenda.
Residential Property Management
All tenants deserve a safe and decent place to live. In respect of the private rented sector, Lord Best is chairing a new working group on property agent regulation, and we have extended mandatory licensing. The social housing Green Paper contains proposals to drive up the performance of social landlords in delivering a good service.
I welcome the reforms, especially the requirement for all residential managers to be trained and qualified. That is the way to raise standards. However, there are concerns about how the requirement may be introduced. Will the Minister agree to a meeting to discuss how existing qualifications will be accredited by the proposed mandatory qualifications, so that we do not end up worsening the current shortage of competent managers?
With his usual accuracy, my hon. Friend identifies an issue critical to getting this matter right. As he knows, the working group will be looking at the entire property agent sector to ensure that any new regulatory framework is joined up across letting, property management and estate agents. One of the key issues in making that new regulatory framework land will be the transition from the old to new, and I will be more than happy—indeed it would be foolish of me not to agree—to meet a former Housing Minister of such standing.
According to the Government’s own figures, there are more than 10,000 rogue landlords operating in England. Will the Minister therefore explain to tenants who are suffering from damp and often unsafe conditions why none of these landlords appears on the Government’s new rogue landlord database?
As the hon. Lady knows, the database was introduced earlier this year and it will take time to populate in order for landlords to appear on it. There will obviously have to be investigations, prosecutions, and penalties levied so that they can properly be entered on to the database. She will know that the introduction of banning orders and a rogue landlord database will have an enormous impact in future. We just have to make sure that we get the right names on it.
Having man’s best friend by one’s side can make a massive difference to somebody who is suffering from loneliness, social isolation or mental health issues. I am aware of at least one local authority that has taken the retrograde step of banning its tenants from keeping a pet. Will my hon. Friend please look at the guidance given to local councils, because, to many people, having a pet is their lifeline?
As part of a family who regard their pet cat as an intrinsic and important member of our household—[Interruption.] Well, hon. Members may well be amused by that, but it is true what my hon. Friend says: a number of people, particularly those who live alone or those who have children, rely on their pets for comfort and calm and for companionship. I would hope that all local authorities operated a humane and compassionate letting policy where this is concerned, and I would be more than happy to look at the rules around that.
I empathise very strongly with the Minister, and there should be no levity over this important matter. Our own household cat is very fundamental to our way of life and is suitably named Order.
I have no pets to declare to the House.
On behalf of my party, I offer our condolences on the passing of Sir Jeremy Heywood and our thanks for his service in public life.
It was encouraging to hear that the UK Government are to follow the example set in 2015 by the Scottish Government and introduce mandatory five-year electrical safety checks on rental homes. Will the Minister confirm a start date for those checks?
I am afraid that I will have to write to the hon. Lady with that answer as I do not have it to hand at the moment, but she is quite right that we have been reviewing standards generally in the private rented sector and considering what more we can do to make sure that private rented homes are as safe as they can possibly be.
That is a disappointing response, particularly considering how important safety is to people renting accommodation. Citizens Advice found that renters in England who complain about issues with their home are statistically more likely to get evicted. The Scottish Government abolished no-fault evictions recently. Will the Minister consider doing likewise so that tenants in England do not fear reporting faults with their homes?
We certainly want to make sure that the phenomenon of revenge evictions is stamped out and that there is an equality of power between tenants and landlords in both the social and the private rented sectors.
Local Authority Funding: Allocation
We are undertaking a fair funding review of local authorities’ relative needs and resources to address concerns about the fairness of the current system. This will determine the new funding allocations for local authorities through a more up-to-date and fairer funding formula.
Rural areas are historically underfunded and in West Oxfordshire we need more funding for road repairs, upgrades to the A40 and adult social care. How is fairer funding progressing and will this be addressed in the spending review?
I am pleased to say that we are making very good progress and are considering many of the topics raised by hon. Members, including rapidly changing demographics affecting social care and the cost of delivering services in rural areas. I look forward to collaborating closely with the sector and with my hon. Friend’s county as we look to introduce a simple, accurate and transparent new funding formula.
If funding is so equitable, why is North Lincolnshire Council giving people on the lowest incomes such a low level of support with their council tax, at only 50%? Why is the council sending nearly all its discretionary housing payments back to the Government?
Decisions about local council tax support are rightly for individual local authorities to make themselves; it would not be appropriate for me to dictate to them. The fairer funding formula is designed to determine the equitable nature of funding distributed to all local authorities. The hon. Gentleman will know that the current system dates back to 2013-14, and indeed many elements date back decades before that. We are determined to fix it and bring it up to date.
I thank the Minister for supporting the measures in the Budget exempting public toilets from business rates and providing a commitment to take action regarding second home owners who are avoiding business rates. I very much welcome his words on a fair funding formula, but when the fair funding formula was previously introduced, it was dampened away. Will he make a commitment that rural councils really will see the benefit of a new fairer formula this time?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and, indeed, to my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) for successfully placing in the Budget measures on public toilet relief and second homes. With regard to my hon. Friend’s second point, I am determined to ensure that the new formula is transparent and that all local authorities—not just those in rural areas—have a clearer idea about their allocation under the new formula, and transition to those new allocations in a relatively short timeframe.
A recent report by the New Policy Institute shows that the majority of local government cuts have fallen on the 10 most deprived councils, despite the fact that they have higher numbers of looked-after children and adults needing social care and other council services. Will the Minister now commit to funding councils properly and according to levels of need, rather than political colour, as the Government appear to be doing at the moment?
It is simply not the case that that is how funding is determined. Although out of date, the current funding formulas do contain deprivation measures and funding is distributed on the basis of need. That is also how the new funding for adult social care, announced just last week, will be distributed—according to the relative needs formula.
Local Authority Funding
The Government have listened and responded to the pressures faced by local authorities. The autumn Budget helped to support financial sustainability of local authorities and provided more than £1 billion of additional funding across this year and next year for local authorities to deliver local services, support vulnerable residents and build vibrant communities.
I welcome the short-term support for adult social care promised in last week’s Budget, but it is a sticking plaster at best. In Nottingham, it costs an average of £450 a week to care for someone at home, compared to £2,500 in hospital. Our NHS trusts are already raising concerns about winter pressures. Inadequate social care provision adds to those pressures and will inevitably cost the Government more in the long term. I know that the Minister understands the importance and efficacy of early intervention and prevention, so can he provide any assurances that he understands the need to fund adult social care sustainably and tell us what support will be provided from 2020 onwards?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to mention the importance of prevention, and of the interaction between the NHS and social care. Later this year, we will see the publication of the Government’s Green Paper with a long-term sustainable settlement for social care. That will answer her question as to the settlement for social care beyond next year in the spending review.
My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) just mentioned Cambridge University research published last month showing that local authority spending cuts have been concentrated on the poorest areas, making disparities with better-off areas much worse. Phasing out central Government grants, as Ministers are proposing, will make that even worse. Are Ministers happy just to let the disparities between different areas rocket?
It may be worth pointing out to the right hon. Gentleman that core spending power per household in the most deprived local authority areas in the country is 23% higher than that in the least deprived. This Government support all communities with the resources that they need.
New Homes for Social Rent
Since 2010, we have delivered over 378,000 new affordable homes, including 129,000 for social rent. We are investing over £9 billion in the affordable homes programme to deliver more than 250,000 new affordable homes, including at least 12,500 for social rent.
There are thousands of households languishing on Dudley’s waiting lists. I meet families every single week who are desperate for a home of their own. Funding for new affordable homes has fallen from over £4 billion in 2009-10 to less than £500 million last year, and the amount of social housing built for rent is actually falling to its lowest level since the war. In that context, what hope do my constituents have of the decent, secure and affordable home that they dream of?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, we are throwing literally everything we have got at the housing market at the moment in the hope that we can build the homes that everybody in the country needs. In particular, in the social sector, we have increased the size of the affordable homes programme. We have reintroduced the idea of social rent; removed the housing revenue account borrowing cap for local authorities; and are setting long-term rent deals for councils and housing associations, enabling them to plan. We have also committed funding beyond 2022 for housing deals and partnerships with housing associations, which we think will deliver significant numbers of houses. It must be remembered that the Labour Government the hon. Gentleman supported induced local authorities to get out of house building. I was a councillor at the time. We were offered large amounts of money to get rid of our housing stock. That has to end. We want councils to start building to address exactly the needs he raises.
In Chelmsford, we are building a new garden community of 10,000 homes, more than one in four of which will be affordable, but the council wants to do more. What measures will there be to allow councils that do not have a housing revenue account also to take advantage of the new schemes that will enable them to borrow and build their own properties?
My hon. Friend is right. Quite a number of local authorities, having been induced, as I say, to get out of the house building industry and home-owning function, do not have housing revenue accounts. At the moment, if they construct, build or own more than about 200 council homes they have to open a housing revenue account. We hope that the new freedom we have introduced will enable councils to create innovative partnerships with other social housing providers to build the next generation of council houses.
The net number of social homes for rent built in the last financial year was 7,000, so we are losing a large number of these homes. We all agree that we need a lot more social homes for rent. In order to build more, will the Minister consider local authorities being given first right of refusal when public land comes up for sale, with a sale price based on current use rather than a speculative development price?
I am engaged in an intensive amount of activity on the subject of public land with my ministerial colleagues and those elsewhere. Hon. Members will have seen that we have recently changed the rules so that local authorities can dispose of their own public land at less than market value if they deem there is a social need to do so. Whether or not we can give them first refusal on acquiring that land will depend on their ability to deliver the homes that people need. I am very focused on numbers of homes rather than principles of disposal.
Our policies on affordable homes are almost entirely focused on affordable homes to rent. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should also deliver more affordable homes to purchase?
My hon. Friend is one of the most innovative thinkers in housing policy generally, certainly on the Conservative Benches—not that there is much innovation on the Labour Benches, but there we are. He points to an area where there is strong demand. Very large numbers of people who would otherwise be tenants have a strong desire to own, and we would love to see them owning on a discounted basis. Hon. Members will have seen in the Budget the announcement of funding for neighbourhood plans to enable an allocation of discounted homes for sale, particularly in rural areas, and I would be keen to explore the idea further with my hon. Friend.
I have no reason to think that the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) is anything other than an innovative thinker on this and other matters, but it might be of interest to people to know that he is also a distinguished estate agent.
You rather took the wind from my sails there, Mr Speaker.
The Minister refers to housing associations, and it will not have escaped his notice that the chief executives of housing associations earn on average comfortably more than the Prime Minister, with the upper decile trousering salaries in the eye-watering range of £250,000 to £400,000. Is the Minister entirely comfortable with that?
One issue that we are considering as part of our work on the social housing Green Paper is whether the tenant voice is heard strongly enough at the highest levels of housing associations. We must remember that some of these organisations are extremely large. The largest ones are huge and complex, looking after many hundreds of thousands of people, and the individuals who run them shoulder enormous responsibility and, indeed, risk. It is for those boards, suitably informed by the tenant body, to make decisions about remuneration.
My recent visit to India provided an important opportunity to promote the midlands engine in that significant market. This month, we announced funding to support the creation of a new locally led development body for Toton, as well as £70 million for the Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre, and we will refresh the midlands engine strategy.
A great example of the potential economic development in the midlands is the shortlisting of Barrow Hill in my constituency as the next potential site for the Spanish train manufacturer Talgo. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming that shortlisting and—fingers crossed—hoping that we get it?
I note my hon. Friend’s fingers are crossed. I am delighted to hear that Talgo is considering investing in the UK. I hope he will understand that as there are still a number of locations under consideration, it would be wrong for me to comment further—although, having visited the potential site in his constituency this summer, I can say that it is clearly an excellent site for investment.
The midlands engine is working with Stoke-on-Trent City Council as part of the transforming cities fund and making bids for significant investment. It was heartening to hear the Chancellor refer to that in his speech last Monday. Could the Secretary of State put us out of our misery and announce from the Dispatch Box today that Stoke will receive that funding, which would save a further round of hoop-jumping?
As my hon. Friend says, that is a good try. I recognise the way in which the hon. Gentleman has championed Stoke, this initiative and the funding. All I can say is that we will look at that carefully, but I hope he gets a sense of the attention and focus we are giving to the midlands engine.
The midlands engine covers approximately two thirds of Lincolnshire—the county council area—but my constituency is served by the two unitary authorities in the north. Co-ordination of economic policies falls to both the Greater Lincolnshire local enterprise partnership and the Humber local enterprise partnership. Both the local authorities and LEPs would like to maintain the status quo. Could the Secretary of State bear that in mind in the upcoming review?
My hon. Friend will note the conclusions of the review, particularly in relation to governance and overlapping geographies. It is important that we have reform and work with the LEPs to take this forward, and I look forward to having discussions with the LEP chairs in the coming days.
I thank my hon. Friends for their questions. We are spending more than £1.2 billion through to 2020, and we have implemented the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, published our £100 million rough sleeping strategy and taken immediate action to begin to reduce the number of people on the streets.
I thank the Minister for her reply, and it is great to see her back in her place. As she will know, Torbay is very keen to take forward a Housing First pilot for our bay, to end the scourge of rough sleeping. Can she update us on what plans the Government have for that approach to be adopted?
We are delighted to be piloting Housing First at scale across England for the first time. The impact of that approach will be measured by a rigorous evaluation, which will ensure that we have the robust evidence base needed to demonstrate its effectiveness and inform future spending decisions.
Does my hon. Friend agree with me and the more than 20 homelessness and health charities, including St Mungo’s, which today published a joint open letter to Sir Simon Stevens of NHS England, that to tackle homelessness, we need to ensure that the NHS works with others and local authorities to provide better support for those tackling mental health, alcohol and drug addiction and sleeping rough on our streets?
My hon. Friend is an assiduous campaigner on this matter. We appreciate that this is a very high priority for all local constituency MPs on both sides of the Chamber. I certainly agree that wraparound support is crucial to help people who have been sleeping rough to access and sustain accommodation. In our recent rough sleeping strategy, we announced a range of measures, including asking NHS England to spend up to £30 million over five years on health services for rough sleepers.
Street homelessness is a growing problem in my city of Leeds, reflecting inadequate social housing and mental health provision, and cuts to benefits. Big Change Leeds, launched last month, is bringing together everyone trying to help those who are street homeless in our city by giving their time or money. Will the Government welcome this initiative, but more importantly, will they commit their support by giving Leeds City Council the money it needs to address this growing problem in our city?
Again, I reiterate how very important this question is to everybody on both sides of the Chamber. I had the great pleasure of talking last week to the chief executive of the council in Leeds about the strategy and about the money and the help we are giving to the city. It was a really useful conversation to find a chief executive who is so committed to the project.
Will the Minister say how much money to deal with homelessness she has given to the local authority in Coventry and the charities in Coventry, which tell me that their allocations have been cut? That is no way to deal with homelessness.
I am very sorry that the charities are telling the local Member that, because overall we are putting in place a £1.2 billion fund for homelessness. I would certainly be very happy to write to the hon. Gentleman. His area is part of the greater west midlands project, and the greater west midlands Mayor, Andy Street, has many millions of pounds to help with homelessness—going to Coventry as well as the other parts of the greater west midlands.
I want to get through two more questions very quickly.
It is right that developers who sold leaseholds with onerous terms should support their customers to amend them. Some developers have introduced assistance schemes, which is welcome, but these must go further and faster. We are meeting developers shortly to discuss progress, and we will take further action as necessary.
The St Mary Magdalene and Holy Jesus Trust in my constituency is a charity that is refusing to allow its leaseholders to extend their leases, in a wholly uncharitable way. The Secretary of State talks about roundtables and reviews, but when will my constituents get some sort of justice and the ability to extend their leases?
The hon. Lady has a particular problem with a particular trust. The good news is that, following last year’s discussions, the trust has now made an offer to some of her constituents to enable them to purchase their freeholds. I am aware that her constituents have found the freehold purchase price of the leasehold properties to be prohibitive. We are also aware that different formulas are in use to establish the cost of enfranchisement. The Government are looking to standardise enfranchisement processes and have asked the Law Commission to review current arrangements, including the valuation methodology. This will support existing leaseholders by making buying the freehold or extending the leasehold easier, faster and cheaper.
First-time Buyers: Help to Buy and Stamp Duty
In the interests of providing a good service, Mr Speaker, I hope you will indulge me if I refer to my answer to the hon. Lady from north of the border, the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss). I just want to say that there is no fixed date at the moment for bringing in the affirmative statutory instrument that will make it mandatory to have five-year electrical checks in the private rented centre, but we are searching for a slot as soon as possible in a crowded and exciting legislative timetable.
In answer to Question 14, the Government are working together to help more people on to the housing ladder. Help to Buy equity loans have helped over 169,000 house- holds to March 2018, 81% were to first-time buyers and 121,500 people have benefited from first-time buyers relief from stamp duty since June 2018.
I am grateful for the cuts in stamp duty for those at the lower end and the help for home ownership, but the higher rates of stamp duty may be having an adverse effect on the housing market. It could cost the Treasury £300 million, so a cut leading to more income, leaving more resources for those at the lower end could be in prospect. Has the Housing Minister raised that with the Treasury?
My hon. Friend is a political toxophilite of the highest order and has fired his arrows into a subject that is the cause of constant discussion between us and the Treasury. He knows that we all acknowledge the effect that stamp duty can have on the market; that is why he may have seen changes in the Budget to stamp duty on shared ownership, which we hope will benefit first-time buyers. However, I will keep him apprised of conversations as we have them.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have the tribute framed. It would be very disappointing if he did not.
What assessment has the Minister made of the number of people who have used Help to Buy who are now in negative equity because of leasehold reform? They cannot sell the properties and the price has fallen, so the taxpayer and the individual are hit.
At this stage, there is no indication from the early returns on Help to Buy that the situation that the right hon. Gentleman raises is occurring. Indeed, early numbers show a higher level of successful redemption than we expected and we hope that that will continue.
This week, I am meeting developers at a leasehold roundtable to press them to tackle onerous ground rents, and I will attend the Locality Convention in Bristol to acknowledge the hard work of our community organisations and set out our ambition for increased localism.
Wednesday’s celebration of Diwali will be a special moment to reflect and celebrate the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil. As we mourn the tragic events in Pittsburgh, especially in the context of this week’s 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, we are clear that racism and xenophobia in whatever form have no place in our society and will be confronted in the strongest terms.
It was great that the Secretary of State and the Minister for Local Government were able to attend last Wednesday’s launch of the county all-party parliamentary group’s report on social mobility in county areas. Will my right hon. Friend work with the APPG to implement the report’s 11 recommendations, which will do so much to ensure that young people across the country have the opportunity to realise their full potential?
That sense of social justice to which my hon. Friend alludes and which was in the report profoundly reflects the Government’s aspirations and intent to see a country that works for everyone. I look forward to continuing to work with him and the APPG in considering the fair funding review and other steps to ensure that we realise that aspiration.
Trading standards are the foot soldiers in keeping the public from falling victim to unsafe goods, yet cuts to local authorities mean that trading standards budgets have fallen by more than 50% between 2009 and 2019, with a 56% reduction in the number of offices. The Chartered Trading Standards Institute is warning that, as we approach Brexit, the role of those dedicated professionals will be even more crucial. How can they keep the public safe from dodgy and dangerous goods without sustainable funding?
We are providing a real terms increase in funding for local government this year and next year, recognising some of the pressures that exist. We continue to support local government and, in the context of Brexit, we are working with it to ensure effective preparations for protecting our communities.
I can tell my hon. Friend that £240 million of the £650 million will distributed in the same way as the budget for the current year and he should have received those figures already. We will shortly write to local authorities and colleagues about the distribution of the second tranche of £410 million.
Order. I can scarcely hear the hon. Gentleman. I want to hear his question. I do not know what all this baa-ing is about—something may have been said that has escaped my attention—but that does not remotely concern me at this moment. What does concern me at this moment is that the hon. Gentleman must be heard and he will be heard, however long it takes.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Last week, Southern Landlords Association filed for judicial review on selective licensing in Brighton. The Government’s response was to revoke the licence to regulate the private sector. This is not the first judicial review to derail selective licensing. Irrespective of the particular issue I am working on with the Minister, is it now not time to review the way selective licensing works and to stop judicial reviews, particularly vexatious ones like those from Southern Landlords Association, derailing the ability of councils to regulate the private sector and rogue landlords?
The hon. Gentleman might like to secure an Adjournment debate on the subject.
What a very good idea, Mr Speaker. I will not talk about the judicial review in detailed terms—obviously, it is ongoing—but I have been proud to sign off selective licensing in other parts of the country where the council has done a good job. I ask the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in Brighton to urge the local council to review its paperwork. If it comes back with detailed arrangements that I can sign off, I certainly will.
Mr Speaker, if you ever take the opportunity to visit Southport, like Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, you will find out that its famous high street, Lord Street, inspired the wide boulevards of Paris. The £675 million future high street fund, which that historic high street will hope to access, will be subject to a prospectus published by my Department by the end of the year.
We recognise the pressures on social care, which is why this year an extra £240 million has been committed and £650 million is being committed through the Budget to deal with those pressures. We are looking to long-term sustainability and valuing our local government sector, which is what we do.
My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for his constituents, including those who are tenants. He is right. We have had an enthusiastic response to the midlands right-to-buy pilot, with over 9,000 people applying for a code in the ballot. Over 6,000 of them have been given a code, and we hope that a significant number will come forward to seek the ownership they desire, funded by the £200 million being put towards the pilot.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s positive outlook as we leave the European Union. We will deliver a positive Brexit, looking outwards into the world and at how we have trade deals in the future. We continue to engage with local councils to ensure that we deliver a smooth and effective Brexit.
I have done better than that—I have met them. I did so just two weeks ago to discuss their fascinating ideas, not least on how we can make the principle of neighbourhood planning work in urban areas, an issue that I know is of great importance to my hon. Friend.
I absolutely recognise and commend what the hon. Gentleman said on how collectively we challenge antisemitism and stand up for the values of this country. I pay tribute to him for the personal contribution that he has made on this issue, and equally, I reflect on the statue of Frank Foley, which the hon. Gentleman was instrumental in bringing into effect. It recognises Frank Foley’s contribution in saving the lives of thousands of Jews fleeing from persecution in Germany, and we must never forget the contribution that he and others have made.
Many of my constituents are suffering from severe stress following the purchase of their homes on unfair leasehold terms. Does the Minister agree that tackling leasehold abuse is a matter of urgency, and will she comment on a timetable for action?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. The Government are very clear that unjust leasehold practices must come to an end. We have committed to banning new leasehold houses and restricting ground rents on future leases to a peppercorn. We launched our consultation on the details of these proposals on 15 October. I agree that this is an urgent matter, having read many of the stories of leaseholders facing high or doubling ground rents or struggling to sell their homes, especially in my hon. Friend’s part of the north-west. We will bring forward legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.
Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the most effective ways to deal with rising housing costs and rising eviction rates is for councils to follow the lead of my council—Sutton Council—and build council homes, over 90 of which are about to come on-stream very soon?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question, and I commend his council for doing that. My council is going to build 175 next year.
Will the Department work with the Department of Health and Social Care to use the local reorganisation of local government in Northamptonshire as an opportunity to receive local proposals to develop a pilot for a new integrated social care and health system in the county?
We are already taking such steps. On 18 October, we convened a meeting between leaders and chief executives of the Northamptonshire councils and representatives of the local health services to start discussions on how, in future, adult social care may be best provided and integrated with health.
The ill-fated regional fire control centre in Cambridgeshire continues to stand empty, costing £2 million a year. We keep being told that it has been let or that it is about to be sold. When is the Minister going to get a grip?
Fire control now resides within the responsibilities of the Home Office, but I will certainly look into the hon. Gentleman’s points in relation to ensuring good value for money.
I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on the establishment of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission and the inspired choice of Sir Roger Scruton as the chairman, but, first, does my right hon. Friend not agree that this will only have any teeth if we can get the volume house builders to buy into it? Secondly, I think that the commission should be extended to look at the quality and the variable advice often given by local planning officers and at a full accreditation scheme for those planning officers on an annual basis to refresh them.
I certainly want the new commission to drive quality in the built environment, which is at the heart of what my right hon. Friend said. If we do that, we can speed up this process and get greater support and consent from the public in building the homes that our country needs. I therefore think that the house builders should very much embrace this.
The Secretary of State says that local councils will see real-terms increases in their budgets. If so, why is Derbyshire County Council planning for £70 million of cuts, on top of the £260 million of cuts already made, and cutting the terms and conditions of its lowest-paid workers in school catering as well as services for the most vulnerable?
I recognise the challenges that local government has faced over the past few years and how councils have played their part in dealing with the public finance challenges brought about by the Labour party; let us not forget that when discussing the investment we are making to create that sustainable position for local government.
As the Minister will know, we are taking thousands of new homes in Corby and east Northamptonshire, and it is imperative that the infrastructure keep pace. Last week, the Chancellor very welcomely announced a new generation of enterprise zones. May I make an early pitch for Corby, because I would argue that we qualify given the housing growth we are taking?
I have just been told that it is my hon. Friend’s birthday today. I wish him a happy birthday and note his pitch for perhaps a birthday present. We will note it down.
A constituent of mine has been a faithful council tenant for 30 years. Over this time, she has invested much in her home. Her ex-partner served notice when he moved out, and now City of York Council is moving to evict her next week. This is having a serious impact on her mental health—among other things, it has led to her feeling suicidal—yet the council still plans to move her. Will the Minister urgently meet me to discuss this case and the mental health assessments of tenants that should take place?
What a very sad case. Of course, I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady.
Following the Office for National Statistics household projection figures being revised downwards by nearly a quarter, will my hon. Friend the Minister ensure that regional housing targets reflect the easing of pressure to build on the green belt, with particular reference to the Greater Manchester spatial framework?
My hon. Friend may know that we have already issued a technical consultation on the latest household projection numbers and the impact on projected housing need in local authority areas. We really do not want local authorities to take their foot of the accelerator, however, not least because we believe that there is pent-up demand for housing in this country. We are working with authorities across the country to get the formula right in the longer term, while we seek a short-term fix to keep numbers up, but I would be more than happy to meet him and his colleagues to discuss the Manchester spatial framework further.
Tyne and Wear fire service is facing £3 million of cuts, which could mean the closure of my local fire station. Will the Secretary of State look at the special problems with funding fire services that are facing local government in the north-east?
I will certainly raise the hon. Gentleman’s point with colleagues who lead on fire within the Home Office.
The Labour cabinet in Nuneaton and Bedworth is imposing a £40 garden tax on green waste collection, despite pledging not to do so in May’s local election. Does my hon. Friend agree that such a fundamental change to how people’s waste is collected should not be made without full and proper consultation with the public and buy-in from local people?
My predecessor in this job well knows that such decisions are rightly for local areas to make themselves, but I would say that local authorities should look to tighten their own belts and curb any wasteful spending before increasing the bills of hard-working taxpayers.
Further to the Secretary of State’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Ruth George) about Derbyshire County Council’s cuts, the cuts in question are worth more than £200 million, and they were made not by the Labour Government, as he stated, but by the Tory Government in alliance with the Liberal Democrats. To refresh his memory further, I should remind him that we also trebled the amount of money going into the hospital. Now a Tory county council at Matlock has decided to close 20 libraries in the county. That’s politics.
I will take no lectures from the hon. Gentleman about the steps the Government have had to take to put the public finances back on an even keel as a consequence of the Labour party’s actions, and he should well know our commitment to investing in the health service in a way the Labour party would not have done.
Leaving the EU: Rights of EU Citizens
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the arrangements for EU citizens in the event of no deal being agreed in the Article 50 negotiations.
While we are confident about agreeing a good deal for both sides, as a responsible Government we will continue to prepare for all scenarios, including the unlikely outcome that we leave the EU without any deal in March 2019. We have reached an agreement with the EU on citizens’ rights that will protect EU citizens and their family members who are resident in the UK until the end of the planned implementation period on 31 December 2020.
We are introducing the EU settlement scheme under UK immigration law for resident EU citizens and their family members covered by the draft withdrawal agreement. That will enable those who are resident in the UK before the end of the planned implementation period to confirm their status under the settlement scheme. Anyone who already has five years’ continuous residence in the UK when they apply under the scheme will be eligible to apply for settled status. Those who have not yet reached the point of five years’ continuous residence will be eligible to be granted pre-settled status, and will be able to apply for settled status once they have reached that point.
The Prime Minister has already confirmed that, in the unlikely event of no deal, all EU citizens who are resident here by 29 March 2019 will be welcome to stay. They are part of our community and part of our country, and we welcome the contribution that they make. Last week the Prime Minister extended that commitment to citizens of Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, and we are close to reaching an agreement with Switzerland. We will set out further details shortly, so that those affected can have the clarity and certainty that they need.
Unfortunately, the Minister did not give us the clarity that we need. Nor did she clear up the confusion from last week, which I had hoped she would do, especially at a time when there is considerable concern for EU citizens, as well as practical concerns for employers about what arrangements will apply in April, May and June next year if no deal takes place.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to respect the rights of those currently living here, who will be able to stay and work as now, but I am still none the wiser about what checks will apply to those EU citizens in the event of no deal. The Minister and the Home Office officials suggested to us that there would be additional employer checks, and also that free movement would be turned off in March. However, the Home Secretary has told the media that in fact there will be a transition period, and that there will be no additional checks for employers if there is no deal.
Will the Minister tell us whether there will be additional employer checks on EU citizens immediately after no deal—yes or no? Will she confirm that EU citizens will not have to provide anything other than a passport or an identity card in order to be able to work? Will she also tell us whether that will then apply until the completion of the roll-out of the EU settlement scheme, which is due to be completed in June 2021? If not, what on earth are EU citizens supposed to provide as proof of their right to work before June 2021 if the settlement scheme has not been completed?
The Minister and the Home Office have now said that there is no way of differentiating between EU citizens arriving here for the first time and those who have been here for many years. Will the Minister confirm that newly arriving EU citizens will also not have to provide anything other than a passport or an ID card, and that they will continue to be able to work under the same arrangements, also until June 2021?
Those are basic questions that the Home Office really should be able to answer. If the facts are not as I have put them to the Minister, she should be able to tell us what the alternative facts are, what alternative information and proof EU citizens are supposed to provide, and what alternative questions employers are supposed to ask. The clock is ticking, and there are only five months left. Surely the Home Office has a grip of those basic questions.
I thank the right hon. Lady for affording me the opportunity to clarify this point. Employers will of course continue to need to check passports or ID cards—as they do now for EU citizens, and indeed for British citizens, when making a new job offer. We will not be asking employers to differentiate even if there is no deal, and the right hon. Lady will of course be conscious that we are working hard to secure a deal. The Prime Minister has been very clear, as indeed has the Brexit Secretary, that we will honour our commitment to EU citizens and their family members, and more information will be set out in due course, with a specific statement on citizens from the Brexit Secretary, who of course wishes to make clear that people are incredibly important and should not simply be reliant on a technical notice.
My question is twofold. First, can the Minister give us the timelines under which she expects to be setting out further details? Secondly—this is important for London constituencies like mine, which have a high number of EU workers and businesses that rely on EU workers—can she confirm that this step will be taken in a spirit of understanding that recruitment will be made in good faith by employers and should the rules then be set in a different way to what they had anticipated, that will be borne in mind in relation to fines and any other action that can be currently taken against employers employing people illegally?
My right hon. Friend is right to point out the high numbers of EU citizens in her constituency and indeed employers’ reliance upon them. That is why it is important that we have a reasonable and sensible transition period that gives us time to make sure that any new immigration system sets out the requirements very clearly so that there can be certainty for individuals, and indeed for employers.
Is the Minister aware of the very real distress that this confusion over policy, which the Home Office had to correct, has caused to over 3.5 million EU citizens resident in this country—and not just to them, but to their families, dependents and employers? On a related matter, does the Minister remember her reply to a written question in June when she said that providing DNA evidence would be entirely voluntary? Yet the Home Secretary recently had to come before the House and correct that and apologise for the immigration and nationality department imposing mandatory DNA testing. So does the Minister accept that as we move towards leaving the EU this type of confusion over policy is simply not acceptable? It is not just the good faith of Government that she is calling into question, but it is people’s lives that we are playing with. Finally, does the Minister accept that it is simply not good enough to come before this House and talk about further information being provided in due course? There are five months to go and the clock is ticking, and we want no further confusions of this nature.
The right hon. Lady will of course know that the full Alcock report is in the House of Commons Library and it sets out very clearly the information regarding the parliamentary question to which she has referred. She also referred to the 3.5 million citizens already in this country: the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Brexit Secretary and indeed myself have been very clear that we want those people to stay, and by opening the EU settled status scheme, which we have done now in private beta testing phase 2, we are already putting in place steps that have enabled in the region of 1,000 people to confirm their status.
It is very important that the Government are generous and treat properly everybody who has come here lawfully up until the day that we leave, but does my right hon. Friend agree that it is also extremely important that, once we have left, we take back control of our borders?
My hon. Friend will have heard the Prime Minister’s very clear statements on this. As part of Brexit we will end free movement, giving us back control of our borders, which is what I believe people voted for in 2016 and which I know my hon. Friend wants.
Citizens need clarity, and many are here in Parliament today precisely because they have not had it—and, I regret to say, still do not have it. Unilateral guarantees are welcome, but do not provide a complete answer. Do the Government support a ring-fencing of the citizens’ rights provisions in the withdrawal agreement, so that they can be enforced under international law even after a no deal? Is that not the most obvious and best solution to pursue? Has that been discussed at all in negotiations so far? If not, would those unilateral rights be totally unprotected from unilateral change via the immigration rules, and how would pension rights be protected, and rights to access healthcare, or mutual recognition of professional qualifications? Finally, if there is a no-deal Brexit, will the scope and the rights set out for the settled status scheme be just as they are now, or would there be changes—for example, will those short of five years still be able to obtain pre-settled status, and how will people be able to challenge Home Office decisions?
The hon. Gentleman is right. Citizens need clarity, and that is why this Government have set it out, not only in the citizens’ rights agreement but in the settled status scheme, which, as I have said, is now open in one of its private beta testing phases. Phase 1 went very well, and phase 2 is now under way. After a firebreak over Christmas, we will be opening it up in phase 3. To me, it is obvious that the best solution is to ensure that these rights are enshrined in UK immigration law, which is what we are going to do.
My right hon. Friend will know that around one in seven of my constituents are EU nationals. That is possibly the highest proportion in the country. In my experience, most of them are very appreciative of the guarantees given by the Government so far. Nevertheless, most of them had no reasonable expectation that they would ever have to clarify their immigration status. Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that we will treat those cases sensitively and individually? I have quite a few cases involving people who have been here for perhaps 20 years and have strong roots in this country, but who have spent some time abroad during the past five years, for example.
UK Visas and Immigration is already on-boarding significantly increased numbers of caseworkers for the European Economic Area casework that will flow through from the settled status scheme. It is important that individuals are given as easy a journey as possible through the process and, to date, 95% of those who have completed the settled status process have found it easy to do so. My right hon. Friend makes an important point, however. We want to be in a position to support individuals through the process, and to have a “computer says yes” attitude rather than a “computer says no” attitude. People will only have to demonstrate that they have been in the UK, which will in many cases be done best by sharing HMRC records with the Home Office.
If the UK leaves the EU in March with no deal, and if, as the Minister has told the House this afternoon, employers will not be required to make any additional checks other than asking for an EU passport, she has in effect told the House that free movement will continue after we have left the European Union. Will she now address the question that the Chair of the Select Committee asked her: how long will that situation continue? To many of us, it seems that it will have to continue until such time as an application process for settled status is completed, because only at that point will an employer be able to distinguish between someone who has settled status and someone who arrived the previous day carrying an EU passport.
As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary indicated, we are seeking a sensible transition period that will enable the Home Office to ensure that these cases can be caseworked. The Prime Minister has been very clear that free movement will end—[Interruption.] We will in due course set out the future immigration system, which will enable there to be further clarity.
Will the Government legislate, before our departure from the EU on 30 March, for a comprehensive system for immigration, migration and citizenship that is fair to all concerned? That is what we voted for. Does the Minister also understand that a lot of us will not be voting for a withdrawal agreement to pay £39 billion that we do not owe when we need to spend that money here at home?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. As I have said, free movement will end, and over the next few weeks we will set out the parliamentary timetable for the immigration Bill.
How will free movement end at the end of March if EU citizens, including people arriving here after March, do not have to do anything different, other than produce their EU passport as they do now?
The immigration Bill will be coming forward—[Interruption.]
Order. This is rather unseemly. Members must not harangue the Minister. She is addressing the House with great courtesy; let us hear her answer.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I think “unseemly” is a perfect description.
As I said, we will be bringing forward the parliamentary timetable for the immigration Bill shortly, and further details will be set out in due course, which I am sure will give the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) satisfaction.
What reciprocal announcements have been made by EU states following the Prime Minister’s generous offer in respect of leaving with no deal?
My right hon. Friend and constituency neighbour makes an important point. At every opportunity, Ministers raise both with the EU and our counterparts in the EU27 the important factor of UK citizens lawfully residing in other EU member states. There is of course huge concern that we have made a generous offer to EU citizens, and let me be clear that we want them to stay here and that we regard them as part of our community. It is time for the EU to step up to the plate and say what it is doing for British citizens.
How will the Minister tell an EU citizen wanting to come here in the next few years whether and when free movement of labour has finished?
As I have said, the parliamentary timetable for the immigration Bill will be coming forward in the next few weeks. Our White Paper will set out the future skills-based immigration system, as the Prime Minister indicated at the recent Conservative party conference, which will be based on people’s ability and what they can offer to our country, not on where they come from.
I call the good doctor, Dr Julian Lewis.
Does the Minister share my surprise at recent press reports suggesting that EU citizens living in the United Kingdom after Brexit would be offered full voting rights in Westminster parliamentary elections? Will she confirm that that is not going to happen?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. Deciding who can vote in UK elections is a Cabinet Office competence. EU citizens currently have the right to vote in local elections and that will prevail until there is a change in primary legislation. However, such matters are for future discussion and negotiation, and I cannot set them out today.
Before I ask the Minister a question, Mr Speaker, I want to bring something to your attention. There are many EU citizens in Parliament today who were keen to hear this urgent question, but they are being told that the Gallery is full and that they cannot get in to watch proceedings. The Gallery is obviously not full, so I wanted to make you aware of that to see whether we can get a message to the Doorkeepers.
The Gallery is manifestly not full, and it would be much better if it were full. I hope that it will speedily become full in conformity with the wishes expressed by the hon. Gentleman, which I think would be endorsed across the House.
Indeed, many of those EU citizens are here today because of the complete chaos and their worry about their futures, many of them having contributed to our society for decades. They are concerned about their immigration status, their right to work and their families here. Will the Minister admit that she gave incorrect evidence to the Home Affairs Committee the other day? Will she tell us how many EU citizens have already left the UK due to uncertainty around their status?
The hon. Gentleman is clearly a huge box-office draw if there are people outside still wanting to get in. He makes an important point—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue, it is important to say, as set out by the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and, indeed, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union in his appearance at the House of Lords EU Select Committee on 29 August, that we want EU citizens to stay. We have already started the process of enabling them to go through the settled status scheme, and in the region of 1,000 people have already been granted such status.
How many have left?
I am just coming to the second part of the hon. Gentleman’s question. We still know that more EU citizens are coming than leaving—[Interruption.] As the Minister for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay), just indicated, more EU citizens are working in the NHS today than at the time of referendum.
I thank the Minister for clarifying that EU citizens’ rights will be protected in the event of both a deal and no deal. Some people have made the UK their permanent home but have to come and go either for their job or because they have caring responsibilities. Will those people be cared for?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. There will be individuals who come and go. Through the settled status scheme, we are seeking to give people every opportunity to evidence their time in the UK by working with other Departments to cross-reference HMRC or Department for Work and Pensions records, for example. It is important to make a scheme that is easy for people to go through and that encourages those EU citizens who have contributed so much to our country to stay here. We want them to stay.
What assessment has the Minister made of the commentary about the rights of the parents or elderly relatives on both sides of the equation? Will she give us her enlightened view on the next steps? Lots of people are very worried.
The hon. Lady makes an important point, and the family reunion rights that have been set out in the withdrawal agreement are very important. We know that many EU citizens may have caring responsibilities or, indeed, children in a home country who might yet seek to come over. Those rights are enshrined in the offer we have made, and it is important that we continue to honour that offer and, indeed, work with those individuals so that they find going through the process as easy as possible.
Will the European partners of British citizens have to apply for settled status?
I wonder whether my hon. Friend should declare an interest. Of course, EU nationals who are living here will need to go through the settled status scheme to make sure they have access to pension rights and settled status rights, as I have set out. Of course it is important that anyone who has been here for five years can apply for settled status straightaway, and those who have been here for less than five years will be able to apply for pre-settled status and can then apply for settled status once they have been here for five years.
Telling people that they are welcome just sounds hollow, given the terrible treatment meted out to Commonwealth citizens who were also once told that they were welcome but who did not have documents that they did not know they were supposed to have. What does the Minister think I should say to my EU constituents in Bristol West who, frankly, have no confidence at all in the Government’s proposals?
People who go through the settled status scheme will be given a digital status so they can evidence that they have been through the scheme. I am very conscious—I believe I said this to the Home Affairs Committee last week—that there will be children born between now and 29 March 2019 who may well live to 120 and beyond, so we have to ensure that the settled scheme is enduring so that, potentially, for the next 100-plus years people will still be able to evidence their status.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that EU citizens who have made their lives in the UK continue to make a great contribution to our country? I sincerely hope that she agrees with me, because my father is one of them. He came here as an economic migrant just over 50 years ago, and he is not in any way unduly concerned about his status when we leave the EU.
I thank my hon. Friend for drawing on his family experience. One of the most important things we can do to demonstrate our commitment is to open a settled status scheme, and we have done that. The scheme opened in August for the first private beta testing phase, and we are now in phase 2. There will be a third phase in January after a firebreak so that we can check that the scheme is working as we would want. I am delighted that we have already seen in the region of 1,000 people granted settled status.
My constituent Robin Adams is a British citizen and an EU citizen, as we all are at the moment. He is working as a lecturer in Sweden, and does not know whether he will be able to continue his work in Sweden or, if he returns, whether his wife, a US citizen, would be able to come back with him. He faces losing his home, his job and his family. What reassurance can the Minister offer him?
The hon. Lady will have heard my answer earlier, and there continues to be ongoing work with European counterparts and the EU to make sure that they offer the same clarity and simple status that we have offered for EU citizens who are living here.
The hon. Lady refers to her constituent’s US wife and, of course, under the Surinder Singh rules she will already be eligible to come here with him if they have been living in an EU state for a significant period of time.
If there is no deal, what will happen on 30 March 2019, when free movement will have ended, if an EU citizen presents himself at our borders?
It is an important principle, as has been set out repeatedly, that we wish to be an outward-looking trading nation post Brexit. It is important, in my view, that we continue to allow EU citizens to use e-passport gates. Many hon. Members will have heard the Chancellor’s commitment in last week’s Budget to open up e-passport gates to further cohorts of nationalities. Of course, on day one of Brexit people will still be able to use their passport at e-passport gates as they travel into the UK.
I wonder whether the Minister can answer for me the question already put by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) about the charges for EU citizens who have been trafficked here. What assessment has the Home Office made of the number of women trafficked for sex from Romania and whether we will now be charging them for the fact that they have been abused?
The hon. Lady raises an important and serious point about victims of trafficking or modern slavery, and the issue has been raised with me. We have already made an offer that children in care should not have to pay the fee, we are looking very closely at this issue and I thank her for raising it.
Will the Minister reassure me that she intends to take control of our borders—that was so important to so many in the referendum—while continuing to attract the brightest, the best and the needed? That is so important to employers in my constituency, especially agriculturalists, the tourism trade and the care industry.
My hon. Friend points out the importance of controlling our own borders and being able to bring forward, for the first time in more than a generation, an immigration policy that will enable us to determine who comes here based on their skills, not on their nationality. It is a really important point that we should continue to be able to attract the brightest and the best, and we will be setting out full details of the future immigration policy in a White Paper, and indeed an immigration Bill, coming very soon.
At the moment, many, many British people living in EU countries are very apprehensive about their future. They currently have EU citizenship rights, which they will lose if there is a no deal in March next year. What can the Minister say to reassure them? Is it not absurd that EU citizens in this country will have some protection, under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, but British people in the EU will have no protection whatsoever in the event of no deal?
I would like to reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are working hard to ensure that there is a deal, but he raises an important point, which I think I have addressed a couple of times already. This country has made an offer to EU citizens and we have made it very clear that we want them to stay, but the same cannot be said of some of our European counterparts. This matter is pressed with Ministers at every available opportunity, and indeed with ambassadors and the EU, because it is important that British citizens living in the EU27, the majority of whom are in France and Spain, are afforded the protections to which we believe they are entitled under the withdrawal agreement.
About a third of my constituents came from eastern Europe over the past 10 to 15 years. They should take heart from the settled status scheme, but they deserve clarity as soon as possible and they often look to their own embassies rather than to the UK state. Will the Minister work with those embassies to get information to these people as quickly as possible from those sources and, crucially, in their own languages?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. I have already met a number of ambassadors, particularly those from central and eastern European countries, impressing upon them the importance of communicating with the diaspora populations—and they do that. As I have travelled the country over the past few months and talked to EU citizens, particularly those employed in agriculture, I have been interested to find that many of them have already received communications on this subject and that they are very confident about how they should go through the settled status process.
I thank the Minister for her statement so far. She will understand the uncertainty in the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland, particularly in my constituency. The sector depends on and functions greatly because of EU citizens who have been here for years—they have worked, married and bought their homes here, and their children go to school here. Will she give the EU workers and the employers much-needed assurance?
The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that back in the summer the Home Office issued the employers’ toolkit, which gives them the ability to disseminate information to their employees and explains the process of the settled status scheme to them. As he will have heard, we have already opened the scheme to some small cohorts of EU citizens who are already living here. In the past few days, we have opened it up much more widely, so that EU citizens employed in NHS trusts and within the universities sector will be going through phase 2. It is important to us that we get the settled status scheme right and in putting people through it—those 1,000 people who have already gained status—we can provide evidence of the commitment we have made and demonstrate to others that it was a simple and straightforward process.
Is the Immigration Minister seriously saying that with just five months to go until we leave the European Union, the EU has not made clear what the rights of UK nationals will be in the EU on Brexit day? Given the huge contribution that UK citizens make to European countries, does she share my outrage at this callous disregard for the lives and futures of UK citizens who live in the EU?
I am conscious that in the time I have been the Immigration Minister we have got the settled status scheme up and running, having designed completely from scratch a whole new digital system. I wish that I could see a similar commitment made among the EU27 or in the EU Commission as a whole, because it is important that there should be confidence for those British citizens who live in EU27 countries.
The Minister has said several times that free movement will end; will she tell us the month and the year it will end?
The Government will bring forward their plans to end free movement as soon as possible.
Many EU citizens in Torbay will be listening to this debate and wondering what the future is for them. Does the Minister agree that they should be reassured that although the Government’s goal is to get a deal, if they do not, EU citizens’ rights will be protected, so they should dismiss some of the scaremongering that we have heard?
One of the most important parts of that guarantee is to demonstrate that we are already putting EU citizens through the settled status scheme. We have opened it up to a much larger cohort and, between now and the end of the year, in the region of 250,000 to 350,000 people will be eligible to go through the scheme. I should say that I do not anticipate our hitting that level of numbers, but we will be able to test the scheme at an enormous scale. It is important that we have made that commitment and we want EU citizens to stay.
The Home Secretary said yesterday that even in the event of no deal, employers will not be expected to differentiate between resident EU citizens and those who arrive after Brexit. Will the Minister therefore confirm that free movement will not end on 30 March next year?
As I have said previously, right-to-work checks have to be carried out now for EU citizens and, indeed, for British nationals when they move to a new job. It is important that we set out the timetable for ending free movement, and the Prime Minister has been clear that we are going to do just that.
Many of the EU citizens who live in my constituency live in rural and even remote areas. They may not be aware of the support and advice that is available, or they may have difficulty accessing it. What steps will the Home Office take to make sure that EU residents in rural communities are made aware of the support available?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about rural communities and remote areas. I referred earlier to the employers’ toolkit, and I am conscious that many EU citizens may get information from their employer. I reassure my hon. Friend that a large-scale communication plan will indeed come into play when the settled status scheme is opened more widely.
In the event of no deal, will free movement end on 29 March next year? If so, how will employers and others know what checks to make?
As the Home Secretary explained, employers will have to continue to make the same right-to-work checks that they currently make. As I have now said several times, we will bring forward our plans to end free movement shortly.
The lives of hundreds of thousands of EU citizens in the UK have been blighted by this shambolic Brexit. Does the Minister agree that by ring-fencing EU citizens’ rights now and paying for their settled status applications, we might go some way towards healing the hurt that has been inflicted on them as a result of Brexit and by this Government?
I gently remind the right hon. Gentleman of the outcome of the referendum, when the British people voted for Brexit. The Government have a duty to uphold the British people’s wishes. As I have said this afternoon, the settled status scheme is already open in its testing mode and has already conferred on more than 1,000 people their settled status.
The Minister’s answers today have revealed a shambles at the Home Office. Given that and given the state of policy, what reassurance can she really give to the thousands of EU residents in my constituency, to their families, many of whom are UK citizens as well, and to thousands of local employers?
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was listening earlier when I said that the Home Office has delivered a settled status scheme that is up and running. Telling EU citizens that there is now a process for them to go through where they can confirm their status is exactly the sort of reassurance that we must give to them. Sadly, that is something that we have not seen across the rest of the EU.
According to UK Music’s recent Measuring Music report, the UK music industry exports rose by 7% to a record £2.6 billion last year. With 29 March fast approaching, it is more important than ever that we know how musicians and performers can continue working in the EU once the UK leaves, and how EU citizens can work in the UK. Will the Minister tell me what steps she has taken to achieve that?
I am delighted to celebrate the increased exports of UK music and the phenomenal work that our artists, their producers, their tour companies and so on have managed to achieve over the past few years. It is important, as I have previously said, that we have a future immigration system. We are setting out the parliamentary timetable in due course and a White Paper will be published very shortly, which will clarify these matters.
There are 1,500 EU nationals doing essential work for the Imperial College Healthcare Trust. In addition to having to go through the bureaucracy to get what they regard as second-class settled status, they would normally be charged a fee for that. The hospital trust itself will now pay at least £100,000 of that, which they have to do in order to retain these essential staff. Why should a trust, which is having real revenue and capital problems, have to pay that money? Why will the Government not pay that money?
I do hope that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the fee for settled status was agreed with the EU.
I do not know whether the Minister is aware just how ludicrous it sounds to keep talking about bringing forward clarification “in due course” when we have just 20 weeks to go. She keeps repeating the fact that 1,000 EU citizens have so far gone through the settled status scheme, which I calculate is 0.03%. Will she tell us exactly how many people she expects to have achieved settled status before the end of March 2019?
I hope to be able to explain to the hon. Lady that, of course, the settled status scheme opened in private beta testing. When we introduce a new large-scale scheme of this type, it is really important that we do so in a controlled way, which is why it has been only small numbers to date. As she will have heard me say, we are opening it up currently to in the region of 250,000 to 350,000 individuals employed by NHS trusts or indeed by the university sector. We know that there are 3.5 million people whom we wish to go through this scheme, and it is therefore really important that we get the testing right, and, of course, the scheme will be open until December 2020.
As well as “in due course”, the Minister has also used the phrases, “as soon as possible”, “shortly”, “very shortly”, and “in the next few weeks”. Does she understand that those phrases are meaningless and just further undermine the confidence of people who are affected by our leaving the EU on 29 March? Will she now please provide to the House and to those 3 million EU citizens a bit more certainty about the timetable that is in her mind to provide some certainty for those people?
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary indicated that the White Paper will be coming forward in the autumn. The hon. Gentleman will be able to work out that we are in the autumn now, so perhaps he can have greater confidence that, when I say soon, I mean soon. However, he raises the 3.5 million EU citizens that we want to go through the settled status scheme to confirm the rights that we have offered to them. Of course, they have those rights, and that is not dependent on the future immigration system. We have opened the settled status scheme now to the testing cohorts and will be opening it more widely in the new year.
The Immigration Minister has confirmed that there will be transitional arrangements for EU citizens even in the event of no deal. How long will those transitional arrangements last? Last week, I was treated by a nurse from Romania who had been here for many, many years, but she has asked her landlord to reduce her tenancy to a six-month rolling contract because she is terrified—in her words—that she will be “kicked out”.
The Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union have all made it very clear that there will be no removals of EU citizens; we want them to stay. They are welcome here and they play an important role not just in our communities, but in our health service, as the hon. Lady pointed out. The settled status scheme is open in its testing phase and we will open it fully in the new year, but it is really important that we convey a message to everyone that we want EU citizens to stay. Seeking to sow seeds of uncertainty and division is actually really unhelpful to them.
If Brexit happens and a British citizen marries an EU citizen in the future, will they be subject to income tests as non-EEA citizens are currently?
The right hon. Gentleman started his question with, “If Brexit happens”. Let me reassure him that Brexit is happening. Of course, the matters to which he refers will be set out in the future immigration system.
May I push the Minister for a simple yes or no answer? After March, in the event of a no deal, will EU nationals arriving in the UK for the first time be able to live and work without any additional checks in exactly the same way as EU nationals living here are now?
To quote the Prime Minister, their expectations will be different.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the changes announced to universal credit in the Budget last week and on the draft Universal Credit (Managed Migration) Regulations 2018, which we are laying in the House today.
The Chancellor announced a substantial package at the Budget to ensure that millions of people keep more of what they earn, and vulnerable claimants are supported when they move to universal credit. In total, this package will be worth an extra £4.5 billion across the next five years. I pay special thanks to all the colleagues, charities, third-sector organisations, Jobcentre Plus staff and claimants who fed back to me in order to build this package of support to ensure that universal credit is a fair system, supporting thousands who cannot work as well as thousands who can. I also thank my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor for their support to deliver these measures.
Make no mistake: this is a Department that listens and a Department that will continue to listen, adapt, change and deliver. We will put an extra £1.7 billion a year into work allowances, increasing the amount that hard-working families can earn by £1,000 before universal credit is tapered away, providing extra support for 2.4 working families—I mean, 2.4 million working families. [Laughter.] Of course, the Opposition do not like helping 2.4 million working families, and they are laughing because we help and support people into work.
The work allowance increase was welcomed not only in this House, but among charities. The Child Poverty Action Group said:
“The work allowance increase is unequivocally good news for families receiving universal credit”.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said that this extra investment
“will help make universal credit a tool for tackling poverty”.
And we have gone further, recognising the genuine concerns raised about the support we were offering people, especially the most vulnerable, when they moved to universal credit.
We have made a further £1 billion package of changes, providing two additional weeks of Department for Work and Pensions legacy benefits for those moved on to universal credit—a one-off non-repayable sum that will provide claimants with extra money during the period before they receive their first universal credit payment. This is on top of the two additional weeks of housing benefit announced at autumn Budget 2017 and put into place this year.
We will also support the self-employed in moving to universal credit. We will open up a 12-month grace period before the minimum income floor is applied, supporting 130,000 self-employed claimants—because we are the party of business; the party of aspiration. We will support those in debt by reducing the normal maximum rate at which debts are deducted from universal credit awards from 40% to 30% of standard allowances. This will help over 600,000 families to manage their debts at any one point when roll-out is complete, providing them with, on average, £295 extra a year as their debts are repaid over a longer period.
This is targeted support to help work pay and support the vulnerable, which is why today I lay regulations to deliver the next phase of universal credit—managed migration, through which people will be moved on to universal credit. That is a move from a system that trapped people on benefits and created cliff edges at 16, 24 and 30 hours with punitive effective tax rates of over 90% for some. Under Labour, between 1997 and 2010, benefit spend went up by 65%. In 1997, households were paying £5,500 in taxes to fund the benefits system—and by 2010, the figure had risen to £8,350. The Conservative party was voted into office to manage the country’s finances and get them under control, and also to make sure that the benefits bill was affordable and sustainable for the future. While Labour Members may hanker for the dark old days of trapping people on benefits, excluding them from the opportunity of work and getting on in life, and at the same time delivering a big bill to the taxpayer, we do not. Under this Government, 3.4 million more people are in work, and the vast majority of those jobs are full-time permanent roles. This means that we have created more new jobs in the UK since 2010 than France, Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria and Norway combined, alongside creating a welfare system that supports those who need it.
Through universal credit, about 1 million disabled households will receive about £100 extra, on average, per month through more generous support. The Universal Credit (Managed Migration) Regulations 2018 will, in addition, protect 500,000 people’s severe disability premium at the point of migration, and deliver transitional protection for those we move to ensure that, at the point of moving, those managed-migrated have their entitlements protected. We will take a measured approach to delivering managed migration, taking our time to get it right and working with claimants to co-design it.
We have taken on board, and will continue to do so, the advice of experts and charities such as the Social Security Advisory Committee, whose report on the regulations we have published, along with our response, today. We have accepted, in full or in part, all but one of its recommendations—and the one we did not accept is because we want to make it more generous. I pay tribute to the hard work of the SSAC in scrutinising our regulations.
We have changed a key part of the regulations, as charities have asked me, MPs and the Department, relating to the minimum statutory notice period for people moving from their legacy award to universal credit. We have extended this period from a minimum of one month to a minimum of three months to allow claimants maximum time to prepare and make their claim before their legacy award expires. Alongside this, we have unlimited flexibility to extend claim periods for people who need it. We will backdate any claimant who has missed the deadline date but has made a claim within a month of the deadline day passing. We will test a variety of communication methods, including advertising campaigns, face-to-face communication, letters, texts, telephone calls and home visits, to provide support for claimants during managed migration. We will constantly review our approaches, engaging fully with charities, experts, claimants and all Members of the House. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement. I would like to pay tribute to all the individuals, charities and Members of the House who have been holding the Government to account over their chaotic and damaging universal credit programme, which is pushing families into poverty.
In June, the National Audit Office published a damning report on universal credit. We know that the roll-out of the benefit is leading to people building up debt and rent arrears or being forced to turn to food banks for help. The Budget last week did little to address the very long wait for payments, which is causing significant hardship. Despite that, the Government are now planning to start the next phase of the introduction of universal credit, which they call managed migration, involving the transfer of 2.87 million people on to it.
Under the draft regulations, existing claimants will be sent a letter saying that their benefits will stop and they will need to make a new universal credit claim by a specific deadline. It is wholly unacceptable that the Government are shifting responsibility for ensuring that people get the help they need away from the Government and on to the shoulders of nearly 3 million claimants. It is no wonder that 80 organisations representing disabled people are calling for the Government to change tack. Learning disability charity Mencap has said that the proposals leave disabled people
“vulnerable to having their benefits stopped before they have made a successful claim”.
More than 400 organisations have responded to the Social Security Advisory Committee’s consultation on the managed migration regulations—a record number for the committee, which demonstrates the strength of concern about this issue.
Parliament is being asked to approve regulations that it may have very little chance at all to scrutinise and debate, even though the details of how the process will take place are not yet settled. When asked by the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee on 18 October whether the regulations would be debated, the Minister for Employment answered:
“We need to have a debate in the House.”
It was clear from the context that the Chair meant a debate in the main Chamber. However, the shadow Leader of the House raised the issue at business questions on 11, 18 and 25 October without receiving a clear assurance that that would be the case. That is all the more important since Government Members make up a majority of the MPs in Committees, even though they do not have an overall majority in Parliament.
Let us step back and get a broad view of the Government’s supposed flagship social security programme. Universal credit was supposed to lift 350,000 children out of poverty. Instead, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, an extra 1.2 million children may be growing up in poverty by the end of this Parliament. Universal credit was supposed to deliver work incentives and help more people into employment, yet the NAO says that the Department for Work and Pensions will never know whether universal credit leads to more people in work. Universal credit was supposed to simplify the social security system, but instead, around three in 10 claims of universal credit are closed and not paid, within a system that is complex and that people find difficult to navigate. This statement does nothing to address that.
The Government claim that 1 million disabled households will receive an extra £100 a month as a result of universal credit. What the Secretary of State has failed to tell the House is that the same report by the Office for Budget Responsibility reveals that around 1 million sick and disabled households will lose an average of £2,608 a year, or £217 a month.
Universal credit is failing. The Opposition have consistently called on the Government to stop the roll-out, but the Government are pressing ahead, despite the terrible hardship it is causing. We have a right to ask questions on behalf of our constituents, including whether the universal credit managed migration regulations will be debated in full on the Floor of the House so that all MPs get a chance to scrutinise and debate this critical draft legislation.
The Secretary of State says that the Government have accepted all but one of the Social Security Advisory Committee’s recommendations. That is highly questionable. For example, what new action will the Government take to support people who struggle to make and manage a claim online? Will the Department publish the more than 400 responses to the Social Security Advisory Committee’s consultation, to ensure maximum transparency? The Secretary of State must assure the House that there are sufficient safeguards in place to ensure that no existing legacy benefit claimants end up falling into destitution and that none falls out of the social security system altogether.
Given the potential impact of the draft regulations on claimants’ incomes, the large number of people affected and the strength of opposition to the proposals in their current form, it is a matter of real concern that they will receive such little scrutiny by Members. Members are extremely concerned about the impact that universal credit is having on people living in their constituencies. They must be given the opportunity to debate and vote on these regulations on the Floor of the House.
While the Opposition cannot bring themselves to commend the extra £4.5 billion going into universal credit, let me read out what some independent charities have been saying. The Resolution Foundation has hailed this a “very welcome” £1.7 billion commitment. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said that this extra investment is
“a tool for tackling poverty”.
The Trussell Trust has talked about
“significant improvements that will make a real difference to many people supported by universal credit”.
The Child Poverty Action Group called this
“unequivocally good news for families receiving universal credit”.
Other charities have been saying that the Department is now listening to what claimants, charities and MPs are saying. The Trussell Trust has said that. Gingerbread has said that. Mind has said that. Mencap has said that.
I would also point out that an extra 1 million disabled people will be getting an extra £100 a month, and that 700,000 people who did not get all they should under the legacy benefits will get nearly an extra £300 a month. There are now 3.4 million more people in work. That is what we do: we help people into work. Youth unemployment has gone down by 50% since 2010—that gives young people a future, it gives them hope and it gives them a job—and that is happening under this Government.
I came into politics for social mobility. Social mobility is about moving forward and getting a job. There is no social mobility on benefits—there is no mobility on benefits. That is what this party believes in. It is the way to get out of poverty. That is why we welcome the extra £4.5 billion. The Opposition have asked for a debate on the Floor of the House, and, of course, there will be a debate on the Floor of the House. We believe in transparency. We are open and straight talking. We say it as it is.
We will be co-designing what happens with claimants. In the words of the publication that the OBR has put out on the Budget, by 2023-24 we will be spending an extra £2 billion on universal credit than on the system it replaces. I want to say a final word on debt under Labour: between 1997 and 2010, benefit claimants’ debt to local authorities increased by £1.8 billion through overpayments and errors in the legacy system, and £5.86 billion of debt was accrued on tax credits. That is a shameful record for the Opposition of putting claimants into debt on benefits and tax credits.
Order. There is much interest in this subject, but I remind the House that there is a further statement to follow and then two important debates. There is therefore a premium on brevity, which will be characteristically and brilliantly exemplified by the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening).
I very much welcome the additional investment in universal credit in the Budget. Like many Members, I have met the DWP, Jobcentre Plus and citizens advice bureaux locally to talk about the roll-out of universal credit. It is obviously hugely important that people avoid going into debt unnecessarily, and I very much welcome the co-design approach to managed migration that the Secretary of State has set out. Will she say which groups are likely to be migrated first, and on what basis?
I thank my right hon. Friend. For a year from next July we will be having a trial period or test period, working with 10,000 claimants to see exactly the way in which it should be done—for example, should it be done for the most vulnerable groups or should it be done geographically?—and to make sure that we get it right. That is how we work: we make sure that it works; we do not just go forward with an idea—[Interruption.] There is chuntering from the Opposition Front Bench. We will work with claimants to make sure it works for them.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of the statement. The work allowance boost that we are being told we should welcome only undoes or reverses half the cut that was made in 2015. It is like taking £100 away from somebody, giving them 50 quid back and saying, “You should be grateful that I’ve given you 50 quid back.” The reality is that people are still worse off. The benefit freeze is still in place.
The sanctions regime is also still in place. I am particularly concerned about the methods of communication for universal credit. I have seen a number of people who come to my surgeries with mental health problems particularly—they cannot open letters or deal with having to jump through the hoops that are put in their way—who are then sanctioned because they are literally unable to jump through those hoops. I hope that the Secretary of State will look at all these issues. She has mentioned communication methods, and I very much hope she will put that at the centre of the decision-making process for communication.
On the exact amount of money that has been allocated for universal credit, it seems to me that nothing has been done on the basis of how much people actually need to live on. If it had, there would not be a huge increase in the number of people going to food banks and there would not be the incredible number of sanctions that we see. Rather than the Treasury deciding how much money should go to universal credit and the Department for Work and Pensions then divvying it up, it would be better to make decisions on the basis of how much people need to live on and what amount of money would encourage people to get into work.
We need to ensure that people are not going to food banks, that families are not in poverty and that young people are not starving as a result of the Government’s policies.
As I said previously, when we came into office, we had to take an overview of Government spending, full stop. We were voted into office to get this country’s finances under control. One of the decisions that we had to make was on the size of the benefit bill because it had grown by 65% under the previous Labour Government. We took hold of that, and decisions were made across the board—I have never shied away from that. Again, in 2015, further decisions were made after a general election. The Opposition did not vote against the changes and cuts. Their Whips’ advice on that day was to abstain. Some broke ranks, but generally they did not.
Those changes are now coming through, but I said that I would go out, meet people, listen, learn and see what we could do and afford, and that is why an extra £4.5 billion has gone into universal credit. I look at what people are saying and why they have welcomed the increase. I reiterate that there are 3.4 million extra people in work and that we are targeting the money at the most vulnerable.
The hon. Lady is right about communication, which is key. That is why we will work with charities to get it right.
In easing the passage to universal credit, there is a great role for jobcentre staff. The problem is that I do not have a jobcentre in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend bring forward the idea of mobile jobcentres to help the transition and manage the process?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point—he has probably been reading my mind. Outreach work is key: how do we get to the most vulnerable, whether people in isolated parts of the country or those with learning difficulties or transport difficulties? We will look at outreach work and perhaps a mobile bus. We should look at new, good ideas for connecting with our claimants.
I thank the Secretary of State for the money she managed to claw back from the Treasury—I advise her for her own safety not to take routes home in the dark that pass the Treasury. A crucial element of her statement was the one-off, non-repayable sum for claimants who have been transferred to universal credit. Will she give the House an assurance that the sum—non-repayable, therefore incurring no debt—will be equivalent to the sorts of sums people would get if they were already on universal credit?
We have made sure that that will be people’s benefit going forward. As I said, it is the sum that they need when they adjust from two to four weeks and it is, as the right hon. Gentleman said, non-returnable. That is to ensure that people can balance the money when moving from a two-week to a four-week payment. It is extra money.
I know better than most how hard the Secretary of State worked to get support from the Chancellor in the Budget. I commend her for doing that. Will she assure my constituents that the welfare bill will not once again spiral out of control, as it did under the previous Labour Government, taking money away from hard-working taxpayers?
The Conservative party is always about balancing fairness for everybody: fairness to the taxpayers paying the bill as well fairness to those getting benefits and those going into work. I thank my hon. Friend because when I met his Trussell Trust team in Shipley, one of their first requests was that the maximum rate at which deductions can be made should reduce from 40% to 30%. I am glad that I can deliver that today.
I strongly disagree with the Secretary of State. Universal credit is not getting residents out of poverty. I say that because a constituent of mine, who has mental health problems, contacted me this morning. He was moved over to universal credit and fell into housing arrears, which is exacerbating his mental health condition. It is very distressing for him. For those people unable to self-identify for managed migration, how will they acquire additional support? I do not think it is good enough that people are being tested out and then this is failing them.
If the hon. Lady would like to meet to discuss what has happened to her constituent and how we can support him, I am more than happy to do so. Equally, I know that a lot of people are coming to universal credit with debt—it is not due to universal credit, but what they come with. Maybe together we can work to support that person.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on securing additional funding. In the detail for transitional provisions, she said that there would be two additional weeks of legacy benefits for those moved on to universal credit, which is a one-off, non-refundable payment. That may take time to sink in on both sides of the House, but can she confirm that this is additional money? Does she, like me, look forward to hon. Members on both sides of the House welcoming it and supporting it?
I am glad my hon. Friend understands that this is additional money. My concern was how people, who are used to getting paid not monthly but fortnightly, would manage to cope with the change. That is why we have brought in the measure. Hopefully that money can help them if they have debt, because it is additional money to their household.
When cuts to universal credit were voted through by the House, MPs were promised that everyone would receive transitional protection, but the delay to managed migration means that less than half the 7 million families affected will receive it and 3.2 million families will still be over £2,000 a year worse off. Will the Secretary of State look again at the very wide criteria for changes of circumstances that are being used to transfer people from legacy benefits on to universal credit at an ever-increasing pace?
If the hon. Lady had been here for the statement, she may have been able to follow this through. [Interruption.] A bit late coming in, as my hon. Friends have confirmed to me. [Interruption.]
Universal credit rolled out a couple of weeks ago in my constituency. Does the Secretary of State agree that the money she announced today will make a particular difference to people in my constituency who are often paid weekly or fortnightly, rather than monthly? It is often they who are the most vulnerable and who need the most help.
Order. Just before the Secretary of State responds to her hon. Friend, I am sure that what she said she said in all sincerity, but I am 99.9% recurring certain in my own mind that the hon. Member for High Peak (Ruth George) was here at the start of—[Interruption.] Order. I am not debating the point with the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare). [Interruption.] Order. No facial expressions are required. I am just telling him and the House the situation. The hon. Lady was here—end of.
It seems a moot point on both sides of the House whether or not the hon. Lady was here, but that being the case she will know that we have put an extra £4.5 billion into the system to support transitional protection. That is exactly what a fair Government would do: provide the correct transitional protection.
I would quite like to lighten the tension on this matter. May I just say to hon. Members, for the avoidance of doubt, that perambulation in the Chamber from one row to another is not an entirely novel phenomenon? May I say to the hon. Member for North Dorset, who is an old friend in the House of Commons, that it is not uncommon? The fact that a Member perambulates from one Bench to another does not mean that that Member has exited the Chamber. As far as I am concerned, the hon. Lady did not exit the Chamber.
The Secretary of State quoted the Child Poverty Action Group a couple of times, but she failed to mention that in the same press release, it also said that
“unless there is a further fundamental re-think of how universal credit works—and robust safeguards in place before it is scaled-up—people will continue to be pushed into debt and driven to food banks as part of their claim.”
Why did she omit that bit?
Having met this charity group, too, I have said that I will work with it so that when we can, we listen, change and adapt what we need to do, which we have done so far since I have been in office, and we have the extra money through the Budget. That is what I am prepared to do.
I call a Member not given to perambulation—Dr Julian Lewis.
I am not certain what the attitude towards gambling is in the Secretary of State’s household, but would she care to place a bet that if the universal credit system is up and running and if, heaven forbid, the Labour party comes into government, it will be most unlikely to replace it with a mish-mash of different cross-cutting benefits such as existed previously?
That is a very good question, because it seems that Opposition Members do not really know what they are going to do. It seems that the shadow Chancellor is going to get rid of it and the shadow Secretary of State is not really sure, but I know that in the Lords, they want to keep it. Perhaps when the next person stands up, they will tell us exactly what the Opposition Front Benchers are going to do with universal credit.
Universal credit is due to start in my constituency in just a few weeks’ time. Local families and local advice services and food bank volunteers are all deeply concerned about what this will mean and about their ability to provide support for people in the run-up to Christmas. Given that the Secretary of State has had to admit that there are a whole series of problems with the policy, which is why she had to bring forward a whole series of changes—even though they do not go far enough—will she please recognise the risks to families in my constituency at Christmas and halt this introduction now, so that we can make sure that more families are not pushed into debt and poverty at such an important family time?
I wonder whether I could invite the right hon. Lady to go to see the work that Jobcentre Plus and the work coaches are doing and how they are helping an extra 1,000 people each and every day into work and, equally, how they are working with the most vulnerable to sort them. If I did what she said and stopped the roll-out, it would mean that 1 million disabled people who would possibly be getting an extra £100 would not be getting it, and that those 700,000 people who have not got the right amount of benefit—nearly £300 a month—would not be getting it.
Can I just get this right? Is it correct that our country gives more family benefits to our people who need them than any other developed country? [Interruption.]
Actually, for family benefits, my hon. Friend is correct—it is more than any advanced nation. We give more in benefits to families; he is correct.
The full service roll-out of universal credit began in my constituency in July last year. People who are moving from legacy benefits on to universal credit are being made worse off. How on earth can a system incentivise work if it is making people in work poorer?
What it is doing is supporting more people into work—3.4 million. By bringing in the work allowance—£1.7 billion a year—we are now able to focus extra support on families with children and supporting disabled people. Therefore, it will be even more beneficial to them going forward. That is positive support that we are giving through the Budget changes.
Universal credit came to Willenhall two weeks ago. Of the 157 cases we have had so far, only three are awaiting processing for payment. Can the Secretary of State explain why it seems to be going so smoothly, given that Opposition Members assure us it is a disaster?
My hon. Friend, who has actually visited his jobcentre plus to find out what is happening on the ground, gives a truer reflection of what is happening on the ground. I have spent most of this year travelling from Brighton up to Angus in Scotland and meeting jobcentre coaches, and most of them are telling me that universal credit is working for the vast majority of people, but I wanted to make sure we got extra money from the Chancellor in the Budget to help the vulnerable people it maybe was not helping.
The Secretary of State will be aware that her Department has agreed with the Social Security Advisory Committee’s recommendations about telephone claims for universal credit, but we know that DWP contact centre staff are concerned that having to deal with such high call volumes might mean they cannot process claims. How many additional staff will be required in DWP contact centres to deal with telephone claims for universal credit?
The hon. Gentleman raises a good point. That is another thing we will looking at during the managed migration, as we expand the system and more people come on to universal credit—how many more people do we need in call centres; how many more work coaches?—because we will need the right number to give a good service.
I appeal to the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) now to republish his brevity textbook in the hope that others will follow.
“The Government has listened to the frontline. These are significant improvements that will make a real difference.” Who said that?
My right hon. Friend has just said it. I have heard many charities saying that this is positive news. The Department is listening and bringing in significant support for claimants.
Everybody claiming universal credit has to wait at least five weeks before being entitled to payments, including those being moved across from previous benefits. The Secretary of State referred to the additional two weeks of previous benefits announced by the Chancellor in the Budget. How can Ministers justify stopping all benefits for a period of at least three weeks for people migrating from previous benefits on to universal credit?
It will be a continuum. The payment cycle will be going from two weeks to four weeks, and this is actually extra money. They will be getting two weeks’ extra money because they will be getting the full period they are entitled to when it comes along after four weeks. This is not giving them less money, or even part of their money; this is two weeks’ extra benefit.
Some of the most vulnerable in our communities will always look to their citizens advice bureau for help and assistance on these matters. The announcements by our right hon. Friend the Chancellor last week, and confirmed by the Secretary of State today, are incredibly welcome. What plans do she and her Department have to explain to our local CABs the nature of the changes and the benefits that will accrue from them to ensure that some of the most vulnerable people in our communities have a happy experience of universal credit, not one like the Opposition describe?
My hon. Friend raises a good point, and that is why we worked in partnership with Citizens Advice across the country—so it could help people get on to universal credit. We felt it was the correct thing to do. It works with the most vulnerable people—it knows them—and is a trusted independent group. That is why we chose it to work with.
I welcome the announcement on reducing the deduction rate for the repayment of debt, but 30% of someone’s benefit is still quite a lot to be paying back on debt repayment. Will the Secretary of State take seriously the suggestion in the report of the Work and Pensions Committee last week that debt advice becomes a core part of the universal support offer?
The hon. Lady, who knows a lot about this subject, is correct about the debt advice and the support that is available. We are building in measures to help more people to obtain debt advice. They often do not like asking for it as such, so we are going to change the term to “money advice”. Many people do not like to admit that they are in debt, even if they are.
Let me clear up one point. We are not talking about 30% of the entire benefit; we are talking about 30% of the standard allowance. Obviously, that does not include housing or childcare. It is a significant reduction in the rate, led by calls from the Trussell Trust.
Universal credit has already been fully rolled out in my constituency, and for the majority of people it is working; but, more important, more people are working too. Does my right hon. Friend agree that universal credit can also empower people to work more hours, which has got to be good for their self-esteem?
My hon. Friend is right. This benefit is about empowering people. It is about helping them to take on work, or extra work. Under the legacy systems, people were locked out of work even if they wanted to do it. We know that there are about 113 million extra hours of work out there. We also know that there is a record number of vacancies in the economy. We can help people, get them a career, get them on the jobs ladder, and get them doing what they want to do in this world.