My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Anne McGuire) has made the following Statement.
As my Statement of 1 February said, the Government set up the Review Group on Common Parts, during the passage of the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, to review the legal position in relation to alterations to the common parts of let residential premises and of residential commonholds and to make recommendations. The Government are very grateful for Members' work on this and have published the group's report on my department's website at www.dwp.gov.uk/aboutus/business.asp.
This is an initial response to the report and covers the five non-legislative recommendations made by the review group. We are continuing to consider the complexities of the legislative recommendations, including with the devolved Administrations, and will issue a further response as that work develops.
The review group considered disabled facilities grants (DFG) to be an important source of assistance for disabled people who need alterations made to their home. We agree and have recently increased resources in England so that we could end the means testing of families where alterations are for children. DFG funding is already available for alterations to the common parts of residential premises, and this will continue. DFG resources have been increased significantly by this Government (in England from £56 million in 1997-98 to £121 million in 2006-07). The review group called for more money to be made available for DFGs and we will consider this further as an integral part of the cross-government spending review.
In addition, a government review of DFGs is currently under way following independent research and recommendations made by Bristol University. This review is looking to make the DFG process easier and quicker to use in respect of all alterations, including those to the common parts of let residential premises. As recommended by the review group, we are also considering, in the context of the review of DFGs, the merits of an increased role for regional housing boards in the provision of accessible housing and housing adaptations.
The review group recommended that guidance should be made available on making alterations to the common parts of let residential premises and of residential commonholds. This would inform landlords, commonhold associations and disabled people about the current law and other relevant issues, and help them resolve potential disputes. The inclusion of appropriate guidance in housing organisations' publications about housing-related issues would be an effective way of disseminating good practice and, in particular, such guidance could encourage the use of alternative dispute resolution procedures rather than automatic resort to the courts where disputes arise. We will prepare such guidance in consultation with the devolved Administrations and will discuss it with appropriate organisations. And, as the review group recommended, in considering responses to our consultation on proposals for a code for sustainable homes for England, we will consider the extent to which it would be appropriate to incorporate guidance on improving the accessibility of common parts of premises in new builds.