Clause 293 [Ballots before certain disposals to private landlords]:
113: Clause 293, page 124, line 19, leave out from “ballot” to “; or” in line 20 and insert “in accordance with the code of practice set out in section (Consultation principles);”
The noble Lord said: This amendment takes us into slightly different territory, which I have raised in the House on a couple of occasions; namely, that of ballots. I am very grateful to the Government for the provision in the Bill requiring ballots in relation to stock transfer. Previously, the requirement to hold ballots was at best obscure and was followed in some cases but not others. I should have liked the ballots to be broader in scope and to cover allocation of local authority stock to an ALMO or the re-awarding of such management contracts. I welcome the provision so far as it goes.
The problem with ballots is their fairness. Some basic principles of democracy are involved here. Ballots have been conducted by councils or landowners that wish to transfer their stock. They have been in charge of the propaganda in favour of a yes vote. Their staff have been used to agitate in favour of a yes vote, their publications have been distributed—in many cases several times—in favour of a yes vote and council premises have sometimes been used to present inducements in favour of a yes vote such as showing videos.
Parliament has on many occasions laid down rules for the conduct of elections and referenda. They provide for equivalence of information, equivalence of status between yes and no votes or of all the candidates in an election, and non-interference and equal access to the ballot box and the list of voters. That has occurred with many—I do not say all—ballots that have operated in this regard.
I and others have drawn attention to some abuses in the system, which include the imbalance of information. There have been cases in which one side is able to produce three or four glossy leaflets but the other side is refused access to the same facility. In the case that I am talking about—that of Merseyside—there was still a no vote but another ballot was held. That is reminiscent of more difficult areas of democracy. There have also been cases—I have details with me about one in County Durham—in which the side that advocated a no vote was denied access to the list of those entitled to vote until the final two or three days. There have been allegations that council officials in a voting booth wear stickers supporting a yes vote. There have also been more direct inducements and intimidation. We have an example in the Tower Hamlets case of ballot papers being for sale and acquired by the Evening Standard. That shows, as a minimum, that there is a lack of firmness about the rules; in fact, there are not many rules. I am asking through the amendment that the Government take on board the need to provide for fairness of rules here.
It should be pretty obvious from my presentation that, by and large, I am not in favour of transfers out of local authority stock unless the local authority has absolutely failed in its management. I am partisan in that respect, but I recognise the need to ensure that local authorities keep up to the mark and that there is therefore the possibility of transfer out of local authority control to keep local authority management on its toes. I should say that here I am not speaking on behalf of the National Consumer Council, which is in favour of all forms of provision in whatever circumstances, but I have a prejudice that is no doubt evident in my interventions on the issue.
The issue is fairness. Whatever question is put to tenants, they need to feel that it is put to them fairly, that they are not being pressurised—there are allegations in the opposite direction of intimidation and buying votes. This whole area needs some serious cleaning up. I am therefore asking the Government, if they are not prepared to accept my amendment as it stands, at least to accept the principle that where ballots on stock transfer are conducted, there will be clear rules that provide for equality, fairness and equal access to the ballot box and the electoral list. That is an absolute minimum of effective democracy.
We have to bear in mind that the tenants who are asked to vote in these ballots are probably those who are least likely to vote in a general election or a local election, and this is their most direct experience of our democracy. If they find a democratic vote that is so close to their central interests being corrupted in one form or another, their belief in the democratic system as a whole suffers. Therefore, it is incumbent on the Government, having rightly included a provision for ballots in the Bill, also to provide for the way in which the ballots will be conducted. I beg to move.
I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 113B and 113C. A well conducted ballot is widely thought to be the best way to interpret existing transfer legislation. The proposal is now to write the requirement for a transfer ballot more directly into the Bill. The value of ballots is hard to argue with, but it is worth considering wider unintended consequences and what often happens on the ground in housing estates.
In east London, we have had nine years of experience of dealing with mandatory stock transfer ballots, nearly all of which we have won with resounding majorities. However, the housing company of which I am a director—I must declare that interest—has experienced appalling delays in the refurbishment of the homes of very vulnerable families; that has resulted from the political knockabout that has so often surrounded the ballot process. Not only have those ballots often undermined public confidence, they have also for many months or even years distracted staff and resident directors from the core task of running a £300 million housing company on behalf of the residents.
At Poplar HARCA, we have counted the many hundreds of thousands of pounds that the ballot exercise has cost and have witnessed the confusion created among local residents who have so often felt consulted to death as a result of the process. The amendments are intended to save many housing estates across the country from that unhelpful experience and to leave the decision as to exactly how to test local opinion to those in the local context. There are different mechanisms available now to do that. What works in the London Borough of Newham may be quite different from what works or does not work in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets next door. It all depends on local circumstances. The amendments seek to recognise that fact and to leave it to those in the local context to decide which method of testing local opinion is best for their residents. In some cases, they will choose a stock transfer ballot and that is fine.
[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 3.39 to 3.49 pm.]
Before I was interrupted by the Division Bell, I suggested that there are now different ways to test local opinion. In some cases we will choose a stock transfer ballot, and that is fine, but the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was correct to point out that if we do that, it has to be very well run. However, there are practical reasons why it is very difficult to do. Why not let the decision be made locally rather than introduce legislation which dictates that one size fits all? Housing transfers have become an established part of the regeneration scene. However, they are now highly politicised affairs. This means that often the ballot is not just an occasion where the residents assess a scheme and give their view. My experience is that people from all over the country come to these ballots with a particular axe to grind. They have become highly tangled, tortuous affairs full of accusation and acrimony.
What happens when a good scheme goes down or is delayed? There are resource issues for housing associations, so it is not just the cost of the ballot itself or the promotional material. To work up an offer, an association will have to invest many hundreds of thousands of pounds to develop a viable scheme for an estate or neighbourhood in need of comprehensive regeneration and redesign. There are unavoidable costs for surveying, master planning, pre-planning application discussions with the planning authority, business planning and financial forecasting. These resources are lost in the case of a negative ballot, however good the scheme and however necessary the regeneration. Where does the money come from? In the end, it comes from the existing tenants’ rent. Then there is the even greater loss of the regeneration resources transfer would bring. For example, in Tower Hamlets, the cost of negative ballots has been estimated at over £600 million of resources for deprived neighbourhoods.
I repeat, over £600 million. In many cases the estates are in need of complete remodelling and rebuilding, with a fresh look at how scarce land is being used, but there is now no resource to make that happen.
It might be argued that the association takes a known risk, one that it does not have to take. It is also argued that the ballot box gives residents an opportunity to speak. If they have spoken against a scheme, they must live with that choice. If they do not accept a scheme, they will pay the price. That is fine as far as it goes, but it is not the whole story. The voters in a transfer ballot are not the only stakeholders, and the consequences for a wider group of stakeholders must be acknowledged. Hands cannot be washed just because a particular result emerges from the ballot box. There will be a broader impact on the surrounding neighbourhoods where an estate or neighbourhood rejects an investment opportunity. The impact will be wider than the local constituency of voters. We must also consider the even greater impact on welfare costs and taxation—the deprivation tariff. If neighbourhood regeneration does not take place and immovable pockets of deprivation remain, it has an inevitable social cost in terms of lower education attainment, poorer health and higher levels of worklessness. These in themselves are unhappy human outcomes, so the wider cost needs to be understood and taken into account.
While independent ballots are rightly seen as important, the voters are not the only stakeholders. Their views are important, but in the longer term they may not turn out to be the most vital. This is not to disparage democratic processes, but to emphasise that there are unignorable wider consequences where no investment takes place and higher social costs are sustained. These overall consequences cannot be avoided and need to be weighed when judgments, sometimes quite difficult political judgments, have to be made. A ballot may seem to be a simple way to test local opinion, but experience shows that it may not tell the whole story, or even enough of the story, about an area. The Government need to reserve a wider range of instruments to ensure that change can take place in circumstances where the cost of no change is too high. Such decisions cannot be taken centrally; they have to be taken in the local context by people who are aware of all the complex needs and realities of an area. The amendments seek to leave the power of decision with local people; I commend them to noble Lords.
Finally, the amendments seek to alert the Government to the practical consequences of their present approach; while it is apparently laudable, that restricted approach will, if our experience in east London is anything to go by, ensure that the Government’s policy aspirations will not in many cases be carried through in practice. The budget that they have set aside for improved housing provision will not be spent. I hope that I am wrong, but history may prove otherwise. It might be good in a few years for us all to return to this Room and look at what the practical aspirations were and what actually happened to some of the poorest families in this country.
My noble friend Lord Greaves has put his name to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I apologise for my voice. I hope that I will remain more or less intelligible—at least audibly, if not politically—for the rest of the day. My noble friend has kept his cold in Pendle and sends his apologies. He e-mailed me about those amendments—he is obviously in support of them—and said that good councils of course do all the things that are spelt out in the second amendment. He said that the mention of notice boards in subsection (2)(e) of Amendment No. 114 is curiously old-fashioned and that if the council is using its website, opponents should have a right to equal space there. That is probably covered by “other relevant resources”, in any event. My noble friend concludes his note by saying that,
“many ballots at present are like an election in Russia (or worse)”.
I, like the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, am partisan, but I share the view that if there are to be ballots, they should be well conducted.
The noble Baroness said the key words. While it is clearly useful to have tenant ballots if only tenants are involved, the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, had a point when he said that if a council has made this matter an electoral issue and the election has been clear, and open and everyone understands what is going on, that is a fair process. We do not have to worry about that. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is discussing different circumstances in which, if there is a somewhat unscrupulous council—which is not unknown—it is possible to have a one-sided election.
The difficulty is how we establish a system that provides the flexibility that the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, rightly asked for and the security that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, rightly asked for. At the moment, the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews has the job and the responsibility. All I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, is that he needs to remember that when the country votes in a general election, it gets the result it gets and has to live with it. You cannot complain if you have a ballot purely on a housing issue and you do not get the result you want. You have to live with it, because that is democracy, I am afraid. It may be tough, but democracy needs to be a tough and harsh discipline. It is good that it works.
That was an excellent debate. My noble friend Lord Whitty has a lot of passion and experience in this field. We have listened to him carefully regarding the instances he cited. I also listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, who described the wider context and implications. He gave a useful account of what is frail in the system. That is why we support the intention behind my noble friend’s amendments, because we can do better than we have done. I do not feel that his prescription is the right one—and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, may have been hinting at that—but I have come up with an alternative, which I hope noble Lords will accept.
The amendment would impose on councils an overly prescriptive procedure. They would be compelled to follow it, regardless of the nature of the proposal and, indeed, regardless of whether a council wanted to pass a few management responsibilities for, say, 25 or so homes to a group of tenants or to pass ownership of an estate of 500 or more homes to an RSL.
The code of practice has a very different effect, whether one is talking about a change of management or a change of landlord, and it is worth unpacking that a little. Councils seek to pass management responsibilities to other bodies where they believe that doing so will provide better value for money and a better service to their tenants. Sometimes management responsibilities are passed on to tenants because that is what they have asked for. Under a change of management, however, homes remain in council ownership and tenants remain council tenants. Tenancies do not change and tenants are less affected than under a change of landlord. That is right, and we encourage councils to keep their tenants fully informed where they propose a change of management and actively to seek their views. Equally, it is right that councils are free to manage this process as they think most appropriate, given the homes in question. It is obviously wrong to force a process on them.
However, a change of landlord is significantly different. The terms of people’s tenancies do change and therefore it is right that they are involved to a far greater degree. For that reason, we introduced Clause 293. However, I do not believe that in addition to a statutory ballot, which is the burden of Clause 293, a statutory code of practice is necessary, not least because much of what is proposed in the amendments is already part of the process and we encourage it through the existing guidance.
The guidance that we issue to councils on stock transfers is very clear about how tenants should be consulted. I am not convinced that councils are neglecting to follow it but I am concerned about the sort of experiences that my noble friend has relayed. I am concerned that he and others have the impression that some councils do not follow the guidance, and we need to address that. Equally, we need a transparent, fair, open, robust and flexible process. I very much take on board what the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, said about the need for flexibility and local character.
I hope that my noble friend and others will draw some comfort from the fact that we intend to table an amendment to this clause that would provide powers to the Secretary of State to issue statutory guidance on stock transfers. I hope that that will meet noble Lords’ concerns in a more focused way. It is not our intention to make the current guidance statutory. It is more than 250 pages long and much of it relates to best practice. It is this guidance that the Homes and Communities Agency will in future be responsible for producing.
To complement the work of the agency, we aim to consult on short, statutory guidance that focuses on the key issues that my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, highlighted, including what might be an adequate period of notice before a ballot and some prescription regarding the offer document put to tenants, and so on.
I hope that that will satisfy my noble friend and I now turn to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mawson. I am very grateful for his insight and he was extremely eloquent in describing the relationship between the ballot and the wider form of democracy that he would advocate. However, I cannot accept the amendment because there is a larger issue at stake here. The amendment seeks to remove the requirement to hold a ballot from authorities that have signalled their intent to seek consent to transfer in the manifesto upon which they were elected.
I also have a problem there with fairness. How would we know that any of the tenants in question had voted for the party in power? How could it be fair that people who did not live in the homes in question could decide the fate of those who did? I would have no objection—indeed, I would welcome it—if political parties made clear in their manifestos what they intended to do if elected, including how they would manage their housing, but essentially that should be the start of the process, not the process itself. Tenants must have the final say, and this clause as it stands provides that.
The amendment also seeks to exclude local authorities that can demonstrate by means other than a ballot the opinion of their tenants. All local authorities seeking to transfer stock currently carry out voluntary ballots because they recognise it is the clearest way of both demonstrating tenants’ opinion and ensuring that all tenants are involved. We concur with that and that is why we are ensuring such protection for tenants is enshrined in law. It is hard to imagine what other process could achieve the same result. It cannot be right that tenants of one authority are invited to take part in a properly conducted ballot, the result of which would be clear and unambiguous, while their neighbours across the border are subject to a different process.
I hope that what we have come forward with addresses the concerns and is acceptable. It will meet the critical criteria of fairness and robustness. It is also possible to craft it in such a way that it is flexible enough for local authorities to use it to their own benefit and to the benefit of their tenants.
I am grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I hope both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness will soon recover.
Most noble Lords who have contributed to the debate recognise that there is a problem. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, has, in one sense, let the cat out of the bag. I did not address the biggest imbalance—that if you vote yes you get the money; if you vote no, you do not. In the old days that used to be known as “treating” and was an electoral offence. However, I will put that to one side. But it demonstrates that the whole operation is in the context of a national policy which both major parties broadly support. It is therefore not sensible that the impact of the national policy and the way in which people are consulted about it should vary significantly from borough to borough and local authority to local authority. I do not accept the need for flexibility in that respect.
Even in relation to local authority manifestos, the local authorities are operating within a national policy and, as the Minister said, it is by no means certain that the tenants of the estates in question voted for the majority party when it came to its execution on those particular premises.
I am grateful to the Minister for suggesting a road to statutory guidance. It is difficult to see the present guidance being put on a statutory basis but if it enshrines the kinds of principles that I am talking about, statutory guidance would go a considerable way towards cleaning up the balance. It would address the situation that the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, referred to in terms of outside interference—on the no side, generally speaking—as well as the imbalance in favour of a yes vote that I was concerned with. That means that this will become a proper, cleaned-up form of democracy, rather than something which is subject to abuse and undermines the whole basis on which our democratic society should be run.
I hope that the statutory guidance will be sufficient but I shall keep my powder dry until I see it. I would have preferred that there was at least a linked reference, a passerelle, to the guidance on the face of the Bill. I accept that the Government have moved some way in my direction and therefore at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 113A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
[Amendments Nos. 113B and 113C not moved.]
Clause 293 agreed to.
[Amendment No. 114 not moved.]
Clauses 294 and 295 agreed to.
Clause 296 [Family intervention tenancies: general]:
114A: Clause 296, page 127, line 24, at end insert—
“(3A) In this paragraph, “behaviour support services” means support services to be provided by a person or agency to the new tenant or to any person who is to reside with the new tenant which are set out in a support plan devised following an assessment of the support needs of the household.
(3B) It shall be a term of the agreement for the family intervention tenancy that the landlord shall provide, or arrange for the provision of, the services detailed in the support plan referred to in sub-paragraph (3A).
(3C) The support plan shall specify the nature and degree (including the frequency of involvement) of the services to be provided and shall be agreed with the new tenant prior to the commencement of the new tenancy.
(3D) In devising or approving the support plan, the landlord shall have regard to guidance issued by the appropriate national authority which may include model forms of provision.”
The noble Baroness said: The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, sends her apologies. She had hoped to see the Minister, and indeed looked into the Moses Room just before we started. She is attending a board meeting at Shelter, so one can understand her absence.
In moving Amendment No. 114A I shall speak also to Amendment Nos. 114B and 114C. There are others in this group, which is concerned with family intervention tenancies. The amendment essentially seeks to deal with what I would describe as a rather thin definition of behaviour support services and references to what those are, in a clause that I certainly do not oppose but which could have considerable consequences for the small number of people who may be offered, and who may take up, a family intervention tenancy.
The first of the amendments seeks to introduce a more prescriptive definition of “behaviour support services” to ensure that, when a family moves from a secure tenancy, it receives the services that anyone reading this clause would expect it to receive. Voluntarily giving up a secure or assured social rented tenancy should not be taken lightly. Relinquishing a secure home on the basis—I apologise for my cough; I am not going to do justice to this brief—of receiving intensive and good quality support is significant.
You would not be able to read this, but thank you.
Shelter, which has promoted these amendments, makes the important point that family intervention tenancies should not be used as a form of punishment for anti-social families. It talks about its experience—I am so sorry; my cough must be really irritating for everyone—in its projects where it has come across very variable standards, and argues for the need to safeguard against that. If the Committee will forgive me, I hope that the amendments will speak for themselves. My explanations are very abbreviated.
The third amendment would protect families living in such tenancies from being unfairly evicted. All these amendments are more flexible than those that were tabled in the Commons. I hope therefore that the Minister can assist in responding. I apologise again for my cough, now and for the whole afternoon. I beg to move.
Our sympathies are with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. She is being heroic in speaking. I can tell her in response to her amendment that I met the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, to discuss the concerns raised by Shelter. The last thing we want is to set up family intervention tenancies to fail because so much depends on the work the family itself is prepared to do, and the effort family members are prepared to put into it. Essentially we want FITs to provide a platform by which families can regain a footing in the community without causing further damage and distress to their neighbours. Any eviction from a FIT due to a family not having been given the level of support it needs in a way that it can use and build on would be a failure on the part of the project, so we are very much at one with Shelter on this. However, the amendments go too far in seeking to address matters beyond tenancy law.
I explained to my noble friend that while we could not accept the amendments, we take the notion described as the “thin definition” in behaviour support, and that we intend to see how we can prevent the social situation the noble Lord drew attention to. We have therefore undertaken to look at how we can ensure that family intervention tenancies are used only to aid the delivery of behaviour support services that are intensive in nature. I think that my noble friend has already said that this meets the concerns expressed by her and by Shelter, and I am happy that that is the case.
I turn briefly to the other amendments tabled in the group. As the noble Lord said, we have tabled an amendment to achieve the same purpose as his, and indeed our amendment goes a little further. It requires us to take the affirmative route when seeking to vary as well as remove any of the requirements set out in the Bill. In doing this we are responding to a recommendation made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee.
I turn to Amendment No. 114C. Again I can tell my noble friend Lady Jones that we support the spirit of the amendment in that we want evictions from family intervention tenancies to be rare events. What is encouraging is that the work that has been done so far with intensive support projects suggests that families remain engaged with the support. These are extremely expensive and intensive projects, but they do work. The amendment addresses the nature of the review procedure we are providing. Tenants of a local authority would be entitled to a review where a landlord decides to take possession under a family intervention tenancy. We are taking a power to lay regulations that will make provision for the procedure to be followed in connection with such a review so that landlords and tenants are clear on how such a review should be conducted. Normally, a review of this nature would simply involve the landlord reappraising his decision to take possession in the light of representations made by the tenants or their representatives, but in the case of these tenancies, we think it is sensible—as the amendment also proposes—that the professionals involved in delivering the support programme should feed in their views to inform the landlord’s final decision. I want to make it clear that we would expect the landlord and the support programme to work closely together from the outset. Any decision to take possession would normally be agreed between the two, and if other agencies had an interest in the case, we would want them to be involved as well. A scenario where the landlord seeks repossession against the professional judgment of the support workers is, frankly, most unlikely, so it follows that in the vast majority of cases, any evidence brought forward by support workers at a review would strongly support the landlord’s decision.
I am happy to put on the record my view that future regulations should address the issue of the type of evidence that the review should consider, and that that may include evidence from those who may have been providing the tenant with behavioural support services. On that basis, I hope noble Lords will agree that it is unnecessary to highlight this issue in the Bill. The power to make review regulations is already broad enough to allow us to cover the points to which I have referred.
Turning briefly to my own amendments in this group, Amendments Nos. 114AZA, 114AZB, 114BA and 114BB concern identical provisions, albeit that they apply to the two different types of social landlords, local authorities and RSLs. We want to make sure that families are clear about what a family intervention tenancy is, why it is being proposed that they should accept it and what the consequences might be if they do not abide by its conditions. This is obviously heavily linked to their support programme. Our aim is to make sure that a family will sign such a tenancy only having properly considered their options—they must know, they must agree, and they must be fully informed and fully signed up.
Accordingly, provisions require that a family be served a notice before they sign a family intervention tenancy agreement. Clause 296 provides details of our requirements as to what the notice must contain. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has accepted that the negative procedure is appropriate for regulations which add further requirements. However, in recognising the importance of the requirements we wish to fix on the face of the Bill, it wants to make sure that any regulations which seek to remove or amend them should attract the affirmative procedure. It is unlikely that we would want to make regulations to this effect but it is sensible that we take the power that would enable us to do so. We are very happy to accept the committee’s recommendations.
I am grateful to the Minister. On the first amendment, I was not entirely clear how ensuring that high-quality services will be available is going to be achieved. Is it the guidance or the practice that will suggest that before the family intervention tenancy is offered there must be certainty that there will be high-quality support services? Have I understood that correctly?
That is my understanding. These are carefully designed projects. I am sure my officials will correct me if I am wrong but the Dundee project, for example, was a model for this kind of programme. It involved negotiated arrangements that included all the relevant support services. It was made clear to the family that these services would be involved. We have had a lot of successful practice in designing, communicating and managing this project with the family itself. We are looking again at the definition in the Bill. We will cover these kinds of points in the guidance so that people will be in absolutely no doubt about the right processes and the right relationships that we want to see.
I found the reference to looking again at the definition a little confusing. If the provision was not going to be brought back during the legislative stage, I was not certain how it was going to be dealt with. However, I now understand the approach. I am grateful to the Minister for her explanation and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
114AZA: Clause 296, page 128, line 9, at end insert—
“(9A) A statutory instrument containing (whether alone or with other provision) regulations under this paragraph which amend or repeal any of paragraphs (a) to (f) of sub-paragraph (5) may not be made—
(a) by the Secretary of State unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament; and(b) by the Welsh Ministers unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, the National Assembly for Wales.”
114AZB: Clause 296, page 128, line 10, at beginning insert “Subject to this,”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 114AA and A114B not moved.]
114BA: Clause 296, page 129, line 37, at end insert—
“(9A) A statutory instrument containing (whether alone or with other provision) regulations under this paragraph which amend or repeal any of paragraphs (a) to (f) of sub-paragraph (5) may not be made—
(a) by the Secretary of State unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament; and(b) by the Welsh Ministers unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, the National Assembly for Wales.”
114BB: Clause 296, page 129, line 38, at beginning insert “Subject to this,”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 296, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 297 [Certain family intervention tenancies: termination]:
[Amendment No. 114C not moved.]
Clause 297 agreed to.
Clause 298 agreed to.
Schedule 10 [Possession orders relating to certain tenancies]:
114CA: Schedule 10, page 195, line 35, at end insert—
“(4) Omit subsections (5) and (5A).”
The noble Baroness said: We come to an important but complex change that the Government want to make. Clause 298 and Schedule 10 deal with the issue of tolerated trespassers. The provisions in Schedule 10 will prevent the creation of further tolerated trespassers in the future and will remedy the position for existing tolerated trespassers. We would be forgiven for not knowing what tolerated trespassers are and I shall come to that in a minute. These provisions received widespread support in the responses to the consultation paper on tolerated trespassers which was published by the Department for Communities and Local Government last August. Landlords and housing and legal professionals who responded to the consultation strongly supported remedying the situation for future tolerated trespassers and existing tolerated trespassers, not simply those who have complied with the terms of a possession order, provided that landlords are protected from liability for damages.
Let me explain briefly why this change is necessary. Tolerated trespassers are people who have lost their status as tenants after the court has granted the landlord a possession order, but who remain in the property, either by agreement with the landlord or by further order of the court. In the vast majority of cases, they are people in social housing. Our statistics suggest that at least 250,000 to 300,000 people could fall into this category. Being a tolerated trespasser causes serious problems for tenants and landlords alike. In the first place, neither landlord nor tenant can rely on the provisions in the relevant housing Acts or the terms of the tenancy agreement. For the tenant, possibly the most serious consequence is that no succession will be possible on death. For the landlord, problems include uncertainty about entitlement to annual increases in rent and about whether tolerated trespassers should be allowed to vote in stock transfer and tenant management ballots.
We want to put that right for the future and to help existing tolerated trespassers. Part 1 of Schedule 10 will ensure that in future where a person is subject to a possession order, unless they voluntarily move out, they will retain their tenant status until the court bailiff evicts them. Part 2 of Schedule 10 will restore tenancy status to existing tolerated trespassers by creating a new tenancy from the date that the Bill comes into force.
I stress that the Government’s aim is to provide as far as possible that landlord and tenant are in the same position as they would have been had the tenant not become a tolerated trespasser and that neither is disadvantaged by the changes. So it is important to clarify that restoring tenancy status to tolerated trespassers will not affect their landlords’ rights to ask the court to order eviction where this is appropriate. In most cases it is at the court’s discretion whether to do so and these discretionary powers are not changed by our proposals.
Our proposals mean that in future people who live in social rented housing will maintain their rights as tenants until they leave their homes and landlords will no longer face the confusion and uncertainty which has been caused by the development of the tolerated trespasser doctrine for the past 20-odd years. These provisions will resolve the contradictions in the current law to make it consistent with the wide discretionary powers that Parliament gave to the courts to protect tenants.
We are also introducing minor amendments to the tolerated trespasser provisions in Schedule 10 and consequential amendments to Schedule 14 which deals with repeals. I shall briefly outline the most important of those amendments. They seek to tighten up and clarify the existing provisions, rather than to expand them. In particular, Amendments Nos. 114CD, 114CE and 114CF clarify the territorial divide between England and Wales. The tolerated trespasser doctrine is a complex area of law and we have in several instances added delegated powers to make further provision if the need should arise. Paragraph 25 provides that these powers are exercisable in England by the Secretary of State and in Wales by Welsh Ministers.
My officials have been working closely with colleagues in the Welsh Assembly Government and will continue to do so, so that as far as possible the position in England and Wales continues to be the same. Nevertheless, we want to avoid a situation whereby, if the order-making powers are ever exercised differently, a dispute may arise as to whether the English or Welsh rules apply in a particular case.
So Amendments Nos. 114CD and 114CE clarify what is meant by England and Wales in this context and provide that that is determined by where the dwelling house which is the subject of the possession order is situated. I fear that that has begged the question of what happens with those properties which straddle the border between England and Wales. Although that situation is likely to be rare, it makes sense to provide for it in the Bill to give certainty and obviate the need for further interpretation by the courts.
We consider that the most sensible approach would be to provide that a cross-border property will be deemed to be in England or in Wales depending on the country in which council tax is paid. That will always be a question of fact, because each cross-border property will already be within a local authority’s area for the purposes of council tax, and each local authority is wholly within Wales or England.
Amendments Nos. 114CA and 114CB amend paragraph Schedule 10 3 and 8 of by inserting two new subsections. Those remove from the Housing Act 1985 and the Housing Act 1988 two very similar sets of subsections which assist the resident partners of tolerated trespassers. As we are getting rid of tolerated trespassers for the future, we believe that those provisions are now redundant. Under the new proposals, the court’s discretionary powers and the tenancy will end together when the possession order is executed. Where partners or ex-partners with occupation rights remain in the property after the tenant has departed, they will be able to ask the court to exercise all relevant powers so long as the tenancy continues, and will not need to rely on the provisions.
Amendment No. 114CC amends paragraph Schedule 10 20 of. Part 2 of Schedule 10 will restore tenancy status to existing tolerated trespassers by creating a new tenancy from the date on which the provisions come into force. Paragraph 20 provides that the possession order and other court orders made in respect of the possession proceedings will apply as far as practicable to the new tenancy. This amendment clarifies that paragraph 20 applies only to those court orders which are in force on the commencement date.
Amendments Nos. 117JA to 117JD, 117QA and 117ZDA make consequential amendments to Schedule 14, which deals with repeals to existing legislation in the light of those changes. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
114CB: Schedule 10, page 196, line 39, at end insert—
“(4) Omit subsections (5) and (5A).”
114CC: Schedule 10, page 200, line 26, at end insert—
“( ) are in force on that date,”
114CD: Schedule 10, page 202, line 19, after “to” insert “a dwelling-house in”
114CE: Schedule 10, page 202, line 20, after “to” insert “a dwelling-house in”
114CF: Schedule 10, page 203, line 16, at end insert—
“(2) For the purposes of the definition of “appropriate national authority” in sub-paragraph (1) a dwelling-house which is partly in England and partly in Wales is to be treated—
(a) as being in England if it is treated as situated in the area of a billing authority in England by virtue of regulations under section 1(3) of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 (c.14) (council tax in respect of dwellings), and(b) as being in Wales if it is treated as situated in the area of a billing authority in Wales by virtue of regulations under that section.”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Schedule 10, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 299 to 302 agreed to.
Schedule 11 [Service charges: provision of information and designated accounts]:
114CFA: Schedule 11, page 204, line 19, after “which” insert “, subject to subsections (7A) and (7B)”
The noble Lord said: The amendment deals with the exercise by the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers of the regulation-making powers that they will be given in the Bill to make provision about the service charge information that landlords will have to supply to their tenants. It provides that the first use of this power shall be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.
It may help the Committee if I set out the background to those regulation-making powers. Section 21 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 currently provides that tenants paying variable service charges are entitled to request certain accounting information about those charges from their landlords. Service charges are the sums that tenants are required to pay to their landlords for things such as the maintenance and repair of the common parts of the buildings and other common areas. However, it was decided that the rights of tenants in this area could and should be improved on. Specifically, it was decided that there was a need to ensure that all service charge payers were provided with a minimum level of transparency about the moneys that they were required to pay and any balances of such funds held on their behalf.
That would be done by prescribing that certain accounting information should be supplied by landlords as a matter of course, within a period of time from the end of each accounting period. Further, that would be backed by a right to withhold service charges where the information was not provided.
Other related provisions will also be introduced, dealing with the holding of service charge money in designated accounts. Provisions were subsequently included in the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002, which set out certain requirements for the service charge statement of accounting and the accompanying accountant’s report. Following extensive consultation with stakeholders about the more detailed requirements for these provisions, it became clear that amendments were needed to new Section 21 of the 1985 Act, in order to ensure that when regulations are made they can provide more effectively for detailed service charge information to be supplied that is more appropriate to different sets of circumstances.
Therefore, the amended Section 21 will now provide a broader framework than under the original proposals for the regulation-making power to be used. In the light of the wider regulation-making power being provided, and following the advice of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, it is being proposed that the first set of regulations to be made under that power should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure of both Houses. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
114CFB: Schedule 11, page 204, line 25, at end insert—
“(7A) The Secretary of State may not make a statutory instrument containing the first regulations made by the Secretary of State under this section unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.
(7B) The Welsh Ministers may not make a statutory instrument containing the first regulations made by the Welsh Ministers under this section unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, the National Assembly for Wales.”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Schedule 11, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 303 and 304 agreed to.
Schedule 12 [Demolition notices]:
114CG: Schedule 12, page 209, line 9, at end insert—
“(za) after “final demolition notice”, where it first appears, insert “(“the earlier notice”)”,(zb) after “final demolition notice”, where it appears for a second time, insert “(and no initial demolition notice)”,”
The noble Lord said: It will take me a little longer to speak to these amendments, but they are important because they build on a measure that was introduced by the Housing Act 2004 to tackle exploitation of the right-to-buy and compulsory purchase compensation rules by some tenants. They amend Schedule 12 to the Bill, which is given effect by Clause 304, in two different ways.
The 2004 Act enabled landlords to end a tenant’s right to buy a property that was scheduled for demolition—for example, under a regeneration scheme. It did so by adding properties that are to be demolished during the next two years to the exceptions that apply to the right to buy under Schedule 5 of the Housing Act 1985. That means in effect that the right to buy is no longer available on properties where the landlord has served a final demolition notice and followed the prescribed notification process. The 2004 Act also added Schedule 5A to the Housing Act 1985, giving landlords a power to serve an initial demolition notice suspending the right to buy for up to five years. Again, landlords who do so must follow a notification process. Notification of either initial or final demolition notices must set out the reasons and the intended date for demolition. Landlords must also publicise those provisions locally.
The aim of allowing landlords to suspend or end the right to buy in such circumstances was to address a loophole in previous legislation. Prior to the 2004 Act, when a tenant knew that demolition was likely, he or she was able to buy their home under the right to buy at a discount, knowing that it would have to be repurchased using compulsory powers and that they would then be entitled to full market value plus home loss compensation. In other words, they could make a profit at the expense of taxpayers. In areas where the maximum £38,000 right to buy discount was available, a tenant could make a profit of up to £48,000. That affected the financial viability of regeneration schemes. Landlords had to find the money to buy these right-to-buy owners out.
The demolition notice procedure means that landlords can prevent tenants from taking financial advantage of the length of time that it may take to plan and implement a large regeneration scheme. But, of course, there are safeguards for tenants. Landlords must notify them of when and why they intend to demolish. An initial demolition notice expires after five years, and another demolition notice, initial or final, cannot then be served in respect of the same property for a further five years unless the Secretary of State agrees. An initial notice can be extended, but again only with the agreement of the Secretary of State. Similarly, once a final demolition notice has expired, another final notice cannot be served in respect of the same property for five years unless the Secretary of State consents.
If a tenant has incurred conveyancing costs prior to a demolition notice being served, he is entitled to compensation. A final demolition notice cannot be served unless arrangements are in place to acquire any neighbouring properties that might also need to be demolished. These provisions are also available if the landlord employs another body, for example an arm’s-length management organisation, to manage the demolition scheme on his behalf while retaining ownership of the property, but they are not currently available if the landlord sells or transfers the property. Clause 304 and Schedule 12 to the Bill would enable initial or final demolition notices to remain in effect if the landlord sold or transferred the property to another landlord who intended to continue with the demolition plans.
Of course, all the safeguards for tenants that I mentioned earlier will remain in place. This will work as follows. Unless the second landlord serves a continuation notice confirming that he intends to continue with the demolition plans, he will have to revoke any demolition notice served by the first landlord. The continuation notice must be justified on one of the same grounds as the original demolition notice, and it must be served and publicised in the same way. It may not vary the planned demolition date or the date on which the original notice will expire. The intention is to enable social landlords to manage demolition and regeneration schemes with flexibility.
I turn now to the amendments. As I said, they are designed to do two things. The purpose of Amendments Nos. 114CG and 114CH is to add further provisions to Schedule 5 to the Housing Act 1985 in order to close a loophole which arises from the combined effect of provisions in Schedules 5 and 5A to that Act. The demolition notices scheme envisages that a landlord may serve an initial demolition notice valid for a maximum of five years, and that while the notice is still valid, it may be replaced by a final demolition notice valid for a maximum of two years, giving the landlord an accumulated maximum of seven years during which the right to buy is either suspended or terminated. As I mentioned earlier, once an initial demolition notice has ceased to be in force, there is a five-year ban on serving either a further initial notice or a final notice, unless of course with the consent of the Secretary of State. The ban is imposed by paragraphs 4(2) and (3) of Schedule 5A, while paragraph 15(8) of Schedule 5 provides that once a demolition notice has ceased to be in force for any reason, no further notice may be served within five years unless, again, with the consent of the Secretary of State.
However, at present nothing in Schedule 5A prevents a landlord serving an initial demolition notice immediately after a final notice has ceased to be in force. This means that a landlord who wished to do so could in effect prevent or suspend the right to buy for nine years by serving a final demolition notice for the maximum of two years and then shortly afterwards serving an initial demolition notice lasting a further five years, and finally, just before that notice expires, serving another final demolition notice for two years. The effect of the first two amendments before us is to prevent a landlord doing exactly that. This was not the intention of the Government or of Parliament when it passed the 2004 Act, nor is it clear to tenants that this can be done. The aim of the amendments is to improve the transparency of the process.
The third amendment picks up a suggestion made by London Councils, the representative body of London boroughs. It extends the maximum permitted lifetime to an initial demolition notice from the present five years to seven years. We agree with London Councils that the complexity of some regeneration schemes is such that it takes longer than five years to put them in place. However, we also wish to ensure that tenants are not deprived of the right to buy for longer than is necessary. To us, seven years seems reasonable.
These amendments are designed to make existing provisions work more transparently and effectively to the benefit of tenants and landlords alike, and I hope that Members of the Committee will agree to them. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
114CH: Schedule 12, page 209, line 14, leave out “notice”.” and insert “final demolition notice (or, as the case may be, the initial demolition notice)”.
(4) After sub-paragraph (9) insert—
“(10) In sub-paragraph (8) “initial demolition notice” has the meaning given by paragraph 1 of Schedule 5A (initial demolition notices).””
114CJ: Schedule 12, page 210, line 28, at end insert—
“ In paragraph 1(4)(b) (initial demolition notices: maximum specified period to carry out demolition) for “five” substitute “seven”.”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Schedule 12, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 305 [Review of determination of value]:
114CK: Clause 305, page 136, line 38, at end insert “of the value of the dwelling-house at the relevant time”
The noble Lord said: Clause 305 amends Section 128 of the Housing Act 1985, introduces new Sections 128A and 128B and makes other consequential amendments to that Act. These changes are designed to make the operation of the right-to-buy valuation procedure more responsive to circumstances. The two amendments that we have tabled are intended to clarify that any fresh determination of value arising from the review procedure introduced by Clause 305 must relate to the date on which the tenant in question applied to exercise his or her right to buy.
The background to Clause 305 and to these amendments is that, at present, wrong valuations based on errors of fact cannot be corrected without court action, which is time-consuming and costly for landlords and tenants alike. Under Section 125 of the Housing Act 1985, when a tenant exercises the right to buy, the landlord must state the price at which it will sell the property to him or her. It must show how it has arrived at that price, which must be based on its assessment of the market value of the property at the time when the tenant applied to exercise the right to buy. If the tenant is dissatisfied with the landlord’s valuation, he may require that the value be determined by a district valuer, an employee of the Valuation Office Agency, a government agency, under Section 128 of the Housing Act 1985. The district valuer’s determination is binding on both sides.
The Valuation Office Agency is concerned that in a few cases every year—usually no more than 10—it is subsequently found that valuations were flawed because of errors of fact. Such errors usually arise because the valuers used a recently sold property for comparison. They do not usually visit that property, but rely on a database. That is where errors can creep in—for example, such a property may be recorded as having two bedrooms when in fact it has three. Both landlord and tenant see all the details on which the district valuer bases the valuation, and one or the other is often able to spot such an error through local knowledge.
Flawed valuations are unfair. If they are too high, the tenant needs an unnecessarily high mortgage or may be unable to afford to buy, while valuations that are too low mean that the landlord and the taxpayer receive a lower receipt than is justified. The new sections added to the 1985 Act by Clause 305 will allow district valuers to withdraw determinations of value and make new ones instead if they decide that their original valuation was flawed, acting either on their own initiative or in response to a request from either the landlord or the tenant. This is not a means for the parties simply to continue arguing about the price—only errors of fact that affect the price by at least 5 per cent will be able to trigger a fresh determination—nor will district valuers be able to withdraw a valuation at any time. Clause 305 provides that the landlord or the tenant may ask for a valuation to be withdrawn only within 28 days from notification of the district valuer’s original valuation. The valuer may decide to review his valuation only within 42 days from that original notification. No review can take place if the right-to-buy sale has actually been completed.
The amendments we are looking at today are intended to ensure that if a district valuer reviews a determination of value, he or she revalues the property as it was on the date when the tenant applied for the right to buy. That is in line with the existing provisions that ensure that all right-to-buy valuation issues refer to “the relevant time”—that is, the date of the application.
Clause 305 is intended to allow a right-to-buy valuation by a district valuer to be revised but only if the facts on which it is based are shown to be significantly wrong—and within a reasonable timescale. Now, the only way of doing this is, as I said earlier, via some form of judicial review—an unnecessarily lengthy and costly procedure to correct fact-based errors. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
114CL: Clause 305, page 137, line 14, after “re-determination” insert “of the value of the dwelling-house at the relevant time”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 305, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 306 to 310 agreed to.
Schedule 13 agreed to.
Clause 311 agreed to.
[Amendment No. 114D not moved.]
114E: After Clause 311, insert the following new Clause—
“Orders for repossession
(1) Section 7 of the Housing Act 1988 (c. 50) (orders for possession) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (3), at the beginning insert “Subject to subsection (3A),”.
(3) In subsection (3), for “subsections (5A) and (6)” substitute “subsections (5A), (6) and (6A)”.
(4) After subsection (3) insert—
“(3A) Ground 8 in Part I of Schedule 2 shall not be used in possession proceedings brought by registered providers of social housing, as defined in section 79 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008.”
(5) In subsection (4), for “subsections (5A) and (6)” substitute “subsections (5A), (6) and (6A)”.
(6) After subsection (6) insert—
“(6A) If the court is satisfied—
(a) that Ground 8 in Part I of Schedule 2 to this Act is established; and(b) that some part of the rent is in arrears as a consequence of a delay or failure in the payment of relevant housing benefit, it shall not make an order for possession unless it considers it reasonable to do so.”(7) After subsection (7) insert—
“(8) In subsection (6A) above—
(a) “relevant housing benefit” means—(i) any rent allowance or rent rebate to which the tenant was entitled in respect of the rent under the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006; or(ii) any payment on account of any such entitlement awarded under Regulation 93 of those Regulations;(b) references to delay or failure in the payment of relevant housing benefit do not include such delay or failure so far as referable to any wilful act or omission of the tenant.””
The noble Baroness said: This amendment was brought to me by Shelter and is supported by Crisis and the Housing Law Practitioners Association. I understand that the Law Commission has also recently expressed concern about the subject. The short point of the amendment is to allow discretion to the court when an application is made for possession on the ground of rent arrears because of delays in housing benefit.
Ground 8—the ground seeking possession—can be used by private landlords and housing associations in connection with an assured tenancy or an assured shorthold tenancy where a tenant has arrears of more than two months’ rent. However, unlike the other rent arrears grounds, ground 8 is mandatory and the court has no discretion to determine whether or not it would be reasonable to make an order for possession.
Ground 8 was originally aimed at stimulating the private rented sector but since 1993 private landlords have been able to gain possession quickly and without a hearing for assured shorthold tenancies. In practice, therefore, they tend to use not ground 8 but the accelerated possession procedure. Therefore, the concern here is primarily with the use of ground 8 by housing associations.
In cases where the tenant’s problem is a delay or some issue relating to the claiming of housing benefit—and those in about 2.5 million social tenancies are claiming housing benefit—clearly they will have problems with debt, of which rent arrears are a major item. Of course, it is understood that there have to be measures to combat fraud—one cannot simply put in a claim for housing benefit and expect to have it paid immediately—but in general terms in social housing the Government have been promoting a preventive and supportive approach, with possession action being taken only as a last resort. In Scotland, the Scottish Executive has introduced measures to prevent eviction of tenants for rent arrears caused by housing benefit problems. So that can be done.
I was taken by the description of the situation by the right honourable Member for Greenwich, Nick Raynsford, when the matter was discussed in the Commons, who talked about the fundamental objectives of the regulator, one of which is to ensure that tenants or potential tenants have an appropriate degree of choice and protection. Ground 8 seems to go very much against that.
I understand that there have been discussions since then with Shelter and that the Government have asked the Housing Corporation to undertake research into how, why and when ground 8 is used. I hope that the Minister can confirm that and explain, given the transition to a new agency, what will happen with this research. It would be good to have on the record as much explanation of what is being undertaken by the Government as they are able to give.
I was shocked when I understood that there is a mandatory provision for a landlord to claim possession and I had intended to use an example used by Sir George Young in the Commons. I shall not repeat the details, but I will refer, as he did, to Lord Justice Dyson in the Court of Appeal, who said that the statutory scheme is potentially draconian in its application. I look forward to hearing from the Minister. I beg to move.
I have sympathy with the amendment. It cannot be right that tenants can lose their home because the local authority has failed to pay housing benefit on their behalf. That seems utterly unfair. Housing associations have served notice using this ground 8 often because, unless they do so, the local authority has not come up with the housing benefit money. Very long delays in the payment of housing benefit have meant that housing associations have used these grounds, not always with any great intention of following them through. This cannot be the way to proceed. It must be right that local authorities pay much more promptly, so that we do not get into this mess. Having this power in the Bill is an offence against justice.
This is indeed an important issue and I shall update the Committee on where the Government are. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for moving the amendment, which would have two effects. First, it would prevent registered providers of social housing from using ground 8; secondly, it would prevent the court granting possession under ground 8 to any landlord if any of the rent arrears was due to a delay or failure to pay housing benefit, unless the court considered it reasonable to do so. The amendment specifies that this would apply only where the delay or failure to pay housing benefit was not due to a wilful act or omission on the part of the tenant—which would obviously be right.
The noble Baroness expressed a range of concerns about ground 8. They are familiar and are well authenticated in terms of the groups and bodies working in the field. As the noble Baroness pointed out, similar views were expressed in the other place during earlier stages of the Bill. We recognise those concerns and the noble Lord, Lord Best, was absolutely right—serving notice in such circumstances is an affront to justice. We are eager to find a way to address those concerns.
In April, therefore, following the debate in the other place, we established a stakeholder working group to consider the concerns about ground 8 in more detail, so I can confirm that that has happened. It is required to report back to Ministers in the summer. The groups on it include Shelter, Citizens Advice and the Charted Institute of Housing, which are all familiar at first-hand with the matter, and we appreciate the constructive contribution that they are making.
On the wider point, we have seen some improvements on housing benefit performance. Between 2002-03 and 2007-08, the average time taken to process a new claim for housing benefit or council tax benefit fell from 55 to 28 days. It is still not very good, but it is half what it was. The latest figures for the second half of 2007-08 suggest that the improvements continue: it is now, on average, 26 days. I do not defend that, but considering where we were, it is an improvement.
To return to the burden of the amendment, I fully appreciate the point that the noble Baroness is making, but I suggest that it would be preferable to let the working group complete its work before we change the law in the Bill as she proposes. A lot of work is still to be done. The working group agrees unanimously that there is a lack of systematic evidence about the use of ground 8 by housing associations. A wealth of evidence can no doubt be collated—the term “anecdotal evidence” sounds pejorative but it is not meant to be—but we need a proper evidence base for this.
Given the range of stakeholder views on the subject, it is important that any changes to legislation—which would be profound—are made on a full understanding of current practice and the effects that those changes would have. In order to address that evidence gap, the Housing Corporation will be undertaking research into housing associations’ rent arrears management practice, including their use of ground 8. That will be presented to the working group for its consideration in due course.
I now turn to a few of the specific points that the noble Baroness raised. I clearly have sympathy with her concerns, because ground 8 has given rise to some very hard cases. That is one of the principal reasons why we have brought those people together: to try to assemble the evidence and find a proper way forward.
It is also important to have in mind the scale of this issue. Citizens Advice commissioned a report recently that acknowledged that only a small minority of RSLs use ground 8. The broader context is extremely positive. The overall rate of evictions in the RSL sector remains low, at 0.6 per cent of stock. The total number of evictions carried out by RSLs has fallen over recent years, despite the growth of the sector. So we are looking at better, more careful practice. According to Housing Corporation figures, the total number of evictions carried out by RSLs fell by nearly 15 per cent between 2004-05 and 2006-07; and RSL evictions related to rent arrears declined by more than 17 per cent during the same period.
That reflects excellent work by the RSLs to improve how they manage rent arrears. Together with a number of reforms that we and the Housing Corporation have put in place, that is creating a much more positive and productive climate, a much more holistic approach to dealing with tenant circumstances when rent arrears arise and more proactive working between the RSLs and the local authorities.
The noble Baroness referred to this being a last resort. Let me briefly expand on that for the record, because it is important to explain how we have arrived at our position. The Housing Corporation made clear that eviction should only be used by RSLs as a last resort in rent arrears cases—particularly where those arrears have arisen as a result of delays in housing benefit payments. That was reflected in the review of the Housing Corporation’s regulatory code and guidance in August 2005. The Government published good practice guidance in June 2005 on improving the effectiveness of rent arrears management, which included advice and best practice on early intervention policies and proactive approaches.
In 2007 the Housing Corporation issued housing management guidance stating that possession proceedings for rent arrears should not be started against tenants who can demonstrate that they have a reasonable expectation of eligibility for housing benefit, have provided the local authority with all the evidence required to process a housing benefit claim and paid required personal contributions towards the charge. A pre-action protocol for rent arrears was also established as part of the civil procedure rules with the aim of ensuring that eviction is the last resort for all landlords in rent arrears cases. So we have a combination of agency which is very productive. Nevertheless, the noble Baroness is absolutely right, as are the agencies, that there are concerns about the actions of a small minority of RSLs who might not be following the guidance. We are keen to ensure that these concerns are resolved, whether through legislation or regulation. That is one of the reasons we have established the group.
The noble Baroness argued that it is wrong in principle that the court cannot take the tenant’s wider circumstances into account in ground 8 cases and I understand that argument. But, again, the regulatory guidance exists to ensure that ground 8 is used only as a last resort. It puts the onus on the RSL to ensure that wider issues that might affect the rent arrears, such as housing benefit problems, are resolved before seeking eviction.
There is a more subtle point about current practice. I understand that some of the RSLs that use ground 8 do so precisely in order to resolve their rent arrears problems. If those RSLs had to rely on discretionary grounds alone, they might seek proceedings for possession much earlier to prevent the level of rent arrears from becoming unmanageable. I understand the process tends to take longer when you use discretionary grounds and that the final outcome is much less certain. By contrast, the mandatory nature of ground 8 gives the RSLs greater confidence to hold back formal proceedings until as late as possible in order that they may spend time working with tenants and trying to resolve the problem. I am not necessarily endorsing that approach. My only point is that the noble Baroness rightly argues that the certainty associated with ground 8 is injurious to the interests of tenants while others argue that that certainty can be used creatively in order to arrive at a better position.
I also understand that some RSLs use ground 8 only when tenants are unwilling to engage with them on a rent arrears problem. In such cases I have some sympathy with the RSLs, particularly the smaller ones, because of the threat that poses for their viability. I do not want that to be seen as a staunch defence of the status quo because I am not defending it. We would not have set up the stakeholder group otherwise.
My purpose is to illustrate that this issue is very complex. So, before we rush to a legislative solution, we should allow the working group to continue with its thorough work, including the research exercise to which I referred earlier. The noble Baroness asked me how that now links in with the regulator. That information will be passed on to the regulator in the context of his work in setting standards and so on. The regulator will have a statutory objective to ensure that tenants have choice and protection and I see it fitting squarely into that. It will be a matter for the regulator to determine in consultation with representatives of registered providers and social housing tenants. We have got somewhere to go with that and I look forward to seeing the group’s report and recommendations, and to following through on them.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Best, for filling in the many gaps that I left. Of course some local authorities should certainly do better with housing benefit administration but the problem in this instance is that it is the tenants who suffer. The noble Baroness quite rightly balanced her response by referring to the position of the RSL, and I understand that. My amendment seeks to give the court discretion, which should be a protection for the RSL.
I shall, of course, withdraw the amendment. I am glad to hear about the stakeholder group. I will make the point that a regulatory approach cannot be enforced unless it is so extreme that standards are breached under the new regime. It is unlikely, however, that that would come about.
This needs primary legislation. I hope that when the stakeholder group has done its work—assuming that the outcome is acceptance by the Government that there needs to be a change; after all, this has not just come up out of the blue—there will be an opportunity for that legislation. I do not see that it could be done other than through primary legislation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
114F: After Clause 311, insert the following new Clause—
“Prohibition of eviction without notice
The Civil Procedure Rules shall provide that no order for possession, whether made in the County Court or the High Court or in any other court of civil jurisdiction, shall be capable of being enforced without the appropriate court first granting permission to issue a warrant of possession to a party who has applied, on-notice to the occupying party, for such permission.”
The noble Baroness said: This is a short point. This amendment will look a little odd; it seeks to refer in the Bill to civil procedure rules. I understand that the court has said that the rules committee at the High Court—or maybe the county court—should look at this, but that has not happened. This is to bring a little pressure. The point of the amendment is to align county court procedure with High Court procedure. The clause deals with the manner in which an order for possession is enforced.
The bulk of orders where there are arrears of rent or of mortgage are suspended or postponed on terms that provide that the order is not enforceable so long as the occupier complies with certain conditions, which often would be to pay mortgage instalments or comply with other tenancy conditions. A lender or a landlord that wants to enforce an unconditional or a postponed order can obtain a bailiff’s warrant for eviction in the county court simply by completing a form, so it is merely an administrative matter. That may mean that the order is enforced without notice to the occupier and without the lender, in the case of a mortgage or the landlord, ever actually having to give them notice of the breach. The practice in the High Court has been that the party seeking to enforce a possession order has to apply for permission. The amendment—as I say, it may seem odd to put it into primary legislation, but this is our opportunity to raise the issue—would align procedures across the courts. I beg to move.
It might seem a little odd to raise the issue with regard to legislation, but it is worth raising. I understand where the amendment has come from, because of the concerns that have been raised by the Housing Law Practitioners Association. As the noble Baroness demonstrated, the key point is that different procedures apply in county courts and the High Court where a landlord seeks to enforce a possession order by asking the court to issue a warrant of possession.
This may seem a simple matter to address, but is actually much more complex and involved. What would happen as a result of the amendment is that all warrants of possession would require the court’s permission before issue. That would have a wide and significant effect on all possession cases, not just social housing cases. The noble Baroness has provoked us into taking some interest in this, however, so it was worth doing. If she can allow us more time to look in a bit more detail at the issues and implications that have been raised, I am happy to return to the matter on Report. I hope that will make her feel better.
114G: Before Clause 313, insert the following new Clause—
“Ineligible persons from abroad: statutory disregards
Schedule (Ineligible persons from abroad: statutory disregards) (which amends Parts 6 and 7 of the Housing Act 1996 in relation to certain ineligible persons from abroad and which makes related provision, including provision for Scotland and Northern Ireland) has effect.”
The noble Baroness said: I start this rather long speaking note—and I shall explain why it is long—with an apology for not having been able to bring these amendments to the notice of the Committee earlier. Because they are very complex, I should have preferred to have given notice of them and to have sent a copy, together with some notes, to noble Lords, but I was not able to do so.
I thank the JCR for its work on this complex issue and I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for bringing forward her amendment, as it enables me to put on the record what we are doing and why. If she will allow me, I shall address her amendment in the context of my amendments, because it does not make sense to separate them. That will allow me to explain why we prefer the solution that we have arrived at.
The amendments tabled in my name make changes to homelessness legislation across the UK. Their principal purpose is to remedy Section 185(4) of the Housing Act 1996, which applies to England and Wales and which has been declared incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights by the UK courts. They also amend Section 119(1) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which makes similar provision in respect of Scotland and Northern Ireland.
This is a complex area of law. In summary, the issue at stake is what help British citizens whose household includes members with different immigration status should get if they become homeless. We do not have specific numbers available but the information that we have shows that we are talking about a very small number of people. The amendments will ensure that households in these circumstances are provided with suitable housing, while continuing to ensure that people from abroad with no claim to UK public resources cannot be conferred with entitlement to social housing.
The amendments amend the Housing Act 1996 and the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, together with other provisions, so that the requirement that local housing authorities in England, Wales and Scotland and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive disregard, or do not take into account, ineligible household members, including dependent children, when considering whether an eligible housing applicant is homeless or has a priority need for accommodation will no longer apply in respect of eligible applicants who are British citizens, EEA nationals or Commonwealth citizens with a right of abode in the UK.
However, in these cases, where an eligible applicant who is a British citizen, an EEA national or a Commonwealth citizen with a right of abode in the UK is owed a main homelessness duty only because homelessness or priority need is conveyed on him by an ineligible member of his household who requires leave to stay and does not have it, or who has leave, but with a condition of “no recourse to public funds”—referred to in the amendments as “restricted persons”—then the local authority will be required, so far as practicable, to discharge the homelessness duty by arranging an offer of accommodation in the private rented sector. That is new.
By way of example, if a British citizen comes to the UK with a dependent child or pregnant partner who have been granted leave with a condition of “no recourse to public funds”, from now on the family will be treated as having priority need and will be entitled to be provided with accommodation under the new provision. I know that this is complex, so I shall try to explain the background in a way that will be perfectly clear to noble Lords.
We have taken some time to bring these amendments forward, for which I apologise, but the delay has been due to the very difficult policy issues raised by the declaration. They are difficult because they bear on the interface between immigration policy and the provision of social welfare assistance. Although we are absolutely committed to remedying legislation as quickly as possible, we also have a duty to maintain a strong and fair immigration policy.
Perhaps I may summarise the background to the amendments and then go on to explain their effect and provide a more detailed explanation of how they will operate. I shall be very happy to write to any noble Lords, providing my full speaking notes with footnotes, if that would be helpful.
In setting the context for the amendments, perhaps I may say a word about the framework of homelessness legislation and what we mean by the “main homelessness duty”. When families with children and people who are vulnerable become homeless through no fault of their own, local authorities must secure housing for them, provided that they are eligible for assistance. Eligibility is determined by the immigration status of the applicants. For example, all British citizens settled and habitually resident here are eligible to be considered for homelessness assistance, but whether they have any entitlement to that will obviously depend on their circumstances. Applicants have an entitlement to the homelessness duty when three key criteria are met: first, that they are eligible; secondly, that they are homeless through no fault of their own; and, thirdly, that they have a priority need for accommodation—for example, because they have dependent children or are vulnerable.
Under the legislation, there is a critical difference between eligibility and entitlement. It can be confusing, but being eligible for homelessness assistance does not mean necessarily that someone is entitled to be assisted. For example, Members of the Committee are almost certainly eligible for assistance, but I think it is unlikely that we would meet the statutory criteria for help and we would not be entitled to it. I could be wrong, but I am making that assumption.
Entitlement for homelessness assistance, therefore, depends crucially upon whether the applicant has a priority need. It is significant that in around 70 per cent of homelessness acceptances in England, the household includes a dependent child or spouse, and priority of need is conveyed on the individual applicant because of this family factor. The family circumstances convey the priority need and therefore the entitlement to help. I am labouring the point because it is critical to the debate and central to the declaration of incompatibility that we are seeking to remedy.
There are people who are not eligible for homelessness assistance. The main category of people not eligible is those subject to immigration control, usually nationals of countries outside the European Economic Area. People subject to immigration control become eligible only if they are granted a form of leave which allows recourse to public funds. The people in this category clearly have refugee status or humanitarian protection. Illegal immigrants, people who require leave to remain in the UK and do not have it—for example, someone who has evaded immigration control on arrival or overstayed a period of limited leave—are not eligible for homelessness assistance. In that way, the rules on eligibility have given effect to a fair immigration policy and legislation.
Given how entitlement to homelessness assistance works, the issue at stake is: what should happen if the applicant is eligible for assistance but the dependent child or pregnant partner is not, even if under other circumstances the dependent child would confer entitlement to assistance? The present law states under Section 185(4) of the 1996 Act and Section 119(1) of the 1999 Act that the whole family is currently denied housing assistance because household members who are not eligible cannot be taken into account when deciding if an applicant is homeless or in priority need. In 2005-06, the court ruled that the application of that section to British citizenship applicants is incompatible with human rights legislation because it discriminates against the British citizens who are affected—that is to say, it denies them the help that other British citizens who are not affected will get—and the discrimination is not justified.
In a case that illustrates this—Morris v Westminster City Council—the dependent who was disregarded was a young child; in another, Gabaj v Bristol City Council, the dependent was a pregnant spouse. In both cases, the applicant for homelessness assistance was an eligible British citizen. We have acknowledged the court’s declarations in these cases and we are now bringing forward the necessary changes in these amendments to ensure that such British citizens and their families who are currently not getting help will be entitled to accommodation.
The effect of the amendments is that Sections 185(4) and 119(1) will no longer apply to applicants who are British citizens. Nor will they apply to applicants with specific rights to live in the UK—for example, Commonwealth citizens with a right to abode or with an EU treaty right to reside. That means that such applicants will, from now on, be owed a duty to have accommodation secured for them, provided that they meet all the normal entitlement criteria, even if their application relies on a dependent who is ineligible.
When Ms Morris and her daughter came to the UK as visitors, both were subject to immigration control. She was entitled to British citizenship by descent, but her daughter was not. She applied for homelessness assistance while her daughter’s application for citizenship was still pending. She was unable to rely on her daughter to convey priority need because the daughter was still subject to immigration control and had overstayed her visitor’s leave. Ms Morris was therefore not entitled to accommodation. Under these amendments, she would be.
However, while the Government recognise that applicants with specific rights to live in the UK must not be denied homelessness assistance, we remain concerned that dependants and other household members who are ineligible because they are here illegally or on condition that they will have “no recourse to public funds” should not be able to confer priority or entitlement for long-term social housing. The amendments refer to these dependants and household members as “restricted persons”. As I have said, these persons include two categories of ineligible people: first, those who have leave to stay but only on condition of “no recourse to public funds”, and those who require leave to stay but do not have it. The latter will include illegal entrants, asylum seekers, failed asylum seekers and people who entered the UK on a visitor’s visa and have overstayed.
The effect of the amendments is therefore that where a homelessness duty is owed in a restricted case—that is, where the applicant is owed the duty only through reliance on a restricted person—then, so far as possible, the duty must be discharged by arranging an offer of accommodation in the private rented sector. This housing will need to be made available for at least 12 months and must be suitable for the applicant. It will also need to be reasonable for the applicant to accept the offer. If for any reason the local authority, or the Housing Executive in Northern Ireland, is unable to arrange a suitable private sector offer, it would be open to the authority to bring the duty to an end with an offer of social housing.
The amendments also provide that the preference or priority for an allocation of social housing normally awarded to someone owed the homelessness duty will be withheld. The amendments will not apply to applicants who are eligible for homelessness assistance but are subject to immigration control; that is, for example, someone granted refugee status, humanitarian protection or discretionary leave and who has recourse to public funds. The current restrictions in Sections 185(4) and 119(1) will continue to apply to these applicants. As now, they will not be able to rely on any ineligible household members to confer priority need or homelessness. The Government consider that this difference in treatment is justified because people subject to immigration control who are eligible for housing do not have an unqualified right to be in the UK, only permission, and their claim to homelessness assistance should not be capable of relying on someone else who has no claim to it at all. We have to bear in mind that social housing is a very scarce and expensive resource.
To sum up, while we accept that British citizens and others with an absolute right to be here must be provided with some form of housing assistance if they become homeless through no fault of their own and are relying on a restricted person to convey homelessness or priority need, we do not consider that that assistance should convey priority for social housing. The important point is that they will not be left homeless, as they could be under the current provisions. They will have access to private provision. I hope noble Lords will agree that these amendments, complex though they are, remedy the current incompatibility and set a fair balance between the interests of UK taxpayers and the rights of migrants who come to the country with no claim to public funds.
I turn briefly to the amendment tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, who is not in his place, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. It seeks to remedy the same incompatibility as the amendments in my name. While the simplicity of the amendment may be attractive, the implication is not, because it would be extended to everyone and allow restricted persons to convey priority and in some cases entitlement for long-term social housing. That cannot be right. As I have said, social housing is a scarce and expensive public resource.
I am grateful for the patience of the Committee, but before I conclude let me add that the Government intend to open discussions with local authorities to explore how they can in future collect and share data with the UK Border Agency to identify housing applicants whose household includes a person who requires leave to be in the UK but does not have it. This will discourage applications from households with family members who are here illegally and it will assist the UK Border Agency in the enforcement of a fair and firm immigration policy.
Again, I am sorry that I was not able to give noble Lords advance word about these amendments, and I am sure that they will want to read Hansard on them. I shall also be happy to follow up with a written explanation of anything that might be obscure. I beg to move.
Amendment No. 115A, which was withdrawn, turned out to have exactly the same effect as Amendment No. 115 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, which is why I put my name to that one and withdrew the other. As the Minister said, it is rather briefer. I do not feel capable of an analytical critique of these amendments, and am grateful for her offer of the annotated notes. I wonder, though, since this is a matter that the Joint Committee on Human Rights asked to be remedied by the Bill, whether there would be an opportunity—I have no idea what the committee’s timetable is; had the noble Earl been here, he might have been able to tell us—to consider the amendments before the Bill comes to an end. That would be an appropriate way to proceed, since this is something that the committee specifically raised. It brings us back to the old question of whether we should put these changes into the Bill at this stage or wait for some such opportunity. Can the Minister help me on that?
The noble Baroness will understand that we have been in close correspondence with the JCHR on these amendments. We advised the committee of an earlier proposal that is under consideration, and we wrote to it some days ago to bring amendments to its attention. We look forward respectfully to its further views on that. We will tell the Committee and the House in the remaining stages what the outcome of our discussions with the committee has been. It is work in progress.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 313 agreed to.
[Amendment No. 115A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
115B: After Clause 313, insert the following new Clause—
“Priority need for accommodation in cases of domestic violence
In section 189 of the Housing Act 1996 (c. 52) (priority need for accommodation), after subsection (1)(d) insert—
“(e) a person without dependent children who has been subject to domestic violence, is at risk of such violence or, if he or she were to return home, would be at risk of domestic violence.””
The noble Baroness said: An amendment of a similar form to Amendment No. 115B was moved in the Commons. I have tabled it again in the hope of some up-to-date news from the Government on the issue. The amendment would enable a person—often a woman, but not necessarily—who is experiencing domestic violence not to have to choose between staying in a violent relationship on the one hand or homelessness—or even, at worst, rooflessness—on the other, by giving priority need to a person who has been subject to domestic violence, or is at risk of it, but who does not have dependent children. Perhaps I should declare an interest—not a current interest, but one that is very much in my heart. For many years I was a member of the board of Refuge, the domestic violence agency, and chaired it for some time.
The current law provides for a person who is vulnerable as a result of ceasing to occupy accommodation by reason of violence. The definition of “vulnerability” in this context is whether the person is less able to fend for himself than an ordinary homeless person. I have selected some words from the briefing I have been sent, without intending to distort the meaning.
It is almost impossible at the moment to ensure consistency in decision-making, whether between different kinds of cases or different authorities. The concept of vulnerability, although it is intended to be applied as an absolute test, tends to be applied, I understand, in a way that is resource-driven; it is regarded as a matter of degree.
Domestic violence is often hidden. The victim may not have spoken to anyone about it. I accept that that in itself could mean that applying provisions such as this could be difficult. Giving evidence is a difficult matter, but there has been a change in Wales; if the Welsh can do it, the English should be able to.
At Third Reading in the Commons, the Minister, fulfilling the commitment in Committee that he would consider the matter, said that the Government are working on a review on the subject. I therefore hope that the Minister can today give us some news of what is going on in that connection.
I do not want to take the Committee's time by describing either the extent of domestic violence or the effects on individuals, because I am sure that everyone in this Room will understand without it having to be spelt out in great detail. I beg to move.
I have a lot of sympathy with what the noble Baroness said. I believe that most councils treat this very seriously and are doing whatever they can whenever it happens. It would be a very callous council that did not.
We have just heard about a lot of amendments about prioritisation. I have no doubt that in some cases that is excellent, but the problem seems to me to be about where all this affordable housing is to put all these priority people and all the rest. The answer is: it is not there. Last year, there were about 1.7 million applications for affordable housing. At Second Reading, I said that I thought that the figure would be nearer 2 million; I think that the National Housing Association about a week or two ago said that it would be somewhere over 2 million.
What happens with prioritisation is a leapfrogging effect. Some people get housed because they tick the boxes; if you do not tick the boxes, you do not get housed; end of story. The problem is that we are just not building affordable housing. From those people who are told, “You are not going to get housing for five or 10 years”, there is resentment. They are living in their communities and they find themselves needing a house but they find housing being given to other people coming into their communities while they are not being given a house. That is not being addressed at all. Okay, prioritisation may be one thing, but a huge number of people want to stay in their communities but cannot.
This is a serious issue and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for enabling us to say a little more about it. I could not agree more with the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart. We were taken back to the beginning of the Bill by what he said about the need for affordable homes, the investment that is needed and the effort that must be made to achieve those ambitions, particularly for vulnerable people—and we have discussed many different sorts of vulnerability during this Committee. It is important that the context has been framed for us.
The issue of domestic violence is extremely serious. As the noble Baroness explained, the principal purpose of the amendment is to bring those who have been subject to domestic violence, or who are at risk of such violence, within the category of persons who will be given priority need under the homelessness legislation.
I take my cue from the noble Baroness. She said that she did not think it was necessary to go into the detail of what we mean by domestic violence or its impact on people, their families and the whole community. As I said, the Government take the issue extremely seriously. It is a pernicious and prevalent crime that has devastating personal consequences, and it crosses classes and cultures. It has a major impact on our national economy and the health of our society, as well as on the criminal justice system and statutory services. Domestic violence will affect one in four women and one in six men. On average, two women are killed every week by a current or former male partner. Those statistics are extraordinary. Domestic violence is rarely a one-off incident. More often, it is part of a pattern of abusive and controlling behaviour, which is pathological.
That is why we are absolutely committed to tackling this nasty, and depressingly prevalent, crime, and we work on many fronts to do that. For example, recent investment in specialist domestic violence courts has been very successful. Outcomes have shown that domestic violence prosecutions rose from 46 per cent in December 2003 to 67 per cent in June 2006. There is a growing culture of intolerance and a feeling that people should not get away with it. I am sure that noble Lords are familiar with the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004, which included a number of new powers and amendments. My department takes domestic violence extremely seriously; in particular, there is a need to ensure that victims of violence get the help and support that they need.
Under current legislation, people who do not have dependent children will have priority need if they are vulnerable as a result of having to leave their home because of violence—not just domestic violence—from another person or because of threats of such violence which are likely to be carried out. Thus, if they have suffered domestic violence, they will already have priority need under this broader violence category. The principle of linking priority need to vulnerability is central to the homelessness legislation and the premise that it is only homeless people with a priority need for whom the local authority should have an obligation to secure accommodation. Other examples of such people include those who are vulnerable as a result of old age or mental disability, and those aged 21 years or over who are vulnerable as a result of having been in care and so on.
I cannot stress enough how seriously we take this matter, but we are also aware of a concern that, despite the robust systems in place, in practice not all vulnerable people who have had to leave their homes because of violence may be accepted as being owed the main homelessness duty. Reflecting other debates that we have had this afternoon, we need certain evidence of that so as to be able to make a policy change, because that change would be very wide in its effect. At the moment, we do not have the necessary evidence to make a proper evaluation of the issue. The noble Baroness has already referred to what happened following the debate on a similar amendment in the other place: my colleague Iain Wright committed to an in-depth review to assess in more detail the likely impact, cost and realistic timeframe for implementation and to assess whether other ways of meeting the housing needs of this group could be effective in the context of broader housing reform. The principal aim of that review will be to provide a sound basis for the Government to consider what changes, if any, need to be made to ensure that no one is expected to return to accommodation where they would be at risk of violence. It is a broader issue and we need to look creatively and thoroughly at the options that we have.
The noble Baroness asked me where we are with that. Arrangements for commissioning the review are currently under way and I shall be happy to keep her closely informed with more details once the work is more advanced. I cannot add more to that at the moment and I hope that it will be sufficient for now. I reiterate the commitment we have to putting an end as best we can to this abhorrent behaviour.
I am grateful to the Minister for her offer to keep me informed; I shall take advantage of it. I hope that the review will include evidence from members of the refuge movement of their experience of dealing with people—mainly women—in this situation. To answer the point made by the noble Earl and the noble Baroness, of course I appreciate the demands on social housing and that not everyone can be a priority. However, the amendment would have the benefit of freeing-up refuge places. Some problems occur—I do not want to refer to “silting up”, which sounds so impersonal and unkind—that are caused by people not being able to move on because they do not have accommodation to go to. Of course, if they were able to move on, that would help others in turn. So there is an answer to the point, which might not be the case with other currently non-priority groups.
I do not know whether the noble Baroness is yet in a position to say whether an end date is in view for the review. If there is, perhaps we could hear about it now. If not, I understand that it is work in progress and it is too soon to say.
116: After Clause 316, insert the following new Clause—
“Mobile Homes Act: arbitration
(1) Section 5(1) of the Mobile Homes Act 1983 (c. 34) is amended as follows.
(2) In paragraph (a) of the definition of “the court”, the words “or, where the parties have agreed in writing to submit any questions arising under this Act or, as the case may be, any agreement to which it applies to arbitration, the arbitrator” are omitted.
(3) In paragraph (b) of the definition of “the court”, the words “or, where the parties have so agreed, the arbiter” are omitted.”
The noble Baroness said: Although I am a vice-chair of the All-Party Group on Gypsies and Travellers, it is fair to say that the amendment is in the interests of all mobile home dwellers. The new clause seeks to amend the Mobile Homes Act 1983 to remedy a clear discrimination against all tenants of mobile home sites, whether Gypsy, Traveller or any other caravan dweller. All other tenants have the right ultimately to go to the courts to seek redress if there is a dispute with the landlord. Only mobile home park tenants have to put up with the site owners’ choice of arbitrator. The most welcome extension of security of tenure to Gypsy and Traveller residents of such sites, on which I congratulate my noble friend, nevertheless brought them to share this unjust situation with other mobile home residents.
The amendments are supported by the Traveller Law Reform Project and meet concerns expressed many times by groups representing mobile home residents. The concern is, briefly, that technically, under the present Section 4 of the Mobile Homes Act 1983, read with Section 5(1)(a), a “court” can be defined as “arbitrator” if there is an arbitration clause in the site tenancy agreement. The terms of such agreement are proposed by the landlord and, indeed, usually follow the national model form. Such agreements are very likely to be signed or marked by a Gypsy or a Traveller without their being fully aware of the implications. I do not need to explain to the Committee that the landlord’s choice of arbitrator is not quite justice being seen to be done. In this country we have the courts as a last resort, not someone paid by one of the parties.
It is a matter of straightforward justice to incorporate these amendments in the Bill. They do not, of course, preclude alternative dispute resolution. The new civil procedure rules of 1998 make it quite clear that the court must actively manage the case by,
“encouraging the parties to use an alternative dispute resolution procedure if the court considers that appropriate and facilitating the use of such procedure”.
The amendments provide only that, like everyone else, mobile home tenants can have recourse to the courts if all else fails. I hope that my noble friend will respect the wide support that the amendments have, and will accommodate them.
Recently the Department for Communities and Local Government published a consultation document on a new approach for resolving the disputes of mobile home tenants, no doubt aware of the unsatisfactory nature of the whole regime. The document recommends putting such disputes within the framework of the residential property tribunals. In theory, tribunals are an economical and accessible form of justice, in that lawyers are not required and the panoply of the judges’ courts can be dispensed with. That is the theory and it is attractive, but I have sat on tribunals and the fact is that at least one of the parties will be legally represented if they can afford it, which already creates an imbalance of expertise. Tribunals can be very drawn out, being much closer in nature to an inquisitorial process. The experience and the briskness of a judge have considerable advantages when we are dealing with a court of last instance and all other recourse has been tried. Although I commend the department’s recognition that the present system is not right, our solution has much more to be said for it. I beg to move.
I am glad to support the noble Baroness in her amendment. I also declare an interest as a member of the All-Party Group on Gypsies and Travellers. It is curious that we have had this provision in the law regarding mobile homes that come under the 1983 Act for all this time, in spite of the many legal objections to it—not least that of the legal encyclopaedia, Sweet and Maxwell, which says that it is hard to see the purpose of such a comprehensive ouster. As the noble Baroness has explained, that applies not only to the Gypsies and Travellers, who come under these provisions for the first time—and I welcome that as a member of the all-party group—but to all residents of mobile homes. I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Graham, who has always been such a doughty combater for the rights of people who live in mobile homes—quite rightly, because they have been subject to this clause ever since the 1983 Act. I sincerely hope that the Government will listen carefully to what the noble Baroness has said and come up with either a solution that meets this particular need or something that restores the jurisdiction of the court over all these cases.
I take this opportunity to refer to the situation in Hackney, where, as the Minister may know, Gypsies and Travellers have had some problems because they were displaced from the site they occupied for the needs of the Olympic Games. For a long time there was no proper solution to the question of where they should go. Now there are alternative sites, but another problem has arisen: the people have moved on to sites that are governed under different provisions. Some of them are in bungalows that in Ireland are called “group housing”, where they have facilities for caravans next to the buildings and are no different from anyone else who wants to live in a house or bungalow. I invite the noble Lord to consider whether, even within one borough, it is a satisfactory outcome of the move of the Gypsies and Travellers from the sites they formerly occupied that they will come under different regimes according to the type of dwelling where they live. That may be a subject that we should come back to on another occasion rather than under the clause, but as the issue has been raised with me by the organisation representing Gypsies and Travellers in Hackney, I thought I would take the opportunity of mentioning it. However, I warmly support the noble Baroness in her amendment.
I, too, have added my name in support of this amendment. The occupiers of all other homes have recourse to the courts and most also have access to an independent arbitration scheme to sort out disputes with their landlord or superior owner. The tenants of mobile homes on sites must be unique both in having arbitration scheme based on the landlord deciding on who the arbitrator shall be and in not having any recourse to the courts if they are dissatisfied at the end of the process. The Housing Ombudsman is there for disputes involving housing association and social housing tenants, and indeed for some private landlords’ tenants. I hope that, in the review by Sir Bryan Carsberg that came out last week, we shall see similar redress and ombudsman services extended to the tenants of private landlords. People who buy their own homes will have access to the redress and ombudsman scheme that will become compulsory later in the year under the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007. However, in all these cases people also have recourse to the courts if dissatisfied with the arbitration proceedings. It is strange that this one group is denied protection either by the independent arbitration system or recourse to the courts. I hope that the Minister will be able to give me some reassurance that this position will change.
I am grateful for the opportunity offered by the amendment to take a canter over this particular course. I begin by thanking the Minister, Iain Wright, most sincerely for listening carefully to the voices raised on the issue of dissatisfaction in resolving such disputes over the years. He and his colleagues have taken a major step forward in the consultation paper. But the Committee should be under no illusion that while for us it is an academic exercise and a political discussion, the people involved are sometimes subject to a reign of terror. Their lives are made thankless, so the problem is real and in earnest. Since last September, I have received 125 letters from residents in mobile homes, all of which I have sent on to the Department for Communities and Local Government; the latest batch went off only last week. I have done that because it is ultimately the department that these people have to rely on.
Members of the Committee know the situation. It might be thought that people enjoyed the protection of the local council, along with the protection offered by environmental health officers. One would have thought there would be the aid of councillors, Members of Parliament, and advice from the BH&HPA, the NCC and various others. At the end of the day, when there is a serious dispute, very often the elderly, frail or disabled person, who has moved to a mobile home for the last period of their life, is told, “Well, if you are not satisfied you can go to court”.
I received a letter this morning in which the Committee will be interested. It states:
“Going to court could cost £20,000”—
so it could cost an ordinary person £20,000—
“and of course is risky, so it is not something to take on lightly. However my feelings are very strong on this matter. Especially that this could have been resolved much sooner, had the PO”—
the park owner—
“followed the code of practice and initiated arbitration. However, if I prove breach of contract, this of course would have huge implications for all those on the park. In essence it would mean you would have a clearer right to compensation, and possibly the retraction of unfair rules”.
The letter continues:
“We have a right to enjoy the holiday park and caravan that we pay nearly £3,000 for every year”.
I presume that that is the pitch fee.
“The definition of a holiday is ‘Leisure time away from work; devoted to rest or pleasure’. Where is our rest and pleasure? When rules are imposed ad hoc, and we are caused greater inconvenience or even loss of facilities. NO! this is definitely not restful and pleasurable experience. Quite the contrary. PO management methods have caused distress, anxiety and alarm. If he feels that he can get away with his behaviour, unchallenged, then what are we to expect next year?”.
Many of the illustrations that I have received—there are no details—show that the names of some unscrupulous park owners are as well known inside the department as outside it. Some of them know what the law is, blatantly disregard it and ignore the claims made by councils and so on. They are very defiant. The Minister has seriously to consider—but not in this debate—when these unscrupulous site owners are to be taken on. They are laughing.
I have had letters from people who say that they do not think much of the arbitration route because the uneducated and the distressed—the people with a good case—will stand on one side of the court and the owner will be represented by a brief, someone who receives thousands of pounds as a daily fee. As my noble friend Lady Whitaker pointed out, the idea that this is an informal process whereby disputes can be resolved amicably, in a friendly, give-and-take way, is nonsense. These people who are acting criminally by terrorising their parks are quite prepared to spend a lot of money because a lot of money is at stake.
I have got no answer as to whether the amendment will be a better way of solving the problem. I am grateful to the Minister and the Ministry for having gone as far as they have. We are in a period of consultation. The stakeholders, in particular, have a responsibility not only to come up with a solution but with the evidence for their solution so that the department can give it serious consideration. I hope that the very least that the Minister will tell my noble friend today is not only that she has been heard but that her points have been taken on board and will be taken into consideration with other aspects. I will say to my all-party group—I declare an interest as the secretary—that the tide has turned and the department, after a long period of cogitation on these matters, is now becoming more militant than it ever was before. However, there is much more work to be done—we are never going to be satisfied—and these villains will always be there. In my view, there are people who should now be in prison awaiting trial. In one case, when the owner did not get his own way, he simply set fire to caravans with people inside them. The case is well known to some Members of the Committee. There are some terrible people about; I do not know the numbers but their names come up time and time again. Bear in mind that we are not talking just about a site owner; it is someone who owns 30 or 40 sites. The villains are making a business out of this, and they are quite unscrupulous.
I have got that off my chest. I support the amendment, of course I do, and I know that the Minister and her colleagues understand full well what we are getting at. There are literally thousands of people out there—thousands out of more than 200,000, that is; I am not talking about a majority, or even a sizeable number, but there are many—who thought that they were buying themselves a little bit of paradise, only to find that unfortunately that was not the case, partly due to their not reading the rules and not understanding the situation, but mainly due to villains taking them for a ride. I hope that the Minister can give them some solace.
I support the amendment, which addresses an issue of real concern and, as the noble Baroness has pointed out, of justice to all those mobile home residents on rented sites, of which we have a great many in Devon. Acceptance of the amendment or something very like it would be helpful in addressing those concerns, as it would mean that all such site residents could always take a dispute with their site owner to the county court, should they need to. I suggest that that is preferable to another option that I understand is being proposed in the consultation document produced by the Department for Communities and Local Government: that tenants of mobile parks should have their disputes taken to residential property tribunals. Referral of disputes to such a tribunal may well be an improvement over compulsory arbitration by an arbitrator chosen by the site owner, although I recognise that a particular arbitrator may, in a particular case, make a fair judgment. However, for the majority of site residents that proposal could well be very detrimental.
It must be wrong to force residents to argue their own case on complex matters of law before a formal tribunal without the benefit of representation unless they pay for it themselves. My understanding is that legal aid is not available for tribunals. I also believe that DCLG is wrong to claim that residential property tribunals are more informal than courts. Tribunals are formal bodies. The key difference between a tribunal and a court being, as I said, that legal aid is unavailable for representation at a tribunal. Moreover, it is not clear why tenants in similar circumstances should be able to take the matter to court, whereas mobile home site residents would be precluded from that opportunity.
I am the bishop of a diocese that, together with its neighbouring diocese of Salisbury, has appointed a full-time chaplain to Gypsies and Travellers, so I am kept well informed of their worries about this matter. I wonder whether the Government have carried out a race equality or human rights impact assessment of the DCLG’s proposals, given that Gypsies and Irish Travellers on non-local authority sites, and that all Gypsies and Travellers on rented sites, are soon going to be affected by virtue of the impact of this measure.
It is important to get this provision right. I hope that the amendment will be given the serious consideration it deserves.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have entered into the spirit of this debate. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Whitaker, who is a strong and effective advocate for Gypsy and Traveller issues, as is the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I share their concerns about the potential for abuse to occur in respect of pitch agreements for local authority Gypsy and Traveller sites once the provisions in the Mobile Homes Act apply in respect of such sites when Clause 316 of the Bill is brought into force. However, we would expect local authorities, as public bodies, to act reasonably and responsibly in agreeing the use of arbitration in resolving disputes that may arise with Gypsy and Traveller residents on their sites. If the existing power is abused at all, therefore, it is far more likely to be abused by unscrupulous private site owners than by local authority site owners.
My noble friend Lady Whitaker was kind in her comments on reforms to the dispute resolution system under the Mobile Homes Act and referred to our proposal to transfer the jurisdiction of county courts to hear disputes, apart from possession proceedings, to residential property tribunals established under the Housing Act 2004. As part of that proposal, pitch agreements will no longer be able to require the use of arbitration for dispute resolution, so that injustice is particularly dealt with.
She was also right to identify the pressing need to reform the current system of dispute resolution under the Mobile Homes Act. That is why the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Welsh Assembly are consulting very carefully on reform. It would be wrong for me to pre-empt the conclusions that we will draw from that consultation exercise and I heard clearly what the right reverend Prelate said in this regard. There is an interesting debate to be had about the most preferential outcome and the potential costs in court as opposed to the informal but nevertheless proper procedures of a tribunal. The point he made about legal aid is also well understood.
Comments have been invited from a wide sector of the community, including from those living, working with and owning homes in this residential sector, because it covers a variety of circumstances of which, of course, Travellers and Gypsies are an important part. No doubt my noble friend will be aware that the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Welfare of Park Home Owners has long campaigned for reform in dispute resolution, and our consultation seeks to meet the concerns felt by many in the sector that the current system does not work as well or as fairly and proportionately as it should.
We also understand the concern about the imbalance in tribunal proceedings between those who can afford to be legally represented and those who cannot. If such an inequality exists, it manifests itself through the courts as well because the complaint we often hear is that park home residents cannot afford to bring or defend proceedings for fear of having costs awarded against them, and of course not all residents will have access to legal aid funding. But residential property tribunals have a wealth of experience in the field of adjudication in landlord and tenant legislation and it is quite normal for parties to represent themselves at dispute resolution hearings.
I say to all contributors to the debate that there is a consultation exercise in progress and I strongly advocate participating in it and making sure that the views which have been voiced today are expressed as part of that formal consultation. I will certainly ensure that those views are passed on.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is reminding me about his question on Hackney.
I was just saying that as the noble Lord rose to his feet. Of course those views will be fed into the consultation. The noble Lord knows that we have officials here, and we will ensure that those views are carefully noted. There is still some debate to be had and the consultation exercise may well lead to some further reflection.
I cannot answer the noble Lord’s question about Hackney. The noble Lord has referred in the past to the case and to the displacement issue at an earlier stage. This is clearly an issue. I need to go and find out the latest position and I will be more than happy to write to him about it.
Have my noble friend and his colleagues fully taken on board the possible avalanche of matters that might need to be resolved by the new tribunal? I understand that there could be hundreds. The discussion paper talks in terms of 160, based upon experience; there could be more.
Is the Minister satisfied that there is a fund of knowledge or expertise available that is waiting to be tapped and used? One of the concerns that has been expressed to me is whether you are going to get what you might call a lay person—someone representing the element of the park home owner—into this nexus. We do not want to find that it is just a professional body doing a professional job; these people really need to have a feel for the issues they are going to look at.
We are aware that a wide-range of issues could be brought before the tribunal. That is obviously an issue and we have to look at resource allocation. We are talking about an existing body, the remit of which would be widened. It has an existing source of expertise and professionalism that is very valuable. It is certainly respected in the areas that it currently covers. There is a resource issue. My guess is that if that is the eventual outcome and we go with that route, some further thought will have to be given to resourcing the tribunal. I cannot prejudge any of this because we are in the middle of a consultation and we need to listen to many voices and come to a fair view. I am grateful to the noble Lord for the opportunity to respond to the point and to all those who have contributed to this short debate. It has been useful to have it during the consultation period and I will ensure that views fairly expressed are passed on.
I declare an interest that I should have declared before: I am on the council of the Ombudsman for Estate Agents. In declaring that interest, I commend to the consultation exercise the concept of having an ombudsman and redress scheme, which works so well for the Housing Ombudsman and will work well for estate agents. In fact it already works well for estate agents but it will be compulsory in the future. There are useful parallels there. In both cases, however, it should be remembered that there is always recourse to the courts as well.
I, too, thank all noble Lords Spiritual and Temporal who have taken part in this debate. I thank my noble friend for his kind words. I am not wholly reassured. As the right reverend Prelate said, we still need a race equality and human rights assessment of the consultative document proposals. Let us see what comes out of the consultation. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 317 agreed to.
116A: After Clause 317, insert the following new Clause—
“Choice-based disability housing register
In section 167 of the Housing Act 1996 (c. 52) (allocation in accordance with allocation scheme), after subsection (2E) insert—
“(2F) Subject to subsection (2), the scheme shall contain provision for the creation of a disability housing register consisting of—
(a) a record of existing or planned accessible residential properties in the local authority area, whether purpose-built or adapted, with details of the access features relating to each property and location details and other residential properties which would otherwise meet the particular requirements of disabled persons;(b) a record of disabled persons who require such properties;(c) a service of enabling and supporting disabled persons to bid for properties so recorded; and(d) a mechanism for ensuring such persons are accorded priority status for such properties within the allocations process.(2G) For the purposes of this section—
“accessible residential properties” means dwellings, flats and houses in multiple occupation in England and Wales which provide a reasonable means of access in and around the property and ease of use for disabled persons or which may easily be adapted to provide such access and ease of use;
“residential properties which would otherwise meet the particular requirements of disabled persons” means properties which would be suitable, either in terms of their size, particular features or location, for disabled persons who have disability-related requirements other than or in addition to access requirements.
(2H) This section is without prejudice to the right of disabled persons to bid for properties other than those mentioned in subsections (2F) and (2G) above.
(2I) In performing their duties under this section, each local housing authority shall have regard to any guidance given from time to time by the appropriate authority.””
The noble Baroness said: I apologise that illness prevented me from speaking to the amendments in my name last week. The Committee no doubt welcomed the chance to speed up proceedings, but the bad news is that I hope to speak to them on Report.
The purpose of this amendment is to place a statutory duty on local housing authorities to set up and maintain a choice-based disability housing register. Everything is in favour of the amendment except one thing. It has the virtue of ensuring that disabled people are housed in suitable homes as quickly as possible, thereby saving substantial costs to the health service when people cannot be discharged home. It prevents disabled people from becoming unnecessarily dependent on our overstretched care services. It saves thousands of pounds for local authorities being spent on disabled facilities grants, and makes best use of a scarce and valuable resource. What is more, both the Government and the Opposition support the establishment of disability housing registers. The only thing against the amendment is that it requires local authorities to do something to help disabled people when they might prefer to spend our council tax on other priorities.
The Committee will have read the depressing statistics in the briefings from RADAR, Care and Repair and Habinteg. Today, 1.5 million disabled people are in need of accessible accommodation, with 371,000 living in completely unsuitable housing. Approximately half of all disabled children live in unsuitable housing. One-quarter of all households in non-decent homes include someone who is long-term ill or disabled. A survey by the John Grooms charity revealed that 40 per cent of disabled respondents said that their housing made them unnecessarily dependent on other people.
That means that among those 1.5 million disabled people are those like James, who was in his late 40s when he had a stroke. He had a wife and two children but he was then in a wheelchair and his family home was not accessible. His local authority was able to offer only residential care as an option, separating him from his family. James is now 50, divorced and unable to move out of the care home and back to work. Had the authority had a disabled housing register to ensure that he was moved quickly to the next available wheelchair-friendly home, it would have saved money—and possibly a marriage and family—as well as enabling James to stay in work.
Accessible housing is a scarce resource, yet a recent analysis of lettings in the social housing sector found that, on average, only one in six wheelchair-standard dwellings was let to a household containing a wheelchair user. What an appalling waste; yet there is a solution, and that is the choice-based disability housing register, which provides a mechanism for matching accessible housing stock with the disabled people who desperately need that accommodation. Not only does it mean that the appalling human cost in diminished lives, strained and broken relationships, extra hospital admissions and increasing but unnecessary demand on the social care services will be avoided, but local authorities will save millions of pounds.
The example of Cardiff was cited in the Government’s recent National Strategy for Housing in an Ageing Society. Within three years of establishing an accessible housing register, successfully rehousing 300 disabled people between 2002 and 2005, the city saved £1 million from the disabled facilities grant. If all local authorities in England had operated a register last year, more than £70 million could have been saved from the health, social care and adaptations budgets.
Accessible housing registers have strong cross-party support, and the ageing strategy has said that the Department for Communities and Local Government will encourage the adoption of accessible housing registers. However, that is not enough. Unless local housing authorities are statutorily required to set up choice-based accessible housing registers, they will never get the political priority they require and there will always be some councillor’s pet scheme to edge them out of the way. Our homes are the essential foundation—the building block—of independent living. The principles of choice and control form the policy of all the main political parties. However, unless the Government are willing to require that scarce accessible housing stock is matched to the disabled people who need it, there is small hope that any real progress will be made. I beg to move.
My name is added to the amendment in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, and I am delighted to see her back in the Committee. To have discussed the earlier amendments without her would have been “Hamlet” without the Prince of Denmark, and we are delighted to have her back for this one. I wish to reinforce one important point that she made. Only one in six wheelchair-standard dwellings is let to a household containing a wheelchair user. That extraordinary statistic means that, when a home that is fully equipped and ready to go for someone who uses a wheelchair becomes vacant, it is being let to someone else. We are not matching the people with the accommodation. A register would achieve that and ensure that everyone knew where those homes were so that they could be filled by people who really needed them.
The subject of disability housing registers was first raised, I think, about 12 years ago in Joseph Rowntree Foundation research. They represent an ideal and incredibly important way of saving money and matching people with disabilities with the homes that they need. I strongly support the amendment.
I, too, am very pleased to see the noble Baroness back in her place. We look forward to the debate on Report, because by that time she will have had the advantage of seeing how much support there is around the Chamber for the things she so passionately and powerfully advocates, of which the amendment is an example.
I sympathise entirely with the intention behind the amendment. It is obviously vitally that people with disabilities are matched with housing that fits their needs—there is no argument against that—and that they get the priority they deserve for accessible housing. The noble Baroness will know that we are committed to both those aims. I do not want to labour the point because she has already referred to the ageing strategy, but she will also know that we have now, for the first time, a proper programme of adaptation of lifetime homes and building for a lifetime. This will make a difference in being able to count on homes where people with disabilities know they can be properly and safely housed. It will also make it easier to build wheelchair adaptations for later stages of disability, which we cannot do at the moment with our housing stock. So we have made a modest start there.
We have also been able to invest more in the disability facilities grant. In a very tight spending round, I was very pleased that we were able to get a significant amount of extra money for that grant because it is incredibly important, not only to elderly people but to children as well. When it comes to making expensive adaptations, it could make all the difference between people being able to stay in their homes or not. There is no question between us that registers can be exceptionally useful. We have to strive in all the ways that we can to put the systems in place which will make it easier in the future for people with disabilities to have access to the homes that they need and that will suit them.
It is important, however, that local authorities and other social landlords have better information on, and are able to quantify, their existing stock of accessible housing. That is why the disability quality scheme, which we published in December 2006, is also committed to the development of a National Register Of Social Housing. It has the hopeless acronym of “NROSH”. In addition to collecting basic dwelling attributes, NROSH sets a national standard for measuring accessibility and calls on social housing landlords to produce consistent accessibility to information on each dwelling by April 2010. So we are accumulating and articulating the evidence now.
That process, which will take us a long way forward, sits alongside the development of choice-based lettings as a principle. This has been one of the most significant changes in recent years. I agree that choice-based lettings is key to helping disabled people access accommodation that meets their needs. Not least, it gives existing and aspiring social housing tenants more control over where they live. We have also set a target for all local authorities to have adopted a CBL scheme by 2010. Under that approach, landlords should determine the accessibility of a dwelling as it becomes vacant, using the standard criteria developed by NROSH, and ensure that when the vacancy is advertised the advert specifies both the type and level of adaptations and who, in terms of their type or level of disability, is allowed to bid for the property. That will provide a way of prioritising accessible housing for disabled people and will give the local authorities a much more target-specific tool than they have at the moment. That means that people with disabilities can choose housing that meets their individual needs using a standardised classification. To have those two systems converging in that way is an efficient and practical way forward and will get results.
Crucially, CBL also already offers a key opportunity to improve information about available accessible housing. It is pleasing—and not really surprising—that some CBL schemes already incorporate an accessible housing register, and the number of accessible housing registers will increase under both the single authority CBL schemes and the growing number of larger CBL schemes that bring together a number of local authorities and housing association partners. That is certainly the way to go because it gives us an ability to move across boundaries, and sometimes homes are much more accessible in a neighbouring borough. We need that flexibility.
The noble Baroness spoke about the benefits that had accrued in Cardiff. I was interested in that example; it was new to me and I was taken with it. A London-wide accessible housing register is being developed alongside a pan-London choice and mobility scheme. To help that along, we have made available £168,000 to assist London boroughs and RSLs to implement the London-wide accessible housing register. Our officials in CLG are working closely with those who are taking forward the scheme to ensure that it is consistent with the National Register of Social Housing and that they are mutually supportive. We will watch that very closely, because if that model works we can encourage it through good practice.
We also need to develop our knowledge of how accessible housing registers might be made most useful. The Disability Equality Scheme also includes a commitment to examine the role and effectiveness of accessible housing registers within the context of our choice-based lettings policy. Several times in the past few hours I have asked noble Lords to wait for the results of this or that review or inquiry but, once again, I ask the noble Baroness to have a little patience, because building up the evidence base is complicated. We have recently appointed Heriot-Watt University to look at the role and effectiveness of accessible housing registers within CBL policy. That will be part of a wider study of how choice-based lettings impact on vulnerable people. Our aim is to ensure that the researchers are thorough and that the study is an impartial and complete examination of the costs and effectiveness of registers that operate within the context of choice-based lettings. The results should be available early next year.
I suggest to my noble friend that it would not be appropriate to take any steps that would tie local authorities’ hands at the moment. We should wait for that evidence and then make a judgment on how we can make the evidence work in terms of policy and practice. We are fully cognisant of the fact that accessible housing registers can be really useful. I am of the opinion, which I share with my honourable friend in another place, that forcing local authorities to compile registers as a matter of routine may not be the best way forward in terms of what is right for their areas, and they should be free to decide for themselves whether a register would best meet their local needs. There are some outstanding examples.
Although we will not compel local authorities to compile registers as a matter of routine, we will continue to encourage the adoption of accessible housing registers through, for example, the statutory guidance on choice-based lettings, which will be published shortly. We will also watch closely how the London model is developing. We will support the dissemination of good-practice models and see where they can be grown elsewhere. We will encourage social landlords and assist them in implementing an accessible housing register in that way. We will certainly look very closely at what the Heriot-Watt research produces and take the steps that seem appropriate to get the best results for local authorities in their communities.
I am sure that my noble friend will not be entirely happy with that response, but I hope she recognises that it represents progress. It certainly represents a better way of compiling evidence and policymaking than we have had in the past.
I thank the Minister for that reply, which was much more helpful than I had expected. I thank her also for all the work she has done in furthering accessibility for disabled people, which I know is close to her heart. She has made great progress. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for supporting the amendment. I would like to consult with RADAR, Care and Repair and Habinteg on their reaction. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
116AA: After Clause 317, insert the following new Clause—
“Amendment to Housing Act 1985: section 324
For section 324 of the Housing Act 1985 (c. 68) (definition of overcrowding) substitute—
“324 Definition of overcrowding
(1) A dwelling is overcrowded for the purposes of this Part when the number of persons sleeping in the dwelling is such as to contravene—
(a) the standard specified in section 325 (“the bedroom standard”), or(b) the standard specified in section 326 (“the space standard”). (2) The Secretary of State shall, not later than five years from the date of commencement of this Act and not later than every five years thereafter, carry out a review of the standards specified in sections 325 and 326 and shall, following every such review, publish a report on their operation.””
The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 116AB and 116AC. The amendments are all about overcrowding and would provide that the Secretary of State should instigate a review within five years and every five years thereafter and include a new formula for the number of bedrooms, with particular reference to the way in which children are counted for the purposes of assessing overcrowding. It is extraordinary that, in 2001, a child could still be reckoned not to exist for this purpose and to account only for a bit when a little older.
I know that noble Lords are very aware of the huge impact of overcrowding on health and education. The other day, I was listening to some comments on the radio about quality of sleep. The comment was made that, many years ago, a bed would have accommodated as many people as could get into it and that people then must have had a terrible quality of sleep. That rang true with me. We have largely got away from that, but we are not there yet. The amendments are designed to probe the Minister on the extent to which she anticipates raising standards on overcrowding.
It is not necessary to have primary legislation for this but the opportunity is irresistible, with 500,000 households estimated to be overcrowded and almost 1 million children living in overcrowded conditions. I can understand that local authorities might be concerned about the extra pressure on housing caused by raising standards, but overcrowded households, even those that are statutorily overcrowded, are entitled only to a reasonable preference on the waiting list, not to extra priority; nor will statutory overcrowding be anything more than a relevant consideration in dealing with an application.
When the matter was raised in the Commons, an explanation was given about the pathfinders exercise, which was starting in April just gone. As the pathfinders exercise was essentially being piloted, the Minister there said that he did not want to commit himself too much but thought that he saw something coming on board by around 2009. It is pretty much six months since those comments were made, and I hope that the Minister can update the Committee on the efforts to bring us up to the modern standards that, I am sure, we would all like to see. I beg to move.
I have a lot of sympathy with this. Clearly, one does not want to have people living in overcrowded conditions. Unfortunately, the housing market being what it is, it will be a long time before we get away from it.
I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me for saying that proposed new subsection (4)(a) in Amendment No. 116AB seriously needs to be amended. It refers to,
“a person living together with another as husband and wife (whether that other person is of the same sex or the opposite sex)”.
Reference to a couple living together I can understand, but more acceptable wording would be “whether they are husband and wife or of the same sex”. The current wording is not acceptable.
The noble Baroness said that the urge to raise this issue was irresistible, and she is right. In Part 2 we were concerned with the fine detail and with looking at technical issues, whereas in Part 3 we come to broader matters. Our debates today have ranged far and wide over issues that are work-in-progress for my department and others. I am grateful for the opportunity to address this matter, which is why I keep returning so often to what is happening in terms of building the evidence base, policy developments and so forth, rather than outlining immediate reactions in legislation in areas where we want to see improvements. We are perhaps a little inhibited by the state of our own policy developments and knowledge base, and that is true for local authorities as well. This issue is a classic example of it.
The noble Baroness is right: the current definition of overcrowding has remained unchanged for far too long but, rather than tackle the definition, we are committed to tackling overcrowding itself. My fundamental point here is that, however much comfort it might give us and those who campaign for better housing, if we were simply to change the definition of the term, that would not bring with it the agency or resources that are needed to make a real difference on the ground. At a time when there is so much cynicism about whether as politicians we can deliver on what we say, this sort of challenge has to be taken seriously. We have to be able to do the things we say we can do, so that people can see and feel a difference, rather than express an aspiration which lends itself to being exposed as not being able to realise what lies behind it. The noble Baroness and I both want to ensure that local authorities have the right tools in place to tackle the issue.
We are already committed to an updated standard. In January, my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State confirmed the commitment to amend the 1985 Act during consideration of this Bill in Committee in another place, and indeed we have debated many times in this House the impact of overcrowding on the health and well-being of children, not least on their educational prospects and personal health, as well as the risk of dysfunction in family life that goes along with overcrowded conditions. There is no doubt that we are committed to addressing the issue of children in bad housing. However, the real challenge is to ensure that local authorities have the tangible means to do something about it and that they have real solutions to offer.
As a first step, we addressed this issue earlier in considering the provision of new supply in the form of affordable housing. Some £8 billion is going into building more homes. The first part of our debates was very much about that and about the contribution that the Homes and Communities Agency can make. We are increasing outputs of new affordable housing to 70,000 by 2010-11, 45,000 of which will be for new social rented homes. We have done what Shelter has urged us to do in this respect: the figures represent an increase of 50 per cent over last year. We also need different sorts of homes, and larger units are needed. When I travel around the country to look at what we are doing in housing market renewal areas, one of the problems is that the housing stock built in the 19th century was for small families. Those terraced houses are totally inadequate for large families that can no longer access large homes. We have to build different sorts of homes. We are increasing the national percentage of social rented homes delivered through the Affordable Housing Programme from 25 to 30 per cent in 2008-09, rising to 33 per cent in 2010-11. That will mean more family-sized homes of three or more bedrooms, which will help.
New supply is only one side of the coin: we have to look at making better use of the available stock. We estimate that there are currently about 228,000 overcrowded households in social housing, but also some 445,000 social homes are under-occupied—that is, households with two or more bedrooms than are needed.
Local authorities have discretion to give reasonable preference to those households that want to downsize. We are encouraging, not least through example and support, housing authorities to make better use of those flexibilities. That is good customer service because it addresses part of the housing and ageing strategies: we need homes to be appropriate in size for the people who live in them—what they can manage, whatever age they are and whatever they need, whatever age they are and whatever their family conditions.
For example, tenants may wish to move closer to family for support, to reduce their rent, and so on. That is good housing management in making best use of stock. We also need to be smarter; local authorities need to be smarter; and we need to find new ways to solve the problem. Therefore, we are helping local authorities to find new ways to solve the problem. That is where the pilot schemes come in. We have put £35 million into pilot schemes in London that are considering underoccupation using the private sector, developing adaptions more effectively.
In particular, in the capital, to take the use of the private rented sector, some pilots have been successful in securing accommodation in the private sector for overcrowded households. Since April, the introduction of the local housing allowance has given private renters on lower incomes a greater degree of choice and flexibility in accessing more suitably sized homes in the private sector.
Another pilot has been able to increase the quality of life of overcrowded households by making simple adaptions to their existing property if they want to stay where they are. Sometimes what you really need is a bit of help from someone coming from outside who says, “If you take a wall down there, we can make a bit of space here”. It needs some help and intelligence with the pressure points where space becomes a real issue—for example, if children cannot do their homework. That may mean anything from more storage space to additional hand basins, or whatever. We can make a difference even within unpromising circumstances.
All that fed into our action plan in CLG, which we published last December. That sets out a number of ways in which social housing providers—both local authorities and RSLs—can manage their existing staff in innovative and proactive ways. That action plan sits alongside the evidence from the pathfinder project, to which the noble Baroness referred. We are investing a further £15 million over the next three years, starting with the 38 pathfinder chains, who between them account for more than half of overcrowded social tenants, so they are really important.
Each pathfinder has had £110,000 this year to develop their own action plans based on good advice, good practice and innovative approaches developed by pilots. We have published an advice note setting out the lessons learnt. We are asking the pathfinders to improve the data that they hold on overcrowded households and improve their mapping of underoccupation.
On the next steps, wider implementation through the 38 pathfinders of schemes such as those piloted in London will have an immediate effect on securing better accommodation. During the course of the next year we will be seeking data that will enable us to look at the impact these schemes have on providing better housing solutions for overcrowded households. This will also provide the crucial evidence we need on the cost and impact of updating the overcrowding standard. Once we have that evidence, we will be able to devise a phased and manageable move to a new national standard, with authorities well positioned to manage a new definition positively.
I hope that the Committee will be reassured that we are committed to ensuring that families who are living in overcrowded conditions have the right advice and support from their local housing providers to enable them to secure more suitably sized accommodation. Local housing authorities need to be able to act to be prepared for a change in the overcrowding standard.
I am not complacent; I accept and agree with so much of what the noble Lady said and her entire sentiment. I confirm that the Government are committed to changing the statutory overcrowding standard. I cannot accept the amendment because, as I said, we already have powers to amend the definition of overcrowding by regulation; we have already given a clear commitment to modernising the standard; we have already published an action plan that will go a long way to tackling the problem; and it would be untimely to introduce a new standard without evidence on the cost or impact. Much the same argument applies to her amendments about the bedroom standard and her final amendment. With that response, which I hope is sufficiently full, I hope that she can reassure the people whom she knows who are really concerned about this.
I think that the Minister recognises that overcrowding is the result of a lack of sufficient housing. That links in with the earlier debate on priority groups. The reason you have to have priority groups is that you do not have enough housing for everyone, so you have to prioritise. It gets down to the same issue. Although the £8 billion is obviously welcome, and we have talked about this before, it is going to solve only a small part of the problem. There are nearly 2 million applications for social housing, but £8 billion will build about 100,000 homes over the next three years, which is barely sufficient. It all links in to the point about the lack of sufficient affordable housing. Quite what the Government are going to do about that, I do not know; it is their problem. There are better ways of spending the £8 billion—for instance, getting empty homes back into service.
The Minister slightly slipped up on one point, in my view. When we talked earlier in Committee, I mentioned that I had been to the dentist, where a receptionist had been talking to another patient about how their children had broken up their marriages and were having to live in their houses. One was saying that their son had to live in a box cupboard with a bed in it, while the other had a daughter with two children who were living on the sofa downstairs. If they were in private housing, how would the Minister’s department get to find out that there was overcrowding there as well? I asked them if they were on the social housing list. They said, “No, there’s absolutely no point in going there because we need our housing now. We need a roof over our head tonight, not in five or 10 years’ time”. There are a lot of people out there who just have not tried to get on to the housing list because they think, “What’s the point? We’re just going to be a gun number at the end. The priority people are going to get the housing, and we will be left in the queue for years”. That may get worse as people get married and cannot afford a house. Last year, first-time buyers accounted for only 300,000 homebuyers, which I think was the lowest figure for many years; before, it was 450,000 or 500,000. Where are they going to go in the next year or two? They are going to need affordable housing, or they will be cramming up with one of their parents. This is a major issue.
It is a major issue. It reminds me that, if you go back 50 years, rented accommodation was the most usual choice and people lived there for most of their lives—in overcrowded conditions, too. One of the reasons why the house-building programmes of the 1950s and 1960s were so important was that they gave people a home of their own for the first time. The noble Lord is right; it is not just a question of building our way out of lack of affordability or overcrowding, but we need to look at the whole of the housing stock coherently to see what else we can do. That brings us back to our debates on social accessibility.
The private rented sector is often the most invisible and often, frankly, the worst served sector because it is managed by market. The review by Julie Rugg of that sector that we have commissioned should look at a whole range of situations, including the extent to which the sector may be soaking up some people in ways that the noble Earl described. However, because we need more supply and mobility across the sector—and that goes for social housing as well—we need people to have aspiration and opportunity to move out of social housing if they so wish and into owner occupation so that we can get more vulnerable people into social housing and away from the very worst of the private rented sector.
Essentially, we are aiming to create a vicious circle which is powered by notions of access, equality and affordability. The virtue of having the HCA in place is that we can have that single conversation with people who are responsible for land and with those across the sectors, and we will be able to judge what is effective in relation to them all. Although there is one set of very technical amendments to go, that seems to be what we have been addressing throughout the whole Bill—all these issues relate to each other. I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s amendment, which has given us an opportunity to open up our debate.
I think that the Minister is aiming for a virtuous circle, rather than the vicious circle to which she referred—this has been a very long Committee stage. I am grateful for her reply. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, about the drafting. He will not be surprised if I confess that I did not draft these three or four pages of amendments. My drafting has been much less expert and much shorter. I noticed that phrase this morning and thought, “I know what it means but it could perhaps have been expressed differently”.
In regard to a virtuous circle, with the domestic violence amendment I was talking about releasing refuge spaces. As the noble Lord was talking, I wrote down “Release three and four-bedroomed housing” before the Minister said it. I know that that is very much in her mind and that of her department. I am very grateful for her explanation, which was a much more positive take on the issue than I have heard for a very long time. Of course, the solutions will not come overnight.
The definition is important. I understand the noble Baroness’s point about trying to avoid cynicism, and the noble Earl made a similar point. The converse of that is setting a target with the aim of working towards it. It is certainly important that the work that is going on now—the piloting or pathfinder, or whatever one calls it—and the action plan do not delay countrywide change.
Despite their length, these were probing amendments. They came from Shelter, which I know is involved in the debates and will keep an eagle eye on the work being done. It would be nice to end the Committee stage on a forward-looking note. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 116AB and 116AC not moved.]
Clause 318 [Orders and regulations]:
[Amendment No. 116B not moved.]
[Amendment No. 116C had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
116D: Clause 318, page 145, line 18, at end insert—
“( ) Subsection (3) does not apply to an instrument containing an order under section 319 if the order does not amend or repeal a provision of a public general Act.”
The noble Baroness said: Before I move the lead amendment in the final group, perhaps I may say that the Committee stage has been exceptionally productive. I am very grateful for noble Lords’ patience and understanding as we have ploughed through a long and sometimes very technical Committee stage. I hope they will agree that it has been a positive experience and that they are looking forward to Report as much as I am. Between now and the next stage, I should be very happy to meet any noble Lord who has any problems. I look forward to continuing the dialogue.
This is a group of government amendments. They are technical and give effect to a recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in respect of the power to make consequential amendments under Clause 319.
If the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will allow me, I shall speak to his amendment at the same time. At present, all orders under Clause 319 are subject to the affirmative procedure. The committee’s view is that this procedure is appropriate only when an Act is amended, and we agree with that assessment. The amendments before us, Amendments Nos. 116D, 117AB, 117ABA, 117AC and 117AD will do that. For technical reasons, the amendments are being made to Clause 318 because it sets out the procedures that will apply to all the powers to make subordinate legislation.
The mea culpa part of my explanation is that it was not our intention to agree to Amendment No. 110XD during our sitting last Wednesday. As I recall there was a bit of mayhem around the Committee—
I should have made it clear that we had tabled government amendments to respond to and indeed to go further than the DPRR Committee recommendations, and as such we did not need to rely on the noble Lord’s amendment. But as a result of the mix-up, we have withdrawn two government amendments that we had intended to move in this group because they would conflict with Amendment No. 110XD. I hope that noble Lords will permit me to rectify the matter at the Report stage.
I turn now to Amendment No. 117BZA tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. This is a technical amendment which gives effect to a recommendation of the DPRR Committee in respect of the power to make consequential amendments. As I have said, all orders under Clause 319 are subject to the affirmative procedure. This is explicitly required under Clause 318(3)(b). The committee’s view was that this procedure was only appropriate when an Act is amended, and we agree with that. We have already discussed the government amendments which have a similar effect. With that explanation, I hope that I will be forgiven for getting this wrong and that we can move swiftly to conclude the Committee’s proceedings.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendment No. 117A not moved.]
[Amendment No. 117AA had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
117AB: Clause 318, page 145, line 23, at end insert—
“( ) an order of the Secretary of State under section 319 to which subsection (3) above does not apply,”
117ABA: Clause 318, page 145, line 26, after “Part 2” insert “(excluding sections 71 and 73)”
117AC: Clause 318, page 145, line 39, at end insert—
“( ) Subsection (6) does not apply to an instrument containing an order under section 319 if the order does not amend or repeal a provision of a public general Act.”
117AD: Clause 318, page 145, line 40, at end insert—
“( ) an order of the Welsh Ministers under section 319 to which subsection (6) above does not apply,”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 318, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 319 [Consequential amendments and repeals]:
117B: Clause 319, page 146, line 2, after “repeals” insert “and revocations including repeals of spent enactments”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendment No. 117BZA not moved.]
Clause 319, as amended, agreed to.
117BZB: Before Schedule 14, insert the following new Schedule—
“Ineligible persons from abroad: statutory disregardsPart 1England and WalesHousing Act 1996 (c. 52)1 The Housing Act 1996 is amended as follows.
2 (1) Section 167 (allocation in accordance with allocation scheme) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (2) after “scheme shall” insert “, subject to subsection (2ZA),”.
(3) After subsection (2) insert—
“(2ZA) People are to be disregarded for the purposes of subsection (2) if they would not have fallen within paragraph (a) or (b) of that subsection without the local housing authority having had regard to a restricted person (within the meaning of Part 7).”
(2) After subsection (3) insert—
“(3A) If the authority decide that a duty is owed to the applicant under section 193(2) or 195(2) but would not have done so without having had regard to a restricted person, the notice under subsection (3) must also—
(a) inform the applicant that their decision was reached on that basis,(b) include the name of the restricted person,(c) explain why the person is a restricted person, and(d) explain the effect of section 193(7AD) or (as the case may be) section 195(4A).”(3) After subsection (6) insert—
“(7) In this Part “a restricted person” means a person—
(a) who is not eligible for assistance under this Part,(b) who is subject to immigration control within the meaning of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996, and(c) either—(i) who does not have leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom, or(ii) whose leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom is subject to a condition to maintain and accommodate himself, and any dependants, without recourse to public funds.”4 (1) Section 185 (persons from abroad not eligible for certain housing assistance) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (4) for “another person” substitute “a person falling within subsection (5)”.
(3) After subsection (4) insert—
“(5) A person falls within this subsection if the person—
(a) falls within a class prescribed by regulations made under subsection (2); but(b) is not a national of an EEA State or Switzerland.”5 (1) Section 193 (duty to persons with priority need who are not homeless intentionally) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (3A) after “this section” insert “in a case which is not a restricted case”.
(3) After subsection (3A) insert—
“(3B) In this section “a restricted case” means a case where the local housing authority would not be satisfied as mentioned in subsection (1) without having had regard to a restricted person.”
(4) After subsection (7A) insert—
“(7AA) In a restricted case the authority shall also cease to be subject to the duty under this section if the applicant, having been informed of the matters mentioned in subsection (7AB)—
(a) accepts a private accommodation offer, or(b) refuses such an offer.(7AB) The matters are—
(a) the possible consequence of refusal of the offer, and(b) that the applicant has the right to request a review of the suitability of the accommodation.(7AC) For the purposes of this section an offer is a private accommodation offer if—
(a) it is an offer of an assured shorthold tenancy made by a private landlord to the applicant in relation to any accommodation which is, or may become, available for the applicant’s occupation,(b) it is made, with the approval of the authority, in pursuance of arrangements made by the authority with the landlord with a view to bringing the authority’s duty under this section to an end, and(c) the tenancy being offered is a fixed term tenancy (within the meaning of Part 1 of the Housing Act 1988) for a period of at least 12 months.(7AD) In a restricted case the authority shall, so far as reasonably practicable, bring their duty under this section to an end as mentioned in subsection (7AA).”
(5) In subsections (7B) and (7C) at the beginning insert “In a case which is not a restricted case,”.
(6) In subsection (7F) after paragraph (a) (but before the “or” following it) insert—
“(ab) approve a private accommodation offer;”.6 (1) Section 195 (duties in the case of threatened homelessness) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (3A) after “this section” insert “in a case which is not a restricted threatened homelessness case”.
(3) In subsection (4)—
(a) after “Where” insert “, in a case which is not a restricted threatened homelessness case,”, and(b) at the end insert “in a case which is not a restricted case (within the meaning of that section)”.(4) After subsection (4) insert—
“(4A) Where, in a restricted threatened homelessness case, in pursuance of the duty under subsection (2) the authority secure that accommodation other than that occupied by the applicant when he made his application is available for occupation by him, the provisions of section 193(3) to (9) (period for which duty owed) apply, with any necessary modifications, in relation to the duty under this section as they apply in relation to the duty under section 193 in a restricted case (within the meaning of that section).
(4B) In subsections (3A) to (4A) “a restricted threatened homelessness case” means a case where the local housing authority would not be satisfied as mentioned in subsection (1) without having had regard to a restricted person.”
7 (1) Section 202 (right to request review of decision) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1) after paragraph (f) insert “, or
(g) any decision of a local housing authority as to the suitability of accommodation offered to him by way of a private accommodation offer (within the meaning of section 193).”(3) In subsection (1A)—
(a) for “or (7)” substitute “, (7) or (7AA)”, and(b) after “(f)” insert “or (as the case may be) (g)”.8 In section 218 (index of defined expressions: Part 7) insert in the Table at the appropriate place—
“restricted person section 184(7)”.Part 2Scotland and Northern IrelandHousing (Scotland) Act 1987 (c. 26)9 The Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 is amended as follows.
10 (1) Section 20 (persons having priority on housing list and allocation of housing) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1)(b) at the beginning insert “subject to subsection (1A),”.
(3) After subsection (1) insert—
“(1A) Homeless persons and persons threatened with homelessness (within the meaning of Part II) are to be disregarded for the purposes of subsection (1) if they would not be such persons without the local authority having had regard to a restricted person (also within the meaning of Part II).”
(4) In subsection (2) for “such housing” substitute “housing falling within subsection (1)”.
11 (1) Section 30 (notification of decision and reasons) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (3) insert—
“(3A) If they decide that he is homeless, threatened with homelessness or has a priority need but would not have done so without having had regard to a restricted person, they shall also notify him of—
(a) the fact that their decision was reached on that basis,(b) the name of the restricted person,(c) the reason why the person is a restricted person, and(d) the effect of section 31(2G) or (as the case may be) 32(2A) and (2B).”(3) After subsection (5) insert—
“(6) In this Part “a restricted person” means a person—
(a) who is not eligible for assistance under this Part,(b) who is subject to immigration control within the meaning of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996, and(c) either—(i) who does not have leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom, or(ii) whose leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom is subject to a condition to maintain and accommodate himself, and any dependants, without recourse to public funds.”12 (1) Section 31 (duties to persons found to be homeless) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (2) insert—
“(2A) In a restricted case the local authority shall cease to be subject to the duty under subsection (2) if the applicant, having been informed of the matters mentioned in subsection (2B)—
(a) accepts a private accommodation offer, or(b) refuses such an offer.(2B) The matters are—
(a) the possible consequence of refusal of the offer, and (b) that the applicant has the right to request a review of the decision that the accommodation offered is not accommodation falling within section 32(5)(a) to (c).(2C) In this section “a restricted case” means a case falling within subsection (2) where the local authority would not be satisfied as mentioned in subsections (1) and (2) without having had regard to a restricted person.
(2D) For the purposes of this Part an offer is a private accommodation offer if—
(a) it is an offer of a short assured tenancy made by a landlord to the applicant in relation to any accommodation which is, or may become, available for the applicant’s occupation,(b) it is made, with the approval of the local authority, in pursuance of arrangements made by them with the landlord with a view to bringing their duty under subsection (2) to an end, and(c) the tenancy being offered is for a period of at least 12 months.(2E) The local authority shall not approve a private accommodation offer unless they are satisfied that it is reasonable for the applicant to accept the offer.
(2F) For the purposes of subsection (2E) an applicant may reasonably be expected to accept an offer even though he is under contractual or other obligations in respect of his existing accommodation, provided he is able to bring those obligations to an end before he is required to take up the offer.
(2G) In a restricted case the local authority shall, so far as reasonably practicable, bring their duty under subsection (2) to an end as mentioned in subsection (2A).
(2H) Subsections (2A) to (2G) are without prejudice to any other way in which the local authority can cease to be subject to the duty under subsection (2).”
(3) In subsection (3)—
(a) for “In any other case, they” substitute “In a case not falling within subsection (2), the local authority”, and(b) in paragraph (a) for “his”, in the first place where it appears, substitute “the applicant’s”.13 (1) Section 32 (duties to persons found to be threatened with homelessness) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (2) insert—
“(2A) Subsection (2B) applies in a restricted threatened homelessness case where, in pursuance of the duty under subsection (2), the local authority secure that accommodation other than that occupied by the applicant when he made his application is available for occupation by him.
(2B) The provisions of section 31(2A) to (2H) (circumstances in which duty in restricted case ceases) apply, with any necessary modifications, in relation to the duty under subsection (2) as they apply in relation to the duty under section 31(2) in a restricted case (within the meaning of that section).”
(3) In subsection (3) for “In any other case they shall furnish him” substitute “In a case not falling within subsection (2) the local authority shall furnish the applicant”.
(4) After subsection (5) insert—
“(5A) In this section “a restricted threatened homelessness case” means a case falling within subsection (2) where the local authority would not be satisfied as mentioned in subsections (1) and (2) without having had regard to a restricted person.”
14 (1) Section 34 (duties to persons whose applications are referred) is amended as follows.
(2) For subsection (2) substitute—
“(2) If it is determined that the conditions for referral—
(a) are satisfied, the notified authority are subject to the duty under section 31(2);(b) are not satisfied, the notifying authority are subject to that duty.” (3) In subsection (3) for paragraph (a) (but not the “and” after it) substitute—
“(a) whether they or the notified authority are subject to the duty under section 31(2),”.(4) Omit subsection (6).
15 In section 35A(2) (right to request review of decision) after paragraph (d) insert—
“(e) any decision that accommodation offered to the applicant under a private accommodation offer is not accommodation falling within section 32(5)(a) to (c).”16 In section 43 (minor definitions) at the appropriate places insert—
(a) ““private accommodation offer” has the meaning assigned to it by section 31(2D);”, (b) ““restricted person” has the meaning assigned to it by section 30(6);”, and(c) ““short assured tenancy” has the same meaning as in Part 2 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1988;”.Housing (Northern Ireland) Order 1988 (S.I. 1988/1990 (N.I. 23)) 17 Part 2 of the Housing (Northern Ireland) Order 1988 is amended as follows.
18 (1) Article 7A (persons not eligible for housing assistance) is amended as follows.
(2) In paragraph (4) for “another person” substitute “a person falling within paragraph (4A)”.
(3) After paragraph (4) insert—
“(4A) A person falls within this paragraph if the person—
(a) falls within a class specified in an order under section 119(1) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999; but(b) is not a national of an EEA State or Switzerland.”19 (1) Article 9 (notification of decision and reasons) is amended as follows.
(2) After paragraph (3) insert—
“(3A) If the Executive decides that the applicant is homeless, threatened with homelessness or has a priority need but would not have done so without having had regard to a restricted person, it shall also notify him of—
(a) the fact that its decision was reached on that basis,(b) the name of the restricted person,(c) the reason why the person is a restricted person, and(d) the effect of Article 10(2E) and (2F) or (as the case may be) 11(2A) and (2B).”(3) After paragraph (5) insert—
“(6) In this Article “a restricted person” means a person—
(a) who is not eligible for assistance under this Part,(b) who is subject to immigration control within the meaning of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996, and(c) either—(i) who does not have leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom, or(ii) whose leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom is subject to a condition to maintain and accommodate himself, and any dependants, without recourse to public funds.”20 (1) Article 10 (duties to persons found to be homeless) is amended as follows.
(2) After paragraph (2) insert—
“(2A) In a restricted case the Executive shall cease to be subject to the duty under paragraph (2) if the applicant, having been informed of the possible consequence of refusal—
(a) accepts a private accommodation offer, or(b) refuses such an offer. (2B) For the purposes of this Article an offer is a private accommodation offer if—
(a) it is an offer of a private tenancy made by a landlord to the applicant in relation to any accommodation which is, or may become, available for the applicant’s occupation, (b) it is made, with the approval of the Executive, in pursuance of arrangements made by the Executive with the landlord with a view to bringing its duty under paragraph (2) to an end, and(c) the tenancy being offered is for a term certain of at least 12 months.(2C) The Executive shall not approve a private accommodation offer unless it is satisfied that the accommodation is suitable for the applicant and that it is reasonable for him to accept the offer.
(2D) For the purposes of paragraph (2C) an applicant may reasonably be expected to accept an offer even though he is under contractual or other obligations in respect of his existing accommodation, provided he is able to bring those obligations to an end before he is required to take up the offer.
(2E) In a restricted case the Executive shall, so far as reasonably practicable, bring its duty under paragraph (2) to an end as mentioned in paragraph (2A).
(2F) In a restricted case the Executive shall also cease to be subject to the duty under paragraph (2) if the applicant, having been informed of the possible consequence of refusal, refuses a reasonable offer of accommodation under the Housing Selection Scheme.
(2G) For the purposes of paragraph (2F)—
(a) “the Housing Selection Scheme” means the scheme for the allocation of housing accommodation held by the Executive approved from time to time under Article 22 of the Order of 1981, and(b) an offer of accommodation is reasonable if it is a reasonable offer within the meaning of that Scheme.(2H) Paragraphs (2A) to (2G) are without prejudice to any other way in which the Executive can cease to be subject to the duty under paragraph (2).”
(3) After paragraph (4) insert—
“(5) In this Article—
“a private tenancy” has the same meaning as in the Private Tenancies (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 (S.I. 2006/1459 (N.I. 10)),
“a restricted case” means a case falling within paragraph (2) where the Executive would not be satisfied as mentioned in paragraphs (1) and (2) without having had regard to a restricted person,
“a restricted person” has the same meaning as in Article 9.”
21 (1) Article 11 (duties to persons found to be threatened with homelessness) is amended as follows.
(2) After paragraph (2) insert—
“(2A) Paragraph (2B) applies in a restricted threatened homelessness case where, in pursuance of the duty under paragraph (2), the Executive secures that accommodation other than that occupied by the applicant when he made his application is available for occupation by him.
(2B) The provisions of Article 10(2A) to (2H) (circumstances in which duty in restricted case ceases) apply, with any necessary modifications, in relation to the duty under paragraph (2) as they apply in relation to the duty under Article 10(2) in a restricted case (within the meaning of that Article).”
(3) After paragraph (4) insert—
“(4A) In this Article—
“a restricted person” has the same meaning as in Article 9,
“a restricted threatened homelessness case” means a case falling within paragraph (2) where the Executive would not be satisfied as mentioned in paragraphs (1) and (2) without having had regard to a restricted person.”
Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (c. 33)22 (1) Section 119 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (persons subject to immigration control to be disregarded in determining another person’s eligibility for accommodation or assistance) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1)(b) for “another person” substitute “a person falling within subsection (1A)”.
(3) After subsection (1) insert—
“(1A) A person falls within this subsection if the person—
(a) falls within a class specified in an order under subsection(1); but(b) is not a national of an EEA State or Switzerland.”Consequential amendmentsCriminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (c. 4)23 The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 is amended as follows.
24 Omit section 134(6) (support for designated persons: eligibility for certain housing assistance).
25 Omit section 135(7) (power to amend or repeal section 134(6)).”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Schedule 14 [Repeals]:
117BA: Schedule 14, page 217, line 4, column 2, after “Schedule 2,” insert “the entry for the Housing Corporation and”
117C: Schedule 14, page 217, line 4, leave out “entry for, and the Note relating to,” and insert “entries for, and Notes relating to, the Commission for the New Towns and”
117D: Schedule 14, page 217, line 17, at end insert—
“National Loans Act 1968 (c. 13) In Schedule 1, in the entry relating to the New Towns Act 1981 (c.64)— (a) in column 1, the words “(5)(6)”, (b) in column 2, the words “and the Commission for the New Towns”.”
“National Loans Act 1968 (c. 13)
In Schedule 1, in the entry relating to the New Towns Act 1981 (c.64)—
(a) in column 1, the words “(5)(6)”,
(b) in column 2, the words “and the Commission for the New Towns”.”
117E: Schedule 14, page 217, line 19, at end insert—
“Statutory Corporations (Financial Provisions) Act 1974 (c. 8) In section 4(2), the words “and of the Commission for the New Towns”.”
“Statutory Corporations (Financial Provisions) Act 1974 (c. 8)
In section 4(2), the words “and of the Commission for the New Towns”.”
117EA: Schedule 14, page 217, line 21, column 2, after “Towns” insert “, the Housing Corporation”
117F: Schedule 14, page 217, line 22, at end insert—
“Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975 (c. 25) In Part 2 of Schedule 1, the entry relating to the Urban Regeneration Agency.”
“Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975 (c. 25)
In Part 2 of Schedule 1, the entry relating to the Urban Regeneration Agency.”
117G: Schedule 14, page 217, line 24, at end insert—
“Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 (c. 65) Section 4(4)(b). In section 99(4)(e), the words “the Commission for the New Towns,”. In Schedule 16, paragraph 6.”
“Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 (c. 65)
In section 99(4)(e), the words “the Commission for the New Towns,”.
In Schedule 16, paragraph 6.”
117H: Schedule 14, page 219, line 13, column 2, at end insert—
“In section 72(1)(a), the words “or from the Commission”.”
“In section 72(1)(a), the words “or from the Commission”.”
117J: Schedule 14, page 219, line 33, at end insert—
“Compulsory Purchase (Vesting Declarations) Act 1981 (c. 66) In section 15, the words from “or under subsection (1)” to “similar provision)”. In Schedule 2, in paragraph 1, the words from “or under subsection (1)” to “contains similar provision)”.”
“Compulsory Purchase (Vesting Declarations) Act 1981 (c. 66)
In section 15, the words from “or under subsection (1)” to “similar provision)”.
In Schedule 2, in paragraph 1, the words from “or under subsection (1)” to “contains similar provision)”.”
117JA: Schedule 14, page 219, line 44, column 2, leave out “85(3)(a)” and insert “85—
(a) in subsection (3)(a)”
117JB: Schedule 14, page 219, line 45, column 2, at end insert—
“(b) subsections (5) and (5A)”
117JBA: Schedule 14, page 220, line 8, at end insert—
“Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 (c. 26) Section 34(6).”
“Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 (c. 26)
117JC: Schedule 14, page 220, line 12, column 2, leave out “9(3)” and insert “9—
(a) in subsection (3)”
117JD: Schedule 14, page 220, line 13, column 2, at end insert—
“(b) subsections (5) and (5A)”
117K: Schedule 14, page 220, line 13, column 2, at end insert—
“In the italic heading before section 50, the words “: functions of Relevant Authority”. Sections 50 and 51.”
“In the italic heading before section 50, the words “: functions of Relevant Authority”.
Sections 50 and 51.”
117KA: Schedule 14, page 220, line 16, leave out “paragraph” and insert “paragraphs 7(3) and”
117L: Schedule 14, page 220, line 17, column 2, at beginning insert—
“In section 172(8), in the definition of “new town corporation”, the words “the Commission for the New Towns or”.”
“In section 172(8), in the definition of “new town corporation”, the words “the Commission for the New Towns or”.”
117M: Schedule 14, page 220, line 33, column 2, at end insert—
“Section 181(1) and (3).”
“Section 181(1) and (3).”
117N: Schedule 14, page 220, line 37, column 2, at end insert—
“In Schedule 21— (a) paragraph 3 and the italic heading before it, (b) paragraph 32 and the italic heading before it.”
“In Schedule 21—
(a) paragraph 3 and the italic heading before it,
(b) paragraph 32 and the italic heading before it.”
117P: Schedule 14, page 220, line 40, column 2, leave out “paragraph 63(5)” and insert “paragraphs 63(5) and 104 and the italic heading before paragraph 104.”
117Q: Schedule 14, page 220, line 44, at end insert—
“Finance Act 1996 (c. 8) In section 43A— (a) subsection (5)(e), (b) in subsection (6), the definition of “English Partnerships”.”
“Finance Act 1996 (c. 8)
In section 43A—
(a) subsection (5)(e),
(b) in subsection (6), the definition of “English Partnerships”.”
117QA: Schedule 14, page 220, line 44, at end insert—
“Family Law Act 1996 (c. 27) In Schedule 8— (a) paragraph 53, (b) paragraph 59 and the italic heading before it.”
“Family Law Act 1996 (c. 27)
In Schedule 8—
(a) paragraph 53,
(b) paragraph 59 and the italic heading before it.”
117R: Schedule 14, page 220, line 45, column 2, at end insert—
“Section 28(1), (2), (5) and (6).”
“Section 28(1), (2), (5) and (6).”
117RA: Schedule 14, page 221, line 7, column 2, at end insert—
“In section 202(1), the word “or” after paragraph (e).”
“In section 202(1), the word “or” after paragraph (e).”
117S: Schedule 14, page 221, line 15, column 2, at end insert—
“In Schedule 18, paragraph 22(1)(f).”
“In Schedule 18, paragraph 22(1)(f).”
117T: Schedule 14, page 221, line 16, column 2, at beginning insert—
117U: Schedule 14, page 221, line 19, leave out “18(10)(a)” and insert “18(4) to (7), (10)(a)”
117UA: Schedule 14, page 221, line 25, at end insert—
“Audit Commission Act 1998 (c. 18) Sections 41 to 41B and 43. In Schedule 1— (a) paragraph 8(2)(c) and (ca), and (b) paragraph 8A. In Schedule 2A, in paragraph 3— (a) paragraph (a) of the definition of “Audit Commission inspection”, and (b) paragraph (e) of the definition of “national studies functions”.”
“Audit Commission Act 1998 (c. 18)
Sections 41 to 41B and 43.
In Schedule 1—
(a) paragraph 8(2)(c) and (ca), and
(b) paragraph 8A.
In Schedule 2A, in paragraph 3—
(a) paragraph (a) of the definition of “Audit Commission inspection”, and
(b) paragraph (e) of the definition of “national studies functions”.”
117UB: Schedule 14, page 221, line 27, after “paragraphs” insert “24 to”
117V: Schedule 14, page 221, line 27, after “26,” insert “61(1), 64, 65,”
117W: Schedule 14, page 221, line 28, at end insert—
“Regional Development Agencies Act 1998 (c. 45) Section 36 and the italic heading before it. Section 37. In section 38(10), in the definition of “qualifying transfer”, paragraph (b). Schedule 9.”
“Regional Development Agencies Act 1998 (c. 45)
Section 36 and the italic heading before it.
In section 38(10), in the definition of “qualifying transfer”, paragraph (b).
117X: Schedule 14, page 221, line 40, column 2, at end insert—
“In section 408— (a) subsection (3)(h) and (i), (b) subsection (6). Section 409(5).”
“In section 408—
(a) subsection (3)(h) and (i),
(b) subsection (6).
117XA: Schedule 14, page 221, line 42, column 2, after “Towns” insert “, the Housing Corporation”
117Y: Schedule 14, page 221, line 43, at end insert—
“Transport Act 2000 (c. 38) In Schedule 5, paragraph 17.”
“Transport Act 2000 (c. 38)
In Schedule 5, paragraph 17.”
117Z: Schedule 14, page 221, line 45, at end insert—
“Postal Services Act 2000 (Consequential Modifications No. 1) Order 2001 (S.I. 2001/1149) In Schedule 1, paragraph 98 and the italic heading before it.”
“Postal Services Act 2000 (Consequential Modifications No. 1) Order 2001 (S.I. 2001/1149)
In Schedule 1, paragraph 98 and the italic heading before it.”
117ZA: Schedule 14, page 222, line 2, column 2, leave out “Article 2” and insert “The whole Order”
117ZB: Schedule 14, page 222, line 5, at end insert—
“Communications Act 2003 (c. 21) In Schedule 17, paragraph 123 and the italic heading before it.”
“Communications Act 2003 (c. 21)
In Schedule 17, paragraph 123 and the italic heading before it.”
117ZBA: Schedule 14, page 222, line 5, at end insert—
“Local Government Act 2003 (c. 26) Section 109.”
“Local Government Act 2003 (c. 26)
117ZC: Schedule 14, page 222, line 8, column 2, at end insert—
“Article 18 and the heading before it.”
“Article 18 and the heading before it.”
117ZCA: Schedule 14, page 222, line 11, at end insert—
“Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004 (c. 23) In Schedule 2, paragraphs 27 to 30 and 37.”
“Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004 (c. 23)
In Schedule 2, paragraphs 27 to 30 and 37.”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Noble Lords will recall that on the fifth day of our discussions in Grand Committee, I withdrew Amendment No. 97P which included an amendment to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 on the HCA’s local planning authority in response to a request made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, not to move it at this stage. Amendment No. 117ZD makes a corresponding amendment to the repeals schedule set out in Schedule 14, so I shall not move the amendment at this stage.
[Amendment No. 117ZD not moved.]
117ZDA: Schedule 14, page 222, line 11, at end insert—
“Civil Partnership Act 2004 (c. 33) “In Schedule 9— (a) paragraph 18, (b) paragraph 23 and the italic heading before it.”
“Civil Partnership Act 2004 (c. 33)
“In Schedule 9—
(a) paragraph 18,
(b) paragraph 23 and the italic heading before it.”
117ZE: Schedule 14, page 222, line 14, at end insert—
“Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 (c. 15) In Schedule 22, paragraph 8 and the italic heading before it. Companies Act 2006 (Commencement No. 3, Consequential Amendments, Transitional Provisions and Savings) Order 2007 (S.I. 2007/2194) In Schedule 4, paragraph 83 and the heading before it.”
“Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 (c. 15)
In Schedule 22, paragraph 8 and the italic heading before it.
Companies Act 2006 (Commencement No. 3, Consequential Amendments, Transitional Provisions and Savings) Order 2007 (S.I. 2007/2194)
In Schedule 4, paragraph 83 and the heading before it.”
117ZF: Schedule 14, page 222, line 14, at end insert—
“Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 (c. 28) Section 155(2) and (5).”
“Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 (c. 28)
Section 155(2) and (5).”
117ZG: Schedule 14, page 222, line 14, at end insert—
“Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (c. 4) Section 134(6). Section 135(7).”
“Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (c. 4)
118: Schedule 14, page 222, line 14, at end insert—
“Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (c. 00) Section 55(2).”
“Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (c. 00)
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Schedule 14, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 320 and 321 agreed to.
Clause 322 [Extent]:
118A: Clause 322, page 146, line 36, leave out from “Act” to “has” in line 37 and insert “other than one falling within subsection (2A)”
118B: Clause 322, page 146, line 38, at end insert—
“(2A) The following fall within this subsection—
(a) the repeal in section 5 of the Mobile Homes Act 1983 (c. 34),(b) the repeals of sections 50 and 51 of the Housing Act 1988 (c. 50),(c) the amendments of sections 52 to 54 and 59 of that Act, and (d) the repeal of paragraph 3 of Schedule 11 to the Housing Act 2004 (c. 34).”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 322, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 323 and 324 agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
The Committee adjourned at 7.15 pm.