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'.--( ) If a local housing authority decides that an applicant for housing accommodation is ineligible by virtue of subsections (3) and (5) of section 160A for an allocation by them, they shall inform him of his right to request and receive an independent review of the decision and of the time within which such a request must be made.'.

Amendment No. 52, in clause 20, page 12, line 31, at end insert--

'(6A) People unable to stay in or who are obliged to leave the previous home owned or rented solely or jointly by them and where after relationship breakdown it is agreed that they are the partner to leave the home and the other partner will continue to live in the home are not to be held intentionally homeless.'.

Government amendment No. 47.

Amendment No. 16, in clause 27, page 17, line 24, at end insert--

'to include particularly families with dependent children'.

Amendment No. 60, in page 17, line 24, at end insert--

'in particular, to provide for those who need to be allocated new accommodation, whether or not they have previously been local authority tenants, either on the grounds that they are at risk for their mental or physical safety or that their rehousing is a precondition of them being able to give evidence in criminal proceedings.'.

Amendment No. 53, in page 17, line 24, at end insert--

'( ) It shall be the duty of the local housing authority to provide or secure accommodation for people who need it for their personal protection within 28 days of a request by the police for such accommodation to be provided.'.

Amendment No. 21, in page 17, leave out lines 25 to 40 and insert--

'(2A) A local housing authority may defer an allocation of housing accommodation to a person falling within section 160A(2) of this Act where they have reasonable grounds to believe that--
(a) an allocation of housing accommodation to that person would cause significant hardship to other persons;
(b) if allocated housing accommodation, a person would fail to comply with his obligations as a tenant, having regard to resources and services which may be available to that person in the authority's district (whether available from the authority or otherwise);
(2B) An allocation of housing accommodation shall not be deferred in accordance with subsection (2A) above where to do so would be unreasonable having regard to all the circumstances and to the need of the person for an allocation.'.

Amendment No. 17, in page 17, line 34, at end insert--

'( ) any record of behaviour of a person (or a member of his household) which has affected the terms of a previous tenancy he has held.'.

Amendment No. 55, in page 17, line 34, at end insert--

'(d) the length of time people have been occupying insanitary or overcrowded housing, or otherwise living in unsatisfactory conditions, or that they have needed to move on medical or welfare grounds, or who need to move to another locality.'.

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Amendment No. 20, in page 18, line 12, at end insert--

'(2G) The authority shall be able to suspend subsection (3) where it can reasonably show that to operate its term would have a detrimental effect on the provision of local housing needs.'.

Mr. Foster: The time that it took you to read out the items to be debated, Madam Deputy Speaker, shows just what a long and complex group of amendments and new clauses this is on the subject of housing applications and allocations.

The group covers three themes. First, some of the amendments and new clauses seek to ensure that the law is applied in practice, and in ways that meet policy intentions. Secondly, others seek to apply minimum standards to ensure that bad practice improves, and that there is more consistency, where appropriate, between local authorities. Thirdly, others seek to achieve a proper balance between local authority discretion and meeting housing need.

6.15 pm

Some of the new clauses and amendments are in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake), but others have been tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). I shall draw the House's attention to some of the issues raised by my hon. Friend's amendments that were not discussed in Committee.

For example, amendment No. 52 deals with the level of support that should be given when a relationship breaks down and one party is left without accommodation. Equally, amendments Nos. 60 and 53 raise the important issue of the level of support that should be given to people whom the police believe need protection because they have reason to fear violence to their person. No doubt my hon. Friend will air those issues should he catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker.

New clauses 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11 and 12 were tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington and myself. New clause 4 deals with the minimum time that a homeless person should be given to consider the final offer of accommodation made by a local authority. The issue was debated in Committee, and I pointed out that a homeless person, when presented with a final offer, needs time to consider the offer and to take into account the implications of accepting it for working arrangements, and the effect on the arrangements for his children's education. He also needs to be given time to find out whether the local authority is prepared to carry out any repairs to the property that might be required.

During our deliberations, the Minister for Housing and Planning and the Under-Secretary suggested that they would not accept such an amendment. However, the Committee clearly took the view that the practice of many local authorities, which allows only 24 hours for a homeless person to make a decision, was unacceptable. We referred to several authorities, including my own, that operate such a 24-hour policy. The Under-Secretary described it as unreasonable and said:

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I do not accept that argument. Many of us might prefer a longer period, and in new clause 17, my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey suggests a minimum period of five days. That suggestion is attractive. However, a minimum of three days, provided that it is backed up with strong guidance making it clear that it is a minimum, will at the very least ensure that the practice of allowing only 24 hours, which is currently followed by far too many authorities, is outlawed.

Mr. Raynsford: The hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to an amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. He said that it proposed a period of five days, but did not explain why that relates to the first, not the final offer. Why do Liberal Democrats believe that five days should be allowed for a first offer but only three days for a final offer? Can the hon. Gentleman explain that curious logic?

Mr. Foster: That is a matter for my hon. Friend. Indeed, we look forward to his explanation. However, it will not have escaped hon. Members' attention that all too often, the first offer and the final offer are the same. Too many local authorities do not provide homeless people with the range of choice that the Minister would like. Perhaps my hon. Friend will make that point when he replies to the Minister's question.

New clause 5 deals with the right of review. I place on record our gratitude to the Minister for agreeing, under pressure from Liberal Democrat Members, to include a review period in the Bill. We have tabled new clause 5 to clarify the Minister's exact intentions for the review. In the original measure, people's eligibility for housing assistance and the priority that they would receive were not subject to review. It provided for the local authority to decide; there was no review period to deal with cases in which someone did not agree with the decision and did not believe that the correct information had been used to make it. The Government have now acceded to our request for a review.

Did the Minister mean what he said in Committee when I asked whether the review period covered eligibility? He replied:

I took that at face value. I hope that I am right, and that it means that the review process covers eligibility.

Decisions about eligibility are made under clause 25 whereas the right of review has been included in clause 27, which covers priority. I hope that the Minister will make it clear that the same opportunity exists for reviewing eligibility as for ascertaining the priority of an eligible homeless person. Such a clear statement would persuade me not to press new clause 5, at least.

New clause 6 deals with another issue that we discussed briefly. What happens to homeless people during the review period? Will the local authority ensure that they are given accommodation? Section 188 of the 1996 Act provides that local authorities have the power, but not a

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duty, to provide accommodation for a person who is undergoing a review. In most cases, the power is not exercised. When I raised that in Committee, the Minister said that requiring local authorities to provide such accommodation in all circumstances would place too great a burden on them. I hope that he has noted that I have taken his anxieties about my earlier formulation into account in new clause 6, which would place a less stringent duty on local authorities. It would require them at least to consider whether to accommodate the individual who is undergoing a review. Given that significant watering down, I hope that the Minister will support the new clause.

New clause 7 relates to a review or an appeal in a county court. It deals with the length of time that should be allowed before an appeal is made to a county court, accommodation during the appeal and the period for the appeal. Under the 1996 Act, those who are dissatisfied with a decision about support from a local authority can take the matter to a county court, but must make the appeal within 21 days. I do not intend to repeat the lengthy debate that we had in Committee, but there are good reasons why a 21-day period may not be long enough for a person to assemble the details that are required for an appeal to be heard, let alone to succeed.

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