Health and Social Care Bill

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Mr. Hutton: I understand why the hon. Gentleman tabled the amendment, which would require local authorities to inform people in writing of the advisability of taking independent financial advice. The Department of Health already intends to provide councils with guidance on the operation of the deferred payment scheme. It is envisaged that the guidance will include the advice to councils that people who want to enter into a deferred payment arrangement should be encouraged to seek independent financial advice.

Mr. Burstow: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Hammond: I beg to move amendment No. 316, in page 46, line 36, after `authority', insert

    `or such person as the authority shall nominate'.

The amendment would write into the Bill the provision that the resident will grant to the authority or such person as the authority shall nominate a charge over the property. The purpose of this probing amendment is to find out from the Government how the arrangement will be financed. That is a sensible way of avoiding the trauma of selling a property during someone's lifetime, when it is evident that that lifetime will not be long. It may be better not to create that trauma and allow the property to be sold later, providing proper security for the local authority. However, such a charge on a property would not provide cash, and local authorities will be required to pay out hard cash to discharge their obligations.

Does the Minister propose that the Treasury should effectively underwrite the scheme so that local authorities are, in effect, in a neutral position? If that is not so, does he expect that local authorities might want to enter into arrangements with financial providers to take a charge on the property and advance money to the local authority against the accruing care home fees? Will the money come from the Treasury or from the local authority making arrangements with financial institutions? If it is the latter, would it not make sense to have a requirement in the Bill that the individual should, if required by the local authority, create a charge in favour of the institution that is funding the transaction?

My second question is about the revenue cost, given that there will be a zero interest charge. If the money is coming from the Treasury at zero interest, that question answers itself. If, however, it will come from a financial institution, how will the local authority recoup the cost of the transaction? Will that be made up to the local authority by the Minister's Department?

Mr. Hutton: The hon. Gentleman has asked a couple of questions about the operations of the deferred payment arrangements, and I will try to deal with his concerns. The effect of his amendment would be that when a resident entered into a deferred payment agreement with a local authority, the local authority would be able to nominate another person— perhaps a private debt collector or a commercial loans company—to enter into the legal charge on its behalf. That would certainly relieve the local authority from carrying the debt for the duration of the charge.

The purpose of the deferred payment scheme is to reassure people that they will not be forced into selling their homes during their lifetime to meet the cost of their care. There is a danger that the hon. Gentleman's amendment—he has moved it for fair reasons, and I do not criticise him—might add to the worries of older people and their families rather than reassuring them when they are considering a move into residential care. That could, conceivably, act as a deterrent to any vulnerable older person considering entering into a deferred payment arrangement.

In particular, people may fear that a private debt-collecting agency might be less than scrupulous in trying to recover the debt that results from the charge. I merely mention that, and do not want to make too great a play of it. The hon. Gentleman's amendment, far from reassuring older people, might undermine confidence in the scheme.

The hon. Gentleman asked a number of questions about how the scheme would be funded. We have tried to make it clear that we are providing a new ring-fenced grant to resource the scheme, with £15 million this year, £30 million next year and £40 million the year after for local authority resources. Local authorities will be able to use those resources for the up-front care costs associated with the person entering into care under the deferred payment arrangements. The scheme will be resourced through the ring-fenced grant, and the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that that will be resourced in the normal way, which he might describe as Treasury-financed.

The other point that I should bring to the hon. Gentleman's attention is that some councils already operate deferred payment arrangements, and do so from existing resources. There is nothing new in the idea, and we are just trying to extend access to these schemes in the way that we outlined in clause 54.

The zero rate of interest reflects the current position in relation to the loans, and we do not intend to change that. We want the schemes to be attractive and to reassure people that they will not be forced to sell their homes, and the zero rate of interest is reasonable for that purpose. The rate will ultimately be determined by local authority through the ring-fenced grant and financed in that way.

Mr. Hammond: On the subject of the ring-fenced grant that will finance this, will the Minister clarify whether, when the money is recovered by the local authority, the authorities will make a repayment that will create a re-circulating pool of money?

Mr. Hutton: Yes, that is how we see the scheme working. I should have made that clear, and apologise for not having done so.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam asked about 28 days. That is the current situation, but we will have another look at that to see whether that is reasonable. I will come back to him on that point.

Mr. Hammond: It is slightly disingenuous of the Minister to suggest that responsible local authorities will be transacting with loan sharks and debt-collecting companies. I was thinking more of the Woolwich building society for example. The Minister's reassurances have rendered the amendment redundant, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 54 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 55

Cross-border placements

9.45 pm

Mr. Hammond: I beg to move amendment No. 317, in page 47, line 39, at end add—

    `(3) Regulations under this section may not treat any person differently from any other person by virtue of his place of birth or his place of residence prior to the time when he became subject to arrangements made under section 21 of the 1948 Act.'.

I shall be brief although, if there were time, we could have a much longer debate. I do not want to rehearse our earlier discussion, although hon. Members will remember it. There is concern that if different arrangements are in place in Scotland, the Government may be tempted to issue regulations to try to prevent people who would normally be resident in England from availing themselves of the more generous arrangements that might be in place in Scotland.

The amendment would prevent the Government from discriminating against individuals, either by virtue of their place of birth or their place of residence immediately prior to their becoming subject to arrangements made under section 21 of the 1948 Act. If the Minister is not minded to accept the amendment, I should be grateful if he would reassure us that the Government will not issue regulations that discriminate between people from different parts of the United Kingdom, as was the case for payments for higher education in Scotland, in a way that would not be lawful if it were between people from the United Kingdom and people from another part of the European Union.

Mr. Hutton: Clause 55 allows regulations to be made to enable local authorities in England and Wales to make and pay for residential care and nursing home placements in Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Channel Isles and the Isle of Man. Existing legislation does not allow them to do that. The amendment would ensure that the regulations were used to prevent local authorities from discriminating against someone on the grounds of place of birth or place of residence when they considered whether to make a cross-border placement.

I fully understand the hon. Gentleman's sentiments. We expect local authorities to make decisions strictly on the basis of whether someone needs to move to be near family and friends, not on where they were born or where they have lived or are living. Councils in England will still need to comply with legislation deriving from sections 21, 24 and 26 of the National Assistance Act 1948 on ordinary residence when considering whether to move care home residents from their areas to other areas. After consulting interested parties, we intend to issue guidance to local authorities explaining how to make decisions on cross-border placements. We do not need, therefore, to specify such conditions in regulations. We will be able to do that under the clause as it stands.

Mr. Hammond: That was as clear as mud to me. There is an important issue here in the light of our earlier debate about the devolved settlement and possible problems in that area. However, I sense that the mood of the Committee is not to debate that at length now. We should like to return to this on Report to discuss it a little more fully with the Minister. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 55 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 56 to 58 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

        Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Jamieson.]

        Adjourned accordingly at twelve minutes to Ten o'clock till Thursday 8 February at half-past Nine o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Maxton, Mr. John (Chairman)
Bradshaw, Mr.
Brand, Dr.
Burns, Mr.
Burstow, Mr.
Dawson, Mr.
Denham, Mr.
Fitzsimons, Lorna
Foster, Mr. Michael Jabez
Hammond, Mr.
Hutton, Mr.
Jamieson, Mr.
Naysmith, Dr.
Prosser, Mr.
Stewart, Mr. Ian
Swayne, Mr.
Young, Sir George

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