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Mr. Simon Thomas: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in Wales[Hon. Members: "Oh no."] The mention of Wales seems to have engaged some interest among Labour Members. Is he aware that, in Wales, the same social housing grant is used to subsidise the purchase of private accommodation by those who seek to buy their own homes, using the home-buy grant? That has been extremely successful in Wales, in working for both the private sector and people who seek affordable homes for the first time. Surely that combination might represent an alternative way to use such money in England as well, perhaps using those resources in conjunction with the private sector.
Mr. Davey: I wonder what my friends in Islington are using that money forperhaps it is being invested in more affordable housing. All I remember is that, when they took control of Islington, they were left a complete mess by the previous, Labour council and they are putting it right. That is why the Office of the Deputy Prime has increased their rating in the comprehensive performance assessment and thinks that they are doing a much better job than when Islington was under Labour control, so the hon. Gentleman should be slightly more careful.
In conclusion, when one is trying to dream up regulations whether for the private rented sector or the owner-occupied sector, one must tread very carefully. On the private rented sector, the Government have taken a very careful and sensitive approach. They have consulted and they have listened, and they are to be congratulated on that approach. However, with respect to the owner-occupied sectorwith home information packs, in particularthey have failed to listen. They may have consultedthey have certainly done so for a whilebut they have not listened to the logical arguments against their proposals. The Barker review suggests that the Government should not go down that route, yet, typically, their thinking does not appear to be joined up. The Government need to think again about home information packs, and I hope that my hon. Friends and other hon. Members, including Labour Back Benchers, will make them do so before we reach Third Reading.
Ms Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): I welcome the Bill, particularly those clauses that will give greater powers to social landlords, including councils, to deal with antisocial behaviour on the part of their tenants. I should like to take this opportunity to raise some issues related to those clauses. I fully support the extension of powers to deal with antisocial behaviour, but for those powers to be effective, it is important that front-line staff, particularly housing officers, who are being asked to take enforcement action feel confident to do so. After all, some tenants have a long history of persistent antisocial behaviour and can react to any enforcement action with threats and abuse against those who are seen to be the instigators of such actionusually other tenants, although housing officers also come in for their fair share of the abuse, so it is important that, at the same time as extending powers to deal with antisocial behaviour, we ensure that there is protection for the staff who have to enforce the legislation.
Of course, existing provisions to deal with antisocial behaviour against staff have been introducedfor example, in the Housing Act 1996 and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Clause 13 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 introduced a new provision that
I have concerns, however, arising from the experience of one of my constituents about the effectiveness of the powers. My constituent is a senior housing officer working for Stockport council. Unusually, she is also a housing association tenant living on a council estate that has a history of antisocial behaviour by some families. The facts are not disputed. In the course of her job last March, she sent a letter to a tenant threatening enforcement action unless the garden was tidied up. Relatives of the tenant to whom she had written discovered where she lived. There then followed a campaign of harassment directed at her 11-year-old daughter, which included nuisance telephone calls that were reported to the police. There is no dispute that the telephone calls were made from the house of the tenant whom my constituent had threatened with enforcement action.
The council offered to start possession proceedings against the tenant, but said that that could be done only with my constituent's co-operation. She felt unable to co-operate because she was concerned that if the family had reacted to a letter about tidying up their garden with harassment and intimidation of her daughter, any further action might put her daughter further at risk. That is an all-too-familiar story from witnesses and victims of harassment.
So, the powers cannot be used to deal with antisocial behaviour in that situation because my constituent feels that further enforcement will place her daughter at risk. The council will not re-house her because it has a policy that does not give its staff special treatment for its services. In that situation, a family is getting away with antisocial behaviour because without re-housing, the housing officer does not feel able to co-operate in using the available powers, which would deal with that family if they were used.
I do not think that it is our intention to put staff in that situation. All of us expect special treatment if our job makes us vulnerable. I would expect, as a Member of Parliament, that if I had concerns about threats from a particular constituent, I would get special treatment from the police. As home owners, we can move if we are concerned about our safety, but a council or housing association tenant cannot. They are dependent on their landlord, and I would suggest that if their landlord is also their employer who is asking them to take enforcement action, that puts them in a very special position.
Stockport council does not agree with me. I am worried that it will be insufficient to ask councils to have policies to deal with antisocial behaviour if they are not also asked to have policies to protect the staff who are asked to enforce those policies. We are asking front-line civilian staff to enforce more and more legislation to tackle antisocial behaviour. Why should they do that if they cannot also rely on our protection? I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister for consideration to be given in Committee to the guidance issued to local authorities on how they draw up their antisocial behaviour policies, especially in circumstances in which a member of staff is also a recipient of a service.
I welcome the clause that will enable caravan dwellers to apply for the disabled facilities grant. I understand that both tenants and home owners may apply for the grant. In Stockport council, as in many councils, council tenants, such as my constituent Mr. Johnson, who apply for showers because they have difficulty getting in or out of the bath have to wait up to three years for them, but private tenants and home owners with the same level of need do not wait at all. The ability of older people to wash and look after themselves is important for their dignity and sense of independence. It is heartbreaking to hear from people who have to wait for months and years for adaptations such as showers because they are council tenants.
It is not open to that council tenant to apply for a disabled facilities grant for a shower because, as such a tenant, he does not receive the application form from the council. The council effectively has two systems for dealing with applications: one for council tenants and one for everyone else. That cannot be right because it has the consequence that council tenants with disabilities are discriminated against. If I am right in thinking that council tenants may apply for the disabled facilities grant, I hope that the Minister will make it clear that it is unacceptable for councils to exclude council tenants from applying for the grant if they wish to do so.