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Mr. Clifton-Brown: I shall take one minute to make a few key points and to enable the Minister to reply to the important points that have been made.

First, access to information is critical. One of the key aspects is that, if it is possible for unauthorised people to access the information, the home information packs could become a burglars' charter. I hope that the Minister will reassure us that hackers will not be able to access the information if it is stored electronically. Given the record of such systems, I do not know how he can do that.

Secondly and most importantly, many inspectors will be needed. Inevitably, some of those inspectors will be trained at very short notice and mistakes will therefore be made. It is important that an adequate insurance scheme is in place. People must also have the ability to sue on the reports if they prove to be incorrect. I hope that the Minister can tell us whether that will be the case, because otherwise the reports will have zero value.

Keith Hill: I shall take the issues raised in reverse order. The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) asked about insurance against error in the reports. I may say that an indemnity scheme has always been part and parcel of the proposition. The indemnity scheme will apply to home inspectors as it already does to conveyancers, and we think that it is a good idea to extend it to estate agents, through the estate agents redress scheme, which has been approved by the other place and has received a general welcome for both particular and general reasons. The monitoring of home condition reports will also allow judgments to be made about the performance of individual inspectors.

The hon. Gentleman raised the hoary old issue of access to information and the burglars' charter. We have gone over that matter on many occasions, but I shall reiterate—given that the allegation always seems to creep into adverse media coverage—that the home condition reports will contain no plans of the property, no information about security devices or alarms and no information about safes. We do not believe that the reports will remotely begin to add up to what he described as a burglars' charter.

The hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) raised several points and I am grateful for his qualified support. He asked about the operation of the electronic system and whether someone could hack into its numeration arrangements. That is a valid issue. We need to get the details right, and that is why we would do a great deal of work with all the relevant partners to ensure that that could not happen.

The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) raised several issues. He asked whether lenders will be able to look at individual reports, and the answer is yes. They will have the advantage of looking at the entirety of the property, which is not always the case in the present system. He asked whether the register would be open to other inspectors and would they have access to all home
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condition reports on the register. Again the answer is yes. He also asked whether there will be regional or local registers, and the answer is yes. I hope that I have been able to reassure him on the points that he raised.

Lords amendment disagreed to.

Government amendments (a) to (d) in lieu of Lords amendment No. 140 agreed to.

New Clause

Decent Homes Standard for Social Housing

Lords amendment: No. 190.

Keith Hill: I beg to move, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Yes, it is me again. The new clause proposed by the amendment would require the Secretary of State to ensure that, by 2016, all existing social housing stock should, as far as is reasonably practicable, achieve a SAP rating—an energy rating under the standard assessment procedure—of no lower than 65, which would amount to a change in the decent homes standard. I refer to that point because material circulated among Members recognises that the decent homes standard is the Government's vehicle for the delivery of heating and thermal comfort.

I remind Members that the decent homes standard aims to tackle the worst problems. It triggers action; it is not a standard to which work is done. I also remind Members, as I have on earlier occasions, that when the Govt took office in 1997 no fewer than 2.2 million social homes were non-decent and there was a £19 billion backlog of work. The work we have done, and are continuing to do, tackles a range of problems that affect housing—leaking roofs and mould and damp in kitchens and bathrooms that have not been touched since the homes were built, which in some cases was the 1930s. Our work is having a huge impact on the lives of some of the most vulnerable members of society who have lived, or who currently live, in non-decent homes. I said "have lived" because, since 1997, we have reduced by 1 million the number of homes below the decent homes standard—a fact that we celebrate and rejoice in on the Labour Benches.

The decent homes programme is helping to rejuvenate some of our most deprived communities and is contributing towards improving public health and the well-being of tenants. By tackling poor housing, we are facing head-on a problem that is rife in the most disadvantaged communities and that affects the most disadvantaged groups. By making homes decent, in many cases alongside wider regeneration work, we are making whole areas more attractive places in which to live.

I should like to quote some of the tenants whose lives have been changed as a result of the decent homes programme, such as a tenant on a Walsall estate—not in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick), who is in the Chamber, but in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George)—who said:

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In Redcar, some tenants were "over the moon", and a resident in Kensington and Chelsea, visited by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister in May, said:

Amendment No. 190 picks up on one aspect of the decent homes programme—improving the thermal efficiency of homes and, in doing so, contributing to reducing fuel poverty and thereby increasing energy efficiency. We take seriously our responsibilities for alleviating fuel poverty. However, I remind the House that the decent homes programme has four elements: meeting the current statutory minimum standard for housing; achieving a reasonable state of repair; ensuring reasonably modern facilities and services; and providing a reasonable degree of thermal comfort. The programme therefore aims to tackle a wide range of problems and to prioritise the worst homes, of which there remain 1.4 million; including a SAP rating of 65 would add a further 1.7 million households, of which, as I shall demonstrate, only 120,000 would be fuel-poor.

We cannot seek a policy of perfection in regard to one of the four elements of the decent homes standard—thermal comfort—and disregard our obligations to tenants to make more basic improvements. For those people who live in non-decent homes, works such as mending a leaking roof, replacing rotten windows and tackling unsafe electrics matter more than focusing purely on energy efficiency.

Before I continue, it would be useful to explain to the House what fuel poverty is and how many people it affects. Fuel poverty occurs where those in a household spend more than 10 per cent. of their income on heating their home to an adequate standard of warmth. That is generally defined as 21° C in the living room and 18° C in the other occupied rooms. Fuel poverty affects 350,000 social sector households in England. Of course, the Lords amendment applies to the social sector. About 120,000 of those households meet the decent homes standard and about 230,000 households are currently non-decent homes.

We expect that the work done to those 230,000 social homes under the decent homes programme will bring most of those households out of fuel poverty. The work done by authorities is expected to raise the thermal efficiency of those homes well above the minimum that triggers action. The guidance that we have issued recommends that, when loft insulation is fitted, authorities should take the opportunity to improve energy efficiency and install it to a much greater depth than the 50 mm that triggers action and that, when new heating is installed or systems replaced, landlords should install energy efficient boilers where possible. Energy efficient boilers have a SEDBUK—seasonal efficiency of domestic boilers in the UK—A to C rating. We also recommend that landlords take advantage of DEFRA and DTI sponsored programmes that require suppliers of gas and electricity to achieve energy efficiency targets by helping landlords to take up energy efficiency measures.

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