From my experience of the pathfinder area in Brighton and Hove, I do not believe that the local housing allowance will have the beneficial effect on young people that my hon. Friend believes that it will have when it is rolled out across the whole country.
Will she undertake to continue to review the working of the single room rent and the shared room rent as they are rolled out nationally?
Lynne Jones: I do not think that the Ministers proposals will deal with the problem that I identified when I chaired the Birmingham bond schemethat is, landlords reluctance to provide shared accommodation for non-student tenants, whether or not they possess the rent. Landlords are unwilling to provide accommodation for people sharing communal areas, whereas they are willing to provide one-bedroom self-contained accommodation.
Mrs. McGuire: That is an issue for young people irrespective of whether they are on housing benefit or in work and not on housing benefit. The problem is not specific to young people on housing benefitit is a general attitudinal problem of landlords in relation to single under-25s. With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, who has great knowledge in this field, a wee bit of a red herring is being drawn across the debate.
The Governments view is that many single people under the age of 25 and not on benefits live in shared accommodation, regardless of questions about the number of accommodation units that are available. If we accepted the amendments, those who are under 25 and on benefits could be trapped in the benefits system, whereas if we continue with the shared room rent we encourage them to start to think about how they can move into work. There is a disadvantage to getting rid of the separation. We went through all the arguments in Committee and I used a specific example of two young people who share accommodation, one on housing benefit and the other not. One moves out and retains maximum housing benefit while the other, who is in work, is no longer entitled to that benefit. It makes a difference.
Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): My hon. Friend makes an interesting point about the possible disincentive to work that accessibility to benefits provides. What is the difference between someone aged 26 and someone who is under 25 in respect of that factor?
I hope that my right hon. Friend asked the same question when we considered many other aspects of our support system. Someone aged 25 or over who works at least 30 hours a week is entitled to working tax credit. For those aged 25 and over, contribution-based jobseekers allowance has a different rate. That also applies to income support. There is, therefore, consistency. I appreciate that it is sometimes difficult for those who are 24 years and 364
days old to understand why they do not qualify when those aged 25 do, but there must be a dividing line. Depending on ones view of where it should be, one can object to when that age differential occurs. The age limit is consistent for a range of benefits and I believe that the clarity of the rule is important.
In many respects, we have moved away from the principles behind a single room rent to practicalities. The hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) made that point. Let me be clear: the changes that we are making to the current housing benefit rules will make a difference to the way in which the single room calculations are made and to the number of accommodation units that will be brought within the remit of the new system.
In response to the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Danny Alexander), I appreciate that the policy was restrictive when it was first introduced. It meant a shared living room, kitchen and toilet. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (David Lepper) highlighted, the accommodation in the pathfinder areas meant exclusive use of a bedroom and shared use of a kitchen, bathroom, toilet and living room. The new system that we are introducing is a dramatic improvement and means the exclusive use of a bedroomobviouslyand sharing one or more out of a kitchen, bathroom, toilet and living room. We have therefore replaced, and, and, and with or, or, or. That is a significant change.
When the local housing allowance is rolled out nationally, we shall look to define shared room rate accommodation. I believe that that will mean a significant increase in affordable accommodation because we shall use a different calculation system. It will no longer disadvantage young people because we will use the mid-pointthe median. The mathematicians among us will recognise that 50 per cent. of the accommodation will always be available to let at or below the local housing allowance rate.
Mr. Love: Although in theory the median is defined as having 50 per cent. below and 50 per cent. above, one has to take into account the likely difference between the rents that are set by the rent officer service and existing market rents. In the past, the difference between the two has caused difficulties and adversely affected young people in particular. Can my hon. Friend reassure the House that the 50 per cent. figure will be borne out in reality?
Mrs. McGuire: I hope that I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. He is right to say that, under the old system, the calculations used to involve knocking off the highest and lowest amounts. We are now putting in place a system that will involve the calculation of a genuine median across the market. Some of the issues raised by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey will be dealt with by that system. I can give my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton the assurance that 50 per cent. of the accommodation will always be available
I should also like to acknowledge the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney). We are committed to a review after the implementation of the new local housing allowance, and to assessing the impact that all this will have on young people. We shall also look at the way in which the rent officers operate. Many of them work in close consultation with organisations across their various areas, but we need to improve the way in which the system operates. We need to improve its transparency, consistent with commercial confidentiality. I had a meeting recently with my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Kali Mountford) and Niall Holland from the Catholic Housing Aid Society, who were very vocal on this issue. Niall Holland has also met the chief executive of the rent service to allay some of his fears and concerns. We want to ensure that the guidance that we produce will support our wider aim of encouraging mixed and sustainable communities, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has clearly stated that there will be a review over the two years.
I want to give my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton an opportunity to consider his amendment, but first I want briefly to comment on the sanctions period, as I know that it is a matter of concern to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North. We believe that the setting of a period of five years is reasonable. That will come at the end of a long process and, at any point in that process, someone who is the subject of a sanction can have the sanction lifted by improving their behaviour. We are trying to alleviate the pressures in communities where there are tenants engaging in serious antisocial behaviour, while recognising that we must always give people an exit strategy and an opportunity to come back into the system. We will do that faithfully, and I hope that that assurance will allow my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton to consider withdrawing his amendment.
I am sorry that I have had to rush my response to the debate. These are serious issues and, as I said earlier, I know that they cause great concern and anxiety among my colleagues. I ask my hon. Friends in particular to recognise that we are keeping faith with the principle of supporting young people. The whole Bill is about supporting people, and about giving them opportunities that they have not had before. However, on the issues of the age of 25 and of the single room rent, given the changes that we have made, the guidance that we will issue, the support that we will give to local authorities, and the recognition that there are exempt categories, I ask my hon. Friend to withdraw his amendment.
I thank my hon. Friend for the way in which she has responded to the debate. I am disappointed that there has not been more movement towards a recognition of the impact that the single room rate, and now the shared room rate, will have on young people. Indeed, that impact is already being felt in the pathfinder areas. I take the Ministers reassurances, however, that the median will be a genuine one that reflects real rents, and not just the
rents set by the rent officer service. I hope that that is put to the other place when it debates the Bill. On the basis that that will happen, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
( ) The Appropriate Maximum Housing Benefit may not vary according to the age of the claimant.. [Danny Alexander.]
(a) for a purpose mentioned in that subsection (including disclosure to another rent officer in connection with any function he has under section 122 of the Housing Act 1996 relating to housing benefit),
The Bill implements one of the most ambitious reforms of social security in modern times. It reflects an entirely new approach to the benefits system that is underpinned by the concept that each individuals capability should be recognisedinstead of writing people off as incapable. It enshrines the proper balance between rights and responsibilities and it embeds the clear progressive values of opportunity and security [Interruption.]
I would like to take the opportunity to thank the many individuals and organisations that have played an integral part in the development and passage of the Bill. I particularly thank all the members of the Committee and our two Chairmen who presided over the proceedings, all Members who have contributed to todays debate and, of course, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire). I also wish to put on record my appreciation of all DWP Ministers and of my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), who played an important role in the early formulation of the Bill.
I would like to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Ochil and South Perthshire (Gordon Banks) and for Worsley (Barbara Keeley), who also played an important part in our proceedings. In addition, I would like to thank the Bill team and all those in my Department who have worked on the Bill. On behalf of all who served in Committee, I would like to extend our appreciation to the Committee Clerks who assisted us so ably.
I am hugely encouraged by the positive and constructive atmosphere in which the Bill has been considered throughout our proceedings. When we have agreed, it has been welcome; where we have disagreed, it has always been good natured. That is why such a consensus has developed about the important detail of the Bill.