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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 12 December 2007


Free Cash Machines

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Kitty Ussher): Following the March 2005 Treasury Committee report on ATM (Automatic Teller Machine) charging, the Treasury invited the Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, the right hon. John McFall, to chair a working group on ATMs to take forward work on key issues. The working group, which included banks, independent ATM operators and consumer groups, published its report on 13 December 2006.

The working group announced an agreement to provide around 600 new free cash machines across 1,707 target low-income areas that it identified as lacking convenient access to these machines. To achieve this, a market-based financial incentive—known as a “financial inclusion premium”—was introduced, to encourage ATM operators to place or retain free ATMs in deprived areas with a low expected volume of transactions. The working group also agreed to implement improved transparency rules for charging cash machines.

The Government are pleased to report that, almost a year on from the publication of the working group’s report, the industry has made excellent progress towards its goals of placing around 600 non-charging machines in low-income areas across the UK, with more than 2 million individuals on low incomes standing to benefit.

As of 23 November 2007, sites for 543 of the 600 new ATMs required have been identified. Of these, 337 new free machines are already in use, with 63 per cent. of these ATMs based in deprived areas and receiving the “financial inclusion premium”. Encouragingly, five of these new cash machines have proved so popular that their level of withdrawals means that they have now graduated from the “financial inclusion premium” scheme.

Banks, building societies and independent ATM operators have all contributed new free-to-use cash machines; independent ATM operators have provided or are in the process of supplying around 40 per cent. of the confirmed new non-charging ATMs. The UK ATM network, Link, is continuing to work with its member banks and ATM operators to identify suitable sites in the remaining target areas, and is engaging closely in this exercise with Members of Parliament, local authorities, consumer councils and landlords.

The benefits in terms of financial inclusion are clear. Data from Link suggest that the new ATMs currently in operation or under contract will enable 1,190,474
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residents in the target low-income areas to access cash more conveniently and manage their money more effectively.

In terms of improved transparency, all operators of cash machines that charge users for withdrawals have met the end of June 2007 deadline to improve the on-screen standards of “at a glance” signage. This means that it is clear to a consumer when a charge is applied when withdrawing cash. Good progress is also being made by operators to enhance external signage by the end of December 2007.

The Government are encouraged by the substantial progress achieved, and would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those involved in extending free access to cash to those who need it most.

Full details about progress made is available on the Link internet website: http://www.link.co.uk/atm/access_to_cash_progress/index.html

Communities and Local Government

Housing Revenue Account

The Minister for Housing (Yvette Cooper): I am today announcing a review of the Housing Revenue Account subsidy system to be led jointly by officials in my Department and in HM Treasury, reporting to Ministers in both Departments.

In the housing Green Paper, “Homes for the future: more affordable, more sustainable” published in July, we said that we wanted to examine the case for change to the redistributive Housing Revenue Account subsidy system. The purpose of the review is to ensure that we have a sustainable, long-term system for financing council housing and that this system is consistent with wider housing policy, including the establishment of a regulator of social housing.

This system should be fair to both tenants and taxpayers. It should be transparent, giving a clear and accurate picture of the balance of support from local and central Government. It should enable delivery of agreed standards of service and accommodation. It should recognise that social rents should help tenants gain and retain work, whilst acknowledging the need for landlords to improve the quality and efficiency of services. And it should be affordable and not expose Government to unacceptable fiscal risks.

The review will build on the work of the pilots we have conducted with six local authorities which looked at the costs and benefits of councils operating outside the Housing Revenue Account subsidy system. It will consider evidence about the need to spend on management, maintenance and repairs. It will consider rent policy, including the relationship between council rents and rents set by other social housing providers. It will also consider how the self-financing model developed in the pilot exercise would fit with the aims of the review and, if it is consistent with these, how it could be implemented. And it will consider whether the rules which govern the operation of the HRA need to be changed in order to fit with a new system of financing.

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The review will make its final report in Spring 2009, setting out a way forward for the subsidy system, rents policy across all social housing, and spending needs for council housing. It will be followed by a period of consultation. This will enable its findings to be considered in the next spending review. It will also be asked to provide earlier advice in 2008 to inform decisions about council rents and subsidy determinations in the remaining two years of the current spending period.

The report will also support our aim of a single regulator for social housing across all providers by developing a policy framework of rents and standards for the regulator of social housing. This output will also be delivered in 2008.

The review team will establish its own detailed working methods. This will however include opportunities for practitioners and stakeholders to put forward their views.

Social and Affordable Housing

The Minister for Housing (Yvette Cooper): This Government are strongly committed to ensuring that social housing meets the needs of all tenants. The John Hills review found that while investment in social housing had delivered real improvements, tenants living in social housing still faced significant social and economic challenges. As part of the work to improve social housing we are setting out a series of further steps in five key areas. These are part of an ongoing programme of work to improve social housing and make it fairer, more effective, and more personal.

Increasing Supply and Investment in Bricks and Mortar

Our first priority, as set out in the Green Paper, is to increase the supply of housing. By 2010, we will be building 70,000 social homes a year. To increase the supply of social housing over the next three years, we are today confirming allocations totalling £8.4 billion to be shared across the regions. We will be allocating £8.4 billion across the regions over the next three years. Every single region is getting at least a 5 per cent. increase every year over the next three years—with areas of greatest need receiving far more than that. The Housing Corporation and later the Homes and Communities Agency will be tasked with spending this money most effectively.

We will also be investing £2.4 billion in the ALMO programme over the next three years. We expect that this will bring a further 150,000 homes up to standard. A further four ALMOs are joining the programme today, from Charnwood, North-East Derbyshire, Stevenage and Redbridge. A further £200 million will support ALMOs already on the programme which have yet to pass their inspections. We are continuing to assess the remaining round 6 funding bids and will allocate further programme places to ALMOs as individual funding allocations are finalised.

We will also be writing to all stock owning authorities announcing the 2008 Housing Transfer Programme. This will enable local authorities and their tenants, if they wish, the opportunity to transfer ownership of their stock to a housing association to bring in private sector funding needed for further improvements in housing, to build on the decent homes investment that has taken place, and for estate transformation schemes.

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Finally, almost £2 billion from the regional housing pot will fund improvements to local authority owned and private sector stock.

Modernising Institutional Structures

The Housing and Regeneration Bill is creating a new regulatory framework, responding directly to Martin Cave’s recommendation that tenants should have a greater say over where they live and how their homes are managed.

This new framework will reward performance and innovation, giving greater freedom to good housing associations. The new regulator will have a range of powers to intervene where tenants’ needs are not being met.

Initially, the regulator will only have the power to regulate registered social landlords. But in response to demand across the sector, we are committed to extending this new framework to local authorities as rapidly as possible. So I have asked Professor Ian Cole of Sheffield University to work with all key stakeholders in establishing the detail of how this will work in practice, and align with the new performance framework for local government.

We will also be conducting a review of the Housing Revenue Account Subsidy (HRAS) system. I have provided a separate written statement to the House on this review.

Improving Housing Services, Mobility and Choice

We know that the most successful local authorities offer their tenants not only a housing service, but housing options—a service which is more responsive to individual need and to changes in individual circumstances. We also know that the system is not meeting the needs of too many groups at the moment—often due to a lack of mobility in the system. So I am setting out a package of measures to promote greater mobility for social housing tenants.

We will be investing £1.8 million that will deliver 18 new choice-based lettings schemes offering people the chance to move across different local authorities. A further £2 million investment in the next two years will enable all local authorities to be part of such a scheme by 2010.

We know that a major consequence of this lack of mobility is overcrowding—a problem that blights the lives of thousands of families. As set out in the Children’s Plan yesterday, we are committed to updating the standard by which we assess overcrowding. And we are today publishing an action plan to achieve that ambition, which has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Initial funding of £15 million will tackle severe overcrowding across 38 pathfinders including all London boroughs and five other hotspots (Birmingham, Bradford, Leicester, Liverpool and Manchester). We estimate that these local authorities cover more than half of overcrowded households in the country. This work will help identify costs and the time needed before we roll this approach out across the country.

Elderly people too are often affected by the lack of mobility, if they want to move closer to their families or to smaller homes. So we will consult on changing the reasonable preference criteria to benefit older people who want to downsize.

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Finally, there will be an independent, comprehensive review of the private rented sector and we will set out further details in the new year.

Improving Social Mobility with Greater Opportunities to Work and to Own

Social housing in the 21st century needs to offer people much greater opportunity to progress. As John Hills identified, many social housing estates have high levels of worklessness.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions have already announced a £1.5 billion programme targeted at areas with high levels of deprivation and worklessness. We will be working to ensure that social landlords and tenants are closely involved in tackling this.

A programme run with the Department for Work and Pensions will sponsor five areas over the next three years to develop a new approach to promote wide-ranging advice on housing options alongside employment and training advice.

We also want to make sure that we offer greater choice to tenants in social housing—not just about where they live, but with options to move into other types of tenure. More social tenants should have the opportunity to progress into homeownership. We have been running a pilot scheme known as social homebuy to offer those who cannot buy outright a stepping stone onto the property ladder. We will be continuing the pilots. Many tenants have been put off by the costs of taking on full maintenance, and so we will work with social landlords to develop options for shared maintenance costs before assessing the next steps to promote wider access to shared ownership among social tenants.

Supporting Mixed Income Communities

Finally, John Hills found that single tenure estates in deprived areas were particularly associated with social problems and high levels of tenant dissatisfaction. We want to promote the development of mixed and stable communities, characterised by a mix of tenures.

We want the Homes and Communities Agency to look further once it is established at how to promote mixed income communities in existing areas. We will also set out a Communities Fund. The fund will work with local communities on how to develop greater mix of tenures. Details of how this programme will work will be announced in the new year.


Strategic Framework for Funding and Investment

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Ivan Lewis): Today the Department is to launch a consultation on proposals for a strategic framework for funding and investment support to third sector organisations. The document has been placed in the Library and copies are available for hon. Members in the Vote Office.

The purpose of the review, informed through the consultation process, is to develop a framework for strategic investment in the sector by the Department
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and transform the current, rather piecemeal, arrangements for funding the sector into a strategic portfolio of investments that will more explicitly support the delivery of the Department’s objectives and priorities for health and social care. This consultation document sets out the vision of a more strategic approach to the Department’s investment in the sector, that reinforces the sector’s value in a way that reflects the Department’s role in creating the conditions for innovation and improvement in service delivery across health and social care.

The consultation proposals are set in a coherent framework with four key objectives to:

The consultation process will help to further the Government’s aim of supporting the development of a strong and sustainable third sector, and will have the benefit of not only promoting and supporting the third sector’s role in delivery of the health and social care agenda more effectively, but also promoting strong and sustainable communities through both community involvement and volunteering.

The consultation will run until 20 March 2008 with a view to the Department setting out proposals, based on the responses we receive to the consultation, in a document to be published summer 2008.

Home Department

Control Order Powers (11 September 2007 to 10 December 2007)

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Tony McNulty): Section 14(1) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (the 2005 Act) requires the Home Secretary to report to Parliament as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of every relevant three-month period on the exercise of the control order powers during that period.

The level of information provided will always be subject to slight variations based on operational advice.

Control orders continue to be an essential tool to protect the public from terrorism, particularly where it is not possible to prosecute individuals for terrorist-related activity and, in the case of foreign nationals, where they cannot be removed from the UK.

During the period 11 September 2007 to 10 December 2007, there were no new control orders and no control orders have been revoked, or renewed, or expired.

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