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Lord Monkswell: I thank the Government for that explanation of the background and the current workings of the scheme. I shall read more closely the explanation that has been given. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 7, line 31, after ("provide") insert ("or extend").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to permit the use of grants for the conversion of properties to be used for their extension. Currently conversion grants are used primarily to convert single

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households into houses of multiple occupation, to convert properties comprising bedsits into self-contained flats and to convert properties above shops into flats. As Members of the Committee will be aware, government guidance specifically prohibits the use of conversion grants which results in a reduction in the number of dwellings; for example, by creating a larger dwelling from two smaller ones.

The Bill's wording contains the more specific title of conversion application. It allows for the provision of single dwellings or HMOs but does not allow for the creation of a larger home from other smaller dwellings. My amendment would enable an authority to use grant aid to extend an existing dwelling by the incorporation of an additional adjacent dwelling--making two dwellings into one larger dwelling. I hope that that is understandable to the Committee.

Authorities often find that a large number of small-scale residential units is available in their area but that there is a lack of larger-scale units. The proposed amendment would enable an authority to meet more fully the housing needs in its area. I stress that the number of cases in which this type of assistance would be required is relatively small. Nevertheless, it seems to us to be a useful amendment. I commend it to the Committee.

Lord Swinfen: I support the amendment. It will assist in bringing back into residential use empty properties above rows of shops which are often too small for modern use. The conversion of two into one will make proper and adequate use of them rather than leaving them, as they so often are at the moment, idle and a wasted asset for the nation.

Earl Ferrers: The noble Lord's amendment, as he clearly explained to us, would enable grant to be given for extensions as well as for conversions. The whole purpose of renovation grants is that they should be for the improvement of a dwelling. It seems to me that that may well cover smaller extensions to dwellings. I would regard as a reasonable use of a renovation grant the extension of a house to provide a lavatory or a bathroom where those were not present in the house. But to enable a proper big extension to be grant-aided by this method would be wrong because the purpose of the grants is to renovate buildings which are in a bad state of repair. If you wanted to convert two houses into one you could get a discretionary renovation grant to do it. The main purpose is to ensure that those houses or places of residence which are in bad order should have grant in order to improve their condition. Larger extensions would, on the whole, fall outside the proper purpose of renovation grants which are primarily to secure the repair of existing buildings and not to subsidise the provision of new ones.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am grateful to the noble Earl for his response, although I find it rather disappointing. The objective of any local housing authority is to meet the housing need in its area. As the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, quite rightly pointed out, my amendment would contribute to that objective. There is little likelihood that the power would be used very often.

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Furthermore, the role of grants has evolved over the years. They have been payable to improve, to provide amenities, to make fit for human habitation, to provide facilities for disabled people, to create new dwellings, to deal with defective dwellings and to improve common parts of blocks of flats. All this comes from the same local authority budget. I do not see why the budget should not be used for the very modest purposes which my amendment puts forward. Nevertheless, I shall read carefully what the noble Earl has said. I shall probably come back to the matter at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 agreed to.

Clause 13 [Renovation grants: approval of application]:

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 27:

Page 7, line 44, at end insert--
("( ) A local housing authority shall approve any application for a renovation grant in respect of the following--
(a) properties occupied by a person with a disability;
(b) properties occupied by a person who is receiving services or grants for services from the local welfare authority as part of a care package;
(c) properties occupied by a person whose physical or mental health is affected by disrepair;
(d) properties occupied by a person over pensionable age.").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that renovation grants remain mandatory for certain vulnerable groups in particular need of good housing. There are certain groups of people for whom living in unfit housing is particularly harmful and who will have the most difficulty in arranging and paying for renovation work themselves. The retention of mandatory renovation grants will assist them in maintaining good health and independent living and is thus likely to reduce expenditure on health and social services.

Older people who may be reliant only on the state pension often have low incomes and few savings with which to undertake costly repairs. The English housing condition survey of 1991 found that three-quarters of people on the lowest incomes occupying the worst housing were older people. Older people's ability to remain in control of their lives and maintain independence will be threatened if renovation grants are not available to them.

Good housing conditions are particularly important for those who have health or care needs. Targeting of mandatory grants on people with particular care and health needs will assist in preventing further expenditure on health and social services. Good housing is closely linked to good health. The harmful effects of poor housing on health are well recorded. The National Housing Forum, in the 1994 paper Papering over the cracks, cited research showing that dampness can lead to bronchial and respiratory illnesses; cold housing to hypothermia and increased susceptibility to other illnesses; and that unsafe houses can lead to accident and death. In 1992 the Government's The Health of the Nation strategy

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document said clearly that the home environment had a direct effect on health. It has been estimated that health problems caused by cold and damp housing costs the National Health Service some £800 million. Older people, and people with particular health problems or disabilities, have a need for warm, safe housing in order to maintain good health.

People with disabilities also require their housing to be of good quality in order for them to be able to maintain their independence. Disabled people are normally entitled to mandatory disabled facilities grants to assist with adaptations to their homes. If, however, their homes will be unfit on completion of the works, then the local authority can refuse a disabled facilities grant. Renovation grants to ensure that the property is made fit are thus particularly important to this group.

There are also clear links to be made between good housing and social services. Housing is increasingly being recognised as the cornerstone of community care policy. For some people the provision of decent housing will be a vital part of a social services care package to enable them to remain living in the community. The DoE's study Living Independently in 1994 found that over four-fifths of older people desire to remain in their own homes rather than move into specialist accommodation as they become more vulnerable. Increasingly, government and professionals believe that those in need of community care services should, where possible, have them provided in their own homes. That is only possible where homes are of a good standard. Poor housing increases older people's dependency and crisis situations. Expenditure on renovation grants for older people and those in need of care services can thus, in the long term, lead to savings in expenditure on costly residential care.

At Second Reading the Government suggested that the needs of these people could be met by the new home repair assistance grant if mandatory renovation grants were abolished. That is not a sufficient replacement for two reasons. First, home repairs assistance is a discretionary grant and thus older and disabled people will be reliant on the specific priorities set by local authorities. Older and disabled people in some areas may be unable to access grant assistance due to the local authority deciding to prioritise area-based renewal policies rather than focus on the needs of vulnerable occupiers.

Secondly, the amounts available under home repair assistance are considerably smaller than those under renovation grants. For renovation grants the current limit is £20,000. For home repair assistance it is proposed that the limit be £2,000 for any one application and £4,000 in any three years. For the houses in the worst disrepair, those amounts will not be sufficient. In 1994 the average amount of a mandatory renovation grant payment was over £10,000. Thus, for many people in housing in the worst condition, home repair assistance will not be able to take the place of the mandatory renovation grants for all unfit housing. I beg to move.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Dubs: Yet again I very much welcome the amendment so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord

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Swinfen, and agree wholeheartedly with what he said. People with disabilities may find themselves in a Catch-22 situation where they are eligible for a disabled facilities grant so that their home can have the benefit of aids and adaptations but, if their home is of poor quality and in a bad condition, they may not be given the grant because the home itself is not good enough to justify the aids and adaptations.

That is an undesirable position for vulnerable people to find themselves in. Even if they did not need money for aids and adaptations, it is perfectly clear, as the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said, that they will find their health more adversely affected by a poor home than those who are in other aspects fit and well. So we are compounding the difficulties for vulnerable groups of people as specified in the amendment. If the amendment, or something like it, is not incorporated in the Bill, we shall find some very tough and hard cases of people who are obviously in need of help to improve their homes but who simply will not find that help forthcoming. I hope that the Government will find some way of accepting either the details of the amendment or the spirit of it in order to incorporate it in the legislation.

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