Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Lucas: I shall certainly take the noble Lord's point on board. However, I have it on the best authority--indeed, the written words in front of me--that what I have said is right. Children are included: all

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1630

children, not just disabled children. We shall make clear that our interpretation of the wording is right in guidance to local authorities.

Baroness Hamwee: Before the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, responds, I should like to express my support for a review of Clause 24(1)(d). If one takes the logic of the concern, it would be sufficient to provide a lavatory or a bath or a shower or a wash handbasin. That is clearly not what is intended. I believe that reconsideration of that part of the clause would be helpful.

Lord Monkswell: Perhaps I may press the Minister on Amendment No. 40 which speaks of improvements to lighting systems which are necessary for disabled people. The noble Lord said that local authorities would have discretion to provide the financial provision for such facilities. I wonder whether that is really satisfactory, bearing in mind the fact that we have talked about the provisions for disabled people in other areas to enable them, for example, to carry on their normal life. Indeed, we actually say, "Yes, they should have a mandatory grant".

Adequate lighting is essential to enable partially-sighted disabled people to carry on their normal life. I should have thought that that provision came into the mandatory category rather than discretionary. I appreciate that the Minister may not be able to reply immediately; perhaps he will take the matter on board and try to find a way of ensuring that such essential requirements are met on a mandatory basis.

Lord Lucas: I and my colleagues will read the noble Lord's remarks in Hansard. However, I hold to what I said. At present we consider that this is something which should be discretionary rather than mandatory.

Lord Swinfen: I should like, first, to thank all Members of the Committee who have contributed to this short debate. My noble friend says that he will look again at the subject of Amendment No. 37. Despite what my noble friend said, I still feel the drafting of the Bill to be extremely bad and misleading. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said--and as I read the Bill--the wording means that you can have a bath or a shower or a lavatory or a wash handbasin. It seems to me that we are going back to early Victorian days. I believe that we have moved further on in that respect. The wording should be redrafted and made clear.

I take the point that sound and lighting may need special detailing for some people. I hope that my noble friend will also reconsider that aspect. Amendment No. 41 deals with the care of children. Children are most important to society. Parents should therefore have the opportunity to bring them up properly under close supervision for their own well-being and, indeed, for the parents' peace of mind. I believe that that provision should be written into the Bill. I hope that my noble friend will consider the matter again.

I refer to gardens. Some 15 years or so ago, when working as an estate agent as part of my career as a surveyor, I looked at what were then brand new houses.

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1631

The only way to take a barrow-load of dung to the garden at the back of the house was by wheeling it all the way through the house. If he had steps from the back of the house down into the garden, even if he had a level access at the front a disabled occupant would be stuck in the house, and would not be able to enjoy the garden in any way. There should be proper provision from the house to all parts of the hereditament.

Like my noble friend, I shall consider again the group of amendments between now and the next stage. However, I reserve the right to come back on the amendments if I believe it necessary. If my noble friend is talking to me on other subjects, perhaps we may talk on this group too. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 38 to 42 not moved.]

Clause 24 agreed to.

Clause 25 [Disabled facilities grants: approval of application]:

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 43:

Page 15, leave out lines 3 to 5 and insert--
("(3A) In considering whether the relevant works are necessary and appropriate to meet the needs of the disabled occupant, the local housing authority shall--
(a) co-operate with the relevant social services authority; or
(b) seek written confirmation from a general practitioner or other suitably qualified professional.
(3B) The authority mentioned in subsection (3A)(a) shall co-operate in rendering such assistance as is reasonable in the circumstances.").

The noble Lord said: I am speaking so frequently, I feel that I should apologise to the Committee for boring it stiff.

Noble Lords: No!

Lord Swinfen: The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that consultation with the welfare authority is ongoing and meaningful and to validate recommendations from professionals other than occupational therapists for disabled facilities grant applications. The amendment is supported by a large number of organisations of and for disabled people and of and for elderly people.

As currently worded in the Bill, the consultation with the welfare authority may be tokenistic and may occur late in the process, leading to an inaccurate assessment being made. This amendment brings the duty to co-operate into line with Clause 164 of the Housing Bill and will ensure that the welfare authority complies with requests for assistance in assessments of disabled facilities grant applications.

Under the Housing Corporation aids and adaptations scheme, grant applications must be supported by,

    "written confirmation from the appropriate Social Services Authority, a general practitioner or other suitably qualified professional where necessary and appropriate to the needs of the individual concerned".
The corporation acknowledges that the expertise of some professionals other than occupational therapists qualifies them to make informed recommendations on

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1632

aids and adaptations. These professionals have up-to-date information on developments and innovations in their fields and have insight into the specific needs of their client groups.

In many authorities, the demands on occupational therapists are so great that disabled people may have to wait a considerable time before their assessment is carried out. Some people can wait for as long as two and a half years. This goes against the aims of the Government's own community care policies to encourage, empower and enable people to live independently.

Accepting professionals from other professions will ease the backlog for occupational therapists and assist the Government in pursuing a more efficient system which supports and reinforces the concept of independent living for disabled people. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs: On an earlier amendment, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, stated that "entertain" meant "consult". Here we have the use of the word "consult" in the Bill. The amendment suggests a rather better and more thorough approach to liaison between social services departments and others with the local housing authority. I believe that that is appropriate.

As drafted, the Bill states,

    "shall consult the welfare authority".
That is a rather limp way of saying that there should be proper co-operation between various bodies in order to ensure that the right decisions are made about the needs for the disabled person.

I believe that the amendment improves the drafting of the Bill quite significantly, and adds a little force to what is fairly limp phrasing.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): I support the amendments. As we have heard, in many cases there is a great shortage of occupational therapists, as the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said. In many cases the disabled facilities grant is for relatively small items such as handrails for steps or bathrooms. Even then the waiting list for assessment is something like two years. A GP would be very capable of assessing whether the person required those adaptations. This would mean that there would be less time to wait for an assessment, and, by reducing the numbers on the OT waiting lists, it would speed up the process for those who really need a full OT assessment.

Apparently many local authorities are now using OT assistants to undertake assessments for aids and adaptations. Surely other qualified professionals or specialised officers from the relevant disability organisations, such as those referred to by the noble Lord, would be equally suitable as an OT assistant to undertake an assessment.

I hope that the Minister will be able to reply positively. It is quite ridiculous to wait two years for assessment for handrails. Not only is it bad psychologically to lose one's independence, but one

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1633

may deteriorate physically and not regain one's independence if one has to wait two years for the wherewithal to manage on one's own.

Lord Lucas: The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said that my noble friend Lord Ferrers stated that "entertain" meant "consult". I do not believe that he did. I believe he said that "not entertaining" meant "not allowing over the threshold". I am always happy to entertain, consult or allow over the threshold the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and my noble friend Lord Swinfen, but we do not wish to entertain this amendment.

I share my noble friend's concern that it is important that local housing and welfare authorities work closely together in providing for the adaptation needs of disabled people seeking help through disabled facilities grants (DFG). However, I believe that the current provisions already provide for the necessary co-operation and collaboration between the respective authorities, which my noble friend's amendment seeks to achieve.

His amendment would require the housing authority to obtain written confirmation on these matters from either a GP or a qualified professional. I believe that these are matters which welfare authorities already take into account in carrying out their statutory duties to advise the local housing authority on whether proposed adaptations are necessary and appropriate.

It is normally the occupational therapist, as the qualified professional, who provides this assessment having regard to any further care needs the disabled occupant may require.

Under these current arrangements, where a welfare authority has been consulted by the housing authority, it may need to consult others before meeting its responsibility to provide that assessment. This may involve discussions with the applicant's GP, health authority staff and others who are involved in the care and support of the applicant, including agencies, voluntary bodies and anyone else providing care for the applicant such as family members.

The proposed amendment would also require social services departments to co-operate in providing such assistance as is reasonable in the circumstances. Those authorities already have continuing duties under Section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 to provide assistance to disabled people in their area in arranging for adaptation works to be carried out or other facilities required to secure his greater safety, comfort or convenience. Such assistance may involve liaison with the housing authority to see whether an applicant for disabled facilities grants needs further help in meeting his share of the cost of adaptations.

A question was raised on the shortage of OTs. The department is participating in an interdepartmental working group. Its terms of reference are to look at improving the effectiveness of OT service. We believe that that is a better approach to the problem. We feel that my noble friend's amendment is unnecessary and I hope that he will withdraw it.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page