Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Monkswell: I wonder whether I could query the Minister's response to the first amendment in this group, tabled by my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel. I must apologise to the Committee. I should declare an interest as someone who has submitted an application for a home improvement grant. I should have registered that interest on the Floor of the Chamber at the beginning of this Committee stage.

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1653

Perhaps I may return to the Minister's comments on Amendment No. 52. He suggested that the reason for not including mortgage interest payments in the means assessment is that it would encourage people to over-extend themselves or take out a large mortgage on a property and then obtain benefit from a home improvement grant.

Perhaps we can consider two cases. The first is where a person may not have a large amount of capital and therefore has to take out a mortgage to buy a property. The second is where a person has sufficient capital not to require a mortgage. Those two people have the same income. Effectively what the Government are saying is that the home improvement grant will be granted to the person with the greatest capital and least mortgage and not to the person with the high mortgage and less capital. Is that what the Government wish to see?

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am grateful to my noble friend for pointing out certain discrepancies in the Government's position. The wording of the items to be deducted in Amendment No. 52 is taken from the Education (Mandatory Awards) Regulations 1994 regarding the assessment of parental contributions towards a student grant. The amendment would therefore align the means test for housing grants with that for education grants. The amendment would also align the housing grant means test with income support regulations which still recognise that on a long-term basis mortgage interest payments are part of a household's essential expenditure. If those are regarded as part of essential expenditure in education (student grants) and income support, why not in the Bill?

Lord Lucas: In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, my understanding is that we take full account of capital in terms of the interest obtained upon it. However, I am conscious that the questions that he and the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, asked take me beyond my brief in terms of the intricacies of this and other related means tests. If noble Lords will allow, I should prefer to reply to them in detail after this debate rather than further to take up the Committee's time by running backwards and forwards to try to find the right answer to satisfy a perspicacious and knowledgeable team opposite.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his response, as always. Perhaps he will look at the matter in the light of what I have said and the expert evidence which I have in front of me. I look forward to government amendments, perhaps on Report, or, if necessary, a letter. I always like receiving letters from the noble Lord. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 53:

Page 20, line 7, at end insert--
("( ) In the case of an application for a disabled facilities grant regulations must, in particular--

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1654

(a) make provision for account to be taken only of the income and assets of the disabled occupant himself and his parents if he is living with them and he is under 18; and
(b) make provision for account to be taken of the needs and outgoings of the disabled occupant himself and any person who is dependent on him, including the additional costs incurred because of having a disability.").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that local authorities take into account only the income of the disabled occupant and his parents if he is under 18 and living with them when considering a disabled facilities grant. It is also intended to ensure that local authorities take into account the needs and outgoings of the disabled occupant and any person who is dependent on him.

Disabled facilities grants are intended to benefit disabled people and to facilitate their use of their home, allowing them to live as independently as possible. In many cases, that reduces the need for personal assistance and reduces the cost of care. Works carried out on the home for the disabled occupant are not for the benefit of other members of the disabled person's household. The legislation states that the relevant works are necessary and appropriate to meet the needs of the disabled occupant. The requirement that the income of other non-disabled people living in the same home should be taken into account when assessing eligibility for the grant is unjust. It implies that the other non-disabled people living in the same home should contribute from their income to the cost of the works when those works are not for their benefit.

The original consultation document, issued in July last year by the Department of the Environment and entitled The Future of Private Housing Renewals Programmes, suggested a change to the means tests. It stated that as regards the mandatory disabled facilities grants only the means of the disabled applicant (and parents in the case of those under 18) will be taken into account and that the means of spouses and partners will be taken into account. That is clearly different from proposals in the Bill which allow for regulations to take account of the income of the disabled occupant's spouse, any person living with him or intending to live with him and any person on whom he is dependent or who is dependent on him.

The current proposals could lead to the income of anyone living in the household being taken into account, including lodgers, friends, relatives and parents of disabled adults or children who have an income. Clearly, that is against the intention of the consultation paper. I understand that recently RADAR was contacted by a family in which the adult son had become a wheelchair user following an accident. He had moved in with his parents as he could not live independently but their home required adapting. His father's income was taken into account for the means test and, because the contribution was high, the family could not afford the adaptations and they were unlikely to be undertaken.

To include a requirement of financial responsibility of partners, parents or others living in the home is unjust and discriminatory. It places an unequal financial responsibility by virtue of relationship to, or simply living under the same roof as, a disabled person. It is

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1655

important that only the income of the disabled person is included in any grant calculations and that remit of the regulations is limited in the legislation. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs: The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, has argued the case most cogently. The test is: who benefits from the adaptations which might be carried out? If the sole beneficiary is the disabled person, as is almost certainly the case in the instances mentioned, it is not right that the income of other persons in the household should be taken into account. The changes are being made only to help one person; that is the disabled person.

The amendment is also intended to ensure that all the needs and outgoings of the disabled occupant and of any person dependent on him are taken into account in making the assessment as regards the costs which must be incurred. The amendment is sensible and modest and I fully support it.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Lucas: I have sympathy with the intention of the first part of my noble friend's amendment. As I stated, we have announced proposals for relaxing the means test for mandatory grant and shall therefore give consideration to the detailed operation of the means test when we come to prepare the regulations later in the year.

As regards the second part of the amendment, I do not believe that we should restrict the regulations in the way proposed. The amendment provides that a disabled person's outgoings shall be taken into account in addition to his needs. However, the amount of the person's outgoings is to some extent a matter of personal choice. As such, we see no case for those amounts to feature in the means test. However, the means test does not ignore the fact that there are demands on a person's income. Therefore, we propose to continue to provide in the regulations for the award of various personal allowances and premiums. Those are made in recognition of the demands on household income and also take into account the fact that a person is disabled. I hope that with those assurances my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Swinfen: I am not entirely reassured by my noble friend's answer. However, I shall read carefully what he said and reserve the right to come back at the next stage of the Bill.

As regards outgoings, often disabled people have considerable expenses which are incurred purely because of their disability. My noble friend shrugs his shoulders. If he is to take part in the Bill dealing with disability he ought to learn a little about it. Considerable costs are often incurred as a result of disability; for instance, additional costs of transport, special clothing, heating and sometimes lighting. There are all kinds of items. I am sure that my noble friend did not mean to denigrate what I was saying in respect of additional costs for disabled people. He shakes his head and I take that as reassurance. However, those costs must be properly considered.

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1656

I do not intend to press the amendment tonight but I wish to consider what my noble friend said and his reaction to what I said. I may come back at a later stage--

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page