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Lord Dubs: My Lords, I support this amendment, which the noble Lord explained in detail. It is important. At one level it describes what ought to be good practice on the part of a local housing authority. In so far as local housing authorities are sensitive to the needs of disabled people, I am sure many of them will behave in the way suggested by the amendment. However, they do not all do that. It would be proper to have on the face of the Bill an obligation on local housing authorities to consult in such instances with social services authorities or general practitioners where that is appropriate and where occupational therapy assessments are not forthcoming or not forthcoming quickly. It is a very reasonable amendment. It would help local authorities to move rapidly to good practice where they are not already doing so.

Baroness Warnock: My Lords, I support this amendment very strongly. Anything that eliminates undue delay or makes the waiting time shorter is a very important and serious addition to the Bill. I very much hope that the Minister will give consideration to this proposal. Twenty months may be the entire length of life that the person in question has, and very often 20 months is the minimum for getting an occupational therapist assessment.

Lady Darcy (de Knayth): My Lords, I, too, support this amendment. I believe the wording is drawn directly from the guidelines for housing associations, which have this flexibility. RADAR gave an example of someone who needed handrails up to the house. As the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, explained, that can take up to two years. Because it was a simple request for a handrail, all that was needed was a letter from a GP confirming it, and it was installed the following week. Obviously, if a disabled person needs a full OT assessment, or his or her needs are complicated, the housing association will ask for an OT to do the assessment. It is very valuable to have such guidelines. They offer flexibility: you can have simple confirmation of need in such instances, which speeds things up enormously. I support it.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Swinfen has again moved an amendment requiring housing

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authorities to co-operate with social services in deciding the adaptation needs of the disabled occupant and also to seek written confirmation from either a GP or other qualified professional.

We explained in Committee why we considered his amendment unnecessary and why we believe that the collaboration which the amendment seeks to achieve already happens in practice. The process of providing help with adaptations through disabled facilities grants must, of course, be conducted with full co-operation and collaboration between the respective authorities. But I believe responsibility for advising on the particular needs of disabled applicants is a matter entirely for the social services authority.

In Committee my noble friend Lord Swinfen explained that the purpose of his amendment was to bring the duty of social services authorities to co-operate into line with Clause 164 of the Housing Bill. I agree entirely with him that it is essential that those authorities co-operate fully in the disabled facilities grant process.

However, social services already have statutory duties under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 to provide assistance in arranging home adaptations to secure greater safety, comfort or convenience. I understand they use these powers widely in considering with their colleagues in housing authorities what should be provided to meet the adaptation needs of disabled people.

Since the grant system was introduced in July 1990, housing and social services authorities have built up locally efficient systems and procedures for the day-to-day operation of disabled facilities grants to ensure the effective delivery of help in meeting the adaptation needs of disabled people.

The duty we have placed on housing authorities to consult social services authorities relates solely to consultation with that authority. I believe that is right. With respect to my noble friend Lord Swinfen I believe it is the social services authority and not the housing authority that is best placed to decide in each case who should be involved in the assessment. In most cases it is carried out by the occupational therapist, who may be employed by social services or the health service.

However, social services may decide that others need to be involved in the process, depending on the person's circumstances. This may involve discussion with a GP who has specialist knowledge of the applicant, voluntary groups of carers who have day-to-day contact with the disabled occupant and are therefore well placed to provide views on what adaptations are needed.

As I have said, my noble friend's amendment would place the burden of taking these decisions on the housing authority when such matters should clearly be left to social services authorities in carrying out their statutory duty to provide advice to housing authorities on these matters.

Both my noble friend Lord Swinfen and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), drew attention to the current shortage of occupational therapists which has caused delays in obtaining assessments. The noble Baroness said that, for relatively small items, a general practitioner would be perfectly capable of carrying out

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the assessment without the need to wait for an occupational therapist. My noble friend Lord Swinfen echoed that argument at this stage of the Bill.

I fully understand that concern but hope that noble Lords will be reassured to hear that there is nothing to prevent such an arrangement being applied under the present arrangements, if the social services authority considers that to be the appropriate course of action. Authorities, therefore, are already able to decide for themselves who should be involved in particular cases, and I am not sure that the amendment of my noble friend Lord Swinfen would enable authorities to do anything that they cannot or do not already do.

The last part of my noble friend's speech suggested that the equivalent of this amendment might be included in guidance. As I indicated, that is not a matter for my department. I shall certainly raise the matter with my noble friend Lady Cumberlege and between us we shall write a letter to him.

In Committee, my noble friend said that the intention of his amendment to require social services authorities to co-operate in rendering reasonable assistance was because of his concern that the consultation with that authority takes place rather late in the application process. However, our research shows that in most cases an application to the housing authority for a disabled facilities grant arises because of a referral from the social services authority rather than the other way around. In such cases, it is likely that the occupational therapist's assessment has already been carried out prior to referral for a disabled facilities grant.

After that rather long explanation, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, as my noble friend himself said, it was a long explanation. I should like to read in Hansard what he said and digest it thoroughly before deciding whether to come back to the matter at a later stage.

At first sight, it appears that the reply may be encouraging. But there may be some holes in it and I want to be certain that any such holes are all properly filled. I shall definitely read what my noble friend said. I thank him for taking the trouble to give such a long and well considered reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lucas moved Amendments Nos. 25 and 26:

Page 15, line 4, leave out first ("welfare") and insert ("social services").
Page 15, line 4, leave out second ("welfare") and insert ("social services").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to these amendments when I spoke to Amendment No. 19. I beg to move them together.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 27 [HMO grants: certificate required to accompany application]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 27:

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Page 15, line 43, leave out subsection (3).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak at the same time to Amendment No. 107 in my name and trespass slightly on Amendments Nos. 28 and 29 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, Amendment No. 29 is not my amendment. It is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.

Lord Lucas: Quite right, my Lords. We have given some thought to the views expressed during the Committee consideration of this Bill about the likely need for Clause 28. During Committee, I confirmed that it was not envisaged that the power would be used in the foreseeable future and indicated that it would be our intention to see mirrored in Clause 28 the discretion proposed for local authorities on disapplying the prior qualifying conditions.

However, having given further thought to the points made by noble Lords, I now believe that for the purposes of clarity it would be preferable to remove the clause from the Bill. Therefore we have brought forward Amendments Nos. 27, 29 and 107 in order to achieve that objective.

In view of the amendments removing the clause, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will not move his Amendment No. 28.

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