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Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, as always, I am grateful to the noble Lord for speaking to his brief. I do not accept the arguments. I cannot see, to take mortgage interest payments as an example, why a private owner who is burdened with a mortgage for one reason or another--individual choice which may have taken place a long time ago--should be disadvantaged compared with another private householder who is paying rent. Rent is a straightforward monthly outgoing; mortgage payments are a straightforward monthly outgoing, unless one is in a mortgage system which does not require monthly payments. Nevertheless, it is a cost of owning the house. When we are talking of renovation of a dwelling, the two things seem to be compatible.

I do not understand, when assessing the means test, why the Government insist on saying that rent may be taken into account as outgoings. The noble Lord wants to intervene.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, it may be helpful if I say that no individual personal housing costs are taken into account. An allowance of £40 per week is made, whatever the housing situation of the applicant. Neither the rent nor the mortgage interest is considered.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, that makes the position slightly worse, because in that case it is not a proper means test; it is a benefits assessment which across the board does not reflect the reality of life.

However, I am sure that we shall not get any further with this discussion. I said that this is a probing amendment. I am quite certain that the matter will be taken up at a later stage in another place. It is vital that people who are on the margin of contributing to the renovation of their houses and on the margin of receiving grant should be treated fairly. I do not believe that the Bill as presently constructed treats people equally, one with another. Nevertheless, I accept that the noble Lord has done his best to persuade me otherwise.

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But I am unpersuaded. The matter will certainly be taken up in another place. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 32:

Page 19, line 46, at end insert--
("( ) In the case of an application for a disabled facilities grant regulations must, in particular--
(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 under 18;
(b) make provision for account to be taken of the needs of the disabled occupant himself and any person who is dependent on him.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is designed 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, and further to ensure that local authorities take into account the needs of the disabled occupant and any person who is dependent on him.

Disabled facilities grants are vital for providing adaptations for disabled people to help them to continue to live in their own home. The Office of Population Censuses and Surveys estimated in 1985 that one in five of the population has some form of disability. Four million people in this country experience mobility difficulties. It is not surprising, therefore, that in 1993 more than £70 million was spent through local authorities on the provision of disabled facilities grants.

Currently, I understand that the average value of the disabled facilities grant awarded is some £3,700. The grants are means tested and 17 per cent. of all those awarded grants make a contribution to the cost of the works. The proposals within the Bill for the scope of the regulations concerning the means test would allow the income of not only the disabled occupant to be taken into account but also the income of other non-disabled people living in the household. Adaptations carried out on the home of the disabled occupant are for the benefit of that disabled person and not for other members of their household. The legislation states that the relevant works should be necessary and appropriate to meet the needs of the disabled occupant.

Research undertaken in 1995 by PIEDA for the Department of the Environment found that 48 per cent. of disabled facilities grants entailed improving mobility in the dwelling through the provision, for example, of stairlifts, ramps, grabs and handrails. Those are obviously solely for the benefit of the disabled person and of no benefit to other occupants of the dwelling. Therefore, why should the income of the non-disabled people within the household be taken into account for the means test?

In many cases the fact that the income of non-disabled people is taken into account in the current means test has the effect that the contribution required to the cost of the works is very difficult for the disabled person to find. A comprehensive research project undertaken by the Suffolk Coastal and Mid-Suffolk

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Disability Housing Research Group found that the means-tested grants system was leaving people in financial difficulty. It stated that there are cases where help has been sought with no result because of the means test for the disabled facilities grant.

The current proposals for the scope of regulations covering the means test could lead to the income of anyone living in the household being taken into account. That could include lodgers, friends, carers or care assistants, relatives, the parents of disabled adults or even children who have an income. The original consultation document issued in July last year by the Department of the Environment entitled The Future of Private Housing Renewal Programmes in England suggested a change to the means test. For disabled facilities grants it stated that only the means of the disabled adult, and their parents in the case of those under 18, and the means of spouses and partners would be taken into account.

During the Committee stage of the Bill the Government made mention of the relaxation of the means test proposed in the consultation and expressed sympathy with the intention of limiting the means test. My noble friend Lord Lucas further stated that he would give consideration to the detailed operation of the means test when the Government came to prepare the regulations later in the year. However, if the Government intend to limit the means test to the income of disabled occupants and their spouses, why is the scope of the regulations outlined in the Bill so wide? Surely it would be better to state the actual regulations the Government intend to use in the Bill rather than an all-encompassing list, the majority of which apparently will not be used in the regulations.

There is serious concern that if this all-encompassing list remains in the Bill it will be possible at any time in the future, without further reference to Parliament, to alter the scope of the means test to bring in the income of a wide range of people. In a year or so the regulations could be altered to include the income of other people such as lodgers or relatives. Surely, if the Government are committed to including only the income of the disabled occupant and spouse, they should limit the regulations rather than allowing this almost open-ended list to appear in the Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. He has said it all and I just hope that the Minister will agree with the noble Lord's irrefutable logic.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I find that a very difficult act to follow. In Amendment No. 32 my noble friend has returned to the operation of the means test and how it will be applied to a disabled person seeking grant aid. I had hoped that I had been able to satisfy my noble friend's concerns when these matters were raised in Committee. Perhaps I may give my noble friend further reassurance that the concerns he has raised are without foundation.

We have given an undertaking, which I repeated in Committee, that it was our intention that regulations be made setting out the operation of the means test for

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disabled facilities grants. We feel that that is the appropriate mechanism for the level of detail required. I can confirm that for applications for mandatory disabled facilities grant only the means of the disabled person and his spouse or partner will be considered. Where the applicant is below the age of 18 the income of the parents will also be taken into account.

My noble friend asked why the scope in the Bill is so wide. It is because discretionary grants will be means tested in a different manner than presently is the case. That is why we feel we need the wider scope.

The relaxation from the current practice has been widely welcomed and we believe it is preferable to the current arrangements. However, where the grant is discretionary, and therefore likely to be less vital, we believe that there is a case for reflecting that by including the means of the applicant and those of the owner, where that is a different person, in the means test calculation. Where discretionary grant is given for mandatory purposes such as to top up a grant in excess of £20,000, the test as used for mandatory grant will apply.

As regards the second part of the amendment, I do not believe that we should restrict the regulations as suggested to take specific account of the needs of the disabled occupants and any dependent person to any greater extent than is already the case. We already achieve that through set allowances and premiums for applicants for disabled facilities grants.

In calculating an applicant's entitlement to grant, whether a renovation grant or a disabled facilities grant, all applicants must complete a means test. The test is based on an assessment of an applicant's basic needs and his income. The basic premise of the test is to see how much of an applicant's income, if any, over and above the assessed need of the household is available to finance a loan to pay for the works. Grant represents the difference between the "affordable loan" and the cost of the works. Where the financial resources of the applicant are less than the assessed need of the household, grant is available towards the full cost of works.

In assessing the basic needs of the household, a number of personal allowances and premiums are awarded depending on family circumstances. Therefore, if you are a couple where at least one member is aged over 18, you are assumed to need £73 per week of your income before any is available to meet loan repayments. If both members of a couple are aged over 60, they are allowed a further £28 per week.

In addition to this, for a disabled person, further allowances are built into the calculation. A couple under 60 years of age would be eligible for disability premium--£28.30 per week, rising to £70.10 per week where there is severe disability. Further premiums may be added in respect of disabled children and of carers, and for those disabled with at least one child aged under 19.

I must restate that these premiums are weekly amounts which are awarded to the personal allowances of those receiving attendance allowance, disability living allowance, disability working allowance, mobility supplement, invalidity pensions and severe disablement

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allowance, to reflect the additional household needs and costs arising because of the disability of the applicant or family member.

As further recognition of the demands made on a person's income, an additional premium of £40 per week is added to these allowances and premiums in the case of all applicants.

Therefore, I hope it is now clear that we do already take some account of the increased costs associated with disability when undertaking a means test assessment and that we will meet our commitment to introduce a more generous means test formula. I hope that, with these explanations, my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

7 p.m.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that response and for giving an undertaking at the beginning of his speech. He will know as well as I do that an undertaking given by this Government cannot bind any future government. He will also know that it is very much easier to change regulations, very often with no discussion at all, than it is to change primary legislation, which has to go through both Houses of Parliament and be properly discussed. That is one of the reasons why I should like to see this measure on the face of the Bill.

If my noble friend, as a young man, were sharing a flat with a group of other young men and wished to take out a hire purchase agreement on, say, a saxophone, would he think it fair that the income of the other men sharing the flat with him should be taken into account to see whether or not he can have the loan or the grant to buy the saxophone? That is the sort of thing that my noble friend is asking to be done here. I suggest that only the income of the disabled person and spouse and, if he or she is under the age of 18 years, the parents of the individual, should be taken into account, and not that of everyone else. I do not believe that it is fair to people. I have the feeling that the Treasury is trying to make certain that it does not pay its fair share. However, it is getting late and I do not want to divide the House on this particular point, but I may come back to it later. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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