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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Under the homelessness legislation, a local housing authority has an obligation to secure accommodation for applicants who have become homeless unintentionally and who fall within a priority need group. Such applicants may have a priority need in their own right--perhaps because of vulnerability through old age or disability--or because priority need is conferred by a vulnerable member of their household, such as a pregnant wife or a dependent child.
The provisions in Clause 9(2)(a) will exclude immigrants who are in this country on limited leave or are here unlawfully from entitlement to assistance under the homelessness legislation. I have already explained that in some detail. This will ensure that no duty is owed to such immigrants who make a homeless application. The underlying principle is that people admitted to this country on the basis that they will make their own arrangements to support and accommodate themselves should not have access to public funds.
The same principle underpins the provisions in Clause 9(2)(b). These will ensure that no duty is owed where entitlement under the homelessness legislation depends solely on the presence of someone in the applicant's household who is an immigrant on limited leave or who is here unlawfully. It cannot be right that someone who entered this country on the basis that he would have no recourse to public funds should then rely on public funds when he wants to make a claim.
The noble Earl, in his usual way, gave a number of examples. I shall consider one of the examples and perhaps confirm his worst fears. However, at least I shall make the position clear. Let us consider the position of a British citizen who contracts a marriage overseas and starts a family there. He decides to return to this country and his wife and child subsequently decide to join him. Typically they will be granted visas on the understanding that they should have no recourse to public funds. It cannot be right that the presence of that child should then be used as the basis for claiming that the household is in priority need. This is no different from the position which the Court of Appeal held (in the 1993 Tower Hamlets judgment) as regards a situation which already exists where a homelessness application relies on the presence of an illegal entrant to confer priority need.
Let me make clear that the provisions of Clause 9(2)(b) will not prevent a duty being owed to any homeless applicant where there is an entitlement to assistance which does not depend upon an immigrant on limited leave. Nor will they prevent an authority from taking account of such an immigrant in assessing whether accommodation provided as a discharge of a homelessness duty was suitable for the whole household, for example, by reference to its size.
I shall take a hypothetical example of a family comprising two adults and a dependent child. The family is originally from overseas but all have indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom. The family is visited by a cousin who lives overseas and enters the UK on limited leave. While the household is host to the cousin it becomes unintentionally homeless. The local authority is satisfied that homelessness and priority need are established, disregarding of course the presence of the visiting cousin. In such a case the authority would owe a duty to secure accommodation for the whole household. I hope that explanation helps to explain how authorities will deal with certain cases, although I doubt whether they will be many in number.
As usual, the noble Earl paints a vision of the streets being full of people sleeping on them. He overpaints that. Indeed at the present time, under present circumstances, single people and those without children have no entitlement to accommodation under homelessness legislation. They do not generally sleep on the streets. The previous count in November 1995 showed that only 272 people were sleeping rough on the streets of central London. The rough sleepers initiative has been extremely successful in helping and encouraging people to get off the streets and finding them somewhere to stay.
This amendment would remove the provisions in Clause 9(2)(b), leaving housing authorities with a commitment to secure accommodation where homelessness or priority need was established as a direct result of the presence of someone on limited leave. The amendment would, therefore, undermine the whole purpose of Clause 9(2) and I am afraid I must ask the Committee to reject it.
Lord Avebury: Will the Minister deal with the case that was mentioned at the end of the previous debate where someone has entered the country as an asylum seeker and has validly made an application at the port of entry; therefore he is not included among those to whom the noble Lord referred who assure the immigration authorities that they will not have recourse to public funds during their stay here? They brought everything out into the open at the point of entry. They were admitted as asylum seekers but their applications were later refused. According to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs--the Minister did not correct him--such people would then lose the entitlements under this clause at the point when the Minister refused the application for asylum.
If the asylum seeker--and his family--was duly accommodated for the period during which the application was considered by the Secretary of State, at the point when a refusal was issued he would suddenly become ineligible and the local authority would have to evict him from the accommodation which it had previously offered him as a legitimate person who had become unintentionally homeless. Can it really be the purpose of the Government that the asylum applicant, having been here legitimately according to the Government and having made an application in the form which the Minister has said is required, is then denied the provision we are discussing during the period of his appeal hearing? That may be a long process, as we all know. It has been conceded that some asylum applicants can be here for as long as five years. Is it the case that during the whole of this four-and-a-half years--or whatever the time is between the refusal notice being given by the Secretary of State and the appeal being finally heard--this family which had become unintentionally homeless is not entitled to the benefits of the homeless accommodation which would be available to anyone else? I hope that the Minister will deal with that point before we decide whether we wish to vote on this amendment.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I do not think anything I shall say will convince the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, not to vote in favour of this amendment. I thought I had made the position clear over and over again, not only today but on previous occasions when we have debated the interaction of asylum seekers and social security. The position is simple. When someone applies for asylum at the point of entry, he is entitled to income support, housing benefit and, if this is needed, he is entitled to be considered under the homelessness legislation. If, however, a person enters this country and makes his application after entry, he is not entitled to income support, housing benefit or consideration under the homelessness legislation. I return to the person who has made an "at port" application. It is worth reminding the Committee that in 1995, out of every 100 applications to the Home Office only five were granted refugee status. A further 16 were granted exceptional leave to remain and 79 out of every 100 were refused. At that stage people can appeal, as indeed United Kingdom citizens can make an appeal against any other decision as regards social security.
I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that citizens of the United Kingdom who make an appeal in those circumstances against decisions of the social security system do not receive benefits while they are awaiting the results of that appeal. We believe that a negative decision by the Home Office to withdraw the income support and housing benefit from a person stands four square with the way the system deals with appeals from people in the United Kingdom against other parts of the social security system and other decisions of adjudicating officers and the like. The noble Lord is quite right that after the Home Office has turned down an application the person is no longer eligible to receive income support and housing benefit--which is what we decided at the end of January when that was voted upon in this Chamber--and he is not eligible for consideration under the homelessness legislation.
Lord Avebury: I hope that the Minister will answer the other point that I raised, which is whether a local authority, having granted the asylum applicant and his family emergency housing under the homelessness provisions during the time when his application was pending before the Secretary of State, would be obliged to evict him on the day when the Secretary of State issued his refusal.
It is well worth saying that in 1995 only 3 per cent. of those appeals were successful. It cannot be right that we should continue to pay benefit, which, quite frankly, encourages people to remain here and appeal, when only 3 per cent. at the end of the day are found to have a legitimate right to be here and to be successful in the refugee status.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Perhaps I may seek clarification from the Minister. Let us consider a family who receive benefit because they applied for asylum status at the port of entry and as a result were in accommodation, receiving housing benefit which covered it. Subsequently they lost the decision to be considered as asylum seekers, or to be granted exceptional leave to remain. At that point, housing benefit would stop. They would not be able to pay the rent, so they would become homeless.
Under the Children Act 1989, do social services immediately take over the responsibility of rent payment in lieu of the housing benefit they would otherwise have received on the ground that in that way they ensure the continued health and development of the child, as they are required to do and as the Minister in another place, John Bowis, insisted that they would do under the legislation? That would be a cheaper way of ensuring that aim rather than taking those children into care.
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