Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: If I understand correctly, regardless of whether it is a man or a woman, if one of the partners is eligible he or she can be on the list. However, if the other partner is not eligible because he or she is from abroad and, for whatever reason, has no settled right to be here in the long term, then that person cannot be considered for joint tenancy. I made that point about a back-door method of getting on to the housing list someone who would otherwise not qualify because that person would be in a prescribed class. But that does not exclude the person from the next parish who has a long-term right to be here from becoming a joint tenant.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Is the Minister saying that in the example I gave the tenancy would rest solely with the person who is entitled to be here, although that person's husband or partner could live with them? It would mean that there would not be the customary local authority practice of a joint tenancy. The Minister indicates assent. I thank him.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I may have missed the point. Will the Minister explain why subsection (4) applies to subsection (2) but not to subsections (1) and (3)?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Not instantly on my feet. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord will allow me to study his question and write to him.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal: The case being put is that most local authorities put "Mr and Mrs" on the rent book, or other record of payment. Both parties are secure tenants and if the marriage breaks up the local authority has to find a home for the one who moves out, whether it is the husband or the wife, so they always have a joint tenancy. The case being put is of someone who was never a joint tenant because that person was not a husband or a wife.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I do not believe that that was the case being put. It was that they were husband and wife but, for the reasons I explained, one might not have been eligible to become a joint tenant. The noble Baroness is quite right that in most cases husband and wife can easily qualify to be joint tenants. Then if something goes wrong with the marriage, the problem raised by the noble Baroness arises.

Lord Monkswell: I wish to clarify in my mind what the Minister says. Is he saying that if someone eligible for social housing and on the housing waiting list--in other words a qualifying person--marries someone from abroad, the latter will be prohibited from being offered

19 Jun 1996 : Column 350

social housing because it is the Government's intention that if a British citizen marries a foreigner they should not live together?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: No.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: We are now getting into tangled territory. That is not at all the intention. The case concerned joint tenancies. People can live together without having joint tenancies. Indeed, these days they do so without even being married.

Baroness Hamwee: I apologise for having opened up the debate which was, perhaps, useful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 144 agreed to.

5 p.m.

Clause 145 [The housing register]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 263F:

Page 90, line 15, leave out subsection (4).

The noble Baroness said: I spoke previously in support of the amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lord Russell. I wish to ask for details of the information which the Government anticipate is to be prescribed by regulations. Will the Minister explain to the Committee, first, when the regulations which the Bill anticipates will be published; and, secondly, when they will be implemented? I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Perhaps I may explain what the regulations in Clause 145 are intended to do. I believe that that is what the noble Baroness wishes to ascertain via her amendment.

The information contained on the housing register is important, both for the authority and for the individual. The housing register is the document that records an individual's application and the priority accorded to him. Clause 147 provides that he is entitled to see the entry on the register relating to him. The regulation-making power would ensure that information is kept on the register in the first place, so that the applicant can then have access to it.

The regulations are likely to cover matters of detail: for example, the applicant's name and address and details of members of the applicant's household which it would not be appropriate to set out in primary legislation.

In the course of the summer we shall be consulting local authority associations and the housing profession about the form and content of the regulations in regard to basic information about the applicant and his position. We need to be able to do that by regulation. I believe--although I could be wrong, since earlier I confused this discussion with a previous one--that so far as these regulations are concerned, we hope to consult during the

19 Jun 1996 : Column 351

summer, to produce the regulations in the autumn and, equally, that they will come into force in the autumn. I hope I am speaking about the correct regulations.

Baroness Hamwee: Is it therefore proposed that the various regulations may be implemented at different times?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am not sure about that. I shall have to look into it. Logically, in regard to regulations which are tied together and which deal with largely the same matters I should expect us to attempt, if we can, to do the work at the same time. Clearly, as the noble Baroness has already said, there are a fair number of regulation-making powers in the Bill. I am pretty certain that the department will not introduce them all in one grand slam on the same day.

Baroness Hamwee: Will it be possible for the Minister to share with noble Lords before we reach Report the details of the proposed timetable? It would be helpful if we could know so far as possible what the timetable is likely to be. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 145 agreed to.

Clause 146 [Operation of housing register]:

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 263G:

Page 90, line 21, at end insert--
("( ) A local authority shall undertake an assessment of the housing needs of a person who is to appear on their housing register and where it appears that the person or a member of his household is vulnerable or in need of support, the local housing authority shall co-operate with the social services authority and, where relevant, voluntary organisations, to ensure that they have a comprehensive assessment of the person's housing and support requirements.").

The noble Baroness said: I hope that this amendment will command the support of the Committee, especially those who have a particular interest in what are loosely called special needs groups of people.

The amendment standing in my name and in that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would require a local authority to assess whether people on its waiting list are vulnerable and in need of support. The housing department of that authority should then co-operate with other relevant local authority departments, such as social services, and with local health authorities as well as with relevant voluntary organisations, to see that those needs are met. Such an amendment is especially important in relation to those housing authorities in district councils only for which, unfortunately, housing and social services remain splintered and for which there is a very real problem of co-ordination.

To whom are we referring? For example, there is a growing number of young people who are coming out of care but are still vulnerable. Social services responsibility may under certain clauses in the Children Act run until such young people are 21. They may enter local authority housing from the age of 18 or even earlier with social services support. We must ensure that such support is in place, and that the housing department

19 Jun 1996 : Column 352

can expect it to be in place in order that such young people make a successful transition from institutional care.

Last night we discussed anti-social behaviour. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, was anxious to protect the situation of applicants who, for example, had schizophrenia. He was concerned to ensure that any applicant who had physical or mental health problems or learning difficulties should be in a situation whereby he or she received support as well as having a roof over his or her head in order to ensure that conflict was not created with neighbours and other residents.

We appreciate that Section 47 of the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 already provides for joint housing and social services assessment. But in practice the two-tier structure of local government means, regrettably, that too many vulnerable people are not recognised as having special needs. They are rehoused, sometimes without the support that they may need, and because of their somewhat eccentric behaviour they appear to be a nuisance to neighbours, who may then seek to have them evicted. I recall the example of the elderly man who crammed his flat full of newspapers, which then became a fire risk. Another example involved an elderly woman who turned her back garden into a menagerie for dozens of cats. That was regarded as a health risk to the neighbourhood. There was another gentleman with learning difficulties who did not always turn off the gas tap. These were tenants who should have received more support than was given to them in order for them to enjoy their home and allow others to enjoy theirs. Without such assessment, and without appropriate support, too often inappropriate behaviour can lead to pressures on the local authority for eviction and rehousing.

In replying to this amendment the Minister will tell us whether, as a result of physical or mental health problems, such people will be regarded as having made themselves intentionally homeless and will then find themselves living on the streets, perhaps reduced to being bag ladies or other people who are vagrant? Perhaps in that situation some of the hostels might then recover them; but clearly we should prefer that situation to be avoided in the first place. If the Minister could tell us that such guidance as he will be issuing will emphasise that point, that may begin to meet the concerns.

Will the Minister also respond to a very serious point raised in a debate last night? If a tenant has mental health problems which give rise to such bizarre behaviour that the local authority is required to seek his or her eviction, will that person be regarded none the less by virtue of mental health problems as making himself or herself unintentionally homeless so that the local authority will continue to have a duty of support? I should be grateful for the Minister's comments on both those points. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: In this amendment the noble Baroness seeks to require local authorities to

19 Jun 1996 : Column 353

co-operate with social services departments and voluntary organisations in assessing the needs of vulnerable applicants.

Although I share the aims of the noble Baroness, I submit that these are not best achieved through legislation. I agree that local housing authorities should work closely with social services departments in addressing the needs of community care clients and vulnerable people. However, co-operation is a matter of good practice; it is not achieved simply by prescription. I am mindful of the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Templeman, in the Northavon case, who observed that the law is not the way to obtain co-operation. Co-operation is, by definition, a two-way process. What this amendment seeks to do is to place the burden of responsibility on housing authorities.

Such assessments may be more than is needed in the majority of general needs housing applications--that is, assessments by socials services departments. However, the Committee will be aware that Clause 148 requires local housing authorities to give reasonable preference to people with particular medical or welfare needs, and to give additional preference to households who could not reasonably be expected to find suitable accommodation for themselves. We would not expect local housing authorities to carry out those assessments in isolation. Where special needs are thought to exist the assessment is best shared with social service authorities, which have the expertise in this area. We will be advising authorities on the type of arrangements that may be appropriate in these circumstances.

I fully accept what the noble Baroness says: in some cases in England and Wales the same authority looks after both housing and social services. I understood from the flavour of her remarks that she thought that a good arrangement. She might just have told her colleagues in Scotland, who opposed the Government's reforms to Scottish local government last year which brought together the two authorities that were previously separate and dealt separately with housing and social services. Over a large part of urban England, the authority is the same authority. Division between the authority that deals with housing and that dealing with social services occurs more in the counties. Human nature being what it is, it does not necessarily follow that just because departments are in the same authority they work hand in hand together perfectly. Equally, I am sure it is the case that being in different authorities does not mean that they do not work hand in hand perfectly well. Or in both cases they may not co-operate as closely as we would wish.

There is guidance. I have it in my hand. It is a fairly detailed document: the Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities. It was prepared in 1991, before the present Children Act came into being and before the care in the community legislation took effect. So we have to look again at the question of the guidance for co-operation between housing and social services that is issued. We shall therefore issue fresh statutory guidance that will cover this matter before the legislation is commenced. I hope that that will meet the noble Baroness's requirements.

19 Jun 1996 : Column 354

At risk of speaking all afternoon, I could read out the paragraphs in the existing guidance which link housing and social security. Perhaps I should just read out the very first reference in the hope that it will give the flavour of the current guidance and therefore of the guidance that we shall write for the new legislation. Paragraph 1.3 says:

    "The primary statutory responsibility for dealing with homelessness rests with local housing authorities. An authority still has a duty towards homeless people even if it owns no houses at all. The Code is designed for staff in local housing and social services departments and authorities who are responsible for policy on homelessness, or who deal with homeless people".
That is the start of the guidance. I can see from the index to the document that there are a fair number of references throughout to the way in which the two authorities will co-operate. I hope that that will reassure the noble Baroness that the guidance that we shall issue will deal with the need for co-operation that she rightly identified.

The noble Baroness asked me a particular question about someone who is mentally ill, creates a disturbance and is evicted. She asked whether he would be intentionally homeless. Such a person would probably be intentionally homeless. Such people have particular care needs and would look to social services departments for assistance. They might approach the housing department for assistance, but the housing department would certainly want to ensure that a proper care package was in place before it provided further accommodation. That is a good example of where the two authorities have to work together. It could lead to many problems for a housing authority if it housed someone who perhaps had a history of mental illness which led him (or her) sometimes to be a difficult neighbour, should there not be a proper care package in place from social services in order to try to deal with the difficulty that that person had so that it would not spill over on to the neighbours.

I hope that, with that assurance and answer, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page