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Lord Swinfen: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but I wonder what would be the position of a doctor looking after a patient? There are still some doctors in this country who work on their own in a single-person practice rather than a group practice. I am sure that the Minister intends to cover doctors who are trying to help

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individuals, but I am wondering about the rare instances when an applicant's GP may not be covered although he is trying to help that person.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I can now say that the answer that I have just given to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is indeed correct, and that the distinction between somebody asking to see an entry in his corporate role and doing so in a private role is as I have set it out. That person would be covered by the legislation if he was "corporate", but he certainly would not be covered by it if he was acting as an individual.

My noble friend goes a little further and asks me about doctors. I am not entirely certain about the circumstances in which a doctor might want to see the register but, as I suspected, I am now advised that when acting in his professional capacity the doctor would be covered by the definition that I have just given the noble Baroness. He would be able to see the register as a professional, but if he was acting out of nosiness, if I may describe it like that, he would not be entitled to see it. Do not ask me the next question, about how to distinguish between the two! I think that it is a pretty clear distinction.

To get back to the serious point, there may be other rare instances when we might all consider that a public body would have a legitimate interest in knowing who was on the register, for example, if that person had a history of child molestation and was seeking accommodation on an estate with a lot of young children, or if he had a history of violence against a former partner now lodged on the estate. Clearly, the social services department would certainly have an interest in such cases. I do not think that any of your Lordships would want to stop such departments having access to the register in such circumstances.

In considering an amendment of this kind it is important to bear in mind that the same kind of proprieties apply to the release to third parties of personal information held by local housing authorities about their tenancies. The Access to Personal Files (Housing) Regulations 1989 and the Data Protection Act 1984 are examples of legislation that is already in place to protect information about individuals.

On the second concern, which comes from the opposite direction--namely, the prohibition on members of the public, and the question of whether that would exclude a friend or relative from acting on behalf of an applicant--perhaps I may advise the Committee that because that person would be acting for the applicant, he or she would not be considered to be a

    "any other member of the public".
Therefore, somebody acting on behalf of an applicant would be able to see the register and the entry for that individual. I hope that I have given the noble Baroness enough reassurance on both sides of the argument to enable her to withdraw her amendment and to leave in place the protection and the rights provided in Clause 147.

Baroness Hamwee: I find this a difficult issue. My instinct is that there should be complete confidentiality and that any information which is required to be

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disclosed should be disclosed through other mechanisms. At the risk of being teased by the Minister, may I ask whether the Government have it in mind to give guidance to local authorities as to any undertakings on confidentiality that are to be signed by those who look at the register when wearing their "corporate hat", as the Minister put it?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I can assure the noble Baroness that we intend to give guidance on Clause 147 and how it should be interpreted. I shall consider the point about how we can validate the hat that someone is wearing when they ask to see the register. Perhaps I may write to the noble Baroness on that.

Baroness Hamwee: I appreciate that the Government are well apprised of the need for a means of enforcing the restrictions. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 147 agreed to.

Clause 148 [Allocation in accordance with allocation scheme]:

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 264:

Page 91, line 17, at end insert ("including disabled people occupying inaccessible or unsuitable housing").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the allocations criteria for priority in social housing includes disabled people living in inaccessible or unsuitable housing. The Bill sets out clearly in Clause 148 the priorities for local authorities when allocating social housing. Although the new system would give priority to some disabled people, it could result in many disabled people in extreme housing need receiving a low priority. The proposals would give "reasonable preference" to people in six different categories. The first group comprises,

    "people occupying insanitary or overcrowded housing or otherwise living in unsatisfactory housing conditions".
Often, that provision would not cover the situation of a disabled person living in inaccessible or inappropriate accommodation. The general term "unsatisfactory housing conditions" covers issues such as disrepair and fitness of the property. Although some disabled people would receive priority under a later category concerning a need for settled accommodation on medical or welfare grounds, it is important that the particular needs of disabled people living in inaccessible accommodation are recognised. That is particularly so as the Government's original consultation document made it clear that the priority categories are cumulative and that the more criteria a person meets the higher the priority.

There must be some mechanism for making a distinction between a person who requires settled accommodation who is currently in reasonable accommodation and a person who requires settled accommodation who is currently in completely unsuitable accommodation. The inclusion of disabled people living in inappropriate housing in the first category would meet these concerns. As the allocation scheme is currently set out, a disabled person would receive reasonable preference only because he had a particular need for

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settled accommodation. He would receive no greater priority because his current accommodation was inappropriate in view of his disability.

People in many other situations would have a greater priority because of the cumulative nature of these categories. For example, a non-disabled person living in temporary accommodation, who would have difficulty because of his economic circumstances to secure settled accommodation, would receive reasonable preferences under categories (b) and (f). Although he might well have considerable housing need, he would probably be given a higher priority than a disabled person who was living in permanent accommodation which was inaccessible. An example of this would be someone with limited mobility who was living on the upper floors of a property with no lift. That person would receive reasonable preference under (e) only if he had a particular need for settled accommodation on medical or welfare grounds. The additional difficulty of inaccessible accommodation would not be reflected in the allocation scheme for reasonable preference.

If reasonable preference is given to non-disabled people for a variety of reasons, including living in unsatisfactory housing conditions, the same preference must be given to disabled people because they are living in inaccessible housing. The amendment would ensure that the allocation system fairly reflected the needs of disabled people and that the present housing conditions of disabled people were adequately reflected in the priority system. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I support the amendment, or a version of it, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. The assumption behind anyone who goes on a housing waiting list, let alone anyone who goes through the homelessness route, is that he or she does not already have secure or settled accommodation. Therefore, one looks at the circumstances in which the accommodation occupied at present is inadequate by virtue of overcrowding, dependent children or the like. What is not covered either by access to the housing waiting list or by being given reasonable preference within it is the situation of owner-occupiers, particularly elderly ones. Their accommodation may well have been satisfactory in the past but perhaps their health has sharply deteriorated and they require different accommodation. If such a person sold his or her house--perhaps a very modest Victorian terraced property--it might not be sufficient for that person aged 60, 65 or 70 to buy a bungalow or a ground-floor flat that he or she needed.

At the moment, it is very unlikely that somebody who is an owner-occupier will have access to the housing waiting list; therefore he or she cannot come up through the register and be housed in that way. Equally, because such a person is in settled accommodation he or she will not have access through the homelessness route and be given reasonable preference. What does the Minister expect local authorities to do when an owner-occupier's health sharply deteriorates and he or she is physically disabled? The individual needs different accommodation from that presently occupied. The need may be acute.

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He or she may be confined to one room downstairs and be unable to get upstairs, but there is insufficient equity in the property to enable that person to find suitable alternative accommodation. Perhaps the Minister can help us on this point.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My noble friend Lord Swinfen has, as always, spoken eloquently about the needs of people with disabilities for suitable housing. I fully understand his concerns and those raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. It would be odd if any of my Bills went their whole length without my noble friend becoming involved. I should probably welcome him to this one. I hope to be able to persuade him that his fears are groundless and there is no need to add anything to Clause 148 to deal with the problems to which he has referred.

The allocation criteria set out in subsection (2) of Clause 148 are designed to ensure that the allocation schemes established under Part VI of the Bill take proper account of a whole range of housing and social needs. The particular criterion to which my noble friend wishes to apply his amendment is the first one which refers to people occupying insanitary or overcrowded housing or otherwise living in unsatisfactory housing conditions. He would then add the words as set out in the amendment. The words that we have are derived from Section 51 of the 1935 Act. Normally, they are taken to refer to physical housing conditions. Paragraph (e) of subsection (2) refers to priority being accorded to households containing,

    "someone with a particular need for settled accommodation on medical or welfare grounds".
This criterion is intended to ensure that just the kinds of people whom my noble friend has in mind receive proper priority. My noble friend appeared to believe that the disabled would be accorded priority only on ground (e). I believe that they could also fall within ground (a). The words "unsatisfactory housing conditions" would cover a disabled person who occupied inaccessible or unsuitable housing. I believe that that answers the point raised by the noble Baroness. She referred to a person who occupied a house which was perfectly satisfactory in every way but, for example, the bedroom accommodation and the toiletry were on separate floors and the occupier could not get up and down; or perhaps the living accommodation was separate. In those situations the person would fall within both (a) and (e).

My noble friend indicated that it was an all-or-nothing priority. Most local authorities would seek to implement the clause via some kind of points system. Therefore, there will be differences of degree within each category. While somebody may well not qualify under very many of the headings (a) to (f), if his or her qualification under that heading is a severe one (if I may so describe it), the individual will perhaps accumulate the maximum number of points available under that heading. The problem posed by my noble friend is usually resolved by the local authority housing allocation points system working in that direction.

Conversely, it would be quite wrong--I am sure that my noble friend does not intend this--to give such priority to the group in which he is interested that people

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with families and dependent children who occupied temporary accommodation on insecure terms would be placed in a comparatively poor position because the priority had been given overwhelmingly to another group. That is one of the good aspects of a points system. I do not wish to go into the merits of such a system. Although it may sometimes result in rough justice, it is the best kind of justice that I have come across as far as concerns the allocation of housing when the factors in play for one person are often quite different from those in play for another. One has to strike a balance between them.

I believe that many if not all housing authorities already make special provision for disabled people in the way that they run their housing allocation policies. The provisions in this part of the Bill represent a thorough overhaul of the allocation criteria, with the aim of ensuring that everyone with a real need for settled accommodation receives proper consideration wherever they live in the country. Because this represents a more comprehensive legislative framework for the allocation of social housing, later on in this clause we take powers to issue statutory guidance to local authorities on how they should apply the legislation. I can assure my noble friend Lord Swinfen that that guidance will draw the attention of local authorities to their responsibilities towards people with both physical disabilities and other forms of incapacity.

I hope that that assurance about the guidance, and my indication of how the six priorities will operate in favour of a disabled person in the kinds of circumstances presented by my noble friend, will enable my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.

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