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Earl Russell: I enjoyed the Minister's teasing about the Secretary of State. I do not disagree with what he said. It was not my serious intention to involve the Secretary of State. I put down that procedure, which was the 17th century one, first, because I thought that the Minister would say what he did say and, secondly, because it provided a probing opportunity for him to say what else should happen instead. That he has done. I am satisfied. I thank him. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 179 agreed to.

Clause 180 agreed to.

Clause 181 [Right to request review of decision]:

[Amendment No. 268ZAC not moved.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 268ZAD:

Page 105, line 30, leave out from ("made") to ("beginning") in line 31 and insert ("within 28 days or such further period as the local housing authority permit").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment is tabled in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I was waiting for my noble friend on the last amendment to explain that he had introduced the reference to the Privy Council in order to give the Minister yet one more thing to do in his currently very quiet life.

This amendment seeks to extend the period to request a review from 14 days to 28 days, with discretion for an extension of that period. Clause 181 provides for a review of decisions under a number of clauses in the Bill. I believe that 14 days may be an unnecessarily tight period. There may be a number of occasions--we have just referred to the position when an applicant seeks to avoid a continuation of domestic violence; he may be in a refuge or outside the determining local authority's area; or possibly be in hospital--when the 14-day period in practice might turn out to be too short.

It is important that the process works well. This is the only opportunity for a tenant to appeal against a decision. Indeed, if problems arise from the shortness of the period, the whole review process could be undermined. It is important that an applicant has proper

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time to seek advice. In the absence of enough time, the decision must be to apply for a review in order to preserve one's rights.

In other situations in the housing area, the length of time is rather longer. In the housing benefit regulations six weeks are given to appeal against an authority determination of entitlement and a further four weeks to appeal against the outcome of an internal appeal and request a hearing by the benefit review board. An application for judicial review of a local authority homelessness decision takes a good deal longer. Under the 1977 Rent Act there are 28 days to appeal to the rent assessment committee; and so on.

Also, it is important that people who do not find English easy or indeed do not find bureaucracy easy should have time to get to grips with the situation and obtain the right advice.

In another place the Minister said that an amendment to this provision would be considered. I do not believe that any further indication has come from the Government since then as to their intentions. I hope that the Minister can give the Committee some further assurance tonight. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs: I support Amendment No. 268ZAD. I am a little puzzled as to where the 14-day period came from. Perhaps the Minister will reveal that he unearthed it from earlier legislation or that it is a new discovery. If so, by what process was the 14-day period arrived at? It is too short.

If we are to seek to give people a sense that their rights are being protected, they must be given enough time to deal with the situation. I cannot see any advantage in rushing people into responding quickly when there may be language difficulties with the notification from the council or people may be ill and so forth. It is completely unreasonable and against the concept of having an internal review of a decision by a local authority that the request for the review should have to be put in so quickly. It is perverse and, if it did not come from earlier legislation, it must be a mistake. I hope that the Minister will feel able to rectify it.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Amendment No. 268ZAD seeks to extend the time during which a request for a review must be made from 14 to 28 days after an applicant is notified of an authority's decision.

When the matter was raised in another place by the honourable Member for Christchurch, my right honourable friend agreed to reflect on the period in the light of similar periods of notice in other matters of housing law. We have now considered the period of notice and, on reflection, have concluded that 14 days is a reasonable period in which to allow a homeless applicant to decide whether he wishes to appeal a decision. I cannot offer the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, an explanation as to where the 14-day period came from other than to say that around the same amount of time has elapsed since we began considering this Bill in Committee. I realise that that may not be a good reason for using 14 days.

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A longer period might be justified if an applicant needed to weigh up the risk of any costs incurred, or were he to need time to prepare a case. However, no such considerations apply here. Lengthening the time during which an applicant can seek a review would merely increase the period of uncertainty for both the applicant and the local authority. We are providing that the applicant is notified of his right of appeal, and 14 days should be sufficient for him to lodge a simple application for a review; he does not have to give full grounds at that stage.

Those two points are important. The applicant does not risk costs being incurred and does not need time to prepare his case. From that point of view a shortish period is probably wise in order to get the review under way. We are talking of issues that may have a sense of urgency attached to them--or should have if someone is seeking to be considered under the homelessness legislation.

If subsequently new evidence comes to light which may have led the authority to reach a different decision, it is open to the applicant to draw that to the attention of the authority by means of a new application. Therefore 14 days is a reasonable period of notice and is consistent with other matters in the Housing Bill. A request for a review does not require a great deal of thought. The applicant will either be satisfied that he has been considered and rejected or will not be pleased. He will realise that he has nowhere else to turn and will have to ask for a review. He does not need more than 14 days to bring that about. In such cases the faster the case is resolved, the better. I hope that with that information the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: The Minister says that by extending the period, the period of uncertainty will be extended. I accept that in relation to the local housing authority. But if an applicant wants to extend the uncertainty for himself, then he should have the scope to do so. After all, he could end that uncertainty by applying for a review within 24 hours on the basis of what the Minister says.

Also, it would be unfortunate if having so short a period means that applicants are tempted to apply for a review without preparing their case or working out the reasons, thus leading to a greater workload for the local housing authority and for CABs and so forth which may be assisting.

The Minister implicitly, but perhaps not explicitly, commented on the second part of the amendment, which is to allow a local authority discretion to extend the period. Can he say whether there is any inherent objection to that? That may help both parties to deal with procedural matters rather more smoothly. Perhaps I may also ask him to confirm that the applicant has only to request a review within the time limit. I am not sure within what period the case has to be put. I should be grateful if the Minister could assist me on that point, or perhaps it is a matter for regulations.

Lord Dubs: Before the Minister answers, perhaps I may comment a little further. This may not be the

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most significant amendment of the whole of the Committee stage but it seems to me that the Minister is being extremely reluctant to meet the arguments that we have been putting forward. On a number of occasions during the Committee stage of the Bill--or perhaps it was the Report stage of the Asylum and Immigration Bill: one becomes a little confused these days--the Minister has prided himself on account of his constituency surgery experiences in the days when he was in the other place and represented a constituency. I put it to him that some of the people who are turned down for consideration under the homelessness arrangements by a local authority are likely to want to get some advice. They may say that they will consult their local councillor; they may say that they will consult their Member of Parliament. Each of those processes may take a little time. They may say that they want to consult their brother, their uncle or their father. In all those instances--those are perfectly reasonable things for people to want to do--time will go by and people may miss the opportunity.

Had these provisions been in place some years ago I could visualise people coming to my constituency surgery and saying, "I have had this letter from the town hall. What do I do about it?", by which point they might well have missed the date. The Minister is being unreasonable. We do not live in a world where all people efficiently deal by return of post with every communication that they receive. We do not live in a world where every individual knows exactly the significance of a communication from a local authority. The Minister will know that from his constituency days. I certainly remember it and anyone who has served on a local authority would also know that.

The Minister is being quite unreasonable and I think that a concession on this point would reflect the reality and the knowledge that individuals sometimes, for reasons beyond their direct control, need a little time to consider the implications of a communication from a local authority.

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