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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for drawing attention to a point which she feels is uncertain. If I made it uncertain for her, I am sorry. The reason for the uncertainty is that I gave the
This is where we do not want to be confused about homelessness. I shall take the noble Baroness through the steps relatively carefully. A person comes to a local authority and says "I haven't got a house". He is made homeless unintentionally as opposed to a failure to pay the rent. It is then the duty of the local authority to see that that person is housed. If he turns up at nine o'clock at night, he might be sent into a bedsitting room or whatever it may be. The next day the local authority will see the person and ask why he is homeless. The reasons for the homelessness or the reasons for the person being in that position will be discussed.
The allocation of points will depend very much on that which is contained in Clause 157 which, as I said when speaking to the first amendment, is really a matter of trying to find the cause of homelessness. It may be that the cause of homelessness is that the wife has walked out or it may be that the house has burnt down. But long-term housing is determined by Clause 157(2) which refers to giving reasonable preference to people occupying insanitary or overcrowded housing, people occupying housing accommodation which is temporary or occupied on insecure terms, families with dependent children, households consisting of or including someone who is expecting a child, and so forth. That is what determines the right of people to long-term housing. The fact that they have been given short-term housing does not put them at an advantage or at a disadvantage over whether they obtain long-term housing.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I hope that the Minister will correct me if I have misunderstood him, but I think the Minister said that he used the words local authorities will have to decide. In other words, there is an element of discretion as to the basis upon which the local authorities will determine the points system: either the conditions of homelessness from which the people concerned emerged, or the quality of temporary accommodation which they now occupy. I think that is what the Minister said. If I have misunderstood that, I would be very grateful to be corrected.
He went on to say that temporary accommodation, being insecure, would obviously come into the reasonable preference. But studying my own local authority's points system, insecure accommodation carries only, for example, 10 points whereas medical need may carry 100 points, and shared facilities may carry 100 points. So simply saying that because they are insecure gives them reasonable preference will not
I repeat, as I understand it, people may go down the "snake" by going into temporary housing but that is for the local authority to determine. Is that correct? I apologise to your Lordships but it is such a pivotal point that it would be very helpful for all of us to have clarification of that. I am happy to move on and ask the Minister to come back at some appropriate stage because without this clarification, local authorities will not know how they are allocating their points scheme. I am in the Minister's hands. I am very happy to continue or to give way to him if the House will permit.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall try to clarify the point with which the noble Baroness is concerned. If she looks at Clause 157(2) one of the priorities to which preference will have to be given is contained in paragraph (b):
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, again I thank the Minister for that and therefore I shall now wind up this debate. I am very glad that we have had the opportunity of this exchange. Perhaps it is our fault that we did not seek to have this clarified earlier but I had assumed that people continue to carry their points with them into whatever temporary housing they went. Something that the Minister said alarmed me and suggested a "snake" possibility in which case there are, to change my animal metaphor, elephant traps that we had not even anticipated for local authorities in seeking to manage this legislation. I would be glad if the Minister could write to me as speedily as possible. That would then allow us the opportunity to revisit this issue, if necessary, on Third Reading.
Apart from that, I have very little to say, for which I am sure your Lordships will be duly grateful. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that she could not define "exceptional". The noble Earl, Lord Russell, went on to give several instances of that which illustrated the point very well for us over and beyond the situation in which the person is six weeks' away from being housed.
The Minister assures us that this point is well covered already in the Bill. I have to say we do not believe that it is. We would not be moving this amendment if it were. He accepts the principle that local authorities do have the right to exercise their discretion in these exceptional circumstances. He
If that were clear and in the Bill, our advisers would not be asking us to press the amendment. Therefore, I wish to test the opinion of the House. I do not do that because there is a difference of substance between us and the Minister but there is a difference in relation to how transparent are the Minister's words. He believes that what we want is already there but we cannot see those words in the clause. That is why I wish to press the amendment. There is no disagreement between us as regards the issue but merely about the transparency of what the Government say is the case. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Minister may agree to include the words:
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.