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Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 68:

Page 115, line 8, at end insert ("save where a relevant change of circumstances has occurred").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, at present, when an applicant fails to obtain suitable alternative accommodation where it is reasonable that he should have done so and continues to be homeless, then, under the Bill's provisions, he has made himself intentionally homeless. If the alternative accommodation really had been suitable, available and affordable and he refused it, he is clearly intentionally homeless under the Bill. A local authority's duty is essentially limited to advice, and so on.

However, let us suppose that an applicant refused suitable alternative accommodation because he deemed it not entirely satisfactory. For example, it may have been too far from his work, he may have had no car or no adequate means of public transport. The local authority might disagree and deem him intentionally homeless. However, he may, off his own bat, manage to find a privately rented flat near his place of work. Then, perhaps, after a year, he may become homeless again if the landlord wished to raise the rent and the housing benefit did not cover it, or there might have been a fire and the property burnt down. If that person were to

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re-apply to the local authority as being homeless, the authority is obliged, I understand, still to find him intentionally homeless, irrespective of the circumstances which had caused his homelessness. In other words, once a person is deemed intentionally homeless, because he failed to occupy alternative accommodation suitable in the eyes of the local authority, that authority is permanently relieved of its duty to help, even if he presented himself again one or two years later.

Surely that cannot be what the Government intended. The amendment seeks to ensure that if there has been a change of circumstances since the applicant failed to secure the accommodation, the authority would not be able to find him intentionally homeless on the basis that he failed to occupy accommodation on a previous application. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Baroness's amendment would disapply the provision in the case where a "relevant" change of circumstances has occurred. The noble Baroness explained her concern with the length of time that a person has to spend in other accommodation which he has found for himself before a further application for assistance under the homelessness legislation might be successful.

For example, a person may have applied to an authority for assistance and, having been given the addresses of suitable properties, decides that he does not like any of them; or perhaps he fails to turn up for the appointments that the authority has arranged for him. He applies again, and the authority declares him intentionally homeless. That is fair enough if he has not bothered to take the opportunities that were open to him. He then turns to his brother-in-law, who agrees to give him a room in his house. All goes well for a while, until his brother-in-law decides that he no longer has room for him, and the person becomes homeless again. The question then is whether that person should be deemed intentionally homeless.

There is a real point here. Clearly if someone fails to take up an opportunity to secure suitable accommodation and then reapplies under the homelessness legislation two weeks later, it is only reasonable for the authority to conclude that he is still intentionally homeless as a result of his first constructive failure to secure accommodation.

But equally, if he finds accommodation for himself and then, through no fault of his own, becomes homeless again two years later, his earlier failure should not be held against him.

That is the way in which the law works at the moment. The courts have held that normally there must be a period of "settled" accommodation between the time when an applicant was deemed to be intentionally homeless and before a further application which might be successful. If there is not such a period, the homelessness may be linked to the earlier instance of intentional homelessness. But being intentionally homeless--some people like to use the ghastly word "intentionality"--can be brought to an end by some other event, for example, the breakdown of a relationship. It is a matter of judging in each case

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whether the present homelessness application results from the earlier act of intentional homelessness, or from some other intervening event.

We are clear that the same interpretation of the law on intentional homelessness should apply in respect of a disqualification under subsection (4). Each case should be considered on its own facts. There is nothing in the wording of the provision in subsection (4) which casts doubt on the way in which the authorities and the courts have applied the law on this point.

I hope that clarifies the point that the noble Baroness made. As I said, it is a real point.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can he clarify a circumstance where, for example, there has been a change in the make-up of the household itself? Is that sufficient to purge intentionality?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Baroness is asking me to define matters which it would be much wiser for me not to define. I gave an example. It would be quite wrong for me to say in one particular case this might work or in another it might not. If a person has made himself intentionally homeless and then, for some other reason, after he has found accommodation he becomes homeless again, then the local authority must be the one to decide whether that action by which he was made homeless is one which deems him not intentionally homeless but unintentionally homeless.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I think we share a common understanding of the problem. The Minister has made my amendment for me. The amendment states,

    "save where a relevant change of circumstances has occurred".
Only the local authority can appropriately judge whether there has been a relevant change of circumstances; in other words, that the homelessness is not linked to the original situation from which his intentional homelessness emerged. I am just surprised that in that case the Government were not able to accept the wording of the amendment. It seems to embody the intent that the Minister wanted but which was not clear without such wording. I do not know whether, with the leave of the House, the Minister can indicate whether he feels that this amendment is unnecessary because it is already covered in the wording of the Bill. The Minister signals his assent. So he is saying that idea in the amendment, "save where a relevant change of circumstances has occurred", is part of the Government's intention behind somebody re-applying; and therefore in substance, though not in words, this amendment has been accepted. I therefore beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 192 [Duty to persons with priority need who are not homeless intentionally]:

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Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 69:

Page 115, line 36, at end insert--
("( ) if the applicant was occupying accommodation made available to him under section (Duties to applicant whose case is considered for referral or referred)(3) (interim duty where case considered for referral but not referred), the date on which he was notified under subsection (2) of that section of the decision that the conditions for referral were not met;").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 70, 76 to 80, 91 and 93. This group of amendments clarifies the provisions that apply where an authority considers that a homelessness case should be referred to another authority.

The new clause rectifies a flaw in Clause 199, which had been imported from the Housing Act 1985, and which did not specify a duty to accommodate an applicant in the period between the decision that he was to be referred and the date of the referral.

The omission is put right in the new clause, which spells out the duties in sequence and clarifies which authority is responsible under certain circumstances. It ensures that accommodation continues to be provided pending the resolution of questions on "local connection". It also applies the "alternative accommodation" provisions where appropriate.

Amendments Nos. 70, 78, 79, 80, 91 and 93 are all minor drafting amendments.

Amendment No. 69 is a minor point, to specify that the two-year "minimum period" begins on the date on which the applicant is notified by the authority that the conditions for referral to another authority have not been met. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 70:

Page 115, leave out lines 39 to 41.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 194 [Duties in case of threatened homelessness]:

[Amendment No. 71 not moved.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 72:

Page 117, line 27, at beginning insert ("Thereafter").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment adds the word "Thereafter" to subsection (2) of Clause 194. I freely accept that this is a new amendment at this stage.

Clause 194 deals with a local authority's duty in the case where somebody who is threatened with homelessness is in priority need but is not threatened with homelessness intentionally. It requires an authority to ensure that reasonable steps to secure that the applicant's accommodation does not cease--I underline the word "cease"--are available to the applicant. In that respect it is the same as Section 66 of the 1985 Act. The code of guidance refers to prevention being better than cure.

"Reasonable steps" may include matters such as negotiation with a mortgage lender to hold back from repossession; with a landlord, to extend a letting; assisting

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with rent arrears in the various ways that debt management would suggest; ensuring that all benefits are being claimed; considering direct payments to the landlord; and possibly--an approach that local authorities are increasingly exploring--providing rent guarantees to the landlord.

The current Section 66 outlines the steps that can be taken to avoid homelessness and avoid the homelessness duty. But I am concerned that the provisions replicated in Clause 194 will be undermined by the provision having effect, subject to Clause 196, which deals with the duty where other suitable accommodation is available. Your Lordships spent a good deal of time on that issue.

This cross-reference, as the provision is incorporated in Clause 194, effectively prevents a local authority taking reasonable steps to avoid a household being evicted where there is suitable alternative accommodation available in the area. I am not even convinced that a local authority needs to know that there is a decent supply of suitable alternative accommodation. Clause 196(4), which was inserted at the last stage and refers to the state of the housing market, is about the duties in Clause 196 itself--in other words, "advice and assistance". I am not sure whether one can read them into Clause 194. It may be that the conjunction of the two clauses means that if a single unit of accommodation is available then regard must be had to that.

I do not believe that the Government intend to stop what I and, I believe, the code of guidance describe as prevention being better than cure. This amendment is intended to make it clear that these matters should be considered in stages and to provide that the local authority can take reasonable steps to prevent homelessness and only look to the availability of suitable alternative accommodation after that has been done. I beg to move.

9 p.m.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, Clause 194 sets out the duty which is owed by a local housing authority towards an applicant who is found to be unintentionally threatened with homelessness, to have a priority need for accommodation, and to be eligible for assistance under Part VII. That duty is expressed such that the authority:

    "shall take reasonable steps to secure that accommodation does not cease to be available for [the applicant's] occupation".
In practical terms, this duty may be discharged in one of two ways, and in certain circumstances may involve both of them.

Firstly, the authority may take steps to try to prevent the applicant from losing his existing accommodation. If such steps are not taken (perhaps because it is clear that they would not be successful), or if they are taken but without success, then the authority will need to secure fresh accommodation for the applicant. In that case, the duty owed by the authority under Clause 194 is just the same as the main homelessness duty to secure accommodation for a minimum of two years under Clause 192.

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The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the authority may take the first course--that is, it may take steps to prevent the applicant from losing his present accommodation--without being subject to the alternative accommodation provisions in Clause 196.

However, the amendment would go beyond this. It would also have the effect, which I believe was unintended, that where a duty to secure accommodation for two years applied, this also would not be subject to the alternative accommodation provisions. Not only would that be inconsistent with the provisions which apply in respect of the main duty to secure accommodation for two years under Clause 192, but it would also work directly against our policy intention that authorities should not be expected to accommodate a household where suitable other accommodation was available in the area.

I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that we have considered this point carefully, and that we are clear that the duty under Clause 196, which is to advise and assist an applicant to secure other suitable accommodation which is available to him in the area, would not apply where it was less onerous for the authority to take steps to prevent the applicant from losing his existing accommodation in the first place.

In particular, I direct the attention of the noble Baronesses to Clause 196(5). This provides that accommodation should not be regarded as available for a particular applicant if the level of assistance required in order to secure it is unreasonable in the circumstances. In most cases where it is possible to prevent the threatened homelessness, the level of assistance which will be required to achieve that will be lower than the level of assistance that would be necessary to secure fresh accommodation from scratch. I hope, therefore, that that has put the position clearly to the noble Baroness.

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