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Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 8:

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Clause 5 extends to local authorities a discretion to provide accommodation for those who are homeless but who are not in priority need and who are not considered to be intentionally homeless. These will tend to be single people, for whom very little can be done at present, and couples who are not vulnerable and do not have

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children. To some extent these are the people who have been left to fend for themselves even if a local authority had accommodation in the past.

My concerns relate to the number of priority categories that are being developed under the terms of the Bill. Although it may be clear that there are some areas where the impact of extra discretion in terms of responsibilities may not matter, there are areas of the country where any further extension of the power to assist will become completely meaningless, as accommodation is simply not available. I refer to London and to some metropolitan areas; indeed, some rural areas may be in the same position.

The extension in terms of those who may be considered for help will mean that the needs of those delineated in Section 167(2), amended and increased by Clause 15(3) of this Bill, may realistically have to be prioritised if there is any possibility of their being offered accommodation at any stage.

My amendment would provide local authorities with a means of attempting to ensure a balance of allocation within their allocation policies, and would give authorities some discretion as regards the implementation of their policies. I am sure that guidance will be issued on this matter. However, it brings into sharp focus the difficulties which some of the more beleaguered authorities will have in implementing this part of the Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, perhaps I may add to my comments in Grand Committee. The amendment concerns a discretionary power. Therefore, it is not necessary. There are areas of the country where the demand on housing is much lower, which enables better use to be made of the housing. For that reason, although I understand the noble Baroness's comments, I do not believe that such an amendment is needed to enable local authorities to do what she requires.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, effectively encapsulates in three sentences the objection to the amendment. I shall go slightly further and say that it would restrict a discretion on the face of the Bill when the kinds of decisions that have to be made are ones that one very much wants to leave to local authorities.

The noble Baroness's concern is that those who have been accepted as statutorily homeless should not be given undue priority over others in housing need who seek local authority housing—particularly so in the case of homeless people who do not have a priority need for housing. That is her basic complaint.

As I explained in Grand Committee, Clause 5(1) does not affect the preference or priority which must be given to applicants under an authority's allocation scheme. An authority might in theory exercise the discretionary power to use non-secure tenancies to accommodate unintentionally homeless applicants who are not in priority need, to the detriment of needy households who had applied through the authority's allocation scheme. But would it happen in practice?

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That is the point the noble Baroness is making. I do not believe that it would—not least because it is in the interests of authorities to build stable communities.

Proposed new Section 192(3) needs to be read with Section 159(1) and (2) and with Section 167(1) and (8) of the Housing Act 1996. These make clear that the grant of a secure or introductory tenancy or a nomination to an RSL tenancy can only be done through a formal allocation under Part 6 and in accordance with the authority's allocation scheme. So proposed new Section 192(3) is not an easy or alternative route to a secure tenancy or RSL nomination which bypasses Part 6.

Authorities recognise the legitimate claims of those on their waiting lists to a fair chance of being offered accommodation. Many on the waiting list may be housed in unsatisfactory circumstances and may have been waiting for some time, particularly in areas of high demand. Others may have a pressing need to move on medical or welfare grounds or for the avoidance of hardship to themselves or to others. I cannot envisage that, in practice, any local housing authority would put the claims of homeless people whom they recognise as being "not in priority need" ahead of needy groups applying for accommodation through the allocation scheme.

Local authorities must act reasonably and are publicly accountable. We do no favours to local government in specifying every last matter that it must consider. Too often, we preach the principles of local accountability while tying the hands of local authorities. I am glad to see noble Lords on the Benches behind the noble Baroness nodding in agreement. I believe that this is an area where local authorities are unlikely to get it wrong and consider that the amendment would be an unnecessary fetter and complication to the Bill—which I know the noble Baroness would wish to avoid. I therefore invite her to listen to reason, to listen to those on the Benches behind her who have great experience of local government, and who would regard it as unwise of her to press this matter to a vote.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I am fascinated by the Minister's reply. I do not seek to fetter anyone with this amendment. All I am doing is giving authorities greater discretion. The words of the amendment are:

    "provided that the authority are satisfied that the exercise of this discretion shall not significantly reduce their opportunities to offer accommodation".

It widens the scope of local authorities and enables them to shift what is in Section 167 an important group of people for whom priority allocation is required.

However, the Minister has exercised his usual charm in putting forward arguments against the amendment. Even if he does accuse me of all sorts of strange things in regard to local authorities, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 9:

    Page 4, line 4, leave out "(5)" and insert "(8) (as inserted by paragraph 11 of Schedule 1)"

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 30, 32 and 33.

These amendments have been brought forward in response to concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, in Grand Committee, when her comments received widespread support from other noble Lords. The concerns centred on the fact that not all local housing authorities deliver a good service when discharging their duties to provide advice and assistance to homeless applicants who have been found not to have a priority need for accommodation or to be intentionally homeless or threatened with homelessness.

The Government share the noble Baroness's view that it is extremely important that local housing authorities provide a good service and ensure that they meet their statutory obligations under the homelessness legislation. However, I am mindful that much of her concern arises because of the perception that some authorities are not doing what they are already required to do by statute.

The Bill already provides for the existing duties to provide advice and assistance to be strengthened, but Amendments Nos. 30, 32 and 33 will take this further. They will require an assessment of the applicant's housing needs to be made before any advice and assistance is provided—with an unspecified but clear inference that the assessment must be taken into account in the advice and assistance proffered. The amendments will also require that the advice and assistance given must include information about the type of accommodation that would be appropriate for the applicant. That, in turn, must include information about the likely availability of accommodation within the local authority area and where the applicant should go, and to whom he or she should apply in order best to locate it.

Amendment No. 9 is minor and consequential to the amendment—and also to Amendment No. 34, to which I shall speak later as it concerns Clause 15.

Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 insert new subsections (6), (7) and (8) in Section 195 of the Housing Act 1996. One effect is to displace what would have been new subsection (6) of Section 195, as inserted by Clause 5(2) of the Bill, and require it to be renumbered as new subsection (8) of Section 195. Amendment No. 9 gives effect to this renumbering.

The Government feel very strongly that there must be increased emphasis on the provision of good quality, properly tailored and timely advice for those experiencing, or facing, homelessness. The amendments that I have introduced will help to focus local housing authority minds on what must be done. Clearly, placing statutory duties on authorities may not always be sufficient to ensure that good quality and consistent results are delivered on the ground. We shall reinforce our message through clear statutory

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guidance—both on the advice and assistance duties, and on putting together the local homelessness strategy—and through the national homelessness strategy.

I commend Amendments Nos. 9, 30, 32 and 33 to the House. In the light of my introductory remarks on these amendments, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, will not feel the need to move her Amendment No. 10. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Maddock had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 10:

    After Clause 5, insert the following new clause—

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