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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. As he intimated, and as we both know from the past, there are authorities and authorities. Some have better procedures than others and some adopt better practices than others. It was in seeking to ensure that the best practices were adopted that I sought to have the matter put on the face of the Bill. I thank the Minister for his reply and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Clause 15 [Allocation Schemes]:

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 19:

    Page 10, line 19, after "accommodation" insert "(including temporary accommodation) which may be available within the authority's district or within another authority's district"

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 19, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 20, 21 and 24. Amendment No. 19 addresses one of the most serious issues, particularly in London: the availability of decent temporary accommodation. There is rightly a move towards reducing the numbers of people in bed and breakfast accommodation and the amount of time they spend there. But in order to provide for all those who present themselves as homeless, it is a fact that many will continue to be placed in conditions which are less than satisfactory.

There may be options for applicants to be placed outside the authority in question if there is accommodation available in a particular authority. That position should be made clear. The homeless are as entitled as anyone else to know the true position and what options may be available. In Committee the Minister drew my attention to the fact that this clause came under Part 6 of the 1996 Act. I accept that that is the case. However, as Clause 15(2)(a) relates to people who are homeless within Part 7, it seems to me that it is relevant to refer to temporary accommodation for that aspect alone.

Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 are designed to follow one upon the other and to draw on to the face of the Bill all those who, as a result of the changes being made, will be entitled to priority consideration for housing. They would amend Section 189 of the Housing Act 1996. No one to whom I have spoken is, in general, against any of the principles of what is being proposed. However, there is great anxiety about the implications of the extra priority categories. In reality, in places such as London, housing authorities are in dire straits coping with the priorities in the 1996 Act. The Bill extends those priority categories. It is my view that they should all be in one place rather than scattered through the two pieces of legislation. Priorities will have to be prioritised. As I said in Committee, decisions will have to be made as to who is more vulnerable than the vulnerable. There needs to be recognition that that is the position. This is the best way I can think of doing that.

Amendment No. 24 returns to the concerns I expressed in Committee about the need for housing authorities to be able to balance their housing allocations to take account of the make-up of the community in any part of their area of responsibility. It helps no one, least of all those concerned, if too many vulnerable people are placed in one estate or statutory housing area without a balance of those who can help and support them. There have been too many incidents of sink estates in the past to allow that to happen again. Local authorities are well aware of that.

In general, I expect that what I seek in tabling the amendment happens in well-managed authorities. However, in view of the greater emphasis being placed on the young and the vulnerable, as well as those

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already categorised, it must be allowable for such a consideration as outlined in my amendment to be taken into account. I beg to move.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, like the noble Baroness, I shall deal with Amendments Nos. 19, 20, 21 and 24, which were either moved or spoken to in this group.

Amendment No. 19 deals with local housing authority schemes for the allocation of accommodation. It would require authorities to include in their allocation schemes a statement on offering applicants accommodation, not only within the authority's own boundaries but in other areas also. The noble Baroness indicated in Committee that she tabled the amendment because in some high demand areas even temporary accommodation may not be available in the authority's own area and, she says, applicants should be made aware of that.

I do not believe that it is necessary to place such a requirement on the face of the Bill. Shortage of affordable housing is a problem localised to some parts of the country, one of which the Government are well aware and are investing to alleviate. However, as it is localised, the desirability of an authority indicating the likelihood of an application being successful is, I believe, a matter for guidance rather than legislation.

Part 6 of the 1996 Act is concerned with long-term allocations of secure, introductory or assured tenancies. Therefore, the reference to temporary accommodation could be said not to be in the right place. The provisions of the 1996 Act for allocations relate to the selection of tenants of an authority's own stock and nominations to tenancies of accommodation held by other housing providers, whether other authorities or RSLs. An authority's policy on offering people a choice of housing implicitly includes its policies in relation to its own accommodation and its arrangements with other authorities. I therefore urge the noble Baroness to withdraw Amendment No. 19.

Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 would insert additional categories of housing applicants who must be given reasonable preference in the allocation of housing accommodation under Part 6 of the 1996 Act. Put simply, the additional categories covered by the amendments are unnecessary because they are already covered by the existing categories in the Bill.

Amendment No. 20 would insert four new categories, which exactly match the categories of homeless applicants who have a priority need for accommodation under the homelessness legislation. Those comprise Section 189(1)(a) to (d) of the 1996 Act. All homeless applicants who fall within one or more of those categories and who are homeless or threatened with homelessness will be owed a duty under various sections of the 1996 Act. Clause 15(3) of the Bill specifically requires that housing applicants who are owed such duties must be given reasonable preference in the allocation of housing accommodation by virtue of new Section 167(2B). The point made by the noble Baroness is already covered.

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Amendment No. 21 would insert five new categories of homeless people who must be given reasonable preference for an allocation. Four of those are already covered in Clause 15 of the Bill by new Section 167(2)(a), which provides that anyone who is homeless within the meaning of Part 7 of the 1996 Act must be given reasonable preference for an allocation. "Homelessness within the meaning of Part 7" means statutorily homeless as defined by Sections 175 to 177 of the 1996 Act. Broadly speaking, those sections provide that a person is homeless if he or she does not have accommodation which is legally and physically available to him or her and his family, and which it would be reasonable for them to continue to occupy. That will include rough sleepers and all others who do not have a home, for whatever reason.

The fact that someone is homeless within the meaning of Part 7 of the 1996 Act does not necessarily mean that he or she will be owed a substantive homelessness duty. That would require them to have become homeless unintentionally and to fall within a priority need group. There may be some misunderstanding about the effect of new Section 167(2)(a). Its application is not limited to people who are owed a main homelessness duty; it extends to anyone who is homeless, whatever the reason for the homelessness.

I said that four of the categories proposed by Amendment No. 21 are already covered by new Section 167(2)(a). The fifth and last category proposed by the amendment is not so embraced because it does not address people who are homeless. It deals with existing secure or introductory tenants of a local authority who are seeking a transfer. Applicants in this position cannot expect to be given reasonable preference unless they fall within new Section 167(2)(c), (d) or (e). These categories would apply if they were living in insanitary, overcrowded or otherwise unsatisfactory conditions, or if they needed to move because of medical or welfare reasons or to avoid hardship to themselves or others. I hope that I have persuaded the noble Baroness that Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 are unnecessary.

Amendment No. 24 allows an authority to suspend the new provisions inserted into Section 167 of the Housing Act 1996 by subsection (3) of Clause 15. Most of those provisions confer a discretion on the local housing authority when framing its statutory housing allocation schemes. This is the case with new Section 167(2A) to (2E). Nothing would be gained by allowing authorities to suspend those provisions when the extent to which they use them is anyway at their discretion. Furthermore, some of these provisions are particularly helpful in meeting some of the concerns of the noble Baroness.

New Section 167(2), like its predecessor, requires allocation schemes to be framed in order to give reasonable preference in allocating housing to those who, in general terms, have the most pressing needs. This is a duty but the preference required to be given is one which is "reasonable" in all the circumstances. In determining priority between applicants who fall

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into a "reasonable preference" category, an authority may specify factors it will take into account—such as an applicant's financial resources or behaviour. They also allow authorities to ensure that local circumstances—for example, on a particular estate—can be reflected in allocation schemes.

Under new Section 167(2E)(b), authorities would be able to allocate particular housing accommodation to persons of a particular description in accordance with schemes known as "local lettings schemes". These could include key worker schemes where it might help attract modestly paid but essential staff to high-cost areas. In another area, such a scheme might be used to lower the child to adult ratio on an estate with a high child density. Or the scheme might be operated to provide housing for those who do not usually receive high priority on an authority's register—for example, young single people.

It is up to the authority, in consultation with its partners, to draw up a scheme which meets local housing needs and which supports the development of sustainable communities. The provisions of the Bill provide the foundations for this work and, within the statutory framework, wide discretion is given to authorities and schemes can be adapted to reflect local circumstances.

It is important to keep local letting schemes under review, and to monitor their impact on those who are not part of any local lettings schemes. Of course, local lettings schemes should not override the reasonable preference categories across an authority's stock when taken as a whole.

Taken together, the provisions of Clause 15(3) provide a robust framework for authorities. They will ensure that, in general, authorities allocate their housing to those in greatest need. But they will also provide flexibility to adapt schemes to local circumstances. In that way, looked at as a whole, the Bill, as drafted, meets the principal purposes behind the amendment. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will not pursue Amendment No. 24.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, before my noble friend responds to the Minister, perhaps I may say a few words. I have waited to hear the Minister's response to my noble friend's amendments because I was conscious that we were going over ground covered in Grand Committee. I wanted to see whether any new arguments were to be adduced.

I have sympathy with the Government's attitude on the central point of not introducing unnecessary complication and leaving a degree of freedom to local authorities. The Minister implied that applicants fully understood the situation. Therefore, it did not need to be spelled out in writing or in terms of how local authorities responded to them in the way suggested by my noble friend.

I do not want to go back over ground that I introduced during the Grand Committee. However, I indicated that in London there is a major series of

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transfers between local authorities whereby one local authority will move its applicants into another one, while simultaneously the other local authority may be moving its applicants into the original one. I shall not go over all that ground, except to say that the Member of Parliament on the receiving end has to cope with the exportee's views. He can express a whole series of views about the local authority which suddenly exported him. The Member of Parliament is, by definition, ignorant of the practices of the other local authority and does not know whether his new constituent is trying it on or is genuinely ignorant about the circumstances in which the local authority finds itself.

As I say, my sympathy is with the Government. I am not in favour of complicating the issue. However, the Minister should not imagine that every applicant is fully aware of the circumstances. In that respect, my noble friend's suggestion would have illuminated his ignorance.

On the other hand, with regard to what my noble friend said about other categories, an analogy springs to mind from long in the past. It is not wholly irrelevant to this place. There was a discussion about whether an archdeacon whose father was a Peer was the venerable but honourable or the venerable and honourable or the honourable and venerable. The judging of these priorities will be a matter for local authorities when reaching a decision on the applicant in question.

That said, I agree that it is probably better to allow the local authority to make up its own mind how it exercises those preferences and those priorities, provided that it has a policy which can be communicated to applicants so that they can understand what is happening. I am perfectly content for the matter to be left to the local authority, but the local authority needs to have a policy.

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