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Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 30:



"8A At the end of section 190 there is inserted—
"(4) The applicant's housing needs shall be assessed before advice and assistance is provided under subsection (2)(b) or (3).
(5) The advice and assistance provided under subsection (2)(b) or (3) must include information about the likely availability in the authority's district of types of accommodation appropriate to the applicant's housing needs (including, in particular, the location and sources of such types of accommodation).""

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Massey of Darwen moved Amendment No. 31:


    Page 14, line 4, at end insert—


"In section 190 (duties to persons becoming homeless intentionally), after subsection (3) there is inserted—
"(4) In any case where the local housing authority are advised by a social services authority that a child who is in need within the meaning of section 17(10) of the Children Act 1989 (c. 41) resides with an applicant to whom they have secured that accommodation is available under subsection (2) above, they shall—
(a) continue to secure that accommodation is available for the occupation of the applicant and any such child for so long as the social services authority advise them that accommodation is required to enable the social services authority to provide services to such a child to promote or safeguard the child's welfare; or
(b) provide such assistance to the social services authority as shall enable the applicant to secure that accommodation becomes available from some other person.""

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is the same amendment as I introduced in Committee. My intention is simply to keep the issue of the separation of parents and children by homelessness on the agenda. I am aware that the Minister and his officials

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are also concerned about the issue and are working to find ways of sorting it out. In Grand Committee, the Minister said:


    "We were in the process of investigating whether there had been any change in practice in the way that local authorities provide assistance for families with children who are homeless. We regard it as a very important matter and we need to get to the bottom of what is going on".—[Official Report, 10/12/01; col. CWH 69.]

Meanwhile, more evidence is emerging from local authorities and from Shelter that there is separation of children and parents. I still believe that the issue of intentional and unintentional homelessness is confused and is not the hub of the matter.

I understand the difficulties caused by the interpretation of the Children Act 1989, which emphasises the needs of children above all considerations when offering council services but runs into difficulty on this issue. The result is that local authorities appear to have no power, let alone duty, to provide accommodation for children with their parents if no other accommodation is available. For example, there is no duty owed to parents who have been found intentionally homeless, although actual parenting is not in question. The result is that the only power that can be exercised to provide accommodation involves separating the child from the parents.

I realise that the Children Act cannot be our concern here, although its implications can. I also know that there are moves to amend the Act. Nevertheless, I hope that, in this Bill, a clause can be inserted to offer protection to parents and children who are made homeless. I look forward to clarification from the Minister. I beg to move.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, in Grand Committee, I supported the noble Baroness on this issue. There have been various reports in the press, so I hope that the Minister can update us. If there is a possibility that we could use this Bill to deal with the situation, I hope that that will be considered at Third Reading.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, my concern was that the loophole that has been discovered is being used as a threat to families to drive them out of local authority offices. That concern has been expressed by charities. Children are rarely taken into care, but overworked housing departments are using that loophole as an excuse to push families away. The families then disappear from sight, and there is a great fear that they will simply go into inadequate and inappropriate accommodation.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Massey for indicating that Amendment No. 31 is a probing amendment, giving me an opportunity to update the House on where we are. It is an important issue, about which great concern has been expressed. The concern is that if a local authority says that it may take a child into care, the family will simply disappear, rather than have the child taken into care.

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The issue of accommodation for children in need and their families—covered by Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, which provision was the subject of the recently decided cases referred to in Committee—is important and will be considered in another place in the context of the Adoption and Children Bill. That will address the central issue of concern, namely the power of social services to provide accommodation under Section 17.

There is also the separate question of ensuring that there is good co-operation between the housing and social services departments in meeting the needs of such families. In Committee, I said that I had met several social services directors to discuss the situation and their approach to meeting the needs of such families. I was heartened by what they said. They all have arrangements in place to ensure that the social services departments work with the housing authority—or housing department, in the case of unitary authorities—to find an appropriate solution for the whole family, when dealing with families with children who have made themselves intentionally homeless.

In Committee, I also said that I had asked my officials to work closely with their counterparts at the Department of Health to see how we could ensure that such a sensible and co-ordinated approach would be adopted more widely. We are now agreed on that policy. Housing authorities will be required to notify the social services authorities as soon as it becomes clear that they are dealing with a homeless family with children who will not be owed the main homelessness duty, either because they have intentionally made themselves homeless or they are not eligible for housing assistance. Where the social services department requests the housing authority to assist it to discharge its functions under Part III of the Children Act 1989 in meeting the needs of the child, the housing authority will be required to co-operate. We are also considering ways of ensuring that housing and social services departments in unitary authorities work together on such cases.

Implementing the policy will require amendments to the Homelessness Bill. I had hoped to be in a position to table amendments today, but unfortunately I am not, as they are still at the development stage. However, I intend to table amendments at the earliest opportunity and undertake to do so before Third Reading.

In support of the policy, my department and the Department of Health will issue joint guidance to housing and social services departments about co-operative working. As I said in Committee, I do not think that the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, is the right way in which to tackle the problem. However, she has not necessarily put that line forward and has, rightly, been concerned about the issue and wishes to ensure that it is properly discussed. We will return to the matter at Third Reading.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that response. I simply wanted to raise again the issue of homelessness of

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parents and children. I am reassured by what the Minister said, and I know that he will work to find a suitable way of dealing with the issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 32:


    Page 14, line 7, at end insert—


"9A After subsection (3) of section 192 (as inserted by section 5(1) above) there is inserted—
"(4) The applicant's housing needs shall be assessed before advice and assistance is provided under subsection (2).
(5) The advice and assistance provided under subsection (2) must include information about the likely availability in the authority's district of types of accommodation appropriate to the applicant's housing needs (including, in particular, the location and sources of such types of accommodation).""

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendments Nos. 33 to 36:


    Page 14, line 24, at end insert—


"(c) after subsection (5) there is inserted—
"(6) The applicant's housing needs shall be assessed before advice and assistance is provided under subsection (5).
(7) The advice and assistance provided under subsection (5) must include information about the likely availability in the authority's district of types of accommodation appropriate to the applicant's housing needs (including, in particular, the location and sources of such types of accommodation).";"
Page 14, line 24, at end insert—


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