Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 26:

"( ) In the Housing Act 1988 (c. 50) after section 21 there is inserted the following subsection—
"(8) No order for possession under subsection (1) or (4) may be made in relation to a dwelling-house let on a tenancy to which section 20B above applies unless the court is satisfied that the tenant or a person residing in or visiting the dwelling house has engaged or threatened to engage in conduct to which section 153A or 153B of the Housing Act 1996 (anti-social behaviour or use of premises for immoral or unlawful purposes) applies.""

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 26 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 147, 148 and 149. The amendments would ensure that the fast-track eviction proceedings available for demoted tenancies cannot be used for any reason other than further anti-social behaviour. The amendments would align the situation for all social housing tenants. The first relates to registered social landlord tenants who have previously had a short tenancy, and the others relate to local authority tenants who had a secure tenancy.

23 Oct 2003 : Column 1805

We have a concern that tenants who have addressed their anti-social behaviour since being put on a demoted tenancy, in which case the Government have achieved their objectives, could still be made homeless as a result of a breach of the more stringent tenancy conditions that would then apply, in particular those relating to rent arrears. That is what happens to many tenants who are placed on introductory or starter tenancies, so the amendments would ensure that eviction from a demoted tenancy can be carried out only for further incidents of anti-social behaviour.

In the Commons, the Minister argued that the amendments watered down the notion of demoted tenancies as a sanction. However, at this stage, as on previous occasions, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, was more positive about encouraging landlords to use demotion where they feel they can work with a tenant to change the behaviour and therefore sustain the tenancy rather than end it.

I question the use of guidance. If the Minister is not persuaded, assurances that the statutory guidance will make it clear that final possession of a demoted tenancy should be on the basis that I have outlined would be helpful. I should be grateful if he could comment on that. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, Amendment No. 26 provides that the court should not make a possession order to end a demoted assured shorthold tenancy unless there has been anti-social behaviour, either by the tenant or by someone else living with or visiting the tenant, and not for any other reason. In effect, that would mean that a landlord would have to return to court to prove that there had been further anti-social behaviour.

Amendments Nos. 148 and 149 would also require landlords to return to court to prove that there have been further acts of anti-social behaviour in order to end a demoted tenancy. I understand that the noble Baroness wants to ensure that tenants are not evicted from their homes without good reason, but these amendments would make the whole principle of demoting tenancies worthless.

Demoted tenancies have been designed to be both a warning and a last chance. We want to encourage landlords to use them instead of seeking suspended or outright possession orders. Demotion is not a soft option. As well as being a warning and an incentive to behave, it is a real sanction. The tenant, through his or her actions, has lost security; we want him to understand that this may have serious consequences. Tenants need to understand that when they are considering how to conduct themselves in the first instance.

Where a landlord has put his energy into seeking a demoted tenancy instead of a possession order, it will be because it is seen as a real chance to work with the tenant to improve behaviour. That kind of landlord would not subsequently seek to end the demoted tenancy on a whim. It is important, however, that if the tenant fails his or her last chance, the landlord is not expected to make a further trip to the courts.

23 Oct 2003 : Column 1806

Possession proceedings are time consuming and can be very costly. Many witnesses and victims may be reluctant to attend court for a second time. Such action will have the effect of discouraging the use of demoted tenancies and, ultimately, could lead to more evictions.

A tenant would have been demoted in the first place only if the landlord was able to provide sufficient evidence to a court to obtain a demotion order. If the tenant's behaviour fails to improve, it seems unfair to expect the landlord to gather evidence to convince the court for a second time. The tenant would have already received the last-chance warning.

The procedure for ending a public sector demoted tenancy is based on the procedure for ending an introductory tenancy. It is a decision taken by the landlord, following a statutory process, followed by a possession order granted by the court. The tenant has the right to an internal review of the landlord's decision. That procedure has been approved by the courts.

Registered social landlord demoted tenants are assured shorthold tenants and their landlords can obtain a possession order by giving two months' notice. They do not have to give any reason. That is in line with the way that the registered social landlord starter tenancy scheme operates. There are checks on the appropriate use of starter tenancies. Housing Corporation guidance sets out that RSLs should follow a similar process to that for local authorities when taking possession action against starter tenancies. Housing Corporation regulations, in conjunction with Audit Commission inspection, help to ensure that RSLs act appropriately. That protection will be extended to demoted RSL tenancies.

Amendment No. 147 seeks to clarify that a notice of proceedings for possession against a demoted secure tenancy must be served under Section 143E of the Housing Act 1996; that is, a notice of proceedings for possession. The amendment is not necessary; the clause already has the effect that the amendment seeks to achieve.

The noble Baroness asked a question about the contents of guidance. I have made it clear that there is already guidance for RSLs. No doubt, this will be one of those issues on which we will promote best practice. The points raised in this short debate will be reflected on when providing guidance towards best practice.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, could not the guidance provide that during the internal review which the noble Lord says would be conducted before a possession order is sought specific consideration is given as to whether the tenant's behaviour has improved?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it may be that that is included in best practice. The behaviour of the tenant is very much germane to the whole way in which

23 Oct 2003 : Column 1807

demotion proceedings will work out. I am sure that that is a point we can take away and think about. I am most grateful to the noble Lord for making that point.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I expressed the fear beforehand that in certain cases an unintended consequence might be to reinforce the downward direction of a spiral. However, I thank the Minister for his response. I shall consider the points carefully. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 27 not moved.]

Clause 16 [Proceedings for possession: anti-social behaviour]:

[Amendments Nos. 28 to 30 not moved.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 31:

    Page 16, line 25, at end insert—

"(d) whether the tenant or a member of the tenant's household suffers from an illness or disability which might diminish his personal responsibility for the nuisance or annoyance;
(e) whether the tenant or a member of the tenant's household is vulnerable as a result of childhood, old age, mental illness, disability or other special reason;
(f) whether the tenant or a member of the tenant's household is willing to give an undertaking to the court in respect of his future conduct; and
(g) whether other means of dispute resolution are available to deal with the allegations of nuisance or annoyance."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 31 and 35 broaden the scope of the court's discretion when dealing with possession cases based on nuisance or annoyance. The amendments propose that the court's attention should be drawn to factors which may mitigate the personal responsibility of the perpetrator or relate to the hardship which will be suffered by other members of the household if a possession order is made—we referred to the first of those points earlier today. The court's attention should also be drawn to the willingness of the perpetrator to give an undertaking to the court and to other means of dispute resolution that may be available.

As the clause stands, the matters which the court must consider are those that relate exclusively to the effect on other people which the behaviour is having and will continue to have. Effectively, the clause gives rise to a presumption that a possession order will inevitably follow if the behaviour has had an adverse effect on other people, which may be the case where the behaviour is violent or persistent.

However, the Bill is directing the court in one direction only; that is, towards eviction. To that extent, I might suggest that it is interfering with the ambit of the court's discretion to an unjustified degree. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, these amendments seek to require the court to consider

23 Oct 2003 : Column 1808

certain issues before granting a possession order, including any issues relating to disability or vulnerability of the tenant or their household members, and the availability of other remedies such as alternative dispute resolution or an undertaking by the tenant.

The amendments focus on the needs of the perpetrators of anti-social behaviour. None of these matters is irrelevant and will already form part of the court's consideration of whether a possession order is justified. However, Clause 16 seeks to ensure that, in considering the needs of the perpetrators of anti-social behaviour, the courts do not concentrate so closely on the circumstances of the perpetrator that they do not pay sufficient attention to the impact of anti-social behaviour on its victims. That is, after all, the objective of this legislation. The clause aims to redress that balance, not to discriminate against persons with disabilities.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, withdrew his proposed amendments on disability, having been assured by my noble friend Lady Scotland that the protection offered to disabled people by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 would remain in place. I refer the noble Baroness to Hansard of 11th September at cols. 489 to 490. The Government stand by that position.

We are keen to ensure that disabled people are not unfairly discriminated against. The Disability Discrimination Act was introduced to ensure that disabled peopled are treated fairly as regards the services they receive and housing rights are included within that. Landlords, including social landlords, are already within the scope of the DDA and the provisions of that Act, along with all other discrimination legislation, will be read into this Bill.

The correct balance must be maintained between ensuring that effective remedies against anti-social behaviour are available to protect all members of the community and that people with disabilities are not unfairly discriminated against. I refer the noble Baroness in particular to Section 22 of the Disability Discrimination Act which makes it unlawful for a person managing any premises to discriminate against a disabled person occupying those premises. In relation to eviction, such a person would discriminate if, for a reason which relates to the disabled person's disability, they treat that person less favourably than they would treat others to whom that reason does not or would not apply, and they cannot show that the treatment in question is justified in accordance with Section 24 of the 1995 Act.

When reaching their decision as to whether a possession order is justified, judges are required to take into account all the relevant legislation. Where there is a question of disability, this will include the 1995 Act, thus ensuring that such people are not unfairly treated. Judges already consider what other action landlords have tried before reaching a decision on possession hearings and whether or not undertakings relating to behaviour are appropriate.

23 Oct 2003 : Column 1809

Perhaps I may reiterate that I understand that the noble Baroness is concerned that some people may lose their homes as a result of behaviour which may appear to be anti-social, but which derives from a disability. I should like to reassure her that the protections offered to the disabled tenant by the 1995 Act are not affected in any way by this provision. Clause 16 is about ensuring that the impact of anti-social behaviour on victims is considered by the court. It is not in any way intended to encourage discrimination against disabled tenants.

I hope that, with those reassurances and with our continued commitment to finding other means prior to using these more severe penalties, such as dispute resolution and mediation, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page