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Northern Ireland: Parliamentary Boundary Commission

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Shaun Woodward) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

Schedule 1 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 makes provision for the constitution of the four Boundary Commissions, including the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland. Under paragraph 2 of Schedule 1, each commission must consist of a chairman, deputy chairman and two other members appointed by the Secretary of State. Following the expiry of his previous term of appointment, I have reappointed Richard Mackenzie CB as a member of the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland for a further term of appointment, to expire on 31 October 2012.

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Rent Officers (Housing Benefit Functions) Amendment Order 2007 and Rent Officers (Housing Benefit Functions) (Scotland) Order 1997

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Kitty Ussher) has made the following Statement.

Following the judgment of the Law Lords in the case of Heffernan—R (on the application of Heffernan) v the Rent Service—on Wednesday 30 July 2008, the Government will lay amendments to the Rent Officers (Housing Benefit Functions) Order 1997 and the Rent Officers (Housing Benefit Functions) (Scotland) Order 1997 in order to clarify the rules that enable rent officers to define the local rental market areas which help determine entitlement to housing benefit.

The way in which the geographical areas, or localities, for assessing housing benefit are determined has a direct impact on the amount of benefit individual customers receive. If applied, the judgment would result in a dramatic increase in the number of localities nationally, as each would be based on a limited number of neighbourhoods. These new locality boundaries would not necessarily be the same as those that existed before the rent services carried out their most recent reviews of boundaries and could result in a large number of low-income tenants finding that housing benefit no longer covers their rent. Without amendment to the rent officers order, this would now happen automatically. This is not our policy intent, which is why amendments will be laid at the earliest opportunity.

The routine locality reviews that were undertaken by the rent services in 2006-07 under the rent officers order resulted in fewer localities across the country as a whole. These reviews were undertaken in consultation with local authorities, which have access to a discretionary fund to compensate individual tenants in hardship cases. The vast majority of the new boundaries were agreed by local authorities. The amendments of the rent officers order will enable the rent services to review the boundaries in those localities where local consensus was not achieved. In any year, the rent services are committed to reviewing 25 per cent of all locality boundaries.

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Homelessness: Rough Sleepers

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Iain Wright) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government are today publishing a new rough sleeping strategy, No One Left Out—Communities ending rough sleeping. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House.

Ten years ago, the Government set out an ambitious plan to cut rough sleeping by two-thirds. Thanks to the determination of our partners in local authorities, the voluntary sector and other agencies dealing with the homeless, we achieved that goal several years ago. There have been significant and sustained reductions in the number of people who sleep rough on the streets.

Our success in tackling rough sleeping so far is something in which we lead the world and of which this country can be proud, but we are not complacent. Ten years on from our first strategy, we are determined to make further progress. Our vision is to end rough sleeping once and for all. We know that many of our partners share this determination, and we will work across government to make progress.

This new strategy signals our intent to work with our partners to end rough sleeping once and for all by 2012. To make this happen we want to make sure that in every part of the country people get the help they need, so no one has to sleep rough. Services will act promptly to prevent rough sleeping from occurring in the first place, or to bring people in from the streets as quickly as possible. People who have slept rough will be supported to improve their health, consider employment options and rebuild their lives.

After a decade of progress we have learnt from our experiences, and are more confident and determined than ever that we can make progress towards this goal, building on the commitment, innovation and energy of our partners across government, in local authorities, the third sector and communities. The strategy sets out a 15-point action plan for the next four years. The tougher economic climate may bring new pressures and challenges, but I am confident that the strategy prepares us well for the future. The Government are investing £200 million to prevent homelessness and tackle rough sleeping.

This new strategy will help us make the final push, ending rough sleeping once and for all.

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