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The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Ullswater): My Lords, if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes. I remind noble Lords of the new procedure during Grand Committee on this Bill for Divisions in the Chamber. Members who have registered with the Clerk of the Parliaments may vote in their places in the Grand Committee, provided that they are present in the Grand Committee when the Question is put in the Chamber after three minutes. Members who have not registered or who are not here at the three-minute mark will not be able to vote in their places. I also ask Members to make sure that they speak up but do not touch the microphones.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I wonder whether I could raise another question on procedure in the Committee arising from something the Deputy Chairman just said. I have had representations on behalf of the large number of people who are either deaf or have hearing impairments, who are finding it difficult-I immediately accept the noble Viscount's admonition for not having switched my phone to silent-to follow the procedures and this Committee. They have asked me to raise two issues. Notwithstanding the normal arrangement for addressing the Chair, they have said that it would be easier to lip-read if people addressing the Committee were to talk directly to the camera. Could Members think about that? Secondly, they are finding that the level of speaking by people, particularly when they are speaking down to notes, it is difficult for them to hear. Could Members speak up, and could we ask the technicians to ensure that the level is as high as possible?
The Deputy Chairman: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord's comments have been taken into consideration by the technicians and that everything will be done in order so that everyone can partake in the best possible manner.
This is by way of a probing amendment. It was prompted by an article in the Times of 14 October. The article suggested that people were to be denied their benefits if they appealed against the determination. That seemed to be in the context of the reassessment of incapacity benefit claimants, particularly those who were denied ESA- the work-related activity group- who could therefore qualify for jobseeker's allowance. The article stated:
"Hundreds of thousands of welfare claimants face losing their benefits for months if they challenge a ruling that they are fit to work. Ministers are looking at removing payments during the appeals process in an attempt to slash the number of challenges that are threatening to derail the Government's benefits reforms. The unprecedented move is being considered as one way to unclog the courts which are set to be inundated with appeals as the Government attempts to reduce the annual £7 billion incapacity benefit bill. A reassessment of all 1.6 million incapacity benefit claimants began in April, with ministers promising to move them on to a new system with narrower eligibility criteria for the sick and stricter requirements to find work. However, concerns over both the reliability of the test to find out whether people are ready for work and the scale of the project has prompted fears of a mountain of appeals. Judges have said privately that they could be facing 500,000 cases a year, some taking more than nine months to resolve".
In view of the concerns that an article like that can generate, we consider it appropriate to give the Minister an early opportunity to set the record straight, and hopefully deny that that is the Government's intent. To be clear, do the Government have any plans or otherwise contemplate, by amendment to this Bill or otherwise through regulation, the prospect of denying individuals their benefit should they appeal against a determination that denies them incapacity benefits or employment and support allowance?
At present, where there is an appeal against a decision not to include somebody in the work-related activity group, that causes benefit to be paid at the assessment period rate only, which is the JSA rate. Is this the type of arrangement which the Government are seeking to replicate, or are they proposing to go further and to deny benefit altogether? This raises wider issues which we shall come on to in subsequent clauses, but what conditionality would apply during the period when the appeal is outstanding? I hope that the Minister can set the record straight and clear on this. If he proposes to confirm that the article has some validity, we have some additional questions which we would pose to him. I will give him the opportunity to set the record straight and deny that this article identifies something which the Government propose to take forward. I beg to move.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, the amendment is slightly different from the question posed, and I shall deal with the question posed. The changes to the current appeal system are being taken forward in this Bill, as expressed in Clauses 99 and 100, so we will have an opportunity to discuss those in that consideration. We are, in those clauses, looking to introduce a period of reconsideration, or a reconsideration process, prior to a full appeal. We can have further discussion at that
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Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister if he is saying that what is being contemplated in effect replicates what currently exists. When an appeal is outstanding, the assessment period rate, which I think is the JSA rate, applies. If that is what is going to be replicated in the new world, I understand that and can see that the article was misleading on that basis. Broader questions are raised, however, given that there is going to be a universal credit, components of which would in due course be held back during an appeal. If we are talking just about the work-related activity equivalent components, I can understand parity with the existing situation, but obviously other components will go into that, including housing issues. However, I am happy to leave that debate for when we reach Clauses 99 and 100, supposing that we do reach them at some stage in our deliberations. I think the Minister has dealt fairly with the principal concern that the article generated, and I beg leave to withdraw.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, Amendment 34A, as noble Lords will understand, is a paving amendment for the subsequent, substantive amendment, Amendment 48, so that we can have a broader discussion on housing stock before we get into talking about individual client groups. That seemed to be a sensible way of proceeding. I declare an interest as a former chair of a local authority housing committee and a current chair of the Broadland Housing Association.
For me, underoccupancy is the most important issue in the housing section of the Bill. Essentially, the Government are saying that any tenant who is not a pensioner and is underoccupying will have their benefit cut to the size of the property that they should be occupying. The English house condition survey, and the DCLG in the past, regards someone as underoccupying if they have more than one spare bedroom. Indeed, the latest Written Answer from Grant Shapps states:
"This estimate is a three-year average ... Under-occupying households are those with at least two bedrooms more than they need according to the Bedroom Standard".-[Official Report, Commons, 11/10/2011; col. 337W.]
The DWP, for benefit purposes, will not allow two bedrooms more or one bedroom more but requires a precise fit. This is a much tighter and even claustrophobic
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This amendment, like Amendment 43, tackles the issue in a different way. It requires the social landlord, not the tenant, to take responsibility. If the landlord does not have the stock to offer, the tenant should enjoy his current home with full HB. If the landlord can offer appropriately sized stock by DWP standards, the tenant takes the HB hit if they choose not to move.
Why do I think the DWP standards of underoccupancy are too tight? Under DWP plans, a couple with two teenage daughters in a three-bedroom house will be underoccupying, and will receive benefit only for a two-bedroom flat or home. Let us remember that we are dealing with social housing that is now built well below Parker Morris space standards. Two teenage girls might be expected to share a second bedroom that is 10 feet by 8 feet. Let us visualise two single beds put against the 8-foot wall, with 2 feet between them. Fifteen year-olds are not going to sleep in bunk beds as though they are five years-old. A 3-foot wardrobe and a 3-foot wide chest of drawers are in the 3-foot by 6-foot space at the bottom of the beds. There may be a gap of 1 foot, and that is it, if you are to open the bedroom door. There is no space for a desk, a table, or a chair. Where exactly do they do their homework? Not in the galley kitchen, because they will not have one, and not in the only living room, where the parents want to eat, talk, watch TV. They cannot do their homework anywhere, so maybe they will not. City children can stay on at school of an evening or use the public library for their homework in that situation. Rural children, dependent on the school bus, can do neither. And then we are surprised at the GCSE results. As a result they cannot find a job, and I fear that there could be two generations of worklessness.
This example assumes that those four family members have moved to the two-bedroom flat as required under the new proposed changes in housing benefit. Actually, probably they will not. Most two-bedroom homes are actually three-person, not four, with a small second bedroom, and although some 12 per cent of my housing association's three-bedroom houses are four-person houses with a double bedroom and two singles, most are five, so we have three-person accommodation, and five-person accommodation. Imposing HB caps by bedroom numbers rather than by total space size of bedrooms-that is, trying to shoehorn a four-person family into a two-bedroom, but three-person, property-will certainly take us into the realm of forced overcrowding and judicial review. Such a family will be deemed by the DWP to be underoccupying a three-bedroom five-person property, and deemed by housing law to be overcrowded in the only property they can move to, which is a two-bedroom three-person home. What would the Minister have us do?
Will the Minister say whether, if that family were in a three-bedroom but four-person house, they will receive full HB as three bedrooms or persons, or whether they would be expected to move to a two-bedroom flat even
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A fortnight ago I was visiting an attractive small development of some 20 homes that we have just built. Thirteen of them were two-bedroom houses, four of them were three-bedroom and there were three bungalows. However, of those 13 two-bedroom houses, 12 were three-person. Only one was four-person. We do not have and we are not building the four-person stock that the Minister has now told us that tenants in a family of four should occupy to get their full HB. They are mostly either three-person or five-person, with the assumption that the couple get the first type and the couple with children get the other. Nationally, our situation is replicated. There is a huge shortfall of one-bedroom and two-bedroom accommodation. Relatively, there is a surplus of three-bedroom accommodation. The national federation calculated that last year 180,000 families were waiting for two-bedroom homes, and just 60,000 became available. Who do those families go to?
I can tell noble Lords about our allocation structure. First, the homes go to families in urgent housing need. Next we have pensioners-to whom the changes do not apply-in three-bedroom homes queuing up to move to more convenient and easier-to-heat two-bedroom homes. Yet we cannot always help them because we do not have the stock, and they are the people who are most likely to underoccupy. Then we have families who need to transfer from one two-bedroom property to another in order to help look after frail elderly people in a nearby village. So we have queues of people wanting two-bedroom accommodation who are willing and able to move, and we cannot meet that demand.
However, under the Bill, if there is no two-bedroom accommodation for my four-person family to move to-as there is not-they are fined with cuts of £15 a week or more. It is madness as well as a misery. We allow-indeed, we make-the pensioners who would like to downsize stay put, while requiring the family who wants to stay put to move. This possibly causes a dislocation of schools for their children and of family support. Yet the HB bill would be identical if we swapped those categories around.
Quite so. Some 670,000 tenants would be affected-2,000 of them disabled-or 32 per cent of all HB claimants. Some 108,000 tenants live in an adapted property, with the average cost of adaption being £6,500; yet 78 per cent of them are underoccupying by only one bedroom, which the DCLG does not consider as underoccupying but which the DWP is proposing to
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Let us return to my family of four who are obliged to move or face HB cuts. As there is a shortage of smaller accommodation, what then? How can the tenant move if there is nowhere to move to? "Oh", states the impact analysis blithely on page 8, at paragraph 24:
"In these circumstances individuals may have to look further afield for appropriately sized accommodation or move to the private sector, otherwise they shall need to meet the shortfall through other means such as employment, using savings or by taking in a lodger".
Employment? Do noble Lords really think that they have not so far looked for work and that a £15 fine on their HB bill will find them a job? Using savings? The average individual savings of £300 would cover the shortfall for barely five months. Taking in a lodger? If you have small children? We need to get real. Instead, if they cannot afford the HB cut, they may move, apparently, to the private rented sector, where their HB bill will of course increase because it is higher. That, of course, is if they can find a landlord to take them, given their past history of possible rent arrears, and if they can find the deposit-a month's rent in advance-together with moving costs, curtains and carpets, which may come to £1,500 out of savings of £300. In rural Norfolk, all this takes place close to the school that the children go to. It is simply not possible. If the family moves after falling into arrears, which private landlord will accept them anyway?
The impact analysis is revealing-it sort of knows all this. It expects savings of £700 million, but this is based on the presumption that families do not move but stay put, are fined and have their HB cut. I quote page 2:
A couple with a child in Crawley, quoted by Shelter and Crisis, moving from three-bed social housing to a two-bed private rented flat would see their HB bill rise by £66 a week. The savings-and this is key-are based not on people moving to smaller accommodation but on their being fined for not moving because the stock is not there and for staying put. In other words, the Government are basing their savings not on people doing what the Government say they should do but on their not doing it. The Government need their public policy, for people to move home, to fail if they are to ensure that their private policy-to cut HB and make the savings off the fines for people not moving as normally required-succeeds.
I was pretty horrified when I read that. You might think that issues around underoccupation were at the very least being propelled by a huge increase in overcrowding, so that, however reluctantly, underoccupying families should move to make way for those in greater need. It is not so. On average, 5 to 6 per cent of all households in all rented sectors are overcrowded; 40 to 50 per cent are fit; 40 to 50 per cent are underoccupied, many of them containing pensioners. So the needs of the overcrowded could be met if we
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This is not about the need of other families for the house that you are underoccupying; it is about artificially capping the HB bill knowing that there is insufficient stock for tenants to move into and then pocketing the fines because they have no alternative course of action. That is not a proper way to behave. They stay put because they cannot move and arrears mount because they have run out of savings. What do the Government suggest local authorities and housing associations then do? Should they evict them? As I said, how many private landlords will take on a tenant with rent arrears? No judicial review, and there will be plenty of those, would regard them as intentionally homeless-in which circumstances the local authority would give them priority housing and back they would come again into social housing, where everybody can find a home, or go into B&B at five times the cost. But if they are not evicted, arrears mount rapidly and a housing association's balance sheet goes into the red. It may already have tripled the amount set aside for rent arrears due to direct payments to tenants. It could now expect it to double again if it does not evict.
We have four solutions. First, we can follow Amendment 44, aligning the DWP's definition of overcrowding with that of the DCLG and largely define the problem away. This is the solution that I prefer, but I accept that it has cost implications. Secondly, we can build and better balance the stock, but that will take years, as our building programme is being halved by DCLG. We can, thirdly, ask local authorities to use their discretionary housing payments to top up, except that my local authority ran out of money halfway through the financial year-last November, in fact-and even then had helped only a few families. The £60 million, although welcome, will go nowhere near to meeting or softening cuts of £2 billion-plus. The final option is the path of these amendments. We place the responsibility on the landlord and not the tenant. They do not say no change; they are genuinely a compromise. If the social landlord can make an offer of appropriate accommodation, the tenant will be expected to take it or take on the HB shortfall and government make their savings. But if the landlord cannot do so because the homes are simply not there, as in my housing association, then HB continues exactly as was.
We sanction people in JSA if they do not seek work, because they can and should. We use the threat of sanction to change their behaviour. What we do not do is sanction them if, after a proper job search, they cannot find a job, because no change in their behaviour can change the economy and job vacancy rates. We sanction them according to what we can reasonably expect them to do and how they change their behaviour. This is about job searching, not a lack of job success.
Similarly, it may be reasonable to sanction by HB cuts someone who is grossly underoccupying a house that a much larger family desperately needs and who could change their behaviour by downsizing. We could debate that, but to sanction families for not moving when they cannot change their behaviour and cannot move because of the housing stock is not a sanction
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Lord McAvoy: My Lords, I want to put a couple of points to the Minister on a particular aspect of the availability of suitable accommodation. I will describe the city of Glasgow because it is the biggest city I know. I stay adjacent to it and I know quite a bit about the different types of housing there. Some is council accommodation. My noble friend Lady Hollis of Heigham has indicated that size is important and that people can be in a small room that is classed as a room. Glasgow has what are called three-stairs-up tenements, which are usually in red or grey sandstone tenement blocks. The rooms are smaller in the likes of Dennistoun, Townhead and some older parts of the city centre, but massive in the likes of Shawlands, King's Park and Langside. If someone was "forced" to move from a small two-bedroom flat in Dennistoun to King's Park or Shawlands, they would be dancing up the stairs, because it would be a vast improvement on the living space that they had had. They would soon get a sofa bed in the living room.
I am leading up to the fact that this is a very difficult situation and I really do not know how this can be done. Has any assessment been made to address the main thrust of my noble friend's amendment, which deals with the fact that the size of rooms is just as important as the number of rooms? As I say, it would baffle me, but there are highly paid people working for the Government who should at least be able to test this. My question is therefore: has some consideration been given to assessing the size of rooms compared with the number of rooms in individual cases?
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I support the amendment, which was so comprehensively moved by my noble friend Lady Hollis. One of the concerns of the organisations that have written about the Government's proposals relates to the plan to reduce housing benefit for working-age tenants who are allegedly underoccupying social homes. From 2013, some 670,000 social housing tenants receiving housing benefit could lose an average of £676 a year, because under the new rules their homes could be deemed too large for their needs. The cuts could force them to choose between moving away, and thus leaving any local support networks or supportive neighbours, or going into debt. This could be particularly difficult for disabled claimants, many of whom could have had their homes adapted to deal with their disability. A spare bedroom may be necessary should family members visit or if the aid of a carer is required. There may well be no similar accommodation available in the locality. Some of the amendments before the Committee attempt to deal with these problems.
Some of the organisations that have written to us have cited case studies. I have read them carefully but one particularly struck me. It caused me to look at my own circumstances and imagine how I would feel if these strictures were imposed on me. It concerned a woman who is disabled and widowed. She is on benefits and lives alone. Under the Government's proposals she would be underoccupying two bedrooms and would therefore get a 23 per cent cut in her housing benefit. If, as seems likely, she could not afford this, she would need to move out of the home that she has lived in for 15 years.
Fortunately, I am not in a completely similar position. I am not on benefits and I own my own home. However, I certainly began to wonder how I would feel if I were in that situation. I wondered how I would feel if I were told that I had either to make some payments that I could not afford or to pack up and move out. I would be absolutely devastated. A home is very special to most people. It is a life, full of possessions, and surrounded by neighbours who are also part of one's life. This is particularly true for someone who is disabled, for whom the support and kindness of neighbours are of great importance, particularly for a widow living alone, such as the woman in the case history.
Therefore, we must look carefully at this section of the Bill. It is possible to come to agreement if people living on their own are happy to move and live somewhere smaller that is easier to manage. However, this must be by agreement. It is quite wrong to proceed by means of enforcement. Agreement rather than enforcement must be the way forward here. I hope that, in view of the comprehensive statement that we have heard this afternoon from my noble friend Lady Hollis, the Minister will agree that the amendment is well worth supporting.
Baroness Thomas of Winchester: At this point I should like to make a point on the second new subsection proposed by Amendment 48, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. Many disabled people will have had their homes adapted with help from the mandatory disabled facilities grant, which local authorities have to pay to eligible people. This may be as much as £30,000, depending on their circumstances, and is means-tested. Do the Government really expect families or couples who include a disabled person, or even a single disabled person, to move from an adapted property if they are considered to be overoccupying, with all the upheaval that that will mean? Such disabled people may not even be receiving DLA. A couple including a disabled person may have a two-bedroom house or flat which they need to house equipment. This equipment may include bulky and heavy items, such as oxygen tanks, mobility aids, hoists and so on. It might be a vital room for the disabled person or their partner or carer to be able to use in exceptional circumstances, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Hollis and Lady Turner, have both said. If there is no flexibility, will there have to be another pot of money to enable a couple to adapt a new, smaller home? I cannot believe that this is a sensible use of public money.
"We have two children. Both girls are currently living in a two bedroom flat. We have been assessed by Social Services and GP as needing a three bedroom property due to our eldest daughter's medical and welfare needs. She suffers from frequent, severe UTI infections which can leave her very poorly and in a lot of pain. She also suffers frequently from incontinence. This is having a very serious effect on her emotional well being and indeed is having a knock on effect on the whole family as we have to go in several times a night to see to our daughter to change her bedding, give her pain relief, clean nightwear, etc".
"The new welfare legislation means that we are no longer entitled to a three bedroom even though they have written proof that we need one. This is now putting serious strain on my family and is affecting my eldest's welfare. I cannot fight the law, I wish I was able to. I just want people to be made aware that families like mine suffer needlessly when these legislations are made. I would love nothing more than to be told my eldest can have her own room as I know her welfare would improve dramatically. But this is not going to happen".
When I read this I thought that it surely could not be the case. However, presumably a family in this situation will not be allowed the bedroom that they need for their welfare. I feel dreadful reading such an e-mail and I hope that the Minister feels dreadful hearing it.
Lord Wigley: My Lords, the case made in the excellent opening speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, did not concentrate so much on the disability side, which we will come to in another bank of amendments, but was very strong indeed. Yes, the second part of Amendment 48 applies to disability, but her main thrust was on the adequacy of supply of houses.
The noble Baroness referred in particular to the situation in rural Norfolk. I can certainly vouch for the circumstances in the areas that I know in rural Wales, where this is an enormous problem because so much social and council housing in rural areas, particularly in beautiful rural areas, was bought under the right to buy legislation of the 1980s. Many of those properties that used to be social housing are now second homes. If anyone is expected to move in order to match the circumstances of the housing benefit permitted under this legislation, such people just will not find accommodation to meet those needs. It is suggested that they will find it in the private sector, but in rural areas, particularly where tourism is a major industry, the private housing sector is dominated by the rent that can be attained in the summer months from the tourism industry. Therefore, the likelihood of finding a suitable place is remote indeed.
My fear is that so many exceptions to the proposed legislation will arise that it will not be workable. We heard about the circumstances in Glasgow and the problems of disabled people who will be caught in this. With regard to the rural dimension, the one aspect that I would like to see is the building particularly of bungalows in the proximity of villages to provide
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Lord Stoneham of Droxford: My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of First Wessex Housing Group and chair-designate of Housing 21. I also appreciate the speeches of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hollis and Lady Turner, but underoccupation is a problem when there are great shortages in housing. It is fair to accept that we need to address this problem, but it would be unfair if we do not get right the details for the transition of these proposals.
I agreed particularly with what the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, said, in that we have to accept that we are dealing with people's homes. They may be social homes or council houses, but they are people's homes. We are not dealing simply with a marketable commodity. Some 670,000 tenants of working age are affected by these proposals and, as the noble Baroness said, many of the people in these homes are disabled. There are two fundamental problems. One is that underoccupation does not necessarily coincide with where there is the greatest housing need. The other is that the availability of supply to correct the problem is limited. I had the figures that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, mentioned but in a different context; I thought that there were 180,000 social tenants underoccupying two-bedroom homes and that if we wanted to move them into one-bedroom homes, in the past year only 68,000 became available. That seems to be a critical figure.
We know that the other problem is that if we drive people out of social housing in the public sector, we may well add to public spending through the higher rents and the allowances that will have to be paid in the private sector. We want to hear from the Minister, in due course if not today, on the need to get the period of transition right to allow people to adapt and for the stock to adapt as well. We should concentrate on genuine occupation that can be corrected, and we should consider leaving out certain categories: disabled people, foster carers and those in supported housing. We should also concentrate on homes with more than two bedrooms that are underoccupied, and we should, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said, look at a programme of bungalows and one-bedroom homes for older people who want to downsize. I have recently been involved in a scheme where people's pride in their new homes is remarkable. We had to encourage them to move, but when they saw what was available they were very
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Baroness Wilkins: My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Wigley suggested, I will leave the arguments about disabled people until our debate on the next group of amendments, and talk first about people who are not able to move because of a lack of supply. The Riverside housing association says that for those who stay put, the loss of benefit,
Lord German: My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Stoneham in his case for transition. My argument is that if we are going to introduce a policy of this sort, we have to ensure that the social and public housing sector is capable of meeting the changes that are being demanded by the policies of this Bill. Three policy ambitions underpin these clauses. The first relates to the inefficiencies in our social housing sector at the moment and the need to make better and more efficient use of our housing stock, bearing in mind that 7 per cent of homes in the social housing sector are overcrowded and 11 per cent are underoccupied. Already, there is a big mismatch. The second is that we want to increase mobility and strengthen the incentives to ensure that people can move within social housing in order to transfer into work. The third is the ambition to reduce the cost pressures on an ever increasing housing budget. We should remember that in today's terms the budget has, over the past decade, increased from £14 billion to £22 billion a year, at the equivalent rate today.
My question for the Minister is: how prepared is the social housing sector to meet these changes in policy? If we follow the logic through, we see that there are only three choices that a tenant can make. The first is to pay the increased rent, which we know will on average be £13 a week for a one-bedroom overoccupier. The second is to occupy the spare room, which means either taking in a lodger or having the children back. I guess that some people would not mind having their children back but that others would not want them back at any cost. Whatever the circumstances, is that a realistic choice for many people?
The third choice that people will have is that they can move. In those three choices, what modelling has been done on how many people will make choice one, two or three? The only modelling I have seen has been from the National Housing Federation survey, which is only for part of the country, and they surveyed only
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Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Can I ask the noble Lord a number of questions since he is asking the Minister a lot of questions? He seems to accept the policy in the Bill but only wants it postponed, so what is his attitude to the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis? What is his response, particularly to the point made by my noble friend Lady Turner that this should be done by agreement and not be forced on people?
Lord German: I think if the noble Lord would wait a few moments, he will see what I am proposing. It is on this piece of card, which I can pass to him, but if he just bears with me, I will give him three things which I think are essential in order to make this section of the Bill work. That is why I am posing the questions, because it seems to me that the solutions are not given in any of the documents.
In other words, the Government do not know; or do they? If they do know, we need to ensure that we have those figures in front of us. If we are to avoid unintended consequences, we are going to have to look at the levers that ensure that the housing stock is accurate, and if the housing stock can, over time, match the needs of this particular policy.
As we know, there are 670,000 claimants, presumably of working age, which means that a third of a million non-working age claimants are underoccupying-the noble Lords, Lord Stoneham and Lord Wigley, have talked about elderly people underoccupying. Maybe there is an answer to that which the Minister and the Government have already thought about. There are no figures that I have seen in any of the documentation that indicate how we are going to manage to create a housing stock to match the changes. First, we need to know how many of the 670,000 are going to move and the modelling figure behind it. Until we have the answer to that, we cannot answer the question about how many houses we are going to need.
Lord German: I am grateful for that quotation, which of course goes against the other one that I gave from further on in the document, which says that we do not know what claimants' choices are likely to be. The noble Baroness's quotation has the word "little"
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I ask the Minister, when replying, to talk not about the DCLG but about the three government departments that are responsible for these matters in this country, because three levers have to be pulled for the DWP to be able to answer that single question. What is the solution? I would like to know what the three government departments feel about how they can match housing demand. I must say that I am not particularly encouraged because, for many of us, moving house is probably the worst thing in the world that you could probably do. In fact, my noble friend Lord Kirkwood told me this morning that we ought to exchange our rubbish with our neighbour's because our neighbour's rubbish is much more interesting than our own. I have found moving house to be a very uncomfortable exercise, and I am sure we have to be careful of this. The Government say that they are working in England to develop a team of advisers who will work to help people to make better use of our housing stock, which is a laudable aim, but they also say that they will work with the devolved Administrations to see what can be done in Scotland and Wales. What can be done about the housing stock across the whole of the country where this policy impacts?
It seems to me that there are three potential solutions when we have the answers to the figures, one of which is that we must have housing money-discretionary housing money, or whatever-to ensure that the money reaches the particular groups that will need it in order to be able to make the adjustment. The second is about exceptions. We will come to that in the next set of amendments, but where the cost to the public purse can be demonstrated to be larger-and many of the amendments coming up now will demonstrate that-we must ensure that we have exceptions. The final point that has been made by many noble Lords here today is that we must have transition time for the social housing sector in all three parts of the country where this Bill applies to make the changes in order that this policy works. We cannot achieve the original purposes of these measures, all of which I think are right, without achieving those three things and without ensuring that we have a sector that can-
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I have listened very carefully, and the noble Lord's Welsh eloquence-what do you call it, hwyl?-is impressive, but he has still not made it clear to me whether his speech is in support of the amendment by my noble friend Baroness Hollis.
Lord German: My speech, my Lords, is in favour of the policy proposals that are behind this measure, but in order to achieve that this amendment has given us an opportunity to explore the issues that need to be satisfied in order that we can proceed. And hwyl, by the way, is spelt H-W-Y-L, for the record.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Does that mean, therefore, that the noble Lord supports the DWP definition of underoccupancy in which there can be, except for special groups, no spare bedroom, as opposed to the DCLG one, which I outlined, which allowed at least one bedroom more-and in the latest Parliamentary Answer from Grant Shapps is two bedrooms more? Is that what the noble Lord was saying? We need to be clear where he is coming from on this.
Lord German: I cannot answer that question until such time as we have the answer to what our housing stock is, how many are going to move, and for those who are going to move whether there is available housing for them. That was the answer to the question, and the one I will give if the noble Baroness asks me again.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: This is an "in principle" question: what definition of overcrowding or underoccupying is the noble Lord assuming such that the transitional arrangements must seek to meet and adapt to?
For all his bluster and eloquence, I think the noble Lord has confirmed that he still supports the coalition Government's dreadful proposals in the Bill. All his questions to the Minister are really just to cover up that fact.
Baroness Thomas of Winchester: The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, is bullying my noble friend, which is outrageous. My noble friend is exploring the issues around this question, which is perfectly valid in Committee.
Lord German: If the noble Lord wants me to answer the question, I can answer it, and will answer it in this way; I believe that the three underpinning policies behind this section of this measure are correct, but in order to achieve those we have to answer some of the fundamental questions, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, raised earlier on today. I have also tried to seek answers to those questions, because I have not found them. That is what we are here to do, and that is what the Committee stage of a Bill is about, it seems to me, but I am new to this particular Parliament. In the one I have come from, that is what we would do: explore these issues.
First, underoccupation is one of the most serious concerns in this Bill, and I think that those concerns are shared across the Committee. I do not think that it helps to start picking away at the positions of individual members of the Committee at this time. What I think we are trying to do is to make it clear to the Government that the current proposals are unacceptable. They are
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With a little bit of application and consideration, we might be able to address the issue of overoccupation, which it would be sensible to do in the long term. Speaking for myself, I think that Amendment 44 is close to doing that, although Amendment 40 is not far away. I got a very interesting note from Moat housing the other day, which suggested that:
It is as simple as that. That is another way of expressing it. I do not know what it would cost, but the Committee is right to explore some of these circumstances, which have ramifications for social landlords as well as everyone else. What worries me more than anything else is that on 1 April-that may be an appropriate date-in 2013, that change will be made, and people have very little protection or room for manoeuvre.
The other very interesting suggestion that Moat housing made to me, which I had never heard before, was that a "soft start" could be adopted when people were demonstrating that they were taking steps to address the underoccupation that they were allegedly facing at the time. They could continue to get the full support until they had made the appropriate arrangements. It would probably take 18 months or two years to work out in the wash; that may be too tight a period-it might take longer than that to do safely. As a Committee, we are looking for a safe transition process and a way of limiting the brick wall of debt that 670,000 of our social tenants in the United Kingdom will face on 1 April 2013. That is a matter of concern across the Committee, which I think we should represent to the Government in a way that will occasion constructive change on Report.
Baroness Sherlock: My Lords, there is very little left to say, particularly after the astonishingly impressive opening speech of my noble friend Lady Hollis. If I were a Minister facing that speech across the Table I would have run the white flag up and gone to the pub, but the Minister is clearly made of sterner stuff than me, which is probably just as well.
I have two questions, the first specific and the second general. First, what discussions has the Minister had with colleagues in other departments about the position of children in relation to the implementation of these provisions? Like many other noble Lords, I have had a number of cases raised with me on the position of disabled children, to which we may return, and children with health problems, as discussed by my noble friend Lady Lister. Also, Barnardo's, for example, raised with me the position of families in which a child or children are in temporary care. For example, they may live temporarily under a residence order with their grandparent, and while the family is trying to get the children back it may look as though they are underoccupying when they are not. There is a whole
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The second question is one the answer to which I would be very interested to hear. We have talked a lot about modelling and transition, but the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, talked about what seemed to me to be an astonishingly simple amendment. She said that somebody should not be required to do something that they are incapable of doing. What is the Minister's philosophical reply to that?
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, I start by saying that it was good to hear a defence of the noble Lord, Lord German, who arrived in the House at the same time as I did. However, I thought that being asked questions and dealing with them was a wonderful preparation for being Minister, and I hope that the government Whip has taken note of that.
It is difficult to add to the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, who, as the Guardian said last week-and only the Guardian could use these words-gave a "frankly beautiful speech", and an astonishing one today, as it was described by my noble friend Lady Sherlock. I hope only to add a few remarks in support of what she said. First, I remind us, as did my noble friend Lady Turner, of the special nature of a home. We know the importance of feeling secure in one's home and that one of the biggest causes of stress is a house move. It affects all of us, whether we are owner-occupiers or renters, old or young, rich or poor. As the noble Lord, Lord German, said, it is one of the worst things that we have to do.
However, there are things in the Bill that will make extra home moves necessary. Moreover, they will increase the threat of a move and related insecurity. It is an insecurity that will arise not simply from not knowing whether there is suitable accommodation to move into if people have been deemed to be underoccupying; it will also be harder to settle into a job with that threat hanging over you. It challenges the ability to put down roots and dilutes the neighbourhood esprit-or the big society that we are meant to recognise is part of a good life. It makes it harder to relate to the society that cares for us and for which we care.
Families will have to struggle to work out not simply whether there is somewhere to move to but whether they can afford to move. The penalty for not moving will be high. Therefore, not only will they have to think about the new premises, it is also likely that more affordable housing will be in poorer areas where there are fewer jobs. The new variable council tax benefit is likely to be lower in exactly those areas because the larger number of potential claimants will mean that local authorities can be less generous in their help with it. Similarly, in those areas the local replacements for the Social Fund grants and loans, which could help to assist resettlement, are also likely to be lower. All these factors will make the decision on a move uncertain, in addition to the normal stresses of
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Council tax benefit is a particular issue to which we will return. Last week the CLG Select Committee in the other place pointed to the "significant financial risk" for councils of funding council tax benefits through a fixed grant. Indeed, the same committee urged consideration of delaying the localisation of council tax benefit. Although we will return to direct payments to landlords in due course, the same committee also called on the Government to investigate seriously whether that change could adversely affect the supply of social housing.
It is clear from what my noble friends and noble Lords all across the Committee have said that underoccupation is likely to lead to arrears, poverty and homelessness, and in only a tiny proportion of cases to a much better use of social stock through trading down. However, the new size criteria will for the first time affect a family's weekly income. It is a harsh penalty for a new fault that was not of their making, as my noble friend Lady Hollis said. It is not comparable to the private rented sector, where families can underoccupy if they rent something within the relevant rent limits. There will be a real drop in income, as was emphasised by my noble friend Lady Wilkins.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has mentioned Wales. For the sake of myself and other Welsh people I was going to demur from mentioning Wales today, as we are still in mourning. However, since he brought up the subject I will continue. He described the situation in rural Wales, but there are 40,000 social housing tenants in Wales who are described as underoccupying, which could lead to a cut of up to 25 per cent in housing benefit for those with two or more spare rooms. However, there is no alternative accommodation. In the UK, as we have heard, 180,000 two-bedroom homes are underoccupied, but less than half that number of one-bedroom homes is available. As my noble friend Lady Hollis said, less than 5 per cent of the social rented sector is actually overcrowded.
Therefore, I should like to spend a moment looking at just one aspect of this, not in a rural area, which many noble Lords in the Committee know about, but in an inner-city area in Lambeth. Of a total of 25,000 council tenants, nearly 17,000 claim housing benefit. The research done in Lambeth shows that 5,700 of those would be deemed to be underoccupying those homes. More than 3,000 are not of pensionable age and would therefore be affected by the restrictions. However, of those 3,000, nearly 2,500 are underoccupying by only one room. Therefore the Kirkwood amendment, if I may call it that, would meet a large part of the Lambeth problem.
I am remaining in Lambeth for the sake of this part of the discussion. It might be assumed that tenants who have applied for a transfer are already willing to move. There are 3,300 tenants on the transfer register in Lambeth, but only 650 of those are underoccupiers and half of those are under 60. However, in Lambeth only a very small number of underoccupiers manage to move voluntarily, partly because there are no places to move to. In 2009-10, only 19 moved; and in 2010-11,
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The number of claimants' benefits affected is large and these changes will force many tenants to look at downsizing, but that will not be an option. It is very doubtful that Lambeth would be in a financial position to offer the same sort of incentives. If hundreds or thousands were to move, it should be considered that in Lambeth only about 400 tenants a year transfer to one-bedroom accommodation, but at least 2,700 tenants would require that. If all Lambeth's one-bedroom lets were exclusively available for council tenants, it would take more than 10 years to house them. That is a long transition period. We cannot really call it a transition.
Other housing options such as taking in lodgers may be an alternative. However, we know the risks of that. The only other way is for tenants simply to take a hit on their income. Lambeth, which made those figures available to me, knew that it was obvious what would happen if it set up that incentive; it sees the rationale for making better use of housing stock, but it recognises the problem. The impacts of this enforced policy would be dire for tenants and for the providers of social housing. The word "unacceptable", which the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, used, is the correct one.
I turn now briefly to the second part of Amendment 48. We hope that the Government respond positively to the suggestion that benefit should not be reduced for disabled tenants when accommodation has been significantly adapted to their needs. It is not simply to save their having to oversee new adaptations in a new home; it would save money already expended on the existing modifications of the building to adapt to their needs, modifications that may have to be ripped out at more cost to accommodate a newly allocated family to which they were unsuitable. Those points were already made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester.
My noble friend Lady Hollis has made the intellectual case-a devastating case, in the words of my noble friend Lady Lister-in a way that the Minister will find somewhat unchallengeable. We ask the Minister to reply to her points and to inform the Committee how much thought has been given to the real effect of the threats of quite unnecessary moves on the people concerned; to give some comfort on the question of adaptation for disabled claimants; and to respond to the concerns of authorities such as Lambeth with the challenges that they will face. To put it in words that
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Lord Freud: My Lords, the size criteria measure marks a significant change in our approach to housing benefit for claimants living in the social rented sector. The current housing benefit system is not fair; it is not right that families on benefit in the private rented sector have been able to live in homes that most working families could not afford, and we have already begun to tackle that unfairness through changes to the local housing allowance. It is also not fair that, in the social rented sector, housing benefit pays out the full rent on properties that are larger than required by those who live in them, while at the same time over 250,000 households in England are overcrowded.
To pick up one of the many points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, on the bedroom standard, that standard actually expects children aged over 16 to share a room with children of the same gender until they are 21. That is a rather tougher requirement than that of the DWP and the LHA, which allows separate bedrooms for a child of the same gender, aged 16 and over.
Lord Freud: I shall continue. By 2014-15, the annual savings achieved as a result of housing benefit reform as a whole will exceed £2 billion. It is right that the social rented sector plays its part in achieving those savings. The size criteria measure itself will achieve around £0.5 billion of savings each year from 2013-14.
On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, about room size-the example that he used was his nearby city of Glasgow and its tenements-the size of rooms is something that we are looking at with stakeholders as part of the implementation planning. That concern is shared by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. It is an issue that we are looking at.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I will make it easier for the Minister then, since he is finding it difficult. In my city of Edinburgh, there are a lot of houses with rooms that do not have external windows-they are box rooms. Some occasionally have a small skylight. Is that within the definition of a bedroom? Another example might be studio flats, or studio flats that may then have an extra bedroom attached to them. Is that a two-bedroom or a one-bedroom flat? Another might be my study. Is my study a bedroom or is it a study? It was used as a bedroom by the previous occupier, but
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Lord Freud: Certainly, the study of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, would seem to me to be a bedroom. However, box rooms without opening windows normally would not count as bedrooms. There is a series of rules that we will go through as we work through the implementation planning with stakeholders.
Lord Freud: The coalition Government, my Lords, are not Queen Anne and we will resist any of those blocked up windows, which still blight many villages and which I know the noble Lord is very concerned about.
This is more than just a savings exercise. Housing benefit payments in both sectors will become more balanced in a way that will restore fairness, encourage better use of our existing social housing stock and encourage more people into employment.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked about the impact on children in particular. The impact assessment shows that claimants with children are less likely to be affected by the measure than those without children. Only around a third of the claimants potentially affected have children living with them. DWP officials have been working very closely in this area with officials from DCLG, the Department for Education and HMT.
It is reasonable to expect people living in the social rented sector to make choices about the affordability and the size of their accommodation, just as those in the private sector, and those who are not on benefit, have to.
My noble friend Lord Kirkwood spoke about transition and phasing. I should remind the Committee that these measures were announced in the summer of 2010 with a view to their taking effect, as has been observed, in April 2013. We think that this provides adequate lead-in time and we aim to have regulations in place by April 2012 to allow for a full year of implementation. If you like, you can look at that period as the transition phase, as people make appropriate arrangements.
Let me move on to Amendment 48, which comes in two parts. The first part would place a duty on social landlords to find suitable alternative accommodation for claimants who are underoccupying their property. If a smaller property cannot be offered to the claimant's household, the size criteria measure would not apply. The second part relates to those who live in significantly adapted accommodation, and I will come on to that shortly. We are working closely with the Department for Communities and Local Government, and others, as we explore ways to best support landlords, local authorities and tenants, leading up to the implementation of this measure. That work is ongoing, and we will look at how we can work to ensure that claimants' options are clearly set out, well in advance of the measure coming into force in April 2013.
It is important that local authorities and other providers of social housing make more effective use of their stock, and this measure, alongside the Localism Bill, will provide not only a greater incentive but a means for achieving that. This measure is about asking people on benefit to make realistic choices about the affordability of their accommodation when it is larger than they need. It is in the interests of social landlords to make the best use of their stock in order to make sure that tenants are able to pay their rent. For this reason most landlords would try to offer alternative housing options whenever they could. The specific duty on social landlords in Amendment 48 is therefore unnecessary and would raise important concerns around control, classification and enforceability. We do not want to impose regulations on to social landlords just for the sake of it.
The Government are providing funding to councils-£13 million over four years until 2015-16-to assist them in supporting underoccupying tenants who wish to move, as well as funding an action team within the Chartered Institute of Housing to work with all social landlords to help them to promote moves. The Government are investing £4.5 billion to help to deliver up to 170,000 new, affordable homes over the next four years.
This amendment would also exempt claimants from the measures where no suitable alternative accommodation is available. However, we expect that many people will decide to remain in their existing property, and make up the shortfall, even if an alternative offer of smaller accommodation is available, so it is likely that such an exemption would be an expensive waste of money in many cases. Of course, without a definition of suitable alternative accommodation, it is not easy to estimate how much this exemption would cost, but let us be clear that it would be extremely complex to deliver, and undoubtedly place a significant dent in the expected savings that would need to be found from elsewhere. I do not think this is a sensible way forward.
I understand that there are concerns about the supply of smaller properties. Claimants affected by this measure will have to decide whether to meet any shortfall themselves-from their earnings for example, or they could take in a lodger, or someone they know, to fill the extra bedrooms. If they do decide that moving to a smaller property is the only option to avoid getting into arrears, the social rented sector should not be seen as the only option. Private renting may be an appropriate alternative for some of those affected.
Changes being taken forward by the Department for Communities and Local Government through the Localism Bill will make it easier for councils and housing associations to move underoccupying tenants. However, this is not just about landlords. Some tenants can, and perhaps should, take more responsibility for arranging a move themselves. The new national homeswap scheme, Home Exchange Direct, will increase opportunities for social tenants looking to move through mutual exchange. Home Exchange Direct brings together the four internet providers of mutual exchange services to offer tenants more choice over where they live. Ultimately, landlords in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will also be able to join the new scheme.
Amendment 34A also probes the availability of suitably sized accommodation. The provisions in subsection (3) will restrict how the other powers relating to the provision of housing costs may be used. Adding a line in subsection (3) to take into account the availability of suitable accommodation will not limit the way in which those other powers can be used. I take it that this amendment is really intended to ensure that claimants are unaffected by the size criteria in circumstances where no suitable alternative accommodation is available, and I have already made my thoughts clear on that. I recognise that, for some households in certain circumstances, moving may not be appropriate or should be delayed. Local housing authorities are best placed to take into account individual households' circumstances. Where it is appropriate, they may offer help to meet a rent shortfall through the discretionary housing payment scheme.
The question of how people might respond was raised by my noble friend Lord German and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, who I congratulate on her speech. She has made a series of excellent speeches. The most up-to-date evidence is the survey by the Housing Futures Network on claimants' behaviour, which came out recently. It showed a variety of initial reactions. Twenty-five per cent of respondents said that they were quite or very likely to downsize; 50 per cent said that they were unlikely to consider moving; 29 per cent said they would be quite or very likely to move into work or increase their hours; and around 15 per cent said that they were quite or very likely to take in a lodger or offer a spare room to a family member. Therefore, around 65 per cent of the survey's respondent group are looking to change their behaviour. In the interests of full reporting of that survey, I should add that 35 per cent said that they were quite or very likely to run into arrears. Clearly, over the next couple of years we will look at putting strategies in place to make sure that that does not happen.
The second part of the amendment would provide an exemption from the size criterion measure for those living in significantly adapted accommodation. I appreciate that within this amendment there is acknowledgment of the need to draw a line somewhere and not just exempt all claimants in any form of adapted accommodation. I have noted the different views put forward in this Committee on how we might begin to do that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, raised the question of disabled children. We are looking at ways to limit the impact on disabled children effectively and in an affordable way. I am sure she will understand that I do not want to comment today on the specifics of that, but I can assure her that very active consideration is going on. I should add the reminder that over this SR period we are already spending a lot of money-a total of £190 million, of which £130 million is for discretionary housing payments.
Since the measure was debated in the other House in May-I think the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, was right about that-we have looked in detail at the possibility of an exemption for a tightly drawn group living in adapted accommodation. The work that we have undertaken to look at this in detail, in conjunction
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My response to the question of my noble friend Lord German on the evaluation of the reforms is that we intend to undertake independent monitoring and evaluation to assess the impact of this set of measures and the changes in the social rented sector, and we expect the research to be undertaken over a two-year period, 2013-14, with preparatory work starting in 2012-30.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, first, I thank warmly all those who have taken part; it has been a helpful as well as a highly focused debate on the issue of underoccupancy and leads us usefully into some of the other debates that we are to face.
I do not think that the Minister addressed the issues raised in full. My noble friend Lady Turner talked not just about the difference between stock and a home but about the need for local support, and so on, as you get older, and the fact that we may cut all the connections which the big society and localism are urging us to strengthen. We did not have a full reply to that. The noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas and Lady Wilkins, talked about the cost of adaptions to spare bedrooms. We will come to greater detail on that when we discuss disability issues. About two-thirds of those who are regarded as underoccupying by DWP criteria have a degree of disability. It will be difficult to decide where we draw the line.
Then there was the issue of the difference in localities. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and my noble friend Lord Foulkes, as well as my noble friend Lady Hayter, in a powerful speech about Lambeth, showed that in each of these cases the stock was not there to deliver what the Minister seeks. I attempted to throw in some evidence from rural Norfolk. The division was between those of us who regard the definition of underoccupying that DWP proposes to adopt as targeting intrinsically-an opinion that I share-and those of us who say that if it is too tight, none the less the transitional arrangements are not sufficiently generous to make it possible even to move in that direction.
Members of the coalition Government have raised the issue that we need discretionary money. There is not enough of it, as I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord German, will be aware. My local authority ran out half way through the year, and it was helping only a couple of dozen families. The noble Lord asked about exceptions, but we will have definitional problems there. He asked for transition time for stock balancing and made the point about bungalows, which is absolutely right. That will take a decade or more to achieve. On
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I found the Minister's answer deeply disappointing. The two words that he was using were "fair" and "choice". I think he said that it was not fair that social tenants should have a spare bedroom when other people might not be able to afford such; that there should be better use of accommodation for families who are overcrowded; and that it was right that the social sector should continue to contribute £0.5 billion or so to the proposed expenditure cuts of £2 billion to housing benefit. As for better use, only about 5 per cent of housing benefit tenants are overcrowded. If we had the stock available to meet the requests of those who wish to move, we could probably meet that overcrowding today. As for the Minister's point about home swap, frankly, under different labels, we have been doing that for decades. There is nothing new there, but I welcome the fact that the Minister is looking at room size.
The key question is why the DWP is not accepting what I understand to be the DCLG definition. That means that on 2 April 2013, there will be a family in Norwich in bed-and-breakfast accommodation who have been lingering there for a couple of weeks, to the distress of the children, but technically they require two-bed accommodation if they are not immediately to find that their HB does not meet their rent. The local authority and the housing association, because we jointly have a choice-based letting system, only has three-bedroom houses available. Will the Minister tell me what we do? Do I say to that family that they must stay in an B&B for yet another fortnight or another three weeks until possibly the perfect fit of a two-bedroom property comes up in a place near where their children have started going to school, or do I say they can move into a three-bedroom house but that they have to take the hit? The local authority may help them with the first month or so, but after that they are on the own and will have arrears, and they may go back into the recycling of bed and breakfast accommodation.
As someone who is intimately involved in this, I am afraid I know that that is what we will be facing on day two or day three after 1 April 2013, and the Minister must tell us what we say to that family: move into accommodation that is notionally too large, not by DCLG standards but by housing benefits standards, and pay the price, or stay put in bed and breakfast accommodation, with everything that we know happens to children in that situation and how damaging and stressful it is for the family concerned. The noble Lord emphasised that there are choices in what people can afford-there is no choice. His concept of fairness seems to run like this-I think this is how the syllogism worked. We start with a definition that is tight, in my view too tight, which requires 670,000 families to move, two-thirds of them with a degree of disability. Yet knowing that, we do not have the property, and we do not expect the tenants to move because they cannot. They have no choice. We then, thirdly, go on to fine them for something they can do nothing about.
I do not believe in my wildest moments that the Minister would regard that as fair. It is not fair. We all know it is not fair. A transition arrangement would be fine if it is going to be long enough, but that takes time to adjust the stock, but it is not fair to punish people for something over which they have no power to change and in which they have no choice. I am hoping the Minister will rethink this because many of us feel very strongly indeed. There are various aspects of it that I perfectly well understand, such as the need to try to cap HB expenditure. We will come back to why that is happening, but it is certainly not because of this. It is happening, as the latest reports from the chartered institute and the property federation show, because of the increase from 49 per cent to 52 per cent of the case load in the local housing allowance in the south of England, which is more expensive with a higher number of claimants. It is nothing to do with this at all. I hope the Minister will run that when we come to that debate.
Does he suggest that it is fair to punish tenants for something over which they have no choice, in a way that is antithetical in every other aspect of social security legislation of which I am aware? We sanction when people could and should change their behaviour. If they cannot, we do not; full stop. Yet with this the Minister breaches that profound principle to benefit policy in this country, and I deeply hope, because I know he is a decent man and I believe he genuinely holds to concepts of fairness here, that he will think again and hopefully be able to change his mind before we come back to this on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"( ) Regulations under subsection (3)(a) must ensure that payment for mortgage interest continues to be made available long-term for people acquiring a home via the Home Ownership for People with Long-term Disabilities (HOLD) scheme."
Lord Rix: My Lords, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, that I have spoken at the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Festival Hall and in a field at Cardiff Castle, and I trust that your Lordships can hear me in Committee Room 4A.
It is perhaps appropriate that with Amendment 35 I am in pole position in this vast group of amendments, for I am putting forward the case for people who reached the back of the grid only some 20 years ago and who had never been allowed near the track before then. I am of course talking about people with a learning disability. As your Lordships are aware, this Bill aims to introduce regulations laying out not only how housing benefit costs can be integrated into the universal credit but how mortgage costs would in future be covered in this context.
The purpose of this amendment, tabled in my name, is to ensure that disabled people have opportunities to buy a property via the home ownership scheme for
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The purpose of the amendment is, effectively, to reinstate this route of home ownership for disabled people. It would also ensure that the Government's support for care in the community continues to be a reality. Turning again to the analogy of motor racing, I am concerned that if we do not take appropriate action on this point now, people with a learning disability could be forced to take a prolonged pit stop, during which others will continue to lap them in the race to secure a decent and comfortable home.
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendment 36. This group is not as complicated as it looks because there are two sets of mirrored amendments. I look forward to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Best, whose knowledge is well understood in this House. The meat of the group is to do with the exceptions, which relate, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, accurately said, to our earlier debate.
Amendment 36 does a slightly different thing. Before I speak to it briefly, I shall refer to what I said in the previous session of the Grand Committee. We are all under pressure to disaggregate groups of amendments because the people who are promoting the amendments think that they get better consideration in the Government's reply if they are considered individually. It is better to have a debate around a wider set of amendments but it will not work for the purposes of the people who tabled them unless the Minister is able to say something about individual amendments. If he cannot, the flexibility in the Government's position cannot be properly understood and appropriate arrangements cannot be made for Report. The Minister has a very difficult job because there are many amendments on the Order Paper, but they are all important in their own way. If he can address them individually to the best of his ability, that would be a favour.
Amendment 36 tries to lift and lay the existing protections in the current provision of housing benefit in the private and public sectors under the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992. Clause 11 is very regulation-oriented. Its last three subsections refer to regulations that determine a whole series of things and are the basis for the amount of housing
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Amendment 36 seeks to import the current levels of protection into universal credit, which is the purpose of promoting it this afternoon. It has four effects, which are, first, that housing entitlement in the private sector would be based on an assessment by a rent officer; secondly, to allow for a definition of locality, which might be slightly different from broad rental areas, so there might be some flexibility about that which we could discuss; thirdly, to allow for housing entitlement in the social rented sector to be equal to the full contracted rent, which is an essential protection; and fourthly, to assess local rents, reviewing and updating them on a monthly basis. The different elements of Amendment 36 all have these effects.
"Where the amount for housing relates to a liability to pay rent, it is intended that the amount will be calculated with reference to a claimant's household size and circumstances as well as their actual rent, as is the case currently in housing benefit".
My case is that the Explanatory Notes are not the Bill. To make sure that these protections are maintained and developed, it would be safer to import those important provisions into Clause 11 as it stands.
Doing very important things such as restoring the link between benefit levels and rents payable should be done in primary legislation and not regulations. If universal credit is to be a success, support for housing costs needs to be linked to actual rents.
As well as the protections that the 1992 legislation provides, we need to think very carefully about the consumer price indexation that we are looking towards in the introduction of universal credit. In the longer term, it would be unsustainable. I know that the Government have set a period of time beyond which they will not make final judgments, and that is wise, but if you take consumer price indexation over a long period of time it becomes entirely divorced from actual rents and universal credit will become unfit for purpose. That is something that we need to understand.
Social rents are controlled, of course. They are different from those in the private rented sector. But the link between rents and housing benefit enables security of tenure through periods of unemployment and reduction in wages and gives a degree of security that has been an essential part of the provision of housing benefit in the recent past.
Finally, and before I sit down, I should point out that whereas the previous debate did not relate to provisions being made for retired households and older people, the housing protection benefits in the provisions generally affect retired people. One-third, 33.3 per cent, of social housing tenants are older people. We need to bear that in mind and make sure that we try to import as much as possible of that protection, which has been very successful in terms of
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I have said that I will sit down and I promise that I will, but I want briefly to support this suite of amendments, to which I have my name. Like the noble Lord, Lord Rix, I find the numbers difficult to make out. For the avoidance of doubt, I say that I am in favour of all the amendments with the noble Lord, Lord Best, and my name on them.
Lord Best: I am glad to start with that affirmation in advance. I am speaking to Amendments 38, 39, 40, 42, 43, 44, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83 and 84. This group of amendments relates back to the underoccupation penalty, about which we have heard so much.
I was deeply impressed by the array of speeches from the noble Baronesses, Lady Hollis, Lady Turner, Lady Lister, Lady Sherlock and Lady Hayter-the opposition Baronesses. I wondered what the plural was and I thought of it by the end: it is "a battery of Baronesses". I thought that I might feel annoyed that they had stolen all my speech in various instalments, but I did not. Instead, I felt admiration and was in entire agreement with what they said.
My amendments in this group include two, Amendments 44 and 84, which relate to the fundamental point here: the definition of an underoccupied home, one in which people will either pay a penalty, have to move or make some other arrangements. The amendments suggest that we should stay with the standard that we have used in the past; that is, the standard used by the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Tenant Services Authority. This allows you the basic bedroom standard plus one bedroom. The amendments call for that status quo to be resumed. I have been involved in housing matters for some 42 years. During that time, we have grappled a lot with issues around underoccupancy in managing property that I have been responsible for and trying to incentivise people to move when that has been sensible. I do not think that it is possible to insist on the basic bedroom standard and expect people to live in the homes that they would then be required to live in. That is not how we occupy our properties in this country; 83.9 per cent of owner-occupiers fail this test straightaway. Most other people, in these terms, underoccupy the homes that they live in. Indeed, we build accommodation on the basis that you are going to underoccupy it. The housebuilding industry knows that people like to be able to tell their parents that they have bought a three-bedroom house. It is actually a two-bedroom house with a box room added. We do not expect people to occupy all those rooms in the real world of owner-occupation, and people move when they fill them up. I cannot believe that social housing tenants' lives are so different that they will be able to cope with the basic bedroom standard.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, gave some illustrations. The example that I might well have quoted was read out by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister-I received the same, very impressive e-mail about a
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Let us face it: the impact assessment makes it quite clear that it is about saving money. Reducing the cost of housing benefit is of course a very important objective, but the great majority of ordinary people, even those who do not have small children or children of the wrong sex who will not be able to be fitted together in the right boxes, need an extra room. Their children come back-does no one realise that they have not gone for ever? Sometimes, their coming back saves other people a lot of money because the parents will put them up and look after them during some period of crisis in their lives-marriages break down; all kinds of things happen. Indeed, you in your older age or even in your middle age may get sick and need a member of the family to come back and occupy the spare room and a keep an eye on you for a bit. To have that one spare room available, even when you do not have children to put in it, is the way that the rest of us live, and it has to work for social housing-I have never found a way of persuading people otherwise. This measure is a way, I fear, of raising money. It is a fundraiser, because almost nobody in these circumstances will move. They will just have to pay-or forgo, as it is-£13 a week, which is a serious amount of money for people on very low incomes. It begins to tot up.
The consequences of that will be shared. They will be felt by the individuals, who try to cut their living standards at a time when fuel bills and everything else are rising. It will be felt also by the landlords, because it will be extremely difficult to collect the money which has not been received by way of housing benefit. That means that arrears will begin to accumulate.
At first, landlords will be tolerant and helpful and try to see this through, but eventually-and I have been responsible for social housing-you get to the point where, pour encourager les autres, you have to proceed with eviction. After a while, arrears become too much. If they cannot be paid, people are going to have to be moved out, and then you get all the cost of that.
I cannot believe that people are going to move. It costs a great deal to move. Your carpets will not fit the place to which you are moving; your curtains will not fit. You have to pay disconnection charges for your
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The amendment says that if you have two rooms which, using the basic bedroom standard, would be regarded as unoccupied-they would probably be a study or whatever-you would pay the penalty, but you would not do so for one bedroom, using this very tight definition. That is the effect of Amendments 44 and 84.
Is there a solution to the problems of underoccupancy? I am not going to burden you with a long speech on this, but underoccupancy is mostly about people over pension age. They are specifically excluded from this measure. However, they are the ones who are actually underoccupying, often in a three-bedroom home, and who-if only we could find the incentives and the ways of moving people-could be moved on, and families could take those homes.
Our target is the underoccupying elderly person, whose home, even though they feel quite reluctant to move, is not suitable any more. If it has three bedrooms, stairs, a garden that needs to be kept up and heating bills that are higher than they should be, it is a great idea if we can move people out of those three-bedroom houses. They are desperately needed by families. Housebuilders have tended to build just flats, and not houses with gardens, so these are really valuable to the rest of society. The incentives to move are what we need.
We have shown in my housing association-others have done just as well-that if you provide something that is really good, then people will move. They are not going to go to scruffy old bedsits in sheltered housing that has seen much better days. But they will go if it is to somewhere manageable, clean, bright, open and companionable.
There are some 240,000 families who are overcrowded. We have far more elderly people who are underoccupying than that. We could give incentives to older people, the incentive being the really nice apartment elsewhere. It gives you two-for-one, because you release your family home. This is not the approach being taken in this legislation.
If we are going to have to reconcile ourselves to there being this penalty, then the other amendments in this group come into play, which are about exemptions, exceptions and letting some people off. I hope it does not come to this, but if it does, a series of exemptions is outlined in the amendments that follow.
Amendments 38 and 79 would remove the underoccupation penalty for the 100,000 properties that have been specially adapted to meet the needs of a disabled tenant-we have heard a little about that already. It would be daft to move a household with a disabled family member to smaller premises if the costs of fitting out the new home-for example, with a level-access shower or removal of steps-far exceeded the savings from cutting the housing benefit and left wasted adaptations behind because no other household needed the particular adaptations made to the previous home.
Similarly, Amendments 39 and 80 would exempt the 200,000 households in receipt of disability living allowance, or the new personal independence payment, in the same way that DLA recipients have been excluded from the proposed total housing benefit cap. Some extra space for those with disabilities can even save money when that allows a carer to move in during a difficult period for the disabled person, saving the cost of hospital or residential care. Amendments 40 and 81, which are supported by the Fostering Network and Barnardo's, as well as the housing charities, which are behind all the amendments, would exempt properties where families are providing foster care placements.
I am sure that it is simply a fault of the drafting, but, at present, the Bill would not count foster children as part of the household. Therefore, any rooms they occupy would be classified as unoccupied. That is clearly nonsense, and I am sure that the Minister will explain how that will be put right in future.
Amendments 43 and 83 would not require an underoccupying tenant to move out where there was simply nowhere for them to downsize to-the fundamental point behind the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. For example, the National Housing Federation has demonstrated that about 180,000 social housing tenants would be classified as underoccupying their two-bedroom homes and would need to move on, but that only about 68,000 one-bedroom social housing flats come available for letting in a year. Even if every one of the one-bedroom flats was allocated to those who are downsizing-which of course would be impossible as there are serious demands from tens of thousands of other such households-it would take years before they could be accommodated.
In the past, we built social housing between the world wars and afterwards. Mostly, we built three-bedroom housing. Now we have a lot of households that require something smaller, but we do not have enough houses to put them in. Here, again, the impossibility of people moving means that the exemption would kick in. If they were expected to downsize into less secure private rented properties, rents are likely to be much higher and therefore the benefit costs, the universal credit
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Of the amendments, my preferred option is to define underoccupying as exceeding the bedroom standard plus one-that is, having two "spare" bedrooms. That would cut the gains to the Government from the underoccupation penalty to 150,000 households from the 670,000 that the Government are expecting to be caught by the new penalty.
If the Government cannot accept that, I hope that, alongside the exclusion for older people-the category most likely to be underoccupying at the moment- exemptions could be put in place for disabled people in adapted property, recipients of disability allowance, families classified as underoccupying because foster children are not counted, those unable to move because no suitable alternative exists, and those in supported or sheltered housing where a spouse or partner dies or leaves them and who are below pensionable age and would be compelled to move out. Added together, those exemptions would certainly reduce the hardship and extra costs implicit in the underoccupation penalty. I look forward to hearing comments from other noble Lords and the reaction of the Minister.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, before I speak to my amendment in this group, perhaps I may follow the noble Lord, Lord Best, in his concerns about the impact of this move to an underoccupation penalty, particularly on families. It was encouraging to hear from the Minister the results of his survey and some positive outcomes to the changes whereby people will look for work, or think of getting a lodger. However, what concerned me about his comments were the large numbers who might go into arrears. I have observed from my experience of young people leaving care and of other families that people leading chaotic lives tend to think from day to day.
Therefore, given the example given by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, if a family in bed and breakfast accommodation were offered a three-bedroom house that seems to suit them but may be too large, they may say, "We will take it and deal with the arrears when they come. We will not think of the future". Then they end up in arrears and in serious difficulty because they are not able to cope with the worry of being in debt and they do not know what to do. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Best, for highlighting the fact that this issue needs close attention from the Government, and I look forward to learning more about it. He has a good point. This is a serious worry with the underoccupation penalty.
The noble Lord also raised the question of foster carers. Under the current absurd arrangement, foster caring and providing a room to a foster child would not count as a room and in this scenario would count against one. I am not expressing that very clearly, but I think your Lordships understand what I mean. I suppose it might be argued that this will be an incentive for
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However, I have two further thoughts. First, there is a real question as to how far one should professionalise foster caring. People should go into foster caring because they love children and want to provide a good home to a child. I know that there is a debate about the professionalisation of foster care but, in principle at least, people should be motivated by caring for children, not making a bit of extra money or saving some money. Secondly, the harms that may arise from this proposal by far outweigh any potential benefits of that kind. If such families get into arrears there is perhaps the cost to the mental health service as the family breaks down under stress. There is the cost to the education system as their children fail. One needs to look at the bigger picture rather than just think about short-term savings.
Perhaps I may sum up. I apologise for using my laptop on this occasion; however, I cannot get internet access today and I was unable to download my notes and print them out. My Amendment 85 is modelled on the previous amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, and I apologise to the Committee because I drafted my amendment rather poorly. I should have referred to children looked after by local authorities rather than those cared for by them. My intention is to gain an assurance from the Minister that families who have their children looked after by a local authority may retain a room for that child to return to when he is ready. While a few children are adopted from care, most return home sooner or later, and it is right that they should have a room when that happens. It is important for the parents to retain a sense that their child remains their child and that they remain the parents. That is important because their children will normally still love their parents, however they have been treated, and will need to feel there is a place for them in their parents' home. It is important also because the child will eventually return. Generally, we should strongly encourage these parents to retain their sense of responsibility for their own children. An experienced child and family social worker has reminded me that it will also be important for the child to know that his parents will be keeping a room for him. He will need to feel that he is still wanted and there is still a home for him with his parents.
In the year ending 31 March 2011, 3,050 children were adopted out of a population at that time of 65,520 children who were being looked after. Very few children, then, were adopted. Children who are subject to residence orders, or are being cared for informally by the Ryder family, are all the more likely to return to their families. Barnado's has expressed concern about these children. This matter was also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler of Enfield, at Second Reading. There is a separate amendment in this group, which I support, on those particular groups of children.
I would be most grateful if the Minister could reassure me that families whose children are looked after by a local authority would not normally be subject to the underoccupation penalty. I apologise if the problem with my drafting has made it more
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I will not speak to my Amendment 86 because my understanding is that the benefit arrangements for care leavers are such that the concern I had is not an issue. I look forward to the Minister's response.
Lord German: My Lords, I speak to Amendments 48C, 48D and 86ZZZA in my name. It is appropriate that I should speak after the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, because the issue he raised about care and children coming back from care is crucial. The three amendments in my name all relate to children and are intended to make sure that the suite of amendments here, which I have looked at very carefully, does not miss out one or two crucial groups relating to children.
Amendment 48C and Amendment 86ZZZA relate to disabled children. Amendment 48D relates to families with children in temporary care-and I echo much of what the noble Earl has just said about that matter. First, I turn to Amendment 48C and Amendment 86ZZZA. Families with a disabled child may have an adapted property that has a spare bedroom, but that spare bedroom may be needed for a carer to stay the night, or for a time when it is too disruptive for another child to share a room-that is a very crucial group of children. Disability comes in many forms. It is important that we reflect upon the nature of disability and how that might impact upon particular groups of children. I ask my noble friend the Minister to look at the issue of what having disabled children actually means in terms of the nature of their disability. It could mean not just that a family needs a carer, or equipment or a spare bedroom; it could be that the nature of the disability is such that disruption affects another child in the family in a way that they require a separate room.
I wonder whether there has been an error, because it seems very strange to me that the same provision does not apply to claimants' children. I hope that the Minister can reflect that it is not just the claimants, but claimants' children, who are important when it comes to disability. Many families with disabled children will have expensive adaptations to their homes. Forcing families with a disabled child to move from an adapted property-as we have already heard-in any field could be extremely expensive. As we know, disabled facilities grants often take a long time to organise. Forcing families with a disabled child to move could be very disruptive for both the child and their family.
The issue that the noble Earl talked about, which is the subject of another amendment in my name, Amendment 48D, is that of children in care for a short period. The noble Earl reflected carefully on an important group for whom the children's home-that family connection-is still important. We need to avoid their home being taken away from underneath their feet. Parents whose children are in care for a short period
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Again, I wonder whether that is an unintended consequence of the Bill: that it will prevent families from having their children returned to them after they have been in care for a short period. It is not in the amendments, but the noble Earl talked about the fact that many children in longer-term care will also return home. The average length of time for longer-term care for children is only just over two years, so there is a wider group who are not reflected in this pair of amendments.
I also wanted to say a few words about foster carers. The danger is that this policy shift may force some foster carers to give up their roles, as well as discourage new foster carers from coming into the system. It will make it very difficult for social workers to place children in an emergency, which is what we need for many children. We have a national shortage of foster carers. About 10,000 are needed across the whole of the UK, and we need spare capacity in the system because many foster carers are short-term carers looking after some of the most vulnerable children, who are often children who have been abused.
I know that the Government do not collect data on the number of foster carers who live in social housing and that there is no breakdown of the number of foster carers claiming welfare benefits, but I am concerned that, because they do not have the figures, the Government do not understand the impact that this change may have on that group. If the Government have the figures, it would be useful to know them. I understand that they do not. The estimate is that about 2,000 foster carers will be affected. When we consider that we are short of 10,000 foster carers, we should not affect 2,000 in this way.
Lord German: My Lords, I was talking just before the break about the number of foster carers who will be affected by the proposal. We do not have the figures because the Government do not collect the right data, but the 2010 survey commissioned by the Fostering Network found that 6 per cent of all families lived in private or social housing. We know that the split
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What is critical in this suite of amendments about children is that the Government do not jeopardise our caring for children with disabilities, and particularly our fostering system, by introducing measures that would penalise those groups of children. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell me that that is an unintended consequence, if people believe that we will impact on such groups of children. I hope that the Minister can assure us that those particularly vulnerable groups of children will not be affected by the Bill.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, I, too, shall speak briefly to Amendment 40 and Amendment 41, which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord McKenzie. As has been said, Amendment 40 seeks to ensure that the restrictions on the size criteria for social housing cannot leave a foster carer unable to meet their rent. As has been suggested, as currently drafted, the social sector size criteria and related benefit cuts would hit foster carers who claim benefit. As has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Best, that is because foster children are not counted as part of the household. Therefore, any bedroom that they sleep in is defined as being empty and underoccupied. The Fostering Network has warned that the failure to exempt foster carers from the penalty could lead to a number of them leaving fostering altogether.
As was suggested by my noble friend Lady Hollis in her earlier question, it is indeed a necessity that to be accepted for fostering, carers are required to have spare rooms in their homes for such children. Indeed, if you look at any advertisements for foster parents, they say that a spare room to foster is necessary. In addition, it cannot just be any old room; it is expected that most foster children will have a room to themselves from the age of three upwards, as specified by the minimum standards issued by the Department for Education and Skills. That age is well below the underoccupation rules for birth children who live with their parents.
We all know that social housing can provide a stable, high-quality environment in which to care for children who, for whatever reason, cannot live with their birth families. I am sure that none of us would want to exclude the occupants of social housing from acting as foster carers. I cannot believe that the Government intend that foster carers should face the underoccupation penalty. It is fairly obvious what impact that that would have.
Foster carers can claim housing benefit for the housing needs of their families, but the ones that they look after are not taken into account, which would mean that, just as with any other family, the rooms would count as being underoccupied, despite the fact that children sleep in them, and the foster carers' benefit could be reduced by 23 per cent for the use of two rooms or 13 per cent for the use of one room used by a foster child. Many foster carers look after two or
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Most foster carers do not receive financial compensation for housing costs at present. They receive allowances towards the care, which include household running costs but not housing per se. Last year, the Government changed the law to exclude foster children from housing benefit claims. The Minister will recall that he wrote that this is because fostering allowances are intended to cover all the costs of looking after a foster child, including housing them. However, that statement is inconsistent with official information about the purpose of fostering allowance. The minimum fostering allowances set by the Governments in Northern Ireland, Wales and England do not include housing costs. In any case, the levels for recommended minimum allowances are far too low to provide realistic compensation for housing costs.
In case it is thought that discretionary housing payments may be available, it is true that foster carers are entitled to apply, but even if this concession was awarded it would be only to a small minority. As other noble Lords have said, there is already a significant shortage of foster carers. If there was a penalty for keeping a room in order to foster, some experienced carers might have to quit altogether. This could have a significant impact, especially in major towns and cities and other areas where rents are particularly high. Accommodation is in short supply, yet the demand for such carers is great. As the noble Lord, Lord German, said, there are about 2,700 fostering families claiming housing benefit. One thing being asked for through the amendments is that the cost of permitting it would be more than offset by the cost involved in losing foster carers, with children therefore having to be kept in care.
It is very hard to overemphasise the value of the work done by foster carers. I should like to take a moment to talk about two families I know, who between them have had more than 120 children through their doors. They have mostly been children who either have difficulties or disabilities themselves, or whose birth families are, for whatever reason, unable to provide a home for them. They do not always arrive in a nice planned way. They can come in the middle of the night, after the death or illness of their only parent, as the result of an assault or, as in one case that one of these families dealt with, when one of the child's parents had been murdered by the other. The need for a home in the middle of the night and a room for those children cannot be stressed too much. These families are ready to take someone in, often very distressed small children. It is something of which we all need to be aware.
The Local Government Association is particularly concerned that if the proposal should remain unamended, and therefore reduces the likelihood of fostering, as carers are forced to give it up to avoid the penalty, it will be local authorities who pick up the cost, at a time when we are already short of foster families. It is fairly obvious that particularly vulnerable children make up a large proportion of
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Amendment 41, in my name and that of my noble friend Lord McKenzie, is there to assist the Minister. It would make an exemption for foster parents to prevent their being subject to any accusations of abuse. I do not believe that there is such abuse, but certain papers like to run scaremongering stories about benefit claimants living in mansions, while there are blogs that talk about people living in enormous eight-bedroom houses in Chelsea, paid for by housing benefit. I have yet to find one. Amendment 41 seeks to protect foster carers from any such accusation. It includes defining,
The guidelines for good fostering are that there must be a spare room, and that no child over the age of three should be asked to share a bedroom. That is what we would call a suitably sized property, so I very much hope that the Minister can respond positively on the issue of foster care.
Baroness Campbell of Surbiton: My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Best, especially on his amendment regarding the CLG criteria of one-plus-one bedroom. One thing that struck me is that we have not referred in this debate to people with fluctuating impairment who require overnight care but not on a regular basis. People with mental health problems, when they go into crisis, may need somebody to sleep in the bedroom next door for a month or two, and that is not necessarily counted as an overnight carer in considering criteria for an extra bedroom.
We should celebrate that 15,000 disabled people need overnight care in this country-that figure is given to us by the DWP. Has the Minister had discussions with the Department of Health about the implications of the changes to the housing and benefits extra bedroom situation for people with fluctuating impairments? Increasing numbers of disabled people are living at home in the community now, and that is to be celebrated, but many disabled people require the help of another human being in order for them to do that. Otherwise it is back to residential care and the old days of warehousing. This is another good reason to support the one-plus-one bedroom and if we cannot do that, then I certainly support all the exemptions that are called for in all the amendments.
Baroness Meacher: My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group, but I congratulate my noble friend Lord Best on his incredibly commonsense approach to this problem. It seems that allowing an extra bedroom would probably deal with most of the tragic exceptions that people have talked about-what a straightforward way to deal with those exceptions and normal life. I cannot think of any family that at some point does not badly need an extra room, and the case was so well put.
We talk about all the amendments individually, but what is so painfully obvious is that it is the combined impact of the changes in the Bill that are going to have such a devastating effect on so many people. It feels irrelevant to talk about ESA and people being reassessed and placed on to JSA, and therefore losing a section or part of their benefits, but the individuals at the front line are going to be hit by that, then they find their housing allowances upgraded in line with CPI, then they find that their housing allowances are pegged to the 30th percentile, then find that they have an extra room. Oh my God, their housing benefit will not cover the accommodation they are in and they are going to have to think about moving.
It is the impact of so many hits that feels petrifying, and perhaps the change that frightens me more than any is the pegging of housing allowances to CPI. If that goes on longer than two years-perhaps we do not pay too much attention to it because we assume that it will not-we are talking about families and households finding every few years that they have a growing gap between their rent and the allowances they are paid for housing. They will have to move, and move, and move-is that not correct?-over a period of time, into ever more distant areas, ever meaner properties, ever smaller properties. It is difficult to imagine the psychological impact on households of all these changes.
I do not know who devised this law, but I wonder whether whoever it was stood back and thought about all that. I know, and the Minister has mentioned many times, that the driving motivation behind the reforms is to provide an incentive for people to move into work. From where I come from, dealing with people with mental health problems, one thing that stands between them and work is their level of stress and distress and anxiety.
It strikes me that if all the legislative changes go through, we will create an even bigger gap between very large numbers of people who are prone to anxiety and depression-if not psychosis and other things that are even more problematic to deal with-and the labour market. That troubles me, because I respect the Minister's commitment to providing an incentive for people to go back into work. I also know that he is very sympathetic and understanding about mental health problems. I would be interested to know what he has to say about the apparent contradiction in what the Government are trying to do.
Another aspect of this for people with mental health problems is that to force them to move away from wherever they are-probably away from the carers who might just about prop them up and allow them to survive and carry on-is the last thing we want. The underoccupation rule impacts even more, given the other provisions of the Bill. As I understand it, young people are going to be expected, in some circumstances, to share accommodation. There are an awful lot of people with mental health problems for whom this might be quite helpful. There are others for whom it might be a complete disaster. Indeed, let us not forget to mention the potential sharer. It might be quite difficult to share with some of our folk. We have to be sensitive to the impact, and the combined and compound impact.
I sympathise with the amendments that noble Lords have tabled about disabled people who have had adjustments to their homes, and those about looked-after children. Those are obvious and glaring problems. I would like to think that the Minister will think seriously about that, in the context that I know he very well understands.
Lord Wigley: My Lords, I speak very briefly in support of Amendment 35, to which I have my name, to endorse entirely the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, in introducing this bank of amendments, and to support the other amendments that deal with disability particularly. In doing so I should declare my interest as vice-president of Mencap Wales. In fact, at the Mencap annual conference in Warwick on Saturday, there were people who asked specifically about these matters. They said, "They have taken away from us home ownership for people with long-term disabilities, and now they are going to start clobbering us on housing benefit, where people with disabilities may be in a particularly vulnerable position". I should therefore like to ask the Minister, so that I can respond to people who raise these questions with me: do the Government still believe in home ownership for everybody, and if so, does that include people with long-term disabilities? If the Government, having taken away the previous scheme, are not going to put something in its place, surely that is a straight contradiction of what the party opposite has always put itself forward as believing in?
Secondly, with regard to people with disabilities and housing benefit-the amendments before us would make exceptions for them-I hope that the Minister will be able to spell out how he will ensure that they do not suffer. If the amendments are not acceptable, I hope that amendments will come forward from the Government on Report. If not, I hope that there will be an opportunity to vote on these matters to show exactly where each of us in each of our parties, including the coalition partners, stand on such a basic issue.
Baroness Hollins: I, too, support Amendment 35, as introduced by my noble friend Lord Rix. As we have already heard today, tidy laws are not always fair laws. I am concerned about some exceptional people whose needs cannot neatly be described and I hope that common sense will prevail.
I shall give the example of a young man with autism and learning disability, Theo. Since early childhood, Theo has loved and become very knowledgeable about cathedrals, churches and architecture. He is also a man with complex impairments and a history of behaviour which has challenged every shared setting he has lived in. With specialist advice from Housing Options, and support and endorsement from social services, his parents set up a safe and individualised housing and care package for him.
The Government's view may now be that it has never been the intention that SMI would cover all a person's housing liabilities, but Theo's shared-ownership mortgage was offered precisely on the basis that it would cover the mortgaged part of his housing cost, as was DWP policy at the time. The past nine years of Theo's life have been built on that. His home has
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Theo has an interest-only mortgage, so the possibility of the acquisition of a valuable capital asset does not apply in his case. With careful management by his parents, he has been able to lead a happy life at a much lower cost to the public purse than the alternative arrangement of a secure hospital. However, the new FSA rules require mortgage-lenders to set aside more capital and to treat mortgages on shared-ownership properties as 100 per cent mortgages. The result is a sudden gap between the rate at which lenders have to lend-for example, 6 or 8 per cent -and what the new SMI rate, which I think is 3.63 per cent, will cover. In Theo's case, this leads to a shortfall of £200 per month. You can imagine that the arrears are already quite high. A new mortgage would be at an even higher rate, but he would then have to find a 25 per cent deposit for his property. He does not have the money to negotiate another mortgage.
There has been quite a bit of publicity about the adverse effect of this reform on HOLD. Experienced housing experts say that fewer lenders are likely to want to deal with disabled applicants seeking this solution to support a non-institutional life.
Ageing parents of disabled adults have followed similar paths with the help of enlightened housing associations. Those parents have been making responsible arrangements in their own lifetime, hoping for some assurance of long-term stability and security for their child. Instead, Theo's parents now face the prospect of seeing Theo's distress at being uprooted from his home and moved, probably, to an inappropriate and less sensitive institution, which will be much more costly.
As the noble Lord, Lord Rix, pointed out, there are probably about 1,000 customers with learning disabilities-0.4 per cent, I understand, of the total caseload looked at by the impact assessment. Some of those administering HOLD have suggested ways in which the cost of continuing higher-rate payments for this group of disabled people could be contained, but it would require acceptance that there are indeed exceptions to the rule.
Since the Poor Law 1601, society has tried to tidy away people whose needs do not fit present-day norms, but in today's more enlightened society we have made huge strides towards creating an inclusive society in which every person's humanity and dignity are respected and in which they have a place regardless of the extent of the difference that the person presents. However, these gains are quite fragile and we need look no further than Winterbourne View to be reminded of the previous scandals in mental handicap hospitals such as Ely and Normansfield in the late 1970s. Surely, we must now realise that without adequate advocacy and diligence we could again allow such inhumane provision to be re-created-people shunned by society and placed out of sight and out of mind at considerable expense but in the interests of tidiness. The test of a humane society is how it treats its most vulnerable members.
I had little awareness of the lives lived by some people with learning disabilities until I had a disabled child. My eyes were opened. I should like the Minister to consider using the Bill to reinstate SMI at the higher level for people such as Theo, which would allow them the opportunity to live with dignity in their own homes.
Lord Boswell of Aynho: My Lords, I rise briefly and somewhat diffidently because I did not have the privilege of hearing some of the earlier exchanges, as I had other obligations at that time. However, I have been listening to the later stages of the debate and before I add one comment to it I want to make it clear that in no sense am I derogatory of the very real problems that disabled people face-and those faced by other people of particular categories, including foster carers and others. Indeed, a good deal of my trade, time, interest and passion in my previous vocation as a Member of the other place was directed towards these issues. Of course they matter, and the people who are experiencing them matter. They have complex and difficult needs.
At the same time, it is worth putting down a marker. My remarks are prompted by those of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, about the cumulative effect. Of course, in a sense, I entirely agree with her point about the cumulative effect of changes, but I am afraid that the argument runs both ways. If the effect is cumulative and poses difficulties for the individual, a cumulative set of concessions or changes to the package that the Minister is presenting to us also has implications for public expenditure. In our debates last week on disabled children, I made the point that I regarded their overall position as being one of particular pressure that required the Minister's attention and the maximum degree of flexibility. While I do not for a moment resile from the arguments that have been put with great passion by noble Lords on the range of difficulties, we will not be able to meet all those requirements within the equal requirement that the Minister and the Government have for economies in public expenditure-and with the commitments that have been undertaken to secure the prize of universal credit.
What we must do-and I will certainly want to listen to the Minister's answer on this-is ensure that we understand the implications, and that is why debate is so important. We should be prepared to make changes where the shoe pinch is particularly hard or where the interaction that the noble Baroness referred to may have taken place. However, we will not be able to solve all the problems of all the client groups, however good our intentions are, without making it impossible for the Bill to survive and be sustainable. The Minister has to answer in that vein, and I hope that he does so.
Baroness Wilkins: My Lords, further to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, I ask him whether it is fair that this group of people should be asked to pay for the country's deficit. It seems to fall particularly hard on this vulnerable group of people.
I support the solution of noble Lord, Lord Best, in these amendments and, if not, I support all the exemptions that have been spoken about, particularly those in
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It is also important to recognise that no two disabled people are the same. You may be moved to another adapted property, but it will still cost to enable you to live in that adapted property and become a contributing taxpayer. One disabled person may be able to get into a bath by using the shelf at the back of the bath; another person needs a shower; another person needs a narrow bath. We are all extremely different, and our homes are adapted to our needs.
It is also important to recognise how important our local networks are in enabling us to remain as independent beings. It means being able to call on a neighbour when you have just dropped a jar of honey that has broken on the floor and will puncture your wheels if you move anywhere around the house. It is impossible for you to clear it but a friendly neighbour can. We cannot just be moved out of our local networks, which take a long time to build, without enormous cost and without making us into people who do not have the time or energy to go out to work because our time is spent living day by day, surviving.
"Being able to remain in your own home has a significant impact upon your health, well-being and feeling of independence. Helping disabled people to live as comfortably and independently as possible in their own homes is a key commitment for this Government".
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Government will have to recognise the anxieties that lie behind the bulk of amendments in this group. I want to take a step back and take a slightly longer view. Whether they should be in this group or not, there are three clause stand part amendments, one of which relates to this clause, in the name of my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark; the other two are for later clauses and stand in my name. Clause stand part amendments are either a subtle probing amendment or a blunderbuss, depending on your point of view, but they are a request for the Government to think again.
I am prepared to accept that the Government do not intend by the provisions to place a disproportionate burden on the disabled or to leave foster parents out of consideration. They have three aims: the big one, on which we all agree, is to rationalise the whole system of welfare, eventually into a system of universal credit; the second is to save money; the third, which has been less referred to, is to reflect how to deal with a severe
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The clause stand part amendment and another group of amendments that I have in a later group, which I fear that I will probably not be here to debate if we reach them tonight, are intended to ask the Government to think again. We all want the housing costs element eventually to be included within universal credit, but there are huge complexities in the housing cost element. The Government have attempted to address them, but they make the administration somewhat worse and more complicated by moving housing benefit away from administration of local authorities, separating the council tax benefit from the housing benefit proper and in a different context putting maximum figures on housing benefit and provisions in the Localism Bill that relate to affordable rents and caps on rents in social housing.
There is a whole nexus of issues which are essentially housing policy issues, and they reflect the very serious shortage of housing in all forms of tenure, whether we are talking about owner occupation and availability of a mortgage for first-time buyers, the private rented sector or the social housing sector. If we are to move a housing cost element into the universal credit, a lot of those issues-or at least the direction of travel on all those issues-need to have been established first. I am aware that the Government intend to make a statement on housing in the next couple of months, basically led by the CLG end. Whether it will be definitive or not I am not clear, but until we have some clarity about how we are dealing with future subsidy for housing, whether on the supply or on the demand side through housing benefit, as well as future changes in tenure and tenure law, which will affect the supply and flexibility of people moving to appropriate accommodation, it is difficult to construct exactly how the housing costs element will look.
My suggestion in my subsequent group of amendments is that we should be prepared to take a longer run at the housing costs element than in the rest of the rationalisation of the programme. The Government should at least give themselves the option of doing that, because otherwise they are going to flounder on detailed but vitally important aspects of housing benefit and housing tenure, which affect lots of different interest groups in different ways and which will slow them down in attaining their goal of universal credit.
I do not want to say any more tonight on that, although I may well return to it at a later stage. The whole of the discussion in the last hour and a half shows how complicated changing housing benefit and
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The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will be keen to reassure the Committee about the concerns raised, and I know that the Committee will want to hear those reassurances, so I shall be as brief as I can, but I am prompted by the eloquent speeches of the noble Lord, Lord German, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter-particularly the case histories that she presented-to think in particular of large sibling groups of children taken into care. We are often talking about large families, dysfunctional families, where the parent has a child who is taken away, then another child who is taken away and then another child who is taken away. It is often very important for those children that they stay together with their brothers and sisters. Of course that means that some foster carers need to have many rooms to provide that capacity. In the past, we have failed those children. It has been inconvenient to keep them together, so they have been separated.
I think of one now middle-aged woman who was separated from her five brothers and sisters when she was in care. She was so profoundly troubled by her experience that she set up a charity, Siblings Together, and now organises holiday schemes so that young children in care can spend at least their holidays together with their siblings. If they lose their parents, at least let them keep their brothers and sisters.
I do not want to pull too hard on the heartstrings, and I know that the Minister has met the Fostering Network. He has already provided reassurance on several of its concerns, so I am sure that he will be as helpful as he can on this issue as well, but I omitted to raise this earlier and I wanted to raise it with him before he replied.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, it is with some trepidation that I speak in this debate having released, in the terms of the noble Lord, Lord Best, the battery of Baronesses from this side of the Committee. I am not sure that I am not better suited to sitting on the hill at a safe distance and watching all this from afar.
However, these are hugely important issues. One thing seems abundantly clear on the basis of this debate and the previous one: what is in the Bill simply cannot stand. We recognise the issue of underoccupation. As the noble Lord, Lord Best, said, part of that is dealt with by definition: the extra bedroom in itself is part of the solution. My noble friend Lord Whitty just made a powerful contribution about the need to look at this in the context of housing policy more generally: the provision of a range of new accommodation and the range of tenancies that we have. To use the mechanism of housing benefit as the sole lever to try to deal with the problem seems fundamentally flawed.
There seems to be an assumption behind that approach that someone who finds themselves in a position of underoccupation, as defined, is somehow doing it to cheat the state, to grab more from housing benefit that they might be entitled to. The reasons that people end up in an underoccupying position are varied. It could be that the kids are leaving home to go to university; it could be that a member of the household has undertaken the instructions of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and got on their bike to find a job somewhere else; there could have been a death in the family. All sorts of reasons may underpin why people find themselves underoccupied, and I am not sure that that is reflected in the provisions.
I must stop agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Best, but I agree that underoccupation is more of an issue among elderly people. I remember people from the patch that I represented on the council. One elderly woman occupied alone the three-bedroom house that she had occupied since she started a family. That is where her memories were. She could not get up the stairs and used to sleep in the front room. That is not a satisfactory outcome to her life or, indeed, to the use of housing stock. Means of dealing with that, such as local authorities having a scheme whereby they can help people to move by dealing with the practical issues of carpets, curtains, utilities and so on, would relieve some of the risks and tensions associated with moving house.
Following the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, I say to Lib Dem Members of this Committee that we have heard some powerful speeches and challenges to the legislation. When push comes to shove, if the Government themselves will not change, we will seek change by going through the Lobbies. We look forward to the Liberal Democrats joining us on those occasions. That is the most effective way of changing this legislation.
So many issues were raised that if the Government do not adopt a different approach to definitions of underoccupancy, the range of exemptions that any sensible analysis suggests that they would have to bring in will negate much of what they are trying to achieve in this legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Boswell, said that we have to bear in mind the deficit and public finances; of course we do. The Minister's price tag was £2 billion, but why put that £2 billion on this group of people? People who are in receipt of housing benefit are by definition poorer. Why visit that cost on them?
We heard several contributions on Amendment 35. We debated SMI in our last session in Committee when we sought assurances that it would continue and not be scrapped. However, another dimension has been raised today. I understand that HOLD is about shared ownership schemes. Therefore, it is partly to do with people buying and partly to do with people renting along the way. I seek the Minister's assurance that the renting element can still be subject to housing benefit or housing support under universal credit. I think that is the position on shared ownership schemes at the moment but it would be good to have it confirmed.
Another theme of this afternoon's discussion is that the Minister is looking to save money. We understand that. However, the consequences of that for a whole range of people will be much greater cost. On the issue of disabled adaptations, everybody knows that local authorities are very stretched in their funding. It is always a challenge to get enough capital funding for DFGs. There is not enough money to go around and it is even more difficult now. It cannot make sense in anybody's book to force a situation in which somebody is turfed out of a property that has been appropriately adapted so that all that money has to be spent again on adapting a new property.
We have heard about issues to do with children in foster care. If the Government force the consequences of the legislation as it is on those families, there will be far greater costs to society than the savings that the Government seek to make here.
This is a big group of amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, made the point at the start of our deliberations that it would be good if the Minister could respond in bite-sized chunks so that we have the opportunity to focus on and return to each of the components, although there is obviously a wide and very important dimension to this debate.
Lord Freud: My Lords, this has been a very good debate. I am not saying I have welcomed anything anyone has said, but I am saying the quality of the debate has been very high. I thank noble Lords for the great expertise they have brought to these issues. In response to the request of my noble friend Lord Kirkwood and the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, I shall try to answer on each of these amendments and justify the idea that we can group them and get the right answers through. I am grateful for the indulgence of Committee members in allowing some big groups to come through, which should help us, but I aim to answer all of these issues.
To go back to the essential core point, housing support is a critical element of universal credit. It will help people pay their housing costs and help prevent homelessness. It will recognise that people need support across a range of different tenure types whether they live in the private rented sector, the social sector or whether they are owner occupiers. However, to repeat the point I made earlier, it also needs to be affordable to the taxpayer. My noble friend Lord German made the point about the increases in pure cash terms-it is up from £11 billion to £22 billion in a decade, which is 40 per cent in real terms-and that rise was going to continue if we did nothing.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked why is it this community that is taking the £2 billion saving we are looking at. I remind Committee Members that the way we are designing many of these particular housing reductions is not directed wholly or even mostly at tenants. Clearly, we are looking for landlords to take the strain in the private sector-I am on record as saying that-although we expect other responses in the social area which I have gone through.
Lord Freud: No, the figure of £2 billion applies to the total saving by the end of the period in 2015 of all the benefit changes, and the particular change here is £0.5 billion per annum on the social sector from 2013-14.
Tackling housing benefit expenditure is vital to our combined efforts to reduce the economic deficit. The measures within Clause 68 will help to deliver significant savings affecting housing benefit claims for those living in both the private and social rented sector. Clause 11 will allow us to carry these measures through into universal credit.
Starting with Amendment 36 from my noble friend Lord Kirkwood and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, I confess that it surprises me because it appears to call for a return to something akin to the local reference rent. This was a system that was difficult for claimants to understand, led to delays as individual rent officer determinations were sought, and it was expensive. It needed an army of rent officers to carry out these case-specific determinations. It is not a system that I would willingly go back to. This amendment would also maintain the status quo for housing benefit in the social rented sector, ignoring a property size in relation to the size of the household. As I have set out, we must take control of housing benefit expenditure across both sectors, but this amendment would do neither. In fact, it would increase costs.
I turn to my noble friend's point on CPI. We will discuss this in more detail in a later group. The CPI uprating will apply across the spending review period, and if it becomes apparent that LHA rates and rents are moving out of step, they can be reconsidered at that point.
Amendments 38 and 79 would exclude anyone from this measure who is disabled and lives in adapted accommodation. Unlike Amendment 48 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, this exemption would apply regardless of the extent of the adaptations that have been made. It would also exempt anyone in accommodation who is "particularly suited" to the needs of that person. These are extremely broad categories. We have already heard in some detail the issues surrounding claimants living in adapted and specially suited accommodation. The terms of the exemption suggested in these amendments are simply too broad brush. However, as I said in relation to Amendment 48, I want to return to this matter once we have considered it further.
Amendments 43 and 83 also touch on similar issues to those discussed in relation to Amendment 48. They would exempt claimants where there is no suitable alternative accommodation, which is classified in the amendment as social rented housing that is also within the claimant's locality. We cannot contemplate such a wide-ranging exemption. It would be costly to administer and would no doubt apply to those who would, in fact, have paid the shortfall regardless.
On Amendments 39 and 80, we estimate that around 200,000 claimants, where only they or their partner receive disability living allowance, will potentially be affected by the size criteria measure. However, this figure does not include other members of the household such as children and non-dependants. An exemption is simply not affordable and may well include many cases for whom an exemption would not be necessary, while missing out other hard cases. To provide a blanket exemption where claimants and partners receive DLA would lead to a reduction in savings of approximately between £130 million and £140 million in 2013-14, and this amendment goes further even than that.
Amendment 48C and the peculiarly titled Amendment 86ZZZA would exclude all households where there is a disabled child and again reduce the savings significantly and provide too broad an exemption. In response to the point made by my noble friend Lord German about exemptions for people who require an extra room as a result of a medical condition, we are looking at ways to potentially limit the impact of these changes in a way that is effective and affordable. The most appropriate course of action for the tenant and landlord in such cases will vary, depending on the individual circumstances of the claimant and his or her household. They may choose, for example, to apply for a discretionary housing payment.
As for the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, on fluctuating health conditions, local authorities can and do use discretionary housing payments for precisely that purpose. I can inform her that we have worked with the Department of Health on the extra room for a non-resident carer, which will cover that point in the guidance we issue to local authorities.
Amendments 40, 41 and 81 are relevant to foster carers. Within universal credit, our intention is to ignore any fostering income and therefore not to include any foster children within the assessment unit. To do otherwise, by treating the child as a family member and the fostering allowance as income, could result in the family being considerably worse off, and as such act as a deterrent to fostering.
We have looked at all these combinations very carefully, and have discussed this with the various fostering groups, and I think I am safe in saying that there is broad consensus that this approach is the right one.
To pick up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, on whether there was a change in law to housing benefit, I must say that there was not. Rather, we were clarifying what has always been the policy intention of housing benefit-and indeed the policy
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Since 2007-08, the Department for Education has produced figures that specify the minimum amount of any fostering allowance. However, there is an expectation that the level of the allowance will be dependent upon the individual circumstances of the fostering arrangement, and it would frequently be expected to be greater, and sometimes much greater, than that set out in the table. For London, for example, the minimum figures range from £129 for babies up to £197 per week for children who are aged between 16 and 17. It changes in different regions.
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