HC Deb 24 January 1973 vol 849 cc451-4
18. Mr. Meacher

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how much has so far been paid out in rent rebates under the Housing Finance Act; and what is the aggregate amount of increased rent so far paid following the rent rises last April and last October.

Mr. Eyre

This information could be obtained only by asking all housing authorities to make a special return. This is not justified, since most of them will be giving this information after the end of the financial year to the Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants, which will then publish it.

Mr. Meacher

Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Prime Minister's estimate that rebated rents will rise next year by only 7½ per cent. was based on a 90 per cent. rebate take-up level, which on present trends is grossly overoptimistic? Will he also confirm the evidence of local authority survey material which I have received—even if he has not—which indicates that even with a 75 per cent. rebate take-up level it is unlikely that rebated rents will still rise this year by 11 per cent.—in the year of a so-called prices freeze?

Mr. Eyre

I am satisfied from preliminary reports that the take-up of rent rebates appears to be high. May I give some examples of the proportion of tenants getting a rebate: Brent London Borough, 36 per cent.; Richmond London Borough, 38 per cent.; Dudley County Borough, 40 per cent.; and Stroud Rural District Council, 37 per cent.

Mr. Kinsey

Is my hon. Friend aware that even under these conditions there is considerable delay in local authorities dealing with applications for rent rebates? Is he aware that I am informed that in Birmingham in particular, although applications were made in November, some people in poor circumstances have yet to hear the result of their applications?

Mr. Eyre

I am sure that my hon. Friend has raised a matter which will be of considerable concern to tenants who are entitled to rebates. We shall do everything possible to assist local authorities. However, we know that throughout the country they are certainly doing their best to develop administrative systems to respond to these needs.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

Why are the Government trying to hide behind the answer that they cannot get the information? Why do they consistently refuse to give any detailed figures about the relationship between rent increases and rent rebates under the Housing Finance Act?

Mr. Eyre

The hon. Gentleman will understand that all this information is in the possession of the local authorities. They are dealing with this administrative responsibility of making available the rebates, and they will be accounting in detail at the end of the financial year, which is only two months away. May I add that our estimate of a total of about £100 million in rebates for this financial year certainly appears to be accurate.

26. Mr. Leonard

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if, in view of the delays in processing applications for rent rebates under the Housing Finance Act 1972, he will institute an inquiry into the working of the Act with a view to seeking power,inter alia,to ensure that no further rent increases are imposed on 1st April 1973 until the backlog of rebate applications has been cleared.

Mr. Channon

No, Sir. I am extremely anxious that all tenants who are entitled to a rebate should receive one at the earliest date but I do not think there is a need for an inquiry.

Mr. Leonard

Since I tabled this Question, it has been given the more point by the announcement that the needs allowance will be increased by £.3.50, which will greatly increase the number of tenants eligible for rebate. In view of this, cannot the hon. Gentleman say that any further rent increases will be delayed until he can give an unqualified assurance that there will be no undue delay in dealing with applications?

Mr. Channon

I hope that there is no undue delay in dealing with applications. Local authorities will have until the end of April to deal with the question of the needs allowance, which will be very welcome to many local authority tenants. I have no evidence leading me to assume that local authorities will find this unduly burdensome.

Mr. Rost

Will my hon. Friend tell the Labour Party that many tenants who are most in need, particularly pensioners, have been pleasantly surprised at the amounts of rebate, which have been much more generous than they were led to believe by the scaremongering propaganda put about by the party opposite?

Mr. Channon

I always said that Labour's propaganda would fail, and I think that it has. The needs allowance has been increased by a large amount since that time, and I believe that the people to whom my hon. Friend refers will be even more pleased.

Mr. Freeson

But will the Minister accept at least that where local authority housing revenue accounts are in balance or are already showing a surplus at the end of this financial year, there can be no possible justification for further rent increases, especially during the period of price restraint? Will he therefore use his powers under Section 105 of the Housing Finance Act to suspend any rent increases at least in such cases?

Mr. Channon

The Question deals with rent rebates and has nothing to do with the wider question which the hon. Gentleman raises. We are introducing a system of fair rents which is widely welcomed, with exceedingly generous rebates and allowances for tenants in the private as well as the public sector, and this will give a far fairer housing policy than the country has ever seen before.