HC Deb 08 July 1977 vol 934 cc1590-6

"(1) If a housing authority have reason to believe—

  1. (a) that a person who has applied to them for accommodation or for assistance in obtaining accommodation is homeless or threatened with homelessness, and
  2. (b) that there is a danger of loss of, or damage to, any movable property of his by reason of his inability to protect or deal with it, and
  3. (c) that no other suitable arrangements have been or are being made,
it shall be the duty of the authority to take reasonable steps to prevent the loss of the property or prevent or mitigate damage to it.

(2) For the purpose of discharging the said duty, the authority shall have power at all reasonable times to enterany premises which were the last usual place of residence of the person in question and to deal with any movable property of his in any way which is reasonably necessary.

(3) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (2) above, the power conferred by that subsection includes power to store or arrange for the storage of any movable property."—[Mr. Stephen Ross.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

11.6 a.m.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

With this, we may take the following amendments:

No. 30, in Clause 3, page 3, line 36 leave out subsection (4).

No. 34, in Clause 4, page 4, line 16, leave out subsection (2) and insert— (2) Paragraph (a) of subsection (1) above shall have effect in relation to a housing authority and the Greater London Council as if the references to sections 2 and 3 above in that subsection included a reference to section (Duty of housing authorities to provide temporary protection for movable property) above.".

No. 36, in Clause 6, page 4, line 33, leave out subsection (2) and insert— (2) Any reasonable expenses incurred—

  1. (a) by a housing authority in protecting or dealing with property under section (Duty of housing authorities to provide temporary protection for movable property) above, or
  2. (b) by a housing authority or the Greater London Council in so protecting or dealing with any such property by virtue of section 4(1) above,
may be recovered by them from the person whose property it is".

Mr. Arthur Latham (Paddington)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Having looked at the provisional selection of amendments, may I ask you to take time to have another look at Amendment (b) to New Clause 3? I understand that the proposal for an appeal procedure of the kind mentioned in Amendment (b) was dealt with in Committee, which might well have led you to believe that it would be improper to take this again on Report.

When we come to debate New Clause 3, it will emerge that there are two important new principles which are matters of judgment and which would possibly lead to a justifiable re-cxamination of the case for a right of appeal, not in relation to homelessness or priority need but in relation to the means of the person concerned, and also in relation to whether he is intentionally homeless.

In view of that, may I ask you to have another look at this, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so that the House might have an opportunity, if those two new principles are approved, of considering whether it would now be proper to have a right of appeal on behalf of the applicant?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I have, in fact, looked very closely at the point he has made and have considered it, but I regret that I cannot change my mind on the selection which has been made.

Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)

Further to your statement, Mr. Deputy Speaker, concerning the provisional selection of amendments. One matter has just come to my mind, and I regret that I have not been able to mention it to the Minister or to the sponsor of the Bill. It relates to Amendment No. 35, which at the moment is grouped with Amendment No. 17. It appears to me that it might be more appropriate to take Amendment No. 35 with Amendment No. 37. Amendment No. 37 would be totally meaningless without having Amendment No. 35 taken with it at the same time. Amendment No. 37 seeks to remove certain wording from subsection (1) of Clause 6, and the removal of that wording will make nonsense unless we are at the same time considering Amendment No. 35, which substitutes wording in place of that which is to be taken out by Amendment No. 37.

I can see why the selection has arisen in the way that it has. It is simply because Amendment No. 35 seems to deal with the threat of homelessness being brought about intentionally, and, therefore, for that reason it was grouped with Amendment No. 17, which deals with the substantive point. But on careful reading, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will find that Amendments Nos. 35 and 37 go better together rather than having one of them grouped with Amendment No. 17. If there is no objection, might we have the grouping amended in that way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Does the Minister wish to comment?

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

I would support that, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

As the Minister agrees, that will be arranged. Mr. Stephen Ross.

Mr. Stephen Ross

The effect of the clause is to place a duty on housing authorities to take reasonable steps to protect the movable property of a person whom they have reason to believe to be homeless or threatened with homelessness and to be unable to protect it himself. The clause confers power to enter the previous home of the person concerned and to store or arrange storage of property. This replaces the power to store furniture in Clause 3(4), which is to be deleted by Amendment No. 30. Amendment No. 34 empowers housing authorities and the Greater London Council to co-operate by undertaking the functions in New Clause 1. Amendment No. 36 empowers authorities to make reasonable charges for dealing with property in this way.

This proposal follows discussion of the question of the protection of furniture and other possessions of homeless people in Standing Committee. Social services authorities currently have a duty under Section 48 of the National Assistance Act to prevent or mitigate loss or damage to the movable property of homeless people in temporary accommodation who are unable to protect their own property. Clause 3(4) of the Bill provides a power to store or arrange storage of the possessions of people for whom the authority secured accommodation, but this was felt not to be adequate. It was the view of Committee that an equivalent duty should be carried forward in the Bill. The proposed clause would place a duty on housing authorities to take reasonable steps to protect the movable property of persons who they have reason to believe are homeless or threatened with home-lessness, if it seems that there is a danger of loss or damage to property because of an owner's inability to deal with it and that no other arrangements are being made.

A person might be unable to deal with his property for various reasons—for example, if he was given temporary furnished accommodation and he could not afford to put his own furniture into a commercial store, or if he had been illegally locked out by his landlord and could not gain access to the house to remove his possessions. However, it seems likely that in almost all cases the person would be able to deal with his property himself, and that the authority would not have to act. It could also be noted that the authority may recover the costs from anyone so assisted.

I have brought the clause forward in the light of our discussions in Committee. But I ought to add that I am not sure that we have got it quite right in relation to the duty on the authority to secure that accommodation is available, which will apply only in certain cases. The drafting covers people from the moment they seek help so that there is no avoidable gap, but I think that we need to consider whether this duty should be more closely tied to the people to whom the accommodation duty applies and that whatever length of time for which it applies should be added. Perhaps, after all, it would be more appro- priate to express this as a power rather than a duty. We shall hope to come back to this in another place.

Section 48 of the National Assistance Act will, of course, continue to apply to persons admitted from existing accommodation or directly to hospital or to residential social services accommodation.

On that basis, I hope that the House will accept the clause and the amendments.

Mr. Rossi

I thank the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) for tabling this new clause. As he said, it concerns a matter that we raised in Committee, when my hon. Friends and I sought to bring into the Bill provisions that appear in Section 48 of the National Assistance Act 1948. It arose from a request made to us by SHAC and the other six charities associated with it in considering the effects that the Bill will have upon their work.

As the Bill originally came before the House, there was a provision in Clause 3(4) enabling a housing authority to store or to arrange for the storage of furniture where the authority was under a duty to rehouse someone. Unhappily, in incorporating that power into the Bill, not the entire obligation contained in the National Assistance Act was put in, especially the obligation to protect the person's property from damage or loss.

As I read this clause and compare it with the amendment that my hon. Friends and I proposed in Committee, there is very little difference except for a certain rearrangement of the wording and its splitting into paragraphs. Apart from that, the wording follows what we suggested, which was taken from Section 48 of the National Assistance Act 1948.

However, since the clause went on to the Notice Paper in this form I have received a representation from the Association of District Councils, which indicates that in rearranging the wording the hon. Member for Isle of Wight has possibly gone a little further than we were contemplating in Committee, and, therefore, that it may be necessary in another place to look at the wording again not only from the point of view mentioned by the hon. Gentleman but also from that of the representation made to us by the ADC.

Two matters were drawn to my attention by the ADC, which I invite the hon. Member for Isle of Wight to consider. First, in the title to the new clause, our attention is directed to a duty on housing authorities to provide temporary protection for movable property. However, when one looks at the wording of the clause itself, one finds that there is no reference to a temporary obligation. The obligation imposed is a permanent one, and the Association of District Councils feels that this may impose too onerous a duty upon housing authorities.

The second matter to which the ADC wishes to draw attention is that it is conceivable that where a person is rehoused by an authority that person will move with him the belongings that he wants and will abandon quite happily, as frequently happens, a lot of stuff that he does not want—rubbish, junk or furniture which does not fit into the new accommodation being offered to him.

As the clause reads at the moment there is nothing to suggest that the housing authority would have the right to dispose of that unwanted property. it may find itself under a complete obligation to continue to store and protect it and to pay charges for it being in store, for handling and for insuring it, when it is of no benefit to anyone that that should happen. Therefore, the ADC has requested that the new clause be reconsidered so that at some stage there may be incorporated into it a power for a local authority to dispose of unwanted personal possessions.

These are matters that we need not deal with this morning, but I hope that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight will make the necessary arrangements for the clause to be put right in another place.

11.15 a.m.

Mr. Stephen Ross

I give the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) the assurance that the matters that he raised will be noted. On first hearing, they seem to be very reasonable ones. I quite understand the situation that he describes. As I said just now, it is possible that the clause will have to have some slight amendment made to it and, when considering that, I shall also consider the matters raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time and added to the Bill.

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