HC Deb 17 March 1982 vol 20 cc343-4
7. Mr. Ron Brown

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many homeless people were housed by local authorities under the provision of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 during 1981.

Sir George Young

Statistics collected by my Department relate only to England. In 1980–81 some 43, 000 council dwellings were let to the homeless.

Mr. Brown

Is not the operation of this Act a disgrace and a scandal? Does the Minister not appreciate the misery and suffering endured by many thousands of single homeless people in England and in Scotland? Does he not appreciate that Government policies are responsible for that misery and in a very real sense for the tent city that will grow up as a result? It was the present Government, not Peter Tatchell, who thought up that idea.

Sir George Young

As the hon. Gentleman may know, we are currently reviewing the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 and the code of guidance. We hope to announce our conclusions shortly. We are certainly considering all the representations that have been made to us. In the meantime, my Department has taken some initiatives to solve the real problems facing the homeless, including an increased allocation to the Housing Corporation to help people in that category.

Mr. Stanbrook

As the operation of the Act is, in practice, monstrously unfair to those already on homeless housing lists, because it enables others from outside to jump the queue, will my hon. Friend expedite his proposals for its amendment?

Sir George Young

We have received many representations on the subject, and several local authorities have made the point made by my hon. Friend. We have taken that point on board, and we hope that the review will be completed shortly.

Mr. Cartwright

Does the Minister accept that the problems of the single homeless have been a major factor in increasing housing waiting lists in many London boroughs? Will he do more to encourage local authorities to tackle the problem by promoting shared use of some of the less attractive family flats that stand empty for so long?

Sir George Young

I agree that much could be done by local authorities within existing resources to help the homeless. Certainly the imaginative use of empty houses is one possibility. More properties being used as hostels is another. Some of our initiatives—for example, to allow public sector tenants to take in lodgers—have helped to reduce homelessness.

Mr. Squire

In the review that my hon. Friend has mentioned, will he undertake to consider those instances where more than one local authority is claimed as the possible supplier of housing, and especially the way in which the giving authority sometimes suffers at the expense of the taking authority?

Sir George Young

All hon. Members are aware of people being shuffled from one local authority to another. There is an arbitration procedure that should work in such cases to resolve once and for all which local authority is responsible.

Mr. Stallard

Is the Minister aware of the near-crisis in London in the provision of hostel and housing accommodation for the single homeless? Will he assure the House that he will not give in to demands to weaken the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 in any way? Rather, will he seriously consider how more resources can be allocated to those local authorities that are trying to tackle the problem?

Sir George Young

We have already increased the resources available to the Housing Corporation to try to tackle the problem. As to the first part of the question, the hon. Gentleman must await the outcome of the review.

Mr. David Atkinson

Does my hon. Friend accept that every time he uses the word "shortly" in reply to a question about when the review will be completed, he is getting away with murder, because the review has now taken four years? Does he recall his predecessor's answer to me that an announcement could be expected after the Summer Recess 1980?

Sir George Young

We seem to have fulfilled that commitment. The issues involved are complex and wide-ranging, and it is important that we give them careful consideration.

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