HC Deb 12 December 1983 vol 50 cc657-9
1. Mr. Rowlands

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many local authorities have frozen payments on home improvement: and how many grant applications are at present outstanding with these local authorities.

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Wyn Roberts)

No local authority, to my knowledge, has frozen grant payments. As at 6 December, 26 local authorities had suspended approvals of discretionary grants. The total number of applications outstanding in Wales is about 90,000. It is not possible to break this figure down to individual authorities, although the Welsh Office is taking steps to collect this information in future.

Mr. Rowlands

Is the Under-Secretary of State aware that 90,000 applicants now—and yet more by 31 March —will be left knowing that there is no hope of making home improvements and that their homes will be blighted? Instead of giving us pat answers, will the Minister hold a summit meeting with Welsh local authorities to arrange the financing of that enormous backlog, so that people can improve their homes, just as the Minister and the Government have encouraged them to do.?

Mr. Roberts

As ever, the hon. Gentleman is mistaken. He must be aware of the special arrangements that we have made for this year. We have told local authorities that any spending on renovation grants above 50 per cent. of their allocation will be met by the Government.

Sir Raymond Gower

I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said, but will he bear in mind that Wales has a significantly higher proportion of owner-occupiers than the United Kingdom in general and that many of those owners have very limited means? Will he also bear in mind that the housing stock in Wales is older on average than that in the United Kingdom, and that the need for repair and renovation in the Principality is probably greater than that in most of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Roberts

My hon. Friend's description of owner-occupation and of the housing stock in Wales is right. Because of the conditions revealed by the house condition survey, and for other reasons, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced the 90 per cent. grant, which will remain available after 31 March 1984 in cases of hardship. We welcome the enormous number of applications for grants, which will be reflected in an improvement in the house condition survey.

Mr. Wigley

Does the Minister accept that there has been a saga of monumental blunders on the part of the Welsh Office in failing to plan the cash flow for such grants? Is it not unrealistic to end the right to apply for grants on 31 March and on the same day to end the money that is available? The hon. Gentleman and the Government know perfectly well that applicants have 12 months in which to take up the grant. Should there not therefore be a 12-month take-up period after the deadline for applications?

Mr. Roberts

I hope that there has never been any question in anyone's mind of extending the period during which applications can be made beyond 31 March 1984. The hon. Gentleman is well aware that all that has to happen is that the application must be made by 31 March. It does not necessarily have to be processed, approved or paid for. We have had great success with the policy, as an enormous number of applications have been made. Indeed, the policy is just as successful as our council house sales policy.

Mr. Hubbard-Miles

Is my hon. Friend aware that in November 1982 one of the largest housing authorities in Wales was urged by some of its members to redeploy existing staff or to take on additional staff to take maximum advantage of the special short-term home improvement scheme? Is he aware that if the authority had accepted that advice many of the current 1,000 applications would have been processed and paid by now?

Mr. Roberts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have made special arrangements to meet the financial costs this year, and the sky was the limit last year. This year an extra £50 million has been made available to local authorities.

Mr. Geraint Howells

May home owners in Wales have an assurance that the Government have no plans to abandon the home improvement scheme in 1984–85?

Mr. Roberts

We have always made it clear that the 90 per cent. grant was for a limited period. Although the period for applying for a grant comes to an end on 31 March next year, 75 per cent. improvement grants will continue to be available. I stress that anyone who applies by 31 March next year for the higher rate of grant will get it.

Mr. Barry Jones

The Minister claims success, but why are the local authorities angry and bitter'' Does he agree that poorer occupiers of older homes will suffer most as their houses progress towards massive dilapidation?

Mr. Roberts

That is not true. The grant at the higher rate is to help poorer householders, and they are taking advantage of it. The local authorities have no cause whatsoever to be angry with anyone except themselves because they have failed to take advantage of the opportunities given to them by the Government.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have allowed a good run on this question, which relates to an important matter in Wales, but I ask for shorter supplementary questions and shorter answers.

Mr. Rowlands

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

No. I shall take the hon. Gentleman's point of order later.

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