HC Deb 27 January 1993 vol 217 cc1033-5
11. Ms. Coffey

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement about waiting lists for mandatory repair grant.

Sir George Young

Local authorities must deal with valid grant applications within six months of the date they are made.

Ms. Coffey

Is the Minister aware that in Stockport, 600 householders are waiting to apply for mandatory grant? In 1989–90, before the mandatory grants system, 200 houses were improved under block schemes and 6.50 under individual grants, but in this year, to date, only 40 houses have been improved through block grant schemes and only 300 through individual grants? Does he agree that the present system is not only not achieving its objective of improving private housing stock, but has all the makings of a disaster? Will he introduce proposals under which the problems of private sector housing in Stockport and the north-west can be dealt with more effectively?

Sir George Young

I do not agree with that analysis. For the first two years of the new scheme, there was an underspend on the provision that we made for local authorities. There is good news for Stockport in that, next year, £3.3 million will be available as against £3.1 million this year. As I said in answer to Question 1, we are looking at longer-term implications to see whether there are yet better ways to spend the improvement grant money. As to effectiveness, more and more of the money is going to the homes that are unfit and to people on lower incomes, so there has been much greater success in targeting the system on the properties and people who need it most.

Sir Donald Thompson

Will my hon. Friend look at careful housing authorities, such as Calderdale, which wish to cap the amount of mandatory grant that may be given? The amount of money needed to repair houses in one part of the country may be different from that needed in another. Such authorities know the proper limit and such a scheme would alleviate fraud by the claimant.

Sir George Young

There is good news for Calderdale as well, in that, from 1 April, there will be a cap of £50,000 on any individual improvement grant. We did that as a result of listening to representations such as those from my hon. Friend.

Mr. Pike

Does the Minister recognise that many local authorities are unable to deal with the grant applications, not only because the £386 million to which he referred in his reply to Question I is insufficient, but because of the implications for local authorities' capital programmes arising from the portion of the grant that they have to meet? He says that he will consult on the options for change, but what is needed is a quick decision. If not, rather than being improved, the only option for some houses will be demolition.

Sir George Young

I do not agree. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said in answer to an earlier question, authorities will have much greater access to receipts over the next year. They will be able to use those receipts to make receipts to make further progress with home improvement grants. It is no good Labour Members grumbling about that. They have asked for capital receipts to be released for housing. That is what will happen—they will be used to fund home improvement grants.

Mr. Bowis

Does my hon. Friend agree that there would be more money for people whose houses need repair if Labour councils did not waste money by throwing it away on firms that have not done the work or on paying firms twice for work that they have done once? Is he aware that that is one of the areas of corruption named by the chief executive of Lambeth council, of which the Pontius Pilate Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) sought to wash his hands?

Sir George Young

The real victims of corruption and inefficiency are the people to whom my hon. Friend referred—those who look to local authorities either for good housing or for improvement grants. We are determined to root out such corruption wherever we can.

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