HC Deb 15 February 1995 vol 254 cc986-8
7. Mr. Pike

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he now expects to announce his Department's changes in the housing renovation grant system.

11. Mr. Hinchliffe

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the provision of disabled facilities grants.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

An announcement about any changes arising from the review of the house renovation grant system, including disabled facilities grants, will be made in due course.

Mr. Pike

Ministers have been saying for nearly a year now that the answer on the consultation will be given "shortly". Can we take it that the Minister now recognises that the biggest problem is not the scheme, but that councils have insufficient money to meet their legal obligation to make a mandatory grant? Instead of changing the scheme, will the Government make more money available to local authorities?

Mr. Jones

We have had a number of representations, some of which have been in favour of changing the scheme—the most recent came from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) during an Adjournment debate—and some of which have been on the subject of resources. Some authorities clearly needed more money to fulfil their obligations, but others have underspent the money that we have allocated to them. That matter must also be dealt with.

Mr. Hinchliffe

During the review of disabled facilities grants, will the Minister consider in detail the operation of the means test? Is he aware that, in many instances, local authorities are having to lend individuals and families money to pay their contribution under the means test, and that there is no way in which people can repay those loans? Is he aware that, in some circumstances, people have given up the ghost because they simply could not afford to make their contribution under the means test? Will he deal with that matter as the matter of urgency?

Mr. Jones

We shall certainly examine the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I know that he has taken an interest in the subject for a long time. I must point out that 80 per cent. of these grants now involve no contribution from the applicant and that in other cases topping-up money is sometimes made available from local authorities' social services departments. However, I shall examine the matter carefully.

Sir Anthony Durant

I thank my hon. Friend for the extra tranche of money given to Reading borough council for the renovation grants. When considering future grants, will he bear in mind the state of the housing stock in a town such as Reading, which contains a great deal of pre-war property that is deteriorating badly?

Mr. Jones

That is one of the points that we take into account in the allocations each year, in addition to the effectiveness of the local authorities' renewal strategy. However, it is not only my hon. Friend's constituency that benefited from the extra tranche. The hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) will know that we were able to give an extra £400,000 to his local authority in the second tranche and will increase the allocation for next year still further.

Sir Donald Thompson

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is a very valuable scheme? Will he allow local authorities to cap the amount of grant that they give so that they can be made to fit local needs, prices and priorities?

Mr. Jones

My hon. Friend makes a valid point about the need for flexibility, which has been stressed to me many times by the members of local authorities whom I have met during the housing investment programme round and on other occasions. We shall be taking that idea into account before we announce our final decision on the system.

Mr. Wigley

May I press the Minister further on the position of disabled people who need grants for certain facilities but who are means tested? I draw his attention to the case of a father with a severely disabled son. He has an income of only £200 a week and faces enormous costs because of the son's disability, but is required to pay a contribution of £10,000 towards downstairs facilities, a sum that he and his family cannot afford. Will the Minister reconsider the way in which the formulae are worked out so that such difficulties can be avoided?

Mr. Jones

I promise the hon. Gentleman that I shall examine the case. It would be sensible for him to send me details of the case so that I can give it particular attention.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Is my hon. Friend aware that a recent survey in Ealing showed that 70 per cent. of disabled and able-bodied people are highly dissatisfied with the speed and quality of the repair service offered by Ealing council? That is a very high figure and it is still rising. Will he do something to put a bomb under Ealing's Labour council to make it improve this most important service to its people?

Mr. Jones

My hon. Friend has proved time and again that he is one of the most effective bombs that one can put under an inefficient local authority.

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