HC Deb 30 April 1996 vol 276 cc1024-6

'. Social housing shall not be allocated and prospective tenants shall not be required to accept an offer or be penalised for refusing to accept an offer unless the offered property is, at the time of the offer, in a state which would at that time be reasonable for a tenant immediately to occupy.'.—[Mr. Simon Hughes.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Simon Hughes

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

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss also new clause 26—Independent appeals system for allocating social housing— '. Prospective tenants shall have the right of an independent appeal against any offer that the tenant believes to be unreasonable.'.

10 pm

It being Ten o'clock, further consideration of the Bill stood adjourned.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business), That, at this day's sitting, the Housing Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Brandreth.] Question agreed to.

As amended (in the Standing Committee), again considered.

Question again proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Hughes

I am not sure whether the noes had it in the previous decision, but I shall let that pass. I think that the ayes did have it this time, because otherwise we would be in some difficulty.

First, I shall speak about a significant day-to-day problem of prospective tenants of council houses. At the moment, people can—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. There are too many private conversations going on. If Members want to have private conversations, they can go outside.

Mr. Hughes

Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. We are all trying to go as quickly as possible. I am conscious that other colleagues have entered the Chamber for a vote, but obviously there are a fair number of amendments and new clauses.

I make a very simple proposal—that, if someone is made an offer of a property by a social landlord—either a council or housing association—they should not be expected to accept the offer, and they certainly should not be penalised for refusing the offer, if, at the time that the property was offered, it was not in a fit state to occupy.

One of the problems at the moment is that, understandably, councils are desperately trying to reach high targets of re-letting and have few void or empty properties. In the interests of trying to meet its targets, my local authority of Southwark, a Labour-run authority with the largest local housing stock in London, regularly offers property that is obviously not in a fit state for anyone to move into. It says to people, "Here is your offer; you must take it; we shall then clear it up and sort it out."

People do not believe that, and it is very unrealistic to expect someone to say, "This is my dream home, " or even, "This is my less than dream home, " if it is in a filthy state, needs a great deal of work, needs to be cleared out and so on. I seek to establish that people who are offered public sector or social housing stock should not be required to accept the offer until the housing is in a fit state to be occupied.

The second issue is that, when someone is made an offer, at the moment they may appeal. They may say, "I do not want to take it because it is not in a fit state, not habitable, unsafe, the electrics have not been done, the building has not been done." They have an internal appeal, if they are lucky. If they are allowed to, they can say, "I want to appeal, " and someone, hidden away somewhere in the council, decides whether the offer was reasonable.

There is no independence; the appeal is not conducted by people who are not part of the same landlord authority. Often, the appeal is carried out without the tenant being present; the tenant does not see the process or know about the process. All the tenant knows is that the appeal has been turned down.

Real issues, in inner London boroughs like mine, require people to be made decent offers of property that they can accept. I understand that the Minister may not want to accept these two new clauses, but I should be grateful if he would say what we can do to ensure that accommodation is offered in a fit state to be received and that there is an independent system for working out whether an offer is reasonable.

Mr. Curry

I recognise the hon. Gentleman's concerns. Yesterday and in debate earlier today, he referred to the problems in his constituency. As he suspected, I cannot accept the new clauses as they stand, but I am willing to discuss his concerns and how the law would operate in practice—particularly in the circumstances of his constituency to which he referred. In light of that assurance, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be willing to withdraw the new clause.

Mr. Beggs

Does the Minister agree that properties are often declined when offered because they are in a filthy state? Does he agree that it is not unreasonable to expect the housing authority to inspect the property and, if necessary, to arrange for it to be cleaned properly before it is offered? The new tenant could then move into a reasonably clean property.

Mr. Curry

The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely valid point. I shall reflect on ways in which we might achieve that purpose.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I am grateful to the Minister for that response, which is entirely reasonable. Like the hon. Member for East Antrim (Mr. Beggs), I will be happy to discuss the matter further with the Minister, as I believe that it is within our power to remedy the problem. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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