HC Deb 22 July 1996 vol 282 cc96-7

Lords amendment: No. 198, in page 98, line 15, leave out subsection (4)

Mr. Curry

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 199 to 201 and 205 to 209.

Mr. Curry

We tabled this group of amendments in response to concerns expressed in another place that clause 196 could be used by less scrupulous authorities as a get-out. The amendments fulfil a commitment to make it clear in the Bill that the authorities must be satisfied that the advice and assistance that they provide is sufficient to enable the applicant to secure accommodation. Therefore, clause 196 is strengthened by ensuring that the authority cannot simply tell someone to go and find accommodation for himself and then declare that the matter is finished.

The other amendments disapply the alternative accommodation provisions in clause 196 in cases in which only a minor duty is owed to households accepted to be homeless.

The reason for the amendments is a wish to ensure that the provisions apply only in certain limited circumstance. We do not wish local authorities to be required to consider whether suitable alternative accommodation is available in every single case.

Mr. Raynsford

The Minister has described the amendments as designed to cover the possibility that some less scrupulous authorities will seek to evade responsibilities to the homeless by use of the original formulation of the alternative accommodation rule. I prefer to describe such a provision as the "Wandsworth amendment", and it is necessary to stop that authority from interpreting the provisions in a manner that is hostile to the interests of homeless people.

Although the changes are welcome, they do not go far enough. The alternative accommodation loophole remains open, and authorities can still reach a decision that someone is able to find alternative accommodation—because the wording of Lords amendment No. 208 makes it quite clear that the decision ultimately belongs to authorities. The amendment states: their duty is to provide the applicant with such advice and assistance as the authority consider is reasonably required to enable him to secure such accommodation. That does not effectively close the loophole against Wandsworth or any similar-minded authorities but will allow an authority that does not want to accept its responsibilities to the homeless to refuse to assist them, on the ground that the authority—and only the authority—considers that it is possible for the applicant to find alternative accommodation. That is a dangerous part of the Bill, and if it were to stay on the statute book any length of time, it would allow local authorities to drive a coach and horses through their responsibilities to the homeless.

The only consolation is that the life expectancy of the changes is short—I have already given a clear sign that a Labour Government will restore a proper statutory framework of responsibility to homeless people that all authorities will have to discharge, including those that are reluctant to do so.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 199 to 201 agreed to.

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