HC Deb 05 March 2002 vol 381 cc146-7
8. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

What progress the bed and breakfast unit has made in reducing the number of homeless households in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. [36651]

The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr. Stephen Byers)

In September last year, 12,500 households were in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, of which some 6,500 were families with children. I regard that figure as unacceptably high. Based on the advice of the bed and breakfast unit, I hope to be able to make an announcement on the steps that we intend to take to reduce this number in the near future.

Dr. Cable

What estimate has the unit and the Secretary of State made of the additional demand for bed-and-breakfast accommodation as a result of new Government regulations in June that will substantially increase the number of homeless people to be rehoused by councils? Does he not recognise that this will cause severe problems for councils such as mine that are chronically short of social housing? To head off the pending crisis, will he therefore speak to his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions about reforming the system of housing benefit to enable social landlords to lease private accommodation for the homeless?

Mr. Byers

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue about the relationship between housing benefit and the use of accommodation. It is one of a range of issues that we are considering in the context of making an announcement in the near future on how we intend to tackle the increasing number of households and families with children in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. The number is going up dramatically and that has to be brought to an end, but in a positive way in terms of the good accommodation that we should be able to offer to those who have to suffer bed-and-breakfast accommodation. We take this issue seriously and we will be making an announcement in the near future.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the number of social housing units for rent in London has plummeted since the mid-1990s? Does he agree that supply is the key? Will he do what he can to ensure that we get a settlement from the Treasury to tackle not only the crisis in bed-and-breakfast accommodation but the equally serious crisis that underpins it of chronic overcrowding? It is twice as high in London as it is in any other part of the country, leading to catastrophic consequences for families with children.

Mr. Byers

My hon. Friend is a strong campaigner for decent housing for families with children. I would like to think that we will be able to respond positively to her representations and many of those made by my hon. Friends. It is a question of funding, and we are putting in additional resources. It is also a question of developers facing their obligations, particularly in London and the south-east. At present, we are able, through the planning process, to put obligations on affordable housing only where it is residential accommodation for which planning is proposed. It would make a lot of sense if we could put such an obligation on a commercial development that was proposed. We are consulting on whether such an obligation should be introduced.