HL Deb 27 July 1976 vol 373 cc1180-2

3.2 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will introduce the necessary amendments to the relevant Acts for England and Wales and for Scotland to allow appropriate rating relief through reduced assessments when disabled householders have had to make alterations to their dwellings, lowering their value, to suit wheelchairs or other essential equipment.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, no amendment to rating legislation is needed to provide rating relief in the circumstances mentioned in the noble Lord's Question. If the works carried out by a disabled householder reduce the letting value of his dwelling, that reduced value would become the basis of the rating assessment.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that Answer. But is she aware that the interpretation of the present law proved exceedingly difficult in cases heard earlier this year? The Court of Appeal decided in one way and your Lordships' House, in its judicial capacity, decided in the other. Further, the noble and learned Lords concerned criticised the wording of Section 45 of the General Rate Act as ambiguous and labyrinthine. Since the costs of encouraging severely disabled persons to live in their own homes are infinitesimal compared with the costs of keeping them in hospitals or institutions, will the Government give high priority to short amending legislation to deal also with cases where the value is not reduced?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I accept all that the noble Lord has said about the recent judicial pronouncement, and it has certainly raised problems for the Department. The extent of the relief is the matter which was relevant to the decision of the House in the Van Dyke case. The Government are now examining the implications of the judgment to decide whether the existing position needs to be legislated for. This is a matter between the Inland Revenue and the Department of the Environment. Both Departments are now working together, are taking counsel's advice and my right honourable friend in another place has promised a Statement very shortly.


My Lords, while it is true, in theory, that the lowering of value should lead to reduced assessments, will the noble Baroness agree that it is a very slow and hazardous process, and would it not be more helpful to disabled persons if some form of direct grant could be made in these cases?

Baroness STEDMAN

That, my Lords, is another question.


My Lords, can the Minister answer the second part of my noble friend's supplementary question, and take it from me that disabled people would be greatly encouraged and enabled to live in their own homes if they had some kind of relief in this direction, instead of being put in places maintained at public expense where they indirectly obtain rating relief?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, Section 45 allows for certain relief on structures that are supplied for the accommodation of invalid chairs or other vehicles, for structures supplied to persons under the National Health Service for the prevention of illness, for structures supplied by local authorities for the welfare of the blind, deaf and dumb and structures of that kind. Section 45 also provides that even if the improvements enhance the rateable value, that is not taken into account when the assessment is made. But I would ask noble Lords whether they would wait for the review which is being carried out by the two Departments, and for my right honourable friend's Statement.


My Lords, in view of the inevitable delays before the administrative question is resolved, will the noble Baroness ensure that the local rating authority is encouraged to proceed on the basis of her first Answer, which is to give such allowances pending the question being resolved. I am sure she will agree that, as has already been said, it is of immense importance that disabled people should be encouraged to stay in their own homes. This is not only a question of economy; it is a question of humanity.

Baroness STEDMAN

Yes, my Lords.