HL Deb 15 April 1985 vol 462 cc436-9

2.54 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their policy in respect of the issues discussed in the Young Homelessness Group's report Moving On, Moving In.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I was most grateful to receive a copy of this report in which I must confess I found little which was new. It did however make its points in a lucid and cogent way. Moving On, Moving In is principally directed at the local authorities. For our part, the Government will continue to have regard to the needs of young people in their housing policies, including in particular the resources made available under the Government's hostels initiatives, and grants made to voluntary organisations under Section 13 of the Housing and Homeless Persons Act 1977.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for expressing concern and appreciation for the report. Will he nevertheless agree that the report exposed some very real accommodation problems that young people leaving home prematurely are experiencing? Will the Government take the two following initiatives which might relieve the crisis? First, will they extend the Housing and Homeless Persons Act 1977 to include under 18 year-olds within the priority groups; and, secondly, will they clarify for local authorities the legal position regarding tenancies for young people, while at the same time urging the local authorities to issue tenancies to under 18 year-olds in need of accommodation?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, young people as such are not of course one of the priority need categories set out in the Housing and Homeless Persons Act. However, individual young people may fall into priority need categories as being vulnerable. In our code of guidance we have asked authorities to secure accommodation whenever possible for homeless young people at risk of sexual or financial exploitation. So far as concerns accommodation, it is for the local authorities to see in what way they can best use the accommodation available to them and to assess their own priorities in this field.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that the recent Budget extended the YTS schemes to two years? Will he agree that many young people have to leave home to undertake a YTS course? Bearing in mind that many of them fail the course and terminate it owing to financial problems, will the noble Lord not support topping up the YTS grant with a rent allowance?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the objective of the YTS grant is quite different from the social housing needs of other benefits. I would however counsel young people to make very certain that they have a place of residence before moving away from home.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, does the noble Lord not understand that the changes in board and lodging allowance that have recently been made—we debated them on Maundy Thursday—put limits on the amount of time during which young people can stay in accommodation and make it impossible for them to settle down and get on with their training or get on with their job? Does the noble Lord not understand that while he says this is a matter for local authorities, the Government, through rate capping and other devices, are making it increasingly impossible for local authorities to carry out this job? I do not want to monopolise the time but it is very important that I ask the noble Lord one further question. When young people come out of care, are the Government concerned at all about where they live or what happens to them?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, concerning the last part of the noble Baroness's question, yes of course the Government are concerned. The new supplementary benefit board and lodging regulations are designed to stop exploitation by landlords and also by young people settling down in expensive board and lodging accommodation for long periods of time. Anyone hearing the supplementary questions of the noble Baroness would think that every young person in the country came into the category that we are discussing at the moment.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that the two-week board and lodging limit for young persons seeking employment in certain areas is impossibly restrictive and should be increased to four or six?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, this is a possibility; but the noble Lord again presupposes that people leave home or where they are living at the time for long periods in order to seek employment. This is by no means universally the case.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that a leading article in today's Financial Times deals with the problem of the need for more houses to rent? Cannot some national effort be made now to meet the demand for houses to rent rather than the purchase of them especially for those early in life?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I have read the article to which the noble Lord refers. It is well known that my honourable friend the Minister for Housing is looking at what provision can be made within the private rented sector to meet this particular case. However, regarding local authority housing it is, as I say, a matter of priorities for the local authority concerned.

Lord Rhodes

My Lords, is the Minister aware that if the Local Government Bill becomes law work for the young homeless in Manchester will be seriously impeded?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I believe that that is perhaps a little wide of the Question, bearing in mind the debate that we are about to have on the subject of the metropolitan counties and the GLC. However, I totally disagree with the noble Lord's point.

Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there would be a great many more houses to rent in this country if successive Labour Governments had not deliberately tried to destroy the private market for rented housing?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for his question. As I said earlier, my honourable friend the Minister for Housing is currently looking at this particular problem.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in certain London boroughs there is a great deal of empty accommodation which could be utilised by those boroughs for the people we are discussing today?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, again, I am grateful to my noble friend. There are currently 30,000 empty council dwellings in London, of which 9,000 have been empty for more than a year. I should have thought that these at least could be available for short-term lets.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Piccadilly Advice Centre, which is on the receiving end of a great number of young people who turn up destitute in London, estimates that 80 per cent. of its callers will have their housing problems exacerbated by the change in the board and lodging regulations?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I have heard and read various wild assertions on this particular point. However, it must be true to say that the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.