HL Deb 10 July 1989 vol 510 cc5-7

2.46 p.m.

Lord Stallard asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are planning to hand over to outside organisations the administration and funding of existing and future hostel accommodation for the homeless; and, if so, when details or proposals will be published.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Skelmersdale)

My Lords, I apologise for the length of this Answer. It is caused by the fact that two totally separate matters arise from the Question on the Order Paper—namely, the future for hostels run by local authorities and charities, and the resettlement units run by the Department of Social Security. For the former, from October 1989, the special rates of income support for hostel dwellers will cease. Instead, like people living in board and lodging accommodation, they will become eligible for normal income support rates, plus housing benefit to help with accommodation costs.

For the latter, the Government, through the resettlement agency, propose to replace the existing large and under-used resettlement units with smaller and more appropriately sited units to be run locally, either by local authorities or by voluntary bodies. No savings to government funds, except administrative ones, are anticipated in either case.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply, although he will not expect me to say that I am delighted by his words. Is he aware that his reply this afternoon will have done nothing to eliminate all the doubts that have existed in the voluntary sector over the past few years about their future? The smaller organisations which do most of the hard work outside, like the Westminster branch of the MIND organisation, with three small hostels, are extremely concerned about their future.

Does the Minister accept that from October this year, due to the proposals which have just been announced, there will be two different types of hostel dwellers living in the same hostel in exactly the same conditions, one receiving £10 per week more than the other? Surely it is just adding to the confusion and chaos which the voluntary sector has been suffering over these few years. Will the noble Lord do something now to clear the matter up?

Lord Skelmersdale

No, my Lords. As concerns the charities, they fall into the first case which I mentioned and, from October 1989, as I said, the special income support rate for host el dwellers will cease. They will be brought on to exactly the same financial footing as those currently on board and lodging. As a result, they will become eligible for normal income support for day-to-day expenses, plus housing benefits, to help them with the accommodation costs.

As concerns the hostels themselves, I repeat that they will not lose money from this change.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that the need for voluntary organisations to do all the marvellous work which they do is the result of the total failure of the Government's housing policy? Why do the Government not pay some attention to the need to eradicate homelessness, instead of putting these patches on the wounds of their policy?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I do not think this is necessarily a homelessness problem. If it were, the answer would be, as I have said on many occasions, for local authorities to be careful where they place their homeless people.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, will the Minister say how much publicity will be given to the reply he has given today as regards the conditions that will exist in future in hostels for the homeless?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, leaflets are being prepared to advise claimants and hostel managers and other advisory bodies of the change. The local offices of the Department of Social Security will issue a brief explanatory leaflet to claimants on an individual basis. It will be sent with an explanatory letter, plus the hostel claim forms. In particular, claimants will be advised to claim housing benefit as quickly as possible and not wait until 9th October, when the changes come in. The leaflets to advisers will be of a more technical nature and will explain the operation of the central unit in the Department of Social Security which will make up shortfalls in hostel funds due to the change.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, as the Minister is aware, this is primarily a London problem. There is no party politics in this matter. Surely t he Minister will agree that it is about time the Government brought the outside agencies together and set up a body to look after homeless people. That body could give homeless people advice and it should have power to acquire empty flats from local authorities. What is the Minister doing about that? Further, if such a body were set up, it would be seen that the Government were interested in these people. The Government should not muck about as they are doing at present.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I can go so far as to agree with the noble Lord that some local authorities are very bad housing managers indeed. Surprisingly, one of the best housing departments in London is—I hope the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, is listening—in the London Borough of Camden.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, as the whole House is aware of the problems of the homeless, will the Minister set up a survey to find out how many homeless there are within our city now, if he does not already know this figure?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the most recent figure I have is 10,000 people. This is a figure I used in debate a fortnight ago. I understand that this is a reduction from the 12,000 homeless people of some two years ago.