HC Deb 15 December 1975 vol 902 cc473-5W
Mr. Ronald Brown

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what has been the response to the consultation paper and questionnaire on homelessness issued by the Departments concerned; what his intention is in respect of legislation; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Freeson

In response to the consultation paper issued in May 1975 comments have been received from the local authority associations and 35 other organisations, including many voluntary bodies.

All the respondents were agreed that responsibility for accommodation for homeless people should lie statutorily with housing authorities, although their views on its form and extent varied; they were also agreed that policy and practice on homelessness, to be effective, called for a corporate approach by local government as a whole, which would ensure, in particular, adequate social services support.

While the consultations were proceeding, all local authorities were asked to provide information about the extent to which the joint circular on homelessness (DOE No. 18/74; DHSS No. 4/74; WO No. 34/74) issued in February 1974 was being implemented.

The replies to the questionnaire show that about 60 per cent. of housing authorities now accept the sole or main responsibility for accommodation for homeless people. About threequarters of all authorities restrict their help to those who have connections with their area. I have placed a summary of the replies to the questionnaire by authorities in England in the Libraries of both Houses. The Department will be inquiring further of those authorities whose returns disclosed that they sometimes—and, in a few cases it appears—invariably have to split up families in temporary accommodation.

Accordingly, my right hon. Friend, with the agreement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, has decided to place the statutory responsibility for accommodation for the homeless on housing authorities, and to clarify the related responsibilities of social services authorities.

We now intend to arrange a series of meetings with the local authority associations and members of the appropriate voluntary bodies in the housing and social service fields. Building on the views already expressed to us, we shall consider the form and extent of the statutory provisions and the nature and content of the guidance to accompany them, and take account of financial aspects. My aim is to have the first meeting within the next few weeks; and I would propose to report progress to the House in advance of the introduction of legislation.

The Government's objective will be to secure the wider observance of the best practices which an increasing number of authorities are adopting.

Finally, I want to stress yet again that, while clear and firm statutory duties and guidelines must be provided, they will not by themselves ensure reasonable and humane practice in solving the causes of or relieving homelessness. This must depend on the development of overall housing policies and programmes, and allocation practices; on the willingness of housing and social services authorities and departments to work closely with each other; and on co-operation between local authorities to implement housing programmes particularly for the benefit of areas suffering great housing pressure.