§ Mr. Durant
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he will be announcing the outcome of the review of the operation of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 in England and Wales.
§ Mr. Heseltine
The review has now been completed. After full and careful consideration the Government have decided that there should be no amendment of the primary legislation at this stage. However, they recognise the concern which has been expressed about some aspects of318W the operation of the Act. They are satisfied that these can largely be met by the following measures which have been, or will be taken:
- (a) To ensure that authorities are clear about the extent of their duties, the ways in which they may fulfil them, and the very wide discretion they have to deal with abuse, the Government intend to tighten the code of guidance. We shall consult those principally concerned about the amendments which will cover more fully such matters as intentional homelessness.
- (b) The problems associated with authorities' responsibilities towards council tenants who become homeless through rent arrears will be alleviated by the proposed new housing benefit scheme which will in most cases cover the full rent and rate liability in respect of the 1.6 million or so tenants in England and Wales in receipt of supplementary benefit. The present powers of benefit officers to make a deduction from supplementary benefit towards past arrears will continue under the new arrangements.
- (c) As far as the financial burden on authorities is concerned, housing management costs arising from housing applications from the homeless which may be debited to an authority's housing revenue account are reckonable for housing subsidy. In addition, net expenditure falling outside the HRA is eligible for rate support grant. On capital account, because the operation of the Act imposes greater cost burdens on some authorities than on others, and in order to reflect more accurately the demands placed on authorities by the homeless, we have agreed with the lcoal authority associations in England a revised homelessness indicator for the 1982–83 HIP allocations.
- (d) A number of measures we have initiated to increase the availability of short-term rented accommodation and of low-cost home-ownership opportunities, as well as our substantially increased expenditure on hostel accommodation, will be of benefit to those who are in non-priority groups for the purposes of the homeless persons legislation including single homeless people. We do not propose to extend the priority groups.
- (e) Recent decisions in the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords have established that there are safeguards in the Act against abuse by those who are intentionally homeless whether they are already in this country or whether they come from abroad. It is therefore important that immigrants should make proper arrangements for their accomodation before they arrive in this country. To stress this we have accordingly revised the texts of leaflets issued by our embassies overseas to prospective immigrants. There have also been changes in the immigration rules since the 1977 Act which have the general effect of making it necessary for those who wish to obtain admission of their dependents to the United Kingdom for settlement to be able to demonstrate that they can accommodate them without recourse to public funds in accommodation that they own or occupy themselves.
In addition to the measures outlined here, we shall continue to monitor the Act's operation.