HC Deb 16 July 1992 vol 211 cc1047-8W
Mr. Bates

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement about the outcome of his Department's review of the house renovation grant system.

Sir George Young

Last July, I announced our intention to review the new renovation grant system to establish how well it is working, and to consider what changes might be needed further to improve its operation. More than 200 responses from local authorities and others were received.

The review has shown widespread support for the main principles of the new system, particularly the improved targeting of resources on the worst housing and of those least able to pay for repairs. Concerns included the harshness of the means test for grant applicants on lower incomes, the scope for the system still to pay out large grants to those on relatively high incomes, and the resources available to meet demand for grants.

The question of resources is a matter for the public expenditure survey. In response to the other concerns, I propose making the following adjustments to the system: to introduce a limit of £50,000 on mandatory grants to owner-occupiers, tenants and landlords; to adjust the grant premium and taper in the means test for owner-occupiers and tenants to give more help to those just above income support level and less to the better off; to uprate the allowances and premiums in the means test to reflect new housing benefit and community charge benefit rates; to remove the capital value element of the landlords' test of resources which has proved difficult to work effectively; to increase the limit on minor works assistance to £1,080 per year and to £3,240 over three years; to remove some of the obstacles to group repair schemes by adjusting the qualifying criteria both inside and outside renewal areas and by increasing average cost limits per dwelling to £16,000 in London and £13,000 elsewhere.

I also plan to make a number of minor adjustments to improve the working of the system. Full details of all proposed changes are contained in the Library.

These changes will help make the system more effective, by improving targeting of resources on those least able to afford essential repairs. I have decided that it would further complicate an already necessarily complex system to seek to make specific allowance for mortgage costs in the means test, as some authorities have suggested. However, the changes I propose will go a considerable way towards recognising the housing and other costs of lower-income households. All these changes can be introduced under existing legislation or by adjustments to secondary legislation, on which we will consult in the usual way. We aim to implement changes early next year.

We plan to consult further on two longer-term changes: the introduction of possible target times for local authorities handling inquiries on grants prior to formal application, and extending minor works assistance to mobile home owners for small repairs. These changes could require primary legislation. We shall continue to keep the grant system under review and will consider any further long-term changes that appear desirable.