All 8 David Mackintosh contributions to the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017

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Fri 28th Oct 2016
Homelessness Reduction Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading: House of Commons
Wed 30th Nov 2016
Homelessness Reduction Bill (Second sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
Wed 7th Dec 2016
Homelessness Reduction Bill (Third sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons
Wed 14th Dec 2016
Homelessness Reduction Bill (Fourth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
Wed 11th Jan 2017
Homelessness Reduction Bill (Fifth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons
Wed 18th Jan 2017
Homelessness Reduction Bill (Sixth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons
Wed 18th Jan 2017
Homelessness Reduction Bill (Seventh sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee Debate: 7th sitting: House of Commons
Fri 27th Jan 2017
Homelessness Reduction Bill
Commons Chamber

3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage: House of Commons

Homelessness Reduction Bill Debate

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Homelessness Reduction Bill

David Mackintosh Excerpts
2nd reading: House of Commons
Friday 28th October 2016

(7 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh (Northampton South) (Con)
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I am very pleased to be standing here today in support of, and as a sponsor of, the Homelessness Reduction Bill, as it deals with an issue that I have pushed since I was first elected here. As a new Member, I was elected to the Communities and Local Government Committee, and one of our first tasks was to outline inquiries to be looked at. My work with homelessness charities in my constituency, and my experience as a former leader of a local authority, had made it clear to me that not enough was being done to tackle homelessness, so I pushed for the Select Committee to undertake an inquiry into the issue. This was widely supported by Committee members, and the inquiry ran from December last year until July.

In March this year, with another member of the Committee, I set up the all-party group on ending homelessness. That member was of course Jo Cox, the former Member for Batley and Spen. I would like to take this opportunity to pay my own tribute to Jo. She readily agreed to help champion the issue of homelessness and to serve as vice-chairman of the APPG. Her energetic approach to problem solving and reaching out across the House has been well documented. I know that if she were still here, Jo would be in the Chamber today supporting this Bill. Jo would be pleased that the issue of homelessness has been pushed up the political agenda during the course of this Parliament. It speaks volumes that so many colleagues from across the House have given up a valuable day in their constituencies to be here in Parliament for this important Bill.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on promoting the Bill. I know how much work he has put into it and to secure cross-party support and, most significantly, the support of the Government.

Indeed, I am pleased that the Government have announced their support for the Bill, and I welcome the measures and additional funding that they are putting in place to tackle homelessness. That shows that the Government are taking the issue of homelessness seriously and that they are committed to supporting the most vulnerable in our society. I am especially grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), for his help and patience on the issue, because I have talked to him about it at length for many months.

May I also take this opportunity to thank charities and organisations from across the homelessness sector for their support throughout the process? They have provided invaluable knowledge and expertise, which has been essential to the work of the CLG Committee, the APPG on ending homelessness and, of course, the Bill. I also thank the staff at Crisis for their support and, indeed, my own office staff.

It is disturbing that in the United Kingdom in the 21st century, support for homeless people and those at risk of becoming homeless can be so inconsistent from area to area, and that so many people continue to fall through the net. That situation has existed for far too long, and it is my hope that the Bill’s provisions will not only result in positive changes to the support structures in local councils and other public bodies, but lead to a cultural change in the way in which all public bodies view homelessness and their role in its prevention.

The measures will not, of course, be an issue for local authorities that already provide support that is suitable or that goes above and beyond the call of duty, but it will be a positive step to improve standards in other authorities that have fallen behind. We have heard too many examples of local authorities that hide behind the current law and force people into hardship and circumstances that none of us would want to see.

I am sure that we have all heard shocking stories of people being forced to sleep rough before they could access help from their local council, and of instances where people have been required to make their own situation intolerably worse before they were eligible for help that, if it had been provided earlier, would have prevented them from having to sleep rough at all.

Of course, local authorities already do a huge amount to help relieve homelessness for families and vulnerable people, but that help must be extended to single homeless people. Our failure to have adequate provisions in place to help those people, who are disproportionately affected by mental health problems, is a serious anomaly, and I hope we will address it.

The factors that lead families and individuals to become homeless are, of course, numerous and complex. They include relationship breakdown, substance abuse, mental illness, lack of suitable housing and the leaving of care or the armed forces. Often the reasons are not limited to any one single factor, and the exact circumstances are unique to each case. That means of course, that those at risk are often already in touch with at least one public body, possibly more, such as social services, the NHS, their local council or a branch of the armed forces. It also means that there is significant potential for preventive intervention at an early stage.

When speaking to healthcare professionals, mental health workers, and even officers concerned with the welfare of service personnel leaving our armed forces, I repeatedly hear that, when they identify an individual as being at risk and attempt to intervene, they are often frustrated by the lack of help they receive from local housing authorities. That is generally not because there is a reluctance to help people, but because the structures they work within do not always properly support cross-agency working or allow them to support specific individuals.

Importantly, the Bill does not place an additional duty of responsibility on public bodies, but empowers them by giving them a louder voice when dealing with housing authorities. That, together with the enhanced requirements placed on local councils to help those at risk of homelessness within 56 days, means that the Bill represents a significant step forwards in the provision of more support.

Understandably, one of the main concerns about this Bill in local government circles is the additional financial burden that it will place on authorities. We heard positive news from the Government earlier this month and I look forward to hearing what the Minister will say later in this debate.

In conclusion, this Bill can make a significant difference to the lives of many vulnerable people who at present are at far greater risk of homelessness than is acceptable. It is clear that the current system is not providing adequate help to those most at risk, but the Bill’s measures can create a framework and culture in the public sector where earlier intervention, better cross-agency co-operation, consistency of support and equal help for all qualifying homeless people becomes standard. Today we have an opportunity to take a stand and to make that happen.

Homelessness Reduction Bill (Second sitting) Debate

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Homelessness Reduction Bill (Second sitting)

David Mackintosh Excerpts
Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
Wednesday 30th November 2016

(7 years, 7 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 30 November 2016 - (30 Nov 2016)
Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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When an individual threatened with homelessness approaches a local authority for help and advice, one of the pieces of advice that they might be given is to go to a citizens advice bureau. Citizens advice bureaux are not resourced to provide that service at the moment. Under the Bill, however, if local authorities choose to outsource it, they will need to fund it as part and parcel of the process. That could be good news for citizens advice bureaux and other organisations up and down the country.

David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh (Northampton South) (Con)
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Given my hon. Friend’s experience in local government, I am sure that he will agree that many people who present to local authorities as homeless and in priority need are covered under the current legislation and funded. However, does he agree that if many of those people had been given the advice that is proposed in the Bill, they might not have found themselves in those circumstances in the first place?

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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We are extending the prevention duty to 56 days so that local authorities can intervene early. My aim in introducing this Bill is to ensure that no one ever becomes homeless, because they will seek help and advice at an early stage and the local authority will identify an alternative property for those people who are threatened with this situation. That might take some time and it might not be realisable in the first place, but if an individual, a family or others approach the local authority at an early stage and are given help and advice, the homelessness that often happens can be prevented. There can be nothing worse for any family than being forced to wait until the bailiffs arrive, and then having to present themselves at a local housing office with their bags packed and nowhere to sleep. The idea is to stop them getting to that stage.

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Clive Betts Portrait Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope.

It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Colchester. He made many points that I would certainly want to associate myself with. Looking back to the Communities and Local Government Committee’s first report on homelessness, we drew attention to many of those issues, including the shortage of affordable homes to rent, particularly social housing, in many parts of the country, and the need to provide more homes of that kind. In the autumn statement, it seemed that the Government were moving more into that territory, although we are still trying to work out precisely how far they have moved. Maybe at some point the Minister could illuminate us on that.

There are many reasons for homelessness in individual cases, although the ending—for various reasons—of tenancies in the private sector is now the main one. In our Select Committee’s report on homelessness, we also drew attention to the increasing problem of the growing gap between rents and the level of local housing allowance that is paid in the private rented sector. If that level is frozen now for the next few years, it will become a more difficult issue and a bigger reason for the continuation of homelessness.

Those are all factors that, in general, we need to take account of, but the particular reason that I support the clause is the evidence we heard in the Select Committee. We all sat for several hours, listening to many witnesses with direct experience of being homeless. We also had a private conversation with some young people who were still being dealt with by the homelessness system at the time, and they talked to us confidentially about their experiences. It all created an impression that, in many cases, people go to their local authority and do not get the service they deserve. The clause is an attempt to put that right.

The Crisis mystery shopper exercise really affected all members of the Select Committee. Crisis sent someone out to local authorities, not declaring who they were, simply to find out what it was like to be homeless in that local authority area and to present before the local authority. It was revealed that people got inadequate advice and support in 50 out of 87 visits. That is a pretty staggering number—50 out of 87 got it wrong and did not give help and support. That goes along with many comments we heard about support, assistance and advice being unprofessional and sometimes inhumane. We cannot allow that to continue.

I slightly part company with Government Members in that I do think we are asking for a new burden on local authorities. At some point, the Minister will have to respond to that. I hope that there are helpful and constructive discussions with the Local Government Association; I am a vice-president of the LGA. To some degree, when local authorities, even the better local authorities that take their responsibilities seriously, have limited resources—we should not pretend that local authorities do not have limited resources, because they are more limited than they were—they naturally tend to deal, as a first priority, with those people who are in priority need. If they have resources to spend, they tend to be spent on people in priority need—people with children, for example—who present themselves. That family needs rehousing, so that is where the effort and support goes. If a young person, a single person, a couple without children or people in other circumstances turn up, they will get what is left. The person at the local authority has only a bit of time—a few minutes—to say, “Here’s a list of estate agents’ telephone numbers. Go and phone them.” We heard that, in some cases, those phone numbers were actually out of date. That is what people often get.

There is a code of guidance, which I am sure we will come to later in our discussions of other matters. The code of guidance is not always followed by local authorities, but it is guidance, not an absolute and utter requirement. There is a difference, to my mind, between having a code of guidance and having something on the face of an Act, which I hope the Bill will become. The duties in the clause are substantial, asking local authorities to look at not simply preventing homelessness, but the issues around care leavers, young people in prison or youth detention, people who have been in the armed forces, domestic abuse and people leaving hospital. The measure demands an awful lot of support and expertise within local authorities if they are to discharge that long list of responsibilities properly.

It is absolutely right that getting these things done in a proper way can ultimately save money. Homelessness has a cost not merely for the individuals, but for society as a whole and for public services. Very often local authorities have to spend the money—hopefully spend it well to stop homelessness, to help people in these situations and to prevent them from having other future problems—but the savings then come to other public bodies including, probably, the criminal justice system in due course, the health service and others.

Yes, it is absolutely right that we are changing the legislation and placing a stronger requirement on local authorities, but that is a new burden. It is one that is absolutely right, but it is a very big ask to get all these responsibilities carried out in a proper way. We will return to resources in due course but, to my mind, the measure does not really ask local authorities to do what they should be doing anyway; it asks them to do an awful lot more. I fully support the asks in the clause.

David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I am particularly delighted to serve on this Committee because I served on the Communities and Local Government Committee and asked, with other Members, for the homelessness inquiry to be undertaken. I chair the all-party parliamentary group on ending homelessness. I see many cases in my constituency and through the work we did on the Select Committee where a range of different advice is offered. We even see different advice offered within the same authority, so this legislation is needed to mainstream the issue.

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Clive Betts Portrait Mr Betts
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We had a very good debate on clause 2. It is a long time since I heard the Minister say, “I’ve got the money and I am going to spend it.” What welcome words! I think that is what the Minister said—he is not correcting me, so we will say that is what the Minister said; we will see in due course how much the money actually is when agreement is reached, as it hopefully will be with the LGA.

There is a similarity between what I am going to say and the debate that we have just had on clause 2. Clause 2 details a whole range of responsibilities for local authorities in terms of the advice and support that they give to people who present themselves as homeless, irrespective of whether they are in priority need. In clause 3, we come to the personal plan and to the eventual offer that is likely to be made to individuals who are homeless.

We heard in evidence to the Select Committee that there were also problems in that regard. I probably want to tag the name Daisy-May to the amendment, because we heard from Daisy-May Hudson, a young, very intelligent, very determined lady. Her family had been made homeless and ended up in temporary accommodation for about a year. She not only gave evidence to the Select Committee, but made a video that was shown to Select Committee members about her experiences. The way in which the family were treated was pretty horrific. As they put it, the brusque letters that came saying no to this and that were really heart-wrenching for them.

One particular issue came to mind, which is why I decided to table the amendment. I say straight away that I want to see something in the Bill that deals with this issue, and if the Minister has a better way of doing it, I am open to hearing from him. The similarity with clause 2 is that requirements relating to what is suitable accommodation, particularly in terms of its location, are all contained in guidance. The Minister has armies of civil servants—hundreds of people—to advise and assist him with his responses and to help him to draw up amendments and alternative wording, so if he can look to them and come up with a better of way doing this, I will always be open to suggestion.

As a Back Bencher, I rely on the expert advice from people in the House—and it is expert advice; it is important to recognise that. The Clerk of the Committee helped me to draft the amendment and drafting advisers on the Select Committee helped us throughout our process. People in the House of Commons Library also helped me to find the right words in the guidance. There is a lot about the suitability of accommodation and its location in the Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2012, which goes into detail about what authorities should be doing on suitability and location in respect of recognising people’s employment, caring responsibilities and education.

However, when Daisy-May gave evidence—indeed, this is in her film—we heard that the family were made an offer of accommodation, but that it was two hours away from her sister’s school. It was completely unsuitable and was just not a reasonable offer. Despite the fact that the family had provided a lot of evidence—medical and other supporting evidence—it was all pushed to one side. As they said, they got a letter and a form to send back with three lines to fill in to say why the accommodation was not suitable. That authority gave a token response, saying, “Here you are. This is the accommodation. If you don’t like it, say in three lines why you don’t.” It was a completely inappropriate way to deal with the matter.

The difficulty is this: eventually the family got a different offer, but only because they threatened to take the case to court—I think they had the help of Shelter, but I may be mistaken in that respect.

David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh
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indicated assent.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Betts
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The hon. Gentleman is nodding, so I have probably got that right. I do not think the case actually got to court, but the threat of legal action being started meant that eventually a different offer was made. Not everybody can do that.

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David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for mentioning this important point. I share his view that the video that Daisy-May Hudson presented to us in the Select Committee aptly deals with all these issues and should be viewed by every member of this Committee, so that they can see the issues that people face. I want to see provisions on that in the Bill, and I think the Minister might touch on that later.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Betts
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I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. I draw a parallel with clause 2, which will be on the face of the Bill—hopefully on the face of the Act—because the current guidance is not always observed; it is not as strong and does not give people as strong a right to the services that we think they ought to have. I am making the same point with the amendment. Currently, the suitability of the location is contained in the guidance. An authority should take account of it, but in the end it does not have to. Now, perhaps people can take a judicial review against the authority, but we should not be relying on applicants in very difficult circumstances to get appropriate advice and take a JR against the local authority to ensure that the will of this House is implemented.

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Marcus Jones Portrait Mr Jones
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I have great sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s points, certainly where local authorities are not complying with the 2012 order in the way that is intended. The existing power in section 210 of the Housing Act 1996 allows the Secretary of State to make an order—secondary legislation—to strengthen the definition of “suitability”. Such an order may specify the

“circumstances in which accommodation is or is not”

suitable or

“matters to be taken into account or disregarded in determining whether”

the accommodation is suitable.

We expect councils to adhere to both the 1996 Act and the 2012 order. As I say, that Act gives us significant powers where the order is not followed. I reiterate that that is not guidance but an order, and councils must adhere to it. The Bill must serve as a reminder to local authorities that the order must be adhered to, and I put local authorities on notice that if it is not, we can review and change the regulations through the 1996 Act. Should councils not respond to the Bill or the order that is already in place, I am certain that we will seek to do that.

David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh
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Does the Minister think that that would be a good thing for the Communities and Local Government Committee to look at?

Marcus Jones Portrait Mr Jones
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I always welcome the Select Committee’s work, and if councils do not respond in the way that we ask them to respond—that is, by adhering to the 2012 order, the importance of which is reiterated in the Bill —it perhaps would be sensible for the Select Committee to look at the issue again.

I agree with what the hon. Member for Sheffield South East said on Second Reading about recognising the importance of speaking to people from the very beginning about addressing their housing needs. We are talking about the important first step in creating the culture that we all want. We need a more co-operative and effective relationship between local housing authorities and those they try to help. That is why clause 3 is really important. However, I do not think it is necessary to amend the Bill, as the hon. Member for Sheffield South East would like.

Amendments 3 and 4 tabled by the hon. Member for Hammersmith would require local housing authorities to consider a further requirement when assessing the applicant’s case. There would be a requirement to consider,

“what other support the applicant is or may be entitled to from any public authority under any other enactment”.

The amendments would create a very broad duty. Local housing authorities would need to investigate the legal duties of multiple authorities to identify whether such a duty were owed. There could be a scenario, for example, where a local housing authority would have to undertake a mental health assessment to establish whether a person is owed duties in respect of any mental health issues that they may have.

Owing to their wide-ranging nature and the general requirements that the amendments would bring to local housing authorities, the proposed changes would place an unacceptable burden on those authorities. As I mentioned previously, local housing authorities already have to take into consideration a wide range of factors, including the significance of any disruption that would be caused by the location of the accommodation to the employment, caring responsibilities or education of the person or members of the person’s household; and the proximity and accessibility of the accommodation to medical facilities and other support.

Successful prevention, as the best local authorities already know, takes a broad view in assessing needs. Many of the things we are looking at here will be dealt with in the personal housing plan, which is covered in the substantive clause.

Homelessness Reduction Bill (Third sitting) Debate

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Homelessness Reduction Bill (Third sitting)

David Mackintosh Excerpts
Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons
Wednesday 7th December 2016

(7 years, 7 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 7 December 2016 - (7 Dec 2016)
Marcus Jones Portrait Mr Jones
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The Government welcome the clause. We believe that it will lead to more care leavers who experience homelessness getting help in the area that they feel at home in, where they are close to the people who are important to them and to the services that they use. As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate explained, broadly speaking somebody may have a local connection with an area because they live there or have been living there for a certain amount of time, because they work or have family associations in the area, or because they have other special circumstances.

David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh (Northampton South) (Con)
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Recently, the all-party group on ending homelessness held an evidence session with care leavers. One issue that came up, aside from housing, was that people in care often do not have the life skills to help them when they leave care and try to make it on their own in the world. Has the Minister seen that evidence? If not, I would be happy to send it to him.

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Marcus Jones Portrait Mr Jones
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I thank my hon Friend for making that point. We should never forget that we are discussing a group of people who, through no fault of their own, have had a very difficult and tough start in life. When they are leaving care, we should not make the situation any more difficult for them; indeed, we should help them, which is why my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East has included this clause in the Bill so that we can help and assist a group of people who are often very vulnerable and deserve the best chance in life.

The proposed amendment to the definition of a local connection will make it easier for care leavers to get help with homelessness in the area where they feel at home, even if that does not fall within the current requirements. To make sure that it works in practice, we will work with local housing authorities, children’s services authorities and specialist voluntary sector agencies to review and update the guidance on how local authorities should comply with the new duty.

It is important that care leavers get the help and support they need. As I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South, when they are trying to secure help from homelessness services in the area to which they feel most connected, they should not be disadvantaged because of their background in care. When they find themselves facing a housing crisis, the change in the Bill should help them to get back on track and to move on in their lives in the area where they feel most at home and are most likely to have the support networks they need.

David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh
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There can sometimes be a difficulty when care leavers are looking for housing in two-tier areas because services are managed by different authorities. Will the guidance take that into account?

Marcus Jones Portrait Mr Jones
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My hon. Friend makes a good point. As I was saying, the care leaver is often in the care of a county authority, which has the responsibility in that regard, but may then wish to reside in a district of the authority that has housing responsibility. The clause certainly will recognise that challenge in two-tier areas.

My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South takes a huge interest in care leavers and in other legislation currently going through the House that affects them. We cannot second guess other Bills when we are making this legislation. Any legislation being made by the Department for Education that might affect the age at which people leave care will ultimately have an effect on the work of local authorities. We need to wait to see those legislative changes before we seek to look at what further guidance will be provided to local authorities as a result of the Bill.

The intentions of the hon. Member for Hammersmith are honourable, but by extending the provisions we might very much end up with the guidance in conflict with the existing situation, so at this point we should not look to change it. I am also more than willing to sit down with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate to discuss the important issues he raises. During the passage of the Bill, I am sure we will get the opportunity to have a sit-down and a chat about them over coffee.

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David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh
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I agree with my hon. Friend. I understand the need to streamline in local authorities or local housing authorities, but the amendments would be counterproductive and would take away some of the protections afforded to people. From my time as a local authority leader and from cases I see in my constituency, I know that people value the ability to challenge decisions. The provisions under clause 9 help with that, so I am pleased that the hon. Member for Hammersmith will not press the amendments to a vote.

Marcus Jones Portrait Mr Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government do not believe that amendments 9 and 10 will have the intended effect. Rather than streamlining the reviews process, the changes would simply remove protections for applicants. They would have the effect of removing an applicant’s right to request a review of the steps the local housing authority considers reasonable for it to take to help the applicant to retain or secure accommodation, which we would not seek to do. It is only right that applicants have the opportunity of redress.

We recognise the concerns that the review process has become difficult for some authorities, but we do not believe that cutting out safeguards for vulnerable people is the best answer. We will monitor the impact of the new duties on the levels of reviews, and we will work with stakeholders, including local housing authorities, to see what improvements can be made to the process.

Taking up the general point made by the hon. Members for Hammersmith and for Westminster North, we have worked with representative groups of authorities to understand the impact of the clause and have fed that back into the costs model. I can certainly say that this and other measures in the Bill will be funded. We are in the process of speaking to the LGA to discuss our final proposals. We also need to ensure that we have got things right in relation to clause 1.

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Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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I echo colleagues’ comments that clause 4 is the heart and core of the Bill—it is fundamentally about preventing homelessness, which is why we are here. The clause would end the current postcode lottery—it is also a time lottery, because someone can get help one day when they might not the next. It can depend on the area, which person they see, and a number of factors such as how busy the council is.

I am sure we all agree that the introduction of a standard system across the UK is fair, right and proper. It will mean that no one who is vulnerable can be turned away. The fact that we are increasing the window from 28 days to 56 days will prevent homelessness. We see constituents week after week in similar situations when they have left it too late after being given advice. The measure is about helping them and untying our councils’ hands.

There has been a lot of talk about burdening councils, but some parts of the Bill, including extending the time window to 56 days, actually untie councils’ hands. The relief duty means that those who need help will get it, and not just those who are deemed priority need on a particular day. That will help charities by allowing them to have more time to get on with helping homeless people rather than fighting councils over viewing people as priority need.

The clause will make things cheaper in the long run for councils and at a national level. Statistics show—this is echoed by my local charities including Doorway in Chippenham—that most people in the initial stages of being threatened with homelessness do not have the same complex needs such as mental health issues, drug abuse and alcoholism as people in later stages. The current system exacerbates problems and causes people a great deal of pain, as well as cost. It is our duty to try to alleviate and avoid that pain.

The success of prevention will be seeing people in the round, and implementing the duty in conjunction with the assessment and the personal plan. Preventing homelessness is possible only if we look at people as people and not as statistics. We must look at the other problems they endure and allow for more partnership working with other bodies. I fully support the clause, which is the essence of the entire Bill.

David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh
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Under clause 3, we talked about the difficulties people face when they are made homeless, including the difficulty of relocating them in areas that contain their support network, not least their schools and families. It would be great if we could avoid that altogether by preventing homelessness in the first place. That is the intention behind clause 4, which is why I agree with colleagues that it is at the heart of the Bill. The measure will help local authorities, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham said, and help councils to exercise their duty. For whatever reason, there are often difficulties in processing applications or helping people within 28 days. By extending the time period to 56 days, it is much more likely that people will be helped and avoid homelessness altogether.

I am sure we all have examples from our constituencies of people who have come to us to talk about the problems they face with their landlord, or with getting help and support from local authorities. Indeed, as part of the Select Committee evidence, we heard examples of people being deliberately led down the section 21 route to be made homeless because it allowed more time for the process. As a result, people are suffering trauma and other consequences. That is no way for people to be treated when they are at a vulnerable stage in their lives, and when they need help and support. The provisions within the clause will change that fundamentally, bring about the cultural change we have mentioned, help housing officers to do their job and prevent people from becoming homeless.

David Burrowes Portrait Mr Burrowes
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I am pleased to take part in this stand part debate on clause 4 because, as hon. Members and hon. Friends have said, it is the essence of the Bill. If it is implemented properly, it will indeed help to prevent any eligible person who is at risk of homelessness from becoming homeless. Local authorities will no longer be able to turn away people who do not meet the priority need criteria or are unintentionally homeless. That broad approach is welcome.

Although there are concerns—we have received briefings about the cost implications of the Bill—the clause provides greater flexibility and a greater practical impact. It means we are not left in the situations that hon. Members have mentioned, with people coming to the constituency surgery who do not meet the statutory criteria and have been turned away. It is therefore not simply about providing accommodation in every place, in every town and locality. The measure provides greater flexibility. I have often had constituents who stay with an extended family member as a family crisis or situation arises. Because they are in that family accommodation and are not unintentionally homeless, they do not come within the criteria of being in priority need. In that situation, they are unable to receive what could be low-level support, such as family mediation, which may well lead to them staying in that family home or, indeed, finding other suitable accommodation.

I mentioned an example in a previous sitting of a victim of domestic violence who had been rebuffed by a housing officer. To take the point from the hon. Member for Hammersmith, there is no monopoly on compassion, whether by Members of Parliament, council officers or councillors. There is a reality of rationing resources, and dealing with limited housing stock and limited provision. However, the reality for that constituent was that they were told, “Do you think you’re the only one who needs help?” Clause 4 will bring an end to that kind of response.

That individual plainly needed help. She was facing a situation in which her shed and her car had just been vandalised by her abuser, and a litany of threats to her life had been recorded by the police. Women’s Aid were making the case that she needed to be considered for rehousing. She was in work but needed some help to get the rent deposit to be able to get away from the risk to her and her daughter’s life.

While we can say that she should not have been dealt with like that under existing legislation and guidance, the measure will make it crystal clear that it is not a case of a housing officer seeing whether an individual comes within the priority need requirements of being unintentionally homeless. She and others will be eligible—the broad understanding of and criteria for eligibility will be extended to those who are intentionally homeless. Many people in our constituencies will fall in that category for one reason or another. They are intentionally homeless, but that does not negate their need for proper support so that they avoid going into the crisis management that inevitably ensues, whether they are intentionally or unintentionally homeless.

I believe the Bill will release not only charities, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham mentioned, but housing officers to do the job that they are there for and that they want to do. They want to help. They do not want simply to turn people away because they do not think they meet a particular threshold within a statute. It will open them up to saying, “Yes, I do want to help you. I am not going to simply judge whether you think you should receive more help than someone else.” There will be help.

I particularly welcome the help to secure provision in clause 6. That is important, because it means we have that important flexibility. It may be that the individual who comes to the housing officer will not need to be given new accommodation, but they may need a variety support. It may be that they can find their own accommodation in their own way themselves, but the housing office may have particular responsibilities, for example to give help to raise a rent deposit and guarantees of support. It may be that the duty can be discharged in that regard, and it will be up to the individual to move on.

The reference in the clause to suitability is important—we will come to that under clause 12. I recognise that location is not referred to and that there is no location element within the provision. There is no need for it because it applies to all accommodation that the local authority has secured, but it is important to recognise that the duty is to help to secure. That could mean a whole variety of factors and enables the housing officer not to turn around and simply rely on their duties.

That will help in a variety of ways. Presently, there is such a limited stock in my area of Enfield. The ability to find accommodation in Enfield may be limited, but that does not mean that the local authority can simply fall back on the lack of specific available property, or indeed the limited statutory responsibilities. The clause opens the door to a much greater variety of flexible support. In partnership with charities and others, the duty can be discharged to the benefit of all who are eligible and who are threatened with homelessness.

Homelessness Reduction Bill (Fourth sitting) Debate

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Homelessness Reduction Bill (Fourth sitting)

David Mackintosh Excerpts
Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
Wednesday 14th December 2016

(7 years, 7 months ago)

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Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful, Mr Chope. I was about to conclude my remarks. I note in response to the hon. Gentleman only that, if he is inviting me to congratulate the Mayor of London on making an excellent start in his housing policies, I reluctantly join him in doing so.

I do not know how much detail the Minister wants to give in responding, but I would like some acknowledgment not only that he will get the financing of local authorities right in the execution of the Bill, but that something must happen in relation to housing supply. I note what London Councils sent to us for the debate. The estimated spend by London boroughs on temporary accommodation alone in 2014-15 was £633 million, of which £170 million was met from boroughs’ own funds.

Responses have alluded to this, but I would welcome confirmation from the Government that, following the changes from the original draft, nothing in the Bill will require local authorities to provide accommodation, and rather that they will be required only to assist. As the Minister will understand, that is of huge concern to local authorities, because a requirement to provide would take the burdens under the Bill from being onerous to insuperable. I believe the Government recognise that in the changes. We would all wish for people who are not priority homeless to be able to access good quality social housing, as may have been available in previous generations, but there is a social housing crisis in this country and it is not available.

David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh (Northampton South) (Con)
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I strongly believe that early intervention is essential in preventing homelessness and minimising all the stress and trauma that goes with it. However, we have all seen situations whereby people have come to local authorities, presenting themselves as homeless, and it is incredibly frustrating when they are seen as in non-priority need. In the eyes of many people they are homeless, and they require action from the local authority, which is not forthcoming. It is frustrating for Members of Parliament when we see that and get involved.

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Marcus Jones Portrait Mr Jones
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My hon. Friend has considerable experience in this area and is absolutely right. That was one of the challenges for residential landlords, particularly buy-to-let landlords, who are restricted by the terms of a particular mortgage product they take. Mandating landlords to take a longer tenancy than either a mortgage lender or an insurance company may desire would cause a significant conflict and might mean that tenants are not able to secure a tenancy.

David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh
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At the outset of the Bill, we said that in terms of helping homeless people some issues can be dealt with, but others may have to be dealt with separately. There is a housing White Paper coming later this year.

Homelessness Reduction Bill (Fifth sitting) Debate

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Homelessness Reduction Bill (Fifth sitting)

David Mackintosh Excerpts
Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons
Wednesday 11th January 2017

(7 years, 6 months ago)

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Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clearly, we do not want to be in a position of pot luck where ex-offenders get referred to particular areas where charities are very good at providing help and assistance. It should be the responsibility of local authorities. Whether they choose to outsource that responsibility to a third sector organisation is up to them. What matters is that people should be referred to local authorities so that they can get housing assistance. Often, it may help to take them out of the comfort zone in which they may previously have existed.

I have cited two examples of particular public services, and a third is the armed services. Often, people leave the armed services with specific requirements. It is very important to prepare them for life outside the armed services. The duty to refer those people will be extremely helpful. Members of the Committee will have dealt with people who have had to secure accommodation after leaving the armed forces. I have dealt with constituents who, sadly, are traumatised or injured as a result of serving their country and who have specialist needs.

Finally, the police will also have a duty to refer people. Often, our police force end up being almost a substitute for the health service and for many other public services. I have seen personally the amount of work that police put in for people with mental health problems.

David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh (Northampton South) (Con)
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I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that people go to work in those public services because of a sense of vocation and a desire to help. Does he also agree that, while the duty to refer will help them do their jobs and carry out their vocation, some training will need to be put in place to make people aware of the new duty?

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The clause makes a major change to the duties that we place on all public authorities. We intend for people who work in public services to spot those who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness and to refer them to specialists who can deal with the problem. That is a sea change and a cultural change, and it will take place across the public services. It clearly requires training and assistance so that people do not slip through the net, which is a clear concern. An important part of the process is that all public bodies will have to look at what training their frontline staff need and how they can ensure that they assist and spot people who are at risk of being homeless. Homeless rough sleepers are easier to spot, but those who are at risk are less easy to spot, so there will have to be training in that regard.

I intend, through the Bill, to ensure that a person’s housing need is assessed in any contact with public authorities. The measure will help to achieve that. Clearly, we will need to monitor it and work together with service partners to identify at an earlier stage those households that are at risk. That means that prevention activities can take place earlier, with the ultimate goal of relieving or preventing someone’s homelessness.

In conclusion, on schools and education facilities, children are often vulnerable. It is possible for teachers, headteachers and support staff to spot the signs of homelessness, so those in the profession will need to be trained so that they can be assisted in spotting such problems before they arise.

Homelessness Reduction Bill (Sixth sitting) Debate

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Homelessness Reduction Bill (Sixth sitting)

David Mackintosh Excerpts
Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons
Wednesday 18th January 2017

(7 years, 5 months ago)

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Question (11 January) again proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh (Northampton South) (Con)
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During my time as a council leader, the Government introduced a number of measures aimed at combating rogue landlords. We have heard real horror stories of how some private landlords are behaving, so those measures were welcome and, in my view, long overdue. That minority of rogue landlords gave the whole industry cause for concern, but the changes mean that local authorities now have experience in and knowledge about dealing with them. Further changes introduced in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 will also help.

That experience will be really important in relation to the clause, because the new prevention and relief duties mean that we are helping to house more people in the private rented sector, and they may be vulnerable. Local authorities will already be checking the suitability of accommodation for those deemed to be in priority need under existing legislation. However, as more people are brought into that classification, it is right to ensure that additional protections apply to people deemed vulnerable, so that we can safeguard them against rogue landlords or unsuitable accommodation.

I am pleased that the provisions are clear about, for example, the need for the property to have fire safety precautions, a gas safety certificate, compliance with electrical safety regulations and precautions against carbon monoxide poisoning. Those are all things we would want in our own homes, and it is right that we seek the same protections for vulnerable people who are going through a difficult time in their lives. I welcome the inclusion of those protections.

Michael Tomlinson Portrait Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope, for what we hope is the final day of consideration of the Bill in Committee. I, too, rise to support this important clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South picked up an aspect that I want to touch on briefly, which is carbon monoxide poisoning.

Many of us know either personally or from constituents what a deadly killer carbon monoxide can be. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate and others are officers of the all-party parliamentary group on carbon monoxide, and there are a number of similar groups. This issue highlights the importance of ensuring that there are additional protections against rogue landlords.

It is right to say that the Government have already made large steps in that direction, but inserting this provision into article 3 of the Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2012 will strengthen those protections further. I welcome the other measures in the clause, but the carbon monoxide poisoning provision is particularly worth dwelling on.

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David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh
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Does the Minister agree that some local authorities would be better at this than others, and that when the measure is introduced we must make sure all authorities are acting in the same way and that training or information is provided when necessary?

Marcus Jones Portrait Mr Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend has had significant experience as a councillor and at one point was a council leader, so he is well placed to speak on this matter. He is absolutely right. We have had a number of discussions on the same theme and part of the Government’s work is to bring forward from our Department a team of advisers. Local authorities do not often go out of their way to get something wrong or deliberately not follow guidance, but there are occasions when it is helpful to have someone working alongside to go through the guidance and to help develop local policy. That is certainly what we intend to do with our advisers. It is about assisting local authorities to get this right and I am sure all local authorities want that.

There is an existing framework that offers local authorities strong powers to make landlords improve a property. The health and safety rating system is used to assess health and safety risk in residential properties. Local authorities can issue an improvement notice or a hazard awareness notice if they find a defect in a property. In extreme circumstances, a local authority may even decide to make repairs themselves or to prohibit the property from being rented out. In the worst case scenario of an unsafe gas appliance, no member of the Committee would want that property to be rented out.

The Government are determined to crack down on rogue and criminal landlords. I mentioned the Government’s significant progress. I will not go into more detail, but in addition to the civil penalties I was talking about, we have provided £12 million to a number of local authorities. A significant amount has gone to London authorities to help tackle acute and complex problems with rogue landlords. More than 70,000 properties have been inspected and more than 5,000 landlords are facing further enforcement action or prosecution. We have also introduced protection for tenants against retaliatory eviction when they have a legitimate complaint. All members of the Committee will agree with that.

I want to pick up a couple of other points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate. He mentioned vulnerability and complex needs, and I think his concern was about this group of people who are not necessarily caught by the definition of “vulnerable” or “priority need”. I am not unsympathetic to what he was saying and will consider it and the comments by the hon. Member for Westminster North. I also noted the challenge from my other hon. Friends.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate made a good point about temporary accommodation. We are absolutely clear that wherever practicable, local authorities should place people in their own area. Obviously, there are situations where that is not practicable and we are clear that factors such as where people work, where their children go to school and so on are taken on board. Local authorities should—we fully expect this—take those factors on board in meeting their statutory responsibility.

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Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In planning how they implement the legislation, local authorities will need to consider how much it is going to cost them. I take your guidance, Mr Chope, that you do not want us to debate finance at this point, but in putting together those plans, local authorities will have concerns about the resources that they will need as well as the potential for large numbers of people, knowing that the Bill has become law, turning up at their local authority, which is when I suspect we will discover large numbers of hidden homeless people in this country—the sofa surfers that we spoke about in earlier debates.

David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh
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Does my hon. Friend have any idea how and on what timeframe the cultural change took place in Wales? Could the Minister look at that? The Bill will affect a larger number of people, but we can learn lessons from what happened there.

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Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
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I used to be; I am not any more, I am glad to say. The addition of that word protects those with mental health issues or complex needs. We know that the vast majority of people who are at risk of homelessness or are homeless have very complex needs.

I very much welcome the safeguards in the Bill, including the concept of a warning letter that clearly and succinctly sets out what will happen if someone fails to co-operate and the clear steps that will be taken after that. On the whole discharging of the duty, I welcome the fact that those who are found to have deliberately or unreasonably failed to co-operate, even after the warning letter, will still receive, as a minimum, an offer of suitable accommodation, with an assured shorthold tenancy of six months. That adds the necessary protection and safeguard. and stops additional pressure being put on county councils.

David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh
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I am pleased that the clause is included, because I strongly believe in the principle of personal responsibility. Of course, public bodies have a duty to help people, especially those who are vulnerable or traumatised. I am sure we have all seen cases of people in difficult circumstances who, inexplicably, do not co-operate with the local authority, even in challenging situations.

Local authorities may well worry about how this new legislation will affect them. That is why I welcome the proposals. Action plans can be agreed between the council and the person seeking help, with proper, agreed actions for both parties to undertake. The council, of course, has a responsibility to help, but this also allows people to help themselves; as my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester put it, it helps to empower people. They are an active participant in the process and take some responsibility for their destiny. This is about much more than finding a home and helping someone in the short term. This helps people to set off on their future path, and create their own future.

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Michael Tomlinson Portrait Michael Tomlinson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I, too, rise to say that I am disappointed by the difficulty that this Committee has been put under in not being able to look at clause 7. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate and with the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood that this is one of the most crucial parts of the legislation, and that a delicate balancing act needs to be got right.

That said, I support the principle. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East, the Bill’s promoter, when he characterises this as tough love. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South mentioned personal responsibility, and the phrase “help to empower” was also used. I entirely agree with the principle behind the clause but am disappointed that we cannot thrash out more of the detail. I will certainly take up the invitation from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East to set out what I believe needs to be within the clause, although I support the thrust of it.

I had a meeting with a representative of East Dorset District Council—a local authority that you know well, Mr Chope, because East Dorset covers three constituencies: mine, yours and that of my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare). The council is concerned not only about the potential burden on local authorities, but about the risk of this going wrong. The interplay between local authorities and housing associations was also raised.

Perhaps when the Minister gets to his feet in a few minutes, he will give me and those at East Dorset some reassurance on the clause as drafted, or as we hope it will be drafted in future, and on the interplay with housing association duties. Many of our local authorities own very little stock and rely on housing associations to perform many of their functions and duties. What is the interplay between that and the clause? Is there a risk that housing associations will fall short or have a lower standard than is the aim and intention behind the clause?

I have said before that we are looking at the most vulnerable. I agree that there should be a strict definition in clause 7. As drafted, the tough love aspect is whether an applicant has deliberately and unreasonably refused to co-operate. I agree with the hon. Member for Hammersmith that this is familiar territory for lawyers and courts. In my view, it is helpful to have as much detail in the Bill as possible. That is why I welcome proposed new section 193A(6), which states that the characteristics—correction, circumstances—and needs of the applicant should be taken into account. Perhaps the Minister and promoter of the Bill should consider characteristics.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate gave a striking example of why it is necessary to take into account the circumstances and needs of the applicant. Knocking on the door might be sufficient for one applicant but not for another. Therefore, clause 7 needs that additional safeguard in its redrafted form.

The term “reasonable period” is also fertile territory for lawyers. My concern is that, if it is left in the Bill, lawyers will argue the toss that the local authority says, “Yes, it was a reasonable period,” while the applicant says, “No, it was not because more time was required.” I understand entirely the difficulty of putting that sort of detail in the Bill. An indication of the timeframe from the Minister when he is looking at redrafting may be helpful, although I do understand the risk of causing problems.

Finally, like my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, I welcome the additional safeguard of a notice to inform and explain to the applicant. The Minister might pick up on one caveat. As drafted, subsection (8) provides for what would happen if a notice were not received. In an ideal world, we would need to ensure that notices are received. As we know, sometimes the serving of notices is not as straightforward in practice as it is to set out in a document. The Minister might consider and emphasise the need to ensure that notices are received.

David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh
- Hansard - -

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that there should be a written warning or notice rather than just a verbal statement? People could be confused and lose bits of paper, so it is important to have this written down.

Michael Tomlinson Portrait Michael Tomlinson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree in part with my hon. Friend, but in fact it would be helpful to have both. Depending on the needs and circumstances of the individual, it could be helpful to have the notice read out. Of course, it should also have the fall-back authority of a piece of paper or document.

I would like the Minister to pick up the point in subsection (8) about the notice being

“made available at the authority’s office”.

Given we are considering the most vulnerable people, is that sufficient to draw attention to the fact that their rights are to be taken away under the homelessness provisions?

Homelessness Reduction Bill (Seventh sitting) Debate

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Homelessness Reduction Bill (Seventh sitting)

David Mackintosh Excerpts
Committee Debate: 7th sitting: House of Commons
Wednesday 18th January 2017

(7 years, 5 months ago)

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Marcus Jones Portrait Mr Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I completely agree. Too often, under the current legislation, people who get into those sorts of difficulties or experience those sorts of events do not know who to turn to—the local authority, the citizens advice bureau, a friend or even the local MP. I hope that this will lead to more clarity, and to people being quicker to approach the local housing authority, which might be working with the CAB or charities, to deal with challenges that are often not about housing, but that lead to people having a problem with their housing or, indeed, to homelessness.

David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh (Northampton South) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester and I are part of the all-party parliamentary group for ending homelessness, and we have taken evidence. It has emerged that there are some very good schemes around the country that not only help people to find a home but equip them with the life skills they need. Would it be helpful if I wrote to the Minister with some of the evidence gained from the APPG’s information gathering, so that he can pass on forms of best practice?

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Marcus Jones Portrait Mr Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing that up. I will deal with that at the appropriate point.

As I said, the amendment balances the need for flexibility for local housing authorities with recognition of the concerns of landlords and homelessness charities, and clear guidance will be issued. I can confirm that to ensure that applicants threatened with homelessness due to the issuing of a section 21 notice receive continuous help and support through the prevention and relief duties, the Government plan to table an amendment on Report to clause 4—the prevention duty. That will require that while the applicant remains in the same property, the prevention duty continues to operate until such time as the local authority brings it to an end for one of the reasons set out in clause 4, even if 56 days have passed. In an ideal world, if we were dealing with the Bill in the usual order, I would have tabled that amendment once we had debated clause 1, in advance of the debate on clause 4. Regrettably, because of the timetabling and the challenges we had with clause 1, I was not able to do that, which I apologise for. Unlike with clause 7, that could not have been avoided at all.

The prevention duty may be brought to an end because, for example, agreement is reached by a tenant to stay in the property for at least a further six months; alternative suitable accommodation has been secured for the household; they have become homeless and eligible for the relief duty; or they have withdrawn their application. The amendment to clause 4 will address a concern raised by some charities that there may be cases where the 56-day prevention duty period has run out but the household is unfortunately still at risk of homelessness. They may not yet be homeless and would therefore, in some instances, not be covered by the relief duty.

To complement that change to the legislation, the Government will take other action to encourage people at risk of homelessness to present earlier to their local authority. We will amend form 6A, which is used to evict tenants through section 21, and amend the “How to Rent” guide to include information encouraging tenants to seek help earlier when they receive a section 21 notice and believe they are at risk of homelessness as a result.

David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh
- Hansard - -

Clearly, this will be a change for some housing authorities. As we have said before, that will require extra training. Will the Minister confirm that his Department is looking at that?

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Marcus Jones Portrait Mr Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There has been extensive discussion on that, and from the LGA’s press statement it is apparent that it does not dispute the methodology used. It has talked about reviews—we can come on to that—but it has not disputed the methodology. On the methodology, we must be careful to ensure that we are comparing the potential cost with the burdens created under the Bill. On Second Reading, the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) spoke at considerable length about what he saw as a multimillion pound commitment that his local authority would have to meet as a result of the Bill. That included concern over the original proposal for a “nowhere safe to stay” clause, which after speaking to local government the Government considered carefully. Although in an ideal world it would be fabulous to do what that proposal intended, it would have created a huge new burden that would have been difficult to deal with. More particularly, the big challenge around that was that that new burden’s demand could not be quantified. In many of the assumptions we have made in preparing the Bill, we have been able to use methodology relating to the experience of the Welsh legislation, and that legislation did not have provision for nowhere safe to stay.

David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation and for the work that has gone on behind the scenes to get the methodology. I note from the LGA’s response that it asked for this provision to be looked at in the future. The hon. Member for Sheffield South East is not in his place, but I am sure that the Communities and Local Government Committee stands ready to help look at that again in the future, if required to do so. I make the offer, I am sure on behalf of all members of the Select Committee, that we will be willing to help and look at anything, going forward.

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Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We can all read the statements in the way that we wish to. Everybody wants the Bill to succeed. In the statements made not just by the LGA but by London councils and non-governmental organisations, I detected a sigh and a comment that seemed to suggest, “We hope this will succeed”. I did not see anything in the LGA’s statement or any other statement that said the funding was sufficient. The LGA’s statement welcomed the Minister’s comments in Committee that the Government wish to fully fund the Bill. I do not think it specifically said—hence the comment on review—that that was necessarily going to be the case. Let me rely on my own counsel rather than the LGA’s in this matter. I am simply raising our concerns.

It is difficult—I will concede this to the Government—to come up with a figure, because we are in new territory. I appreciate that. That should be an absolute reason why the Government should adopt the view of the LGA and agree to a review. Perhaps the Minister will say whether we will get a review. If it is right that none of us can be absolutely certain, we need to know, within the time that the money is still being paid out, which is effectively one to two years, whether the money will be sufficient.

David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh
- Hansard - -

It is fair to point out to the hon. Gentleman that the Department for Communities and Local Government yesterday circulated to local authorities and us the background behind the funding of the new burdens for this Bill, which includes quite a lot of information about the assumptions. It talks in great detail about Wales, where there was a 28% increase in cases, and works out a sensible assumption for England. It is helpful to point that out to the Committee. I wonder whether he has seen it.

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Of course I have seen it and read it. I was slightly surprised that it appears to have come personally from the DCLG statistician, rather than the Minister. I do not know whether that is to allow the Minister, if it all turns to dust, to say, “Oh, it was just some functionary who produced that”—[Interruption.] Let me take the points one at a time.

First, there is the matter of quantum. Although we do not have absolute figures, because we are in new territory, all the indications so far—I quoted some of them earlier—suggest that £48 million is not going to touch the sides. I am sure the responsible Minister saw the article in “Inside Housing” on 21 December, in which a number of councils volunteered what they think it will cost them. Lewisham, for example, said it would cost £2.38 million per year and Ealing said it would cost £2.55 million per year. AHAS estimated, and I think the figure has increased since then, that the 32 London boroughs will have a combined bill of £161 million in the first year, which is substantially in excess of £35 million.

I appreciate that even in the two pages of methodology there has been no attempt yet to divvy the sum up among authorities, and I think one can anticipate that London authorities are going to get a larger share than some rural or district authorities. Nevertheless, there is such a disparity between what the professional bodies and local authorities have estimated and what the Minister has provided. It is, shall we say, unlikely that it is going to fully fund, even in the first year, the local authorities’ new responsibilities.

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Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes an important point. He is right to suggest that good local authorities up and down the country are already doing a lot of this work, which eats into other budgets, so for them this is very valuable. We know there will be a transition, training requirements and a cultural change within organisations. LHAs—I spoke to my LHA only last week on this very point—do not want just to implement the Bill in full; they want to do it well. They want to make sure it works and they want emphasis and focus on prevention.

I very much support the clause, but I would like some reassurance from the Minister that there will still be flexibility in the advice, particularly in relation to ending a tenancy via a section 21 notice.

David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh
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I share some of the concerns that have been raised about the timing by the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood and my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester. I also share my hon. Friend’s view that the LGA has put forward a much more positive response than anticipated. I agree that there should be a review of the funding formula going forward and I also agree with some of the comments by my colleague on the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood, that the Bill alone will not solve some of the homelessness issues. The Select Committee recently had evidence sessions with the Director General, Housing and Planning, and questioned her on some of these issues. She rightly pointed out, as I am sure will the Minister, that the Government are planning to publish very soon a White Paper on housing, which may address some of the issues that my colleague on the Select Committee raised. They are valid points, but will not necessarily be addressed in the Bill.

Moving on to the amendments, I am pleased that they have been raised. They help to prevent some unintended consequences. For example, amendment 16 will help to prevent the trauma of people and families being forced to wait for a local authority to get involved and a bailiff to knock at the door, as outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester. In my experience, the sooner a council can start helping, the more help can be offered without a long-term effect on people’s wellbeing or credit rating because of county court judgments. We have heard about that throughout our discussions.

I worry about the effects that we see under the current rules, including tenants being served with eviction notices. I am sure that all hon. Members have dealt with families who have contacted them when faced with eviction, which often comes out of the blue, and as well as the practical challenges there is also huge trauma for people to deal with. They face having to leave their home and often their community or social support networks, perhaps without much notice, and then they face being told by the council that they cannot be helped until they have been physically evicted.

Therefore, I am pleased that amendment 17 allows those households that have received an eviction notice, even if it has not expired, to be treated as “threatened with homelessness”, thereby coming under the duty on local authorities to prevent the household from becoming homeless, as we discussed at length when we considered clause 4. This is a really positive step forwards that will make a huge difference in the future to people facing eviction.

As for the rest of the clause, when the Communities and Local Government Committee started looking into homelessness, we developed a clear idea of things that could be done to help to prevent homelessness. Indeed, other work that has been done by the all-party group on ending homelessness has also fed into the hopes and aspirations that the law will be changed.

However, I must confess that things have moved much faster than I had imagined and we now look forward to this Bill becoming law—hopefully. The Bill being chosen by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East has propelled this agenda forward so much quicker than we could have hoped. I am grateful that that is happening, but I also have some questions for the Minister about how the Bill can be implemented, which I hope he can address in his response.

How can local authorities cope with this sudden change in legislation when the Bill becomes law, as anticipated? What lessons can we learn from the changes implemented in Wales and what detailed measures are being put in place to ensure that that best practice is spread as far and wide as possible? How fast can training be put in place, not only for local authority staff but for other staff in the public sector, so that they can properly understand these big changes in the legislation and any new responsibilities they might have to refer people at risk of becoming homeless? Also, I urge the Minister to talk to his counterparts in other Government Departments, to make sure that they are aware of these changes and that that knowledge filters down through them.

Michael Tomlinson Portrait Michael Tomlinson
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I note my hon. Friend’s comments and he has confined them specifically to section 21. I hope that he heard my suggestion about section 8 notices; it may be that there is some policy reason why it cannot be done. However, does he agree that this issue should at least be looked at again, to check that for the mandatory grounds—where possession of a property is all but inevitable—there is a good reason why those section 8 notices should not be brought back in relation to clause 1?

David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue and I did indeed hear the argument he made so eloquently earlier. I am sure that the Minister and his officials also heard it, and that this issue will be looked at properly before we move forward. It is important that we consider all the options available. We have spent a lot of time in Committee debating matters, but I know the Minister is still considering some of those ideas.

As for this clause, I strongly welcome the relative speed at which things have developed, from the Select Committee inquiry to—I hope—a change in the law, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s update on how he can consider implementing in the future some of the changes that we have discussed.

David Burrowes Portrait Mr Burrowes
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This clause goes to the heart of the concern that led to this Bill, namely the reality that the Select Committee and others have identified, which is that the termination of assured shorthold tenancies has become the single biggest cause of homelessness. While we can talk about the issue of the supply of affordable homes, we must go to the heart of this problem and this clause seeks to do so, in a more flexible way than other measures.

I will just talk about where support can come from and where it can feed into the issue of the supply of affordable rented homes. The Select Committee itself drew attention to the response of the National Landlords Association to the draft Bill. The association said:

“There are numerous reasons why a landlord might be reluctant to let their property to such households, but in the NLA’s experience they can generally be summarised as ‘risk’”.

Clause 1, as amended, will provide a positive move to reduce the risk to which landlords are exposed, therefore increasing their confidence in letting to vulnerable tenants. In my borough, and no doubt in other boroughs as well, the supply of homes available for rent to those on benefits, and particularly to those who are homeless, is decreasing. Unless there is supply, we will struggle to fulfil all our ambitions for the Bill. The amendments will help.

Homelessness Reduction Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate

Homelessness Reduction Bill

David Mackintosh Excerpts
3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage: House of Commons
Friday 27th January 2017

(7 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 27 January 2017 - (27 Jan 2017)
Pauline Latham Portrait Pauline Latham
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The Government are trying to tackle rough sleeping, which is not an easy subject to address. The fact that they are allowing the Bill to go through shows that they are taking it seriously.

David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh (Northampton South) (Con)
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Members on both sides of the House need to be aware that many people who are sleeping rough, even if they present to a local authority, will find that local authorities do not currently have the power to help them—it is not a question of money. Does my hon. Friend agree that the powers in the Bill will give local authorities the ability to intervene?

Pauline Latham Portrait Pauline Latham
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I am pleased that my hon. Friend made that point, which I can clearly illustrate with a case I dealt with over Christmas. I had to ring a helpline for a family whose rented house had burned down. They had four children. Derbyshire County Council was not interested in the fact that they were homeless and would have to come back from family to homelessness after Christmas, although the parents would have to continue with their jobs and get the children back into school. It was interested only in whether the children were vulnerable and were being abused. That is a clear example of a local authority not being interested in the fact of homelessness. Even when I phoned on Christmas day and several days after that, we could not get Derbyshire County Council to put anything in place for these people because its view was, “Well, they are not homeless. They are staying with friends in Bournemouth,”—or wherever it was—and not that the parents had to come back to Borrowash to get the children back into school and go back to their jobs. There are therefore problems at the moment.

The problem of homelessness is getting worse and the Bill could not be more necessary. Breaking the numbers down, certain groups are at particular risk. In England, women make up 26% of the clients of homelessness services, but as a group they are often much more vulnerable. There are high levels of vulnerability within the female homeless population. Mental ill health, drug and alcohol dependency, a childhood spent in care, experiences of sexual abuse and other traumatic life experiences are all commonplace.

--- Later in debate ---
David Mackintosh Portrait David Mackintosh
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It is a pleasure to support the private Member’s Bill promoted my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). He deserves congratulation, and it has been a pleasure to work with him.

It is great that the Bill has reached this milestone in the legislative process. Our debates in Committee were thorough and productive, and we were able to analyse every aspect of the Bill, so I thank right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. I am also pleased with the role played by the Select Committee, which played an important part in giving the Bill proper scrutiny, so I thank its Chairman, the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts).

Throughout the process, I have always believed that, as others have said, one person who is homeless is one too many, so every opportunity we have to highlight this problem in modern society is helpful. All Members taking part in the debate will be particularly mindful of the human stories behind the statistics, and it is important that we remember the people whom we are trying to help. I put on record my gratitude to the Hope Centre in my constituency, of which I am proud to be patron. The staff there do fantastic work to help homeless people to rebuild their lives.

I express again my wholehearted commitment to the Bill and what it would achieve. Along with many other colleagues, I have said that it will not be the only solution to end homelessness, but it is a crucial step on the path towards helping people who are at risk. I am sure that in the near future the opportunity will arise to make further changes, and I eagerly anticipate the Government’s housing White Paper. The all-party group on ending homelessness will continue to push on these issues. Indeed, just this week we had an informative and helpful session on prison leavers. Last night, I had the pleasure to watch a new documentary called “Slum Britain: 50 Years On”, which was created by Shelter, Channel 5 and ITN. It focuses on the plight of hidden homelessness in our country. At the screening, which was also attended by the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), we were able to meet one of the families whom the documentary had followed. We were told of their struggles with their local authority and the seemingly impossible challenges that they faced when trying to access help. Such things remind us why the Bill is so necessary and why it must progress through the House and into the other place. People are looking to us to help them in their most desperate times.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East has already thanked the many people who have contributed to this Bill from both sides of the House. I am grateful to the Minister and his officials, colleagues from the Select Committee and the Bill Committee, and the charities that have backed us so strongly, including Crisis, Shelter, St Mungo’s, and Homeless Link. I am glad to give my support to the Bill today.