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Housing minister Sir George Young has outlined the government's reforms of the homelessness laws to Parliament. ...
Housing minister Sir George Young has outlined the government's reforms of the homelessness laws to Parliament.

'We intend to proceed with our plans to improve the fairness of local authorities' allocation policies, whilst at the same time maintaining a safety net for families and vulnerable people who become homeless,' he told MPs this afternoon.

He said that 'nothing' in the 10,000 responses to the consultation paper challenges the logic of the government's objectives.

These were to enable local authorities to operate fairer allocation policies, while maintaining an effective safety net for families and vulnerable people who become homeless through no fault of their own.

'The present notion that households accepted by local authorities as homeless must be given 'permanent accommodation' was not envisaged when the present statutory duty was created in 1977.

'It has grown up through case-law requiring long-term settled accommodation. There is no reason why a household in suitable accommodation should be give a secure or assured tenancy for life merely because at some stage they have been accepted as statuorily homeless. That approach is not fair to people on the housing waiting list.'

He announced that a local authority's new duty should be to secure accommodation for a minimum period of a year for applicants (and their households) in priority need who have no suitable accommodation available, provided the situation has arisen unintentionally.

Sir George said that in most parts of the country a 12-month period on the housing waiting list will be long enough for someone with real housing needs to obtain a local authority or housing association tenancy.

'However, if the household continues to need assistance then the duty will recur, subject to a review of the applicant's circumstances. Such a review would be needed within two years.'

The government has concluded that local authorities' duty to secure accommodation should extend to people in refuges, direct-access hostels and other short-stay places such as B&B.

Current provisions on intentionality will be modified so that they can take proper account of the reason why accommodation is being withdrawn.

This should minimise the scope for abuse, Sir George said.

'We will also be tightening the Code of Guidance to urge authorities to investigate such applications more thoroughly than many have done in the past.'

He said that the government's proposals 'are fully consistent' with authorities' responsibilities under community care legislation and the Children Act.

People who are granted entry to the United Kingdom on the understanding that they will have no recourse to public funds should not be entitled to receive assistance under the new legislation.

Councils will be required to have their own appeals mechanisms for handling disputes.

The current principles for decided which local authority is responsible for someone seeking accommodation will stay.

For new applicants, local authorities should only allocate secure tenancies in their own stock and the nominations they make to housing association assured tenancies through a waiting list.

Local authorities will have discretion over the allocation policies they use to determine people's position on the list, within the bounds set out in legislation.

'I stress that the proposed new system would allocate tenancies to those in housing need more fairly than the present arrangements,' said Sir George.

As many of the proposals will require legislation, the government will, in the meantime, be considering what administrative action might be taken to further its objectives.

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