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YOUNG'S SPEECH ANNOUNCING HOUSING ACCESS CHANGES

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Housing Minister Sir George Young announced that the government will carry forward its plans to make access to loca...
Housing Minister Sir George Young announced that the government will carry forward its plans to make access to local authority and housing association tenancies fairer for everyone.

The government's intention is to:

Provide a fairer deal for everyone in housing need by creating a single waiting list route into local authority or housing association accommodation;

Enable local councils to allocate permanent housing on the basis of actual need, regardless of whether someone had previously been statutorily homeless or not;

Ensure that there is a proper safety net for families and vulnerable people who are homeless by creating a new duty on local authorities to provide accommodation for at least a year, during which time their needs would be considered on the same basis as others on the waiting list;

Bring about the best use of all available housing stock by promoting partnerships between local authorities, housing associations and the private sector to make more homes available for rent; in particular, making better use of more than half a million homes currently empty.

'We intend to create a system which is fair to everyone, a system where housing goes to those with the best claim to it,' said Sir George.

Sir George said that the government was considering what administrative action might be taken to further its objectives in advance of primary legislation.

The government proposes to introduce legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.

In a statement to parliament, he said:

'On 20 January, we issued a consultation paper with proposals to reform the homelessness legislation so that in future there would be a single route for everyone seeking a secure or assured tenancy in local authority or housing association accommodation.

'Our main objectives in bringing forward these proposals were to enable local authorities to operate fairer allocation policies, whilst maintaining an effective safety net for families and vulnerable people who become homeless through no fault of their own.

'Nothing in the responses to the consultation paper challenges the logic of those objectives. 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 given a secure or assured tenancy for life merely because at some stage they have been accepted as statutorily homeless. That approach is not fair to people on the housing waiting list.

'Our consultation paper attracted some 10,000 responses. Many of the responses did not address the actual proposals, but responded to misleading claims by lobby organisations. Others wrote in about hypothetical effects of our policy.

'It is not and never has been our intention that families and other vulnerable people should be left to live on the streets or in unsatisfactory accommodation - as some of the more alarmist propaganda from our opponents has suggested.

'The consultation paper set out ten main proposals, many of which were welcomed by those who commented on them.

'A number of local authorities said that their present practice in relation to homelessness was not far from what the government was proposing.

'Indeed, whilst there was much pleading for the status quo from vested interests, they offered no real answer to the main flaw in the current legislation - that those who apply for assistance as homeless gain priority in the queue for local authority tenancies at the expense of others who have comparable underlying housing needs.

'We have taken careful account of those responses to the consultation paper which made substantive comments on our proposals. Part of our intention had been to give greater discretion to local authorities in the accommodation of homeless households.

'But many respondents have asserted that this would place too great a responsibility on individual authorities. Accordingly, we have concluded that we should modify the proposals in the consultation paper in order to reinforce the safety net for vulnerable homeless people.

'We have therefore decided that a local housing authority's new duty towards a household in need of assistance should start, as it does now, when an authority has reason to believe that someone may be homeless and in priority need, (ie prior to assessment of the household's circumstances).

'The consultation paper invited views about how long the duty to secure accommodation should last.

'We have concluded that local authorities' 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 to occupy, provided the situation has arisen unintentionally.

'Some households may be able to remain in the accommodation indefinitely, for instance if they obtain an assured shorthold tenancy which is renewed.

'Others may find themselves accommodation on their own initiative; and it is right that people should be encouraged to take responsibility for their own housing where they are able to do so.

'Also, 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 consultation paper proposed that a local authority would not have a duty to provide assistance to a person who has any form of accommodation available.

'The government recognises the good work of women's refuges and other short-stay direct-access hostel-type accommodation. We do not want this type of accommodation to silt up through lack of move-on accommodation.

'Accordingly, we have concluded that local authorities' duty to secure accommodation should extend to people in refuges, direct-access hostels and other short-stay places (eg bed-and-breakfast hotels).

'The consultation paper proposed that someone who was asked to leave by family or friends should no longer be automatically entitled to assistance.

'We have considered a number of ways of implementing this proposal, and conclude that the best approach may be to modify current provisions on intentionality so that they can take proper account of the reason why accommodation is being withdrawn.

'This should minimise the scope for abuse. We will also tightening the Code of Guidance to urge authorities to investigate such applications more thoroughly than many have done in the past.

'A number of respondents expressed concern that the consultation paper made little reference to care in the community or Children Act responsibilities. This was because our proposals are fully consistent with authorities' responsibilities under community care legislation and the Children Act.

'We remain committed to ensuring that suitable housing continues to be available for vulnerable people who cannot be expected to make their own arrangements.

'I confirm the proposition in the consultation paper that 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.

'We also intend to implement the proposal that local authorities should be required to have their own appeals mechanisms for handling disputes.

'And, as indicated in the Consultation Paper, we do not propose to disturb the current principles for deciding which local authority is responsible for someone seeking accommodation.

'The government intends to proceed with its principal proposal that, 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 peoples'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.

'However, it has never been our intention that the government should become involved in the details of allocation policy. Regulations would prescribe only minimum provisions, for example to outlaw discriminatory practices - such as requiring a five years' minimum residence qualification.

'We shall be inviting the Housing Corporation to take account of the new duties on local authorities in the statutory guidance it issues to housing associations, so that they continue to work in an effective partnership with local authorities.

'The proposal to encourage local authorities and housing associations to establish joint waiting lists was largely welcomed, although housing associations in particular were keen that this should be voluntary. The government is happy to give reassurance on this point.

'Many of the government's proposals will require primary legislation and we intend to introduce this when parliamentary time permits; as is currently the case, the legislation will extend to both England and Wales. In the meantime, we are considering what administrative action might be taken to further our objectives.

'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.'

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