Duty to Keep Housing Revenue Account

Part of Clause 71 – in the House of Commons at 7:15 pm on 7th November 1989.

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Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford 7:15 pm, 7th November 1989

What will be the effect on the housing revenue account of the Rent Officers (Additional Functions) Order 1989—a statutory instrument which was shoved through the House in the early hours of the morning without any publicity? I honestly believe that it is the most nasty, vindictive piece of legislation that I have seen go through in all the time that I have been in the House.

The statutory instrument will affect the housing revenue account. It means that the rent rebate system for poor people will not be based on the rent of their dwelling, but will be calculated by a rent officer. He will decide how much of that dwelling can be taken into consideration for rent rebate. There is a formula. For example, if Mr. and Mrs. Bloggs, a married couple, are living together, it will be one room plus a little bit. Aged couples will wonder what will happen when one of them unfortunately passes away. How much increase in rent will the survivor have to face because of the reduction in rent rebates?

I concede that Ministers have not understood the implications for housing revenue accounts if some local authorities meet the cost of such a shabby statutory instrument. The House may recall that what were National Coal Board houses were sold off to Mickey Mouse landlords, or racketeers. The houses are in the private sector now, and they will be caught by the statutory instrument. Again, there will be implications for HRAs. High rents are being charged on some of the estates of ex-NCB houses, and when tenants are entitled to a rent rebate, someone has to find the cost of the rebate. Under the old system, the Government met the cost. Under the new system, the burden is borne by local authorities' HRAs.

Some of the ex-NCB houses were defective and came within the terms of the Housing Defects Act 1984. In accordance with that legislation, local authorities had a duty to repurchase. Some houses are now owned by local authorities and will not be subject to the statutory instrument, but others are in the private sector. Any responsible local authority would not take the decision lightly that for some dwellings on privately owned estates it should have to find the difference between the provisions of the rent rebate system and the system that applies under the statutory instrument. The local authority can use the HRA, or rent rebate can be reduced to the extent that the rent officer becomes involved. In any event, money will have to be found from capital accounts.

Have Ministers ever considered tenants on private estates of the sort to which I am referring? It seems that they have not. There will be chaos on some estates. One local authority may take a sympathetic view and use its HRA, while the adjoining authority will not. That cannot be just. It cannot be fair.

Many tenants have been thrown to the wolves by the policy of the Government and British Coal. Many tenants do not know who their landlords are. These people will not have the protection that is enjoyed by local authority tenants. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether he has any plans to alleviate the problems of former British Coal estates.