After clause 11 — A new clause

Orders of the Day — Homelessness Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:04 pm on 25th February 2002.

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Lords amendment: No. 3.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions

I beg to move, That this House
agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

The issue of accommodation for children in need and their families under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 has arisen repeatedly during the consideration of this Bill, both in this House and in another place. It is an important issue—probably the most important that we will discuss this evening—and will also be considered in relation to the Adoption and Children Bill. Lords amendment No. 3 will address the central concern—namely, it must be clear that social services authorities have the power to provide accommodation for children and their families under section 17 of the 1989 Act. There is also the separate question of ensuring good co-operation between the housing and social service departments in working to meet the needs of such children and their families.

The Minister for Housing and Planning, my noble Friend Lord Falconer, has met a number of social services directors and was impressed by their arrangements to ensure that their department works together with the housing authority—or housing department, in the case of unitary authorities—to find an appropriate solution for the whole family when dealing with families with children who are intentionally homeless or ineligible for housing assistance.

Lords amendment No. 3 would ensure that all local authorities adopt similar co-operative arrangements. The amendment, which would insert a new section, 213A, in the Housing Act 1996, would require housing authorities to have arrangements in place to ensure that social services authorities were made aware when a housing authority was dealing with an applicant whose household included a child under age the age of 18 and had reason to believe that the applicant might be homeless—or threatened with homelessness—intentionally, or might be ineligible for housing assistance. The housing authority would also have to inform the social services department of the decision taken on the homelessness application. These requirements would be subject to the applicant's consent, although withholding consent would not affect the housing authority's ability to alert the social services authority in any case when it was concerned that a child might be at risk of suffering significant harm.

Lords amendment No. 3 would also place a new duty on housing authorities. They would have to provide advice and assistance to the social services authorities where the latter were aware of a decision by a housing authority that a household that includes a child under 18 was unintentionally homeless, or threatened with homelessness, or ineligible for housing assistance and the social services authority asked for assistance in the exercise of its functions under part III of the Children Act 1989. That new duty would not prejudice the current provisions on co-operation between authorities in section 27 of the 1989 Act.

Lords amendment No. 3 would also place a requirement on unitary authorities to have similar arrangements in place. They would have to ensure that, subject to the applicant's consent, the facts of such cases and the decision on the homelessness application were referred to the social services department by the housing department. They would also have to ensure that the housing department provided advice and assistance, such as is reasonable in the circumstances, to the social services department on request.

As my noble Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning undertook to do in another place, my Department and the Department of Health propose to issue joint guidance to housing and social services departments about co-operative working in the context of the new provisions. The provisions should ensure greater safeguards for families with children and address some of the issues that were debated at some length on Second Reading and Report. I am sure that hon. Members will have no hesitation in endorsing these actions, and I urge them to support Lords amendment No. 3.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

Lords amendment No. 3 is a new clause, to be inserted in the Bill after clause 11. On a minor administrative note, I am not sure why it has been inserted after clause 11, which deals with appeals, when it would have been better placed after clause 8 on the review of decisions as to suitability of accommodation. Such an administrative problem arises because this is a new area that was not discussed when the Bill was previously debated on the Floor of the House or in Committee. This provision has been debated in the House of Lords and is now inserted in the Bill in the form of a new clause. Having said that, we broadly welcome the new clause, although we have a number of reservations that I should like to raise with the Minister.

The new clause would strengthen the current duty on housing and social services authorities—housing and social services departments in unitary authorities—to co-operate when a family will not be provided with accommodation under the main homelessness duty and children are involved. Such a situation most commonly occurs when a family is found to be intentionally homeless or when they are ineligible for assistance due to their immigration status.

The new clause specifies that the housing authority must, with the applicant's consent, inform the social services authority about the facts of the case and, at an early opportunity, notify it of its subsequent decision. The new clause also requires the housing authority to provide such advice and assistance as is reasonable in the circumstances in helping the social services authority exercise its function to children in need under the provisions of the Children Act 1989 when requested to do so.

Such a power already exists in the 1989 Act. Section 20(1) provides:

"Every local authority shall provide accommodation for any child in need within their area who appears to them to require accommodation as a result of" certain reasons. Subsection (3) provides:

"Every local authority shall provide accommodation for any child in need within their area who has reached the age of sixteen and whose welfare the authority consider is likely to be seriously prejudiced if they do not provide him with accommodation."

Section 22(1) states:

"In this Act, any reference to a child who is looked after by a local authority is a reference to a child who is

(a) in their care; or

(b) provided with accommodation by the authority in the exercise of any functions".

Given that such a power is already enshrined in law, why is the new clause necessary? It will ensure that social services co-operate with housing authorities, but they already have to do so under the 1989 Act.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Liberal Democrat, Bath

The hon. Gentleman may be able to help me. My understanding is that the Children Act 1989 requires social services to provide housing for the children, not the entire family. That is the nature of the amendment that I understand the Government intend to make.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

That is precisely the point—the new clause deals with the children. As the duties of the local authority are already enshrined in the Children Act, I cannot see the necessity of the new clause. The only reason for it that I can see is that it will make social services and housing departments work more closely together. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that.

It is relatively easy for social services and housing departments to work together closely in a unitary authority. However, when a county authority provides the social services and a borough or district council provides housing functions, two councils will have to have mechanisms for dealing with each other. There will be an awful lot of people producing bits of paper and watching their back in case one or other council are sued.

Something might be fine as an ideal, but once it is enshrined in law, the compliance cost can be significant. We do not think that the Government will allocate sufficient funds to local authorities to enable them to implement the provisions properly and that the burden will fall on council tax payers. Can the Minister give us an idea of the compliance cost of implementing the new clause? What mechanisms will need to be put in place in district and borough council housing authorities and county council social services authorities? What protocols and disciplines will need to be put in place to make the new clause work?

Having said that, we welcome the Government's recognition of the need to protect children, particularly those intentionally made homeless, and often through no fault of their own. Excellent work is being done by some housing associations in dealing specifically with vulnerable children. I visited the Cirencester young person's housing association the other day, and met a young constituent of mine who had been abused by his parents. Through a friend, he secured a place in a little house provided by that association, which is divided into several separate bedrooms for such children. He is obviously flourishing and will eventually be able to move to a flat of his own. Housing authorities are becoming cleverer at dealing with such people, and we need to provide them with more support.

We need to be clear about where the Government will place such people in their list of priority needs. How will that list dovetail with local housing authorities' strategy on homelessness?

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour/Co-operative, Edmonton 6:30 pm, 25th February 2002

The philosophy at the centre of the Children Act 1989 is that the child should be the first priority. Everyone would assume that, in most cases, the best way for such children to be brought up is for them to remain with their natural parents. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that bringing together social services and housing is the best way to ensure that housing authorities are aware of that priority?

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

I accept the thrust of what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I am probing the Minister as to how that will work in practice. We have all heard of shocking cases of children falling through the net and being abused. The West case, which occurred in my constituency, was one of the worst in history. Obvious mistakes were made, but having discussed the matter in detail with Gloucestershire social services, I am sure that such a thing is unlikely to happen today. Let us all hope and pray that it cannot. We welcome the amendment in principle, but we want to see how it will work.

The amendment makes it clear that social services can act only with the consent of the applicant. Again, the question is one of understanding and of who said what at a particular time. For example, what will happen if a child, for whatever reason—they might be fearful or might not understand what is going on—does not give consent for social services to act on their behalf? The child could still be vulnerable, but the import of the amendment will be circumvented if they do not wish to give consent. What will happen in such situations?

If local government is to be reorganised along more regional lines, will regional assemblies have a role in this matter? The sharing of such responsibilities between a plethora of local government tiers would lead to increasing difficulties. I ask the Minister to explain, when she winds up the debate, how the amendment will work in practice.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Labour, Hampstead and Highgate

I seem to be speaking to an entirely different amendment from the one that Mr. Clifton-Brown has just defined. My hon. Friend the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that the amendment will ensure that a child cannot be taken away from its family under the current statutory requirements of the Children Act 1989. If, for a variety of reasons, a family is deemed intentionally homeless, it will be the duty of the housing authority, working closely with social services, to ensure that the family can be kept together. The hon. Gentleman seems to think that the amendment deals with abused children, but I suspect that they are already protected under the 1989 Act. I am aware of only one instance in which someone who was in desperate need of housing refused to approach the local housing authority because that person had been told that its response would be to place the children in care. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister is aware of a growing belief—I speak from my direct experience in London—that if a family with children are deemed to have become intentionally homeless, the housing authority's first step will be to contact social services to take the children into care. I understand that the amendment would prevent that.

Close working between the social services and housing departments—I am happy to say that such a relationship between the departments already exists in Camden—that will have a responsibility to assist such families means that the family will not be marooned and left to attempt to find their own housing and that children will not be taken into care. Children should be taken into care if there is clear evidence that they are being abused or are in danger within the family, but they should not be put into care simply because of a shortage of housing.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Conservative, Epsom and Ewell

The hon. Lady will realise that no hon. Member would wish to see children taken into care purely for housing reasons, but surely she recognises that in some cases—happily small in number—a social issue that could lead to a child being taken into care comes to light only because of a housing issue. The housing department may be the first to get wind of a problem.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Labour, Hampstead and Highgate

I have already told the House that I have had only one direct experience of someone who refused to approach their local authority because they believed that their children would be taken into care. I am not clear about the case that the hon. Gentleman makes. I have already said that if clear evidence shows that a child—whether homeless or not—is in danger from their family, for whatever reason, social services have a responsibility to act. However, if the hon. Gentleman was suggesting that the danger to the child was the fact that the family had nowhere to live and that the child should be taken from an otherwise caring family and put into care, I would strongly disagree. It is my perception that the amendment would ensure that that could not happen.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Conservative, Epsom and Ewell

I do not wish to describe the case I mentioned in detail, for obvious reasons, but a social issue that should have led social services to question whether to take a child into care arose only because of a housing-related matter being dealt with by the housing department. That is a very specific example.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Labour, Hampstead and Highgate

The hon. Gentleman makes the case for much closer working between housing and social services departments. I know from my experience of my local authority that such close working already takes place. When housing families, local authorities should work more closely not only with the Department of Health—as my hon. Friend the Minister said—but with education departments. It is almost impossible for local authorities in Greater London to rehouse every family within their own borders, so they must work closely with all the boroughs within the London conurbation.

I welcome the amendment. It will do much to allay the genuine or perceived fears of family members—not all local authorities have Camden's excellent record—and I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to disseminate its contents, even before the Bill receives Royal Assent, to local authorities that have not yet introduced closer working between social services and housing departments. Families should not fear that if they present themselves their children will be taken from them and put into care, and they will still be homeless. That can create enormous tensions and strains in a family and, inevitably, it is the children who suffer.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Liberal Democrat, Bath

Mr. Clifton-Brown is right that there has been relatively little discussion during the passage of the Bill of children and homelessness. Today, we have already heard about the many homeless households, and recognise that a large proportion of them live in inappropriate temporary accommodation. Indeed, many homeless households live in extremely inappropriate bed and breakfast accommodation. We must recognise that those households include many children. The recently published Shelter report "No Room to Play: Children and Homelessness" states:

"More than 100,000 children in England become homeless every year."

It is therefore right that the House should address concerns about the support that legislation can provide for such children.

Glenda Jackson rightly hoped that the Lords amendment would go a long way towards addressing some of the current problems. We must recognise that there are already many examples of good practice, whereby local authority housing departments and social services departments work together to meet the needs of homeless children and their families. However, that is not true of all local authorities, so we should include in the Bill a requirement that all local authority housing and social services departments co-operate in a way already practised by the very best departments.

I therefore welcome the Lords amendment, but I am conscious that it will not solve all the problems. During deliberation on the amendments in another place, reference was made to difficulties resulting from the Children Act 1989 and a number of court cases and judgments that have led to homeless families being under threat of their children being taken into care. I understand that the Government have made a clear commitment to reverse the effect of those judgments by amending the Children Act through an amendment to the Adoption and Children Bill. I should be grateful for an assurance from the Minister that that remains the Government's intention and an explanation of the way in which the change will be introduced.

I am conscious that the Lords amendment will require sensitive handling by social services departments. If a local authority social services department is to become involved, the agreement of the family concerned will be required, so sensitivity is essential. In another place, Lord Falconer said on 24 January at column 152 that he fully accepted the need for sensitivity and gave an assurance that appropriate guidance would be issued on the way in which that sensitivity would be exercised by local authorities. I should be grateful if the Minister told the House a little more about Government intentions on that guidance. 6.45 pm

The issue is important, but it is wrong of the hon. Member for Cotswold to suggest that there has been no deliberation on it during the Bill's passage. I am sure that the Minister will confirm that on a number of occasions in Committee I spoke to amendments I had tabled, expressing considerable concern about, for example, a parent's behaviour leading to a family being refused priority housing. Lord Falconer and the Minister expressed concern about that, and promised to amend the Bill. I am delighted that as a result of subsequent deliberation, Lords amendment No. 3 was tabled, but by itself it will not be sufficient to meet all the concerns of the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate. I hope that the Minister will give us assurances and guarantees that the amendments to which I have already referred will be made.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Conservative, Epsom and Ewell

I should like to raise three issues, the first of which relates to the concerns that I outlined in relation to the first group of Lords amendments.

The new clause proposed in Lords amendment No. 3 has the admirable aspiration of providing protection for children in families who become intentionally homeless. I very much agree with many of the sentiments expressed by Glenda Jackson, who spoke about the importance of protecting children in such circumstances. However, there will be times when the reasons for a family becoming intentionally homeless lead to significant attention from social services departments regarding the nature of the family and their suitability to care for their children. God forbid that that should happen frequently, but it should necessarily involve close collaboration between social services departments and housing departments.

The essence of what the new clause proposes already occurs in the vast majority of local authorities as a matter of course. Undoubtedly, some local authorities do not come up to scratch but, as one of my local authorities says, "We do it anyway as a matter of course." If there is a problem case, the authority always talks to social services about the issues surrounding it. I should hate an admirable provision to impose an unnecessary bureaucratic burden on the best authorities. I therefore repeat my question to the Minister: what processes will be imposed on housing officers and social services departments to deliver the requirements of the new clause? What specific requirements will she place on officers, and what additional paperwork will they have to deal with? In particular, what burden of regulation, supervision and assessment will be placed on authorities as a result of the new clause?

When the Minister responds to our debate, will she give an assurance that she will not allow the imposition of new processes to make the life of the better local authority officers more difficult than it is at the moment? As we all know, anyone who has any contact with, or knowledge of, local government knows how hard-pressed many of our local government officers are. I should hate a well meaning and well thought-out new clause to be implemented in a way that made matters much worse for them. As my hon. Friend Mr. Clifton-Brown rightly said, there are resource implications, which often involve time rather than money. The Government need to be mindful of them as they set about implementing the Lords amendment, particularly in areas not covered by unitary authorities, where the social services department and the housing authority are miles apart and it is not simply a question of having a conversation down the corridor. Those organisations have contact points, but they lack the benefit afforded by unitary authorities of sitting within the same management structure in the same building.

There are two other specific issues that I would like the Minister to address when she replies, one of which involves the use of the word "assistance". A local housing officer has expressed concern to me. What does the word mean in this context? There is some concern within the profession that in reality social services will be given the right to resubmit an application to the housing department with a heavy lean in favour of it being accepted. That led to the comment, "If that is to be the case, if social services will become the arbiter in these matters, we will not bother to declare anyone intentionally homeless in the first place."

What are the requirements for the housing department in providing not only advice but practical assistance to the social services department in the implementation of these provisions? I focus on that point because it has a resource implication for many small district councils. If a county council's social services department is able to say, "No, these decisions are not right, you need to house these people", when the district council has decreed that the people concerned are intentionally homeless, the district council will end up in some instances funding accommodation, when under current legislation it would not be doing so. The Government should be mindful of that as they push through the amendment.

Secondly, I ask the Minister to be watchful of unitary authorities. The division between unitary and non-unitary authorities is not quite as clear cut as it would seem. An example within my constituency highlights that point. The Preston estate in Tadworth is one of the problem areas of Surrey. It is an area of some deprivation and there are significant social problems. The estate is divided between three different housing authorities. It is covered by a fourth authority, which provides the social services input. The estate itself is controlled one third by the London borough of Sutton, one third by Merton and one third by Reigate and Banstead. Surrey county council provides social services at present.

London boroughs such as Sutton or Merton have the vast majority of their housing stock within their own borders. The small offshoots that for historical reasons they control can often be easily forgotten. I suspect that the Minister would find quite a significant number of unitary authorities that have social services and housing under one roof but which have some property outside their boundaries. As she proceeds to implement this legislation, she will find that there is not always a split between the unitary authority and the non-unitary authority, which is articulated in the new clause. The clause suggests that for a unitary authority everything is under the same roof, but that is not the case.

The Government must be careful about the way in which they frame regulations and guidance notes. They must ensure that areas that do not fall within the boundaries of unitary authorities do not slip through the net because no one thinks clearly about their presence. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind as the Bill becomes law and as the Department begins to implement it.

I welcome the principle behind the amendment. It is admirable that we should provide proper protection for children. However, I hope that the Minister will take care to ensure that implementation works with rather than against local authorities.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions

I shall try to answer all the queries that have been raised. However, some of them involve quite detailed, complex legal issues. If hon. Members still have concerns after my response, I shall ensure that they are dealt with in writing. Chris Grayling raised a particular case, and it should be considered in some detail outside this general discussion.

Mr. Clifton-Brown is not right when he says that the issue before us has not been discussed clearly. The general principles and concerns that underpin the discussion have been some of the most hotly contested points in our discussions as the Bill has passed through its various stages.

The central issue is the welfare of families with children, not children on their own. It is about the interrelationship between homelessness legislation and legislation that affects children. At the same time, there is a series of complex issues. The issue was probably first raised by my hon. Friend Ms Buck and by Shelter, which held out the prospect that if we got things wrong, or if we got the relationship wrong between responsibility under the Children Act 1989 and homelessness legislation, we would see a return to the days of "Cathy Come Home", when families were split up. As my hon. Friend Glenda Jackson said, homelessness would be a recipe for children ending up in care in those circumstances. We must deal with the issues that revolve round the family.

The hon. Member for Cotswold and others will remember that we had much discussion on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report about the possibility of amending in part the Children Act 1989. There was also much discussion about the fact that despite the test cases—the ones to which I think my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate was referring—and despite various assertions to the contrary, the power remained for social services, in considering the welfare of the family or of the child, also to promote the upbringing of the child by his or her family. During these discussions arguments were advanced by myself and by my noble Friend Lord Falconer in another place.

That was one of the key responsibilities. The knock-on effect of that was that of providing housing for a family, and not only for the individual child. It was the families with children who were intentionally homeless under the Act that did not qualify under housing legislation and homelessness legislation.

We are dealing with one of the most important amendments that we will consider this evening. It puts in place arrangements to make existing powers work properly. It is right that such powers are in place. It is also correct that some local authorities are already doing what we would wish. I stressed in my opening remarks that we have examined best practice and what local authorities are doing when they have to deal with these matters. The amendment has been tabled to ensure that other authorities act in the same way. I hope that explains from where the amendment has come.

Families that might be affected by the intentionality rules will be, for example, those who have been evicted for rent arrears or antisocial behaviour. The children of such families are vulnerable. I am sure that there are hon. Members who are familiar with such cases from their advice surgeries.

The hon. Member for Cotswold asked about consent and the consent of the child. That is not the issue that is before us. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate was right when she said that we are not talking about specific issues that involve children being taken into care and housed. We are talking about the housing of families with children, and that is made clear in the amendment. If the hon. Gentleman reads the proposed section 213A(1), he will see that it refers to

"where a local housing authority have reason to believe that an applicant with whom a person under the age of 18 normally resides".

That is basically a family with children.

The issue of consent involves the exchange of information between two different departments or two different local authorities. The new clause deals with that and with the specific circumstances in which the social services or housing department makes an exemption where a child may be at risk. That is perfectly proper and in line with all the standard procedures and legislation affecting local authorities. I hope that that deals with the concerns of the hon. Member for Cotswold.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate spoke about the dissemination of information to local authorities. My noble Friend Lord Falconer and I have repeatedly discussed the powers of local authorities and their responsibilities under the existing legislation, which have not changed, despite the test cases known to my hon. Friend. I hope that we have already clarified the position, but steps will be taken to ensure that the information is properly disseminated. A further issue is the extent to which people know their rights. That comes down to advice and assistance, which we have discussed.

Mr. Foster spoke about an amendment under the Adoption and Children Bill. That is a matter for my colleagues in the Department of Health, and I shall not tread on their toes. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there has been a great deal of discussion about the matter. I pay tribute to his own role, and to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North, who has pursued the issue vociferously, because of its importance for her constituency and also because of her concerns about child welfare in general.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Liberal Democrat, Bath 7:00 pm, 25th February 2002

The Minister said that she did not wish to tread on other people's toes, and I understand that. Will she confirm that she agrees with her noble Friend Lord Falconer, who said that

"the critical issue is to ensure that the social services directorate has power, when appropriate, to house the family and not only the children. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State at the Department of Health said in the Commons, on 17th January, and to which I referred on Report, we"— presumably meaning the Government—

"have undertaken to bring forward amendments to the Adoption and Children Bill to address that issue"?—[Hansard, House of Lords, 24 January 2002; Vol. 631, c. 152.]

Can the Minister confirm to the House that it is still the Government's intention to do that?

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions

My noble Friend and I have spoken repeatedly about the matter, on which we agree completely. We are as one. We have discussed in detail the complexities of this part of the legislation.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell spoke again about aspirations and what the process would be. The new clause is all about process. It is all about making sure that the families do not slip between two departments or two local authorities, as often happens. The new clause will make sure that the two departments or the two local authorities communicate. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are some local authorities that do that extremely well, there are cases in which it will require something of a culture change to get two local authorities to talk to each other. The new clause will ensure that that happens, in the best interests of the families and the children concerned.

The hon. Gentleman says that that happens in his local authority, which is excellent, but it clearly does not happen in every local authority, given the anxieties that have been raised by Shelter, voluntary organisations and hon. Members about what happens to children or families when they are batted about between pillar and post. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate said, such families are often afraid that the children will be taken into care, so they are unable to access the kind of housing that is their right.

It would be worth the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell and other hon. Members checking the procedures and protocols in their own local authorities or between the local authorities in their areas, to make sure that such cases are dealt with. There is a small number of cases, but they are difficult.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell also asked about assistance. That relates to the various bits of legislation to which I referred earlier. We are not discussing the ability of a social services department to reverse a housing department's decision. The decision taken by the housing department involves intentionality, vulnerability, priority needs and so on, under the housing legislation. There is no question of the social services department saying that the housing department has got it wrong, if the family is intentionally homeless.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions

No. I am in the middle of replying, and I might forget what I intended to say.

Responsibility for housing in that instance rests with social services. Different legislation applies, so the provision for assistance and advice does not mean that the clients get passed from one department to the other. The social services department exercises its powers under the relevant legislation. The issue is how different departments or local authorities work together to realise that. Having completed my reply, I give way to the hon. Member for Cotswold.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

I am grateful to the Minister. Can she say how the new clause will work in practice? It deals with those who are intentionally homeless and have children under the age of 18. The hon. Lady gave the example of people who are grossly in arrears of rent or who are subject to antisocial behaviour problems. Given the scarcity of housing resources, will such people have priority over people in a similar situation or people who are unintentionally homeless, but who have otherwise behaved perfectly properly?

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions

We are discussing a small group of people, who are not being housed under the homelessness legislation. Because they are intentionally homeless, the powers rest with social services, which wants to promote the upbringing of the child by his family. The aim is therefore to keep the family together. I thought that I had explained that. The new clause sets out in detail how that will be achieved. It specifies the joint protocols and the level of contact and liaison that is necessary between the different departments or local authorities to make sure that that happens. The process is exactly what the new clause is about. It does not mean that one group of people leapfrogs over another on the housing list because it is being catered for by social services.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

I apologise to my hon. Friend for not being in the Chamber earlier. I warmly welcome the new clause. Subject to the further underpinning of it, as we have discussed, it shows that the Government have listened and taken note of the problem. One of the ways in which the new clause may be implemented by local authorities is that it will allow a social services department to put time and sometimes a small sum of money into accessing a private tenancy for families who do not have the resources or the ability to access their own accommodation. In that way, social services departments may be able to help, as my hon. Friend said, without such families going back into the housing department system that has already failed them.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions

There are a number of ways in which the powers can be exercised. The main point that I was making to the Opposition is that the powers are exercised by social services, not by the housing department. The procedure is slightly different because it is not under housing legislation. As the housing department and the authority will have responsibility for the homelessness strategy and will know where the housing is, they will be in a position to assist. I am told that they will be able to provide assistance, within the normal meaning of the word, to social services in exercising their powers. I take the point about properties that are located in other areas. Clearly, the issue will have to be taken into account. Of course, when families enter the system, they will be dealt with by social services, as their position will be considered under the Children Act 1989.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Conservative, Epsom and Ewell

In a borough that has a housing block in another area, it is conceivable that the natural instinct of the unitary authority will be to turn to its own social services department when a particular problem arises, even though the department covering the geographic area containing the block may have a much greater knowledge of local circumstances and about how to deal with the issue.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions

I take that point and I shall ensure that it is addressed.

I think that I have dealt with the details and technicalities of this difficult but extremely important area. I am absolutely sure that the amendment will improve the Bill and the safeguards that are provided. In particular, it will improve the safeguards for one of our most vulnerable groups—families who are intentionally homeless, in relation to whom the interests of the child must be carefully considered and proper arrangements made. I am very pleased indeed that it has been possible to bring the amendment from the other place and I urge all hon. Members to support it.

Lords amendment agreed to.