Duty in cases of threatened homelessness

Homelessness Reduction Bill – in the House of Commons at 11:00 am on 27 January 2017.

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Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government) 11:00, 27 January 2017

I beg to move amendment 1, page 5, line 32, at end insert—

“( ) But the authority may not give notice to the applicant under subsection (5) on the basis that the circumstances in subsection (7)(b) apply if a valid notice has been given to the applicant under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 (orders for possession on expiry or termination of assured shorthold tenancy) that—

(a) will expire within 56 days or has expired, and

(b) is in respect of the only accommodation that is available for the applicant’s occupation.”

This amendment prevents a local housing authority from bringing the duty in section 195(2) of the Housing Act 1996 (inserted by clause 4) to an end after 56 days if the applicant has been given a notice under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 that has expired or will within 56 days expire and which is in respect of the only accommodation that is available for the applicant’s occupation.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendment 2, page 6, line 11, after “accommodation” insert—

“and, on the date of refusal, there was a reasonable prospect that suitable accommodation would be available for occupation by the applicant for at least 6 months or such longer period not exceeding 12 months as may be prescribed”.

This amendment provides that a local housing authority can only bring the duty in section 195(2) of the Housing Act 1996 (inserted by clause 4) to an end on the basis that the applicant has refused an offer of suitable accommodation, if on the date of the refusal there was a reasonable prospect that suitable accommodation would be available for 6 months or such longer period not exceeding 12 months as may be prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State.

Government amendment 3, page 6, line 22, at end insert—

“(9) The duty under subsection (2) can also be brought to an end under sections 193A and 193B (notices in cases of applicant’s deliberate and unreasonable refusal to co-operate).”

This amendment inserts, into section 195 of the Housing Act 1996 (inserted by clause 4), a reference to sections 193A and 193B of that Act (inserted by clause 7) under which the duty in section 195(2) can be brought to an end.

Government amendment 4, in clause 5, page 7, line 45, after “accommodation” insert—

“and, on the date of refusal, there was a reasonable prospect that suitable accommodation would be available for occupation by the applicant for at least 6 months or such longer period not exceeding 12 months as may be prescribed”.

This amendment provides that a local housing authority can only bring the duty in section 189B(2) of the Housing Act 1996 (inserted by clause 5) to an end on the basis that the applicant has refused an offer of suitable accommodation, if on the date of the refusal there was a reasonable prospect that suitable accommodation would be available for 6 months or such longer period not exceeding 12 months as may be prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State.

Government amendment 5, page 8, line 9, at end insert—

“(9) The duty under subsection (2) can also be brought to an end under—

(a) section 193ZA (consequences of refusal of final accommodation offer or final Part 6 offer at the initial relief stage), or

(b) sections 193A and 193B (notices in cases of applicant’s deliberate and unreasonable refusal to co-operate).”

This amendment inserts, into section 189B of the Housing Act 1996 (inserted by clause 5), references to section 193ZA (inserted by amendment 10), and sections 193A and 193B of that Act (inserted by clause 7), under which the duty in section 189B(2) can be brought to an end.

Government amendment 6, page 8, line 18, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—

“(a) for subsection (1) substitute—

(1) If the local housing authority have reason to believe that an applicant may be homeless, eligible for assistance and have a priority need, they must secure that accommodation is available for the applicant’s occupation.

(1ZA) In a case in which the local housing authority conclude their inquiries under section 184 and decide that the applicant does not have a priority need—

(a) where the authority decide that they do not owe the applicant a duty under section 189B(2), the duty under subsection (1) comes to an end when the authority notify the applicant of that decision, or

(b) otherwise, the duty under subsection (1) comes to an end upon the authority notifying the applicant of their decision that, upon the duty under section 189B(2) coming to an end, they do not owe the applicant any duty under section 190 or 193.

(1ZB) In any other case, the duty under subsection (1) comes to an end upon the later of—

(a) the duty owed to the applicant under section 189B(2) coming to an end or the authority notifying the applicant that they have decided that they do not owe the applicant a duty under that section, and

(b) the authority notifying the applicant of their decision as to what other duty (if any) they owe to the applicant under the following provisions of this Part upon the duty under section 189B(2) coming to an end.”

See amendment 8. This amendment also makes the circumstances in which the interim duty to provide accommodation under section 188(1) of the Housing Act 1996 comes to an end where the local housing authority decide that the applicant does not have a priority need.

Government amendment 7, page 8, line 26, leave out from “for” to end of line 27 and insert— “pending a decision of the kind referred to in subsection (1)” substitute “until the later of paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (1ZB).”

See amendments 6 and 8.

Government amendment 8, page 8, line 27, at end insert—

“() for subsection (3) substitute—

‘(2A) For the purposes of this section, where the applicant requests a review under section 202(1)(h) of the authority’s decision as to the suitability of accommodation offered to the applicant by way of a final accommodation offer or a final Part 6 offer (within the meaning of section 193ZA), the authority’s duty to the applicant under section 189B(2) is not to be taken to have come to an end under section 193ZA(2) until the decision on the review has been notified to the applicant.

(3) Otherwise, the duty under this section comes to an end in accordance with subsections (1ZA) to (1A), regardless of any review requested by the applicant under section 202.

But the authority may secure that accommodation is available for the applicant’s occupation pending a decision on review.’”

This amendment, together with amendments 6 and 7, ensure that any interim duty of a local housing authority under section 188 of the Housing Act 1996 to accommodate an applicant continues pending the conclusion of a review of the suitability of accommodation offered in a final accommodation offer or a final Part 6 offer under section 193ZA of that Act (inserted by amendment 10).

Government amendment 9, in clause 6, page 11, leave out lines 14 to 16 and insert—

“(3) For the purposes of this section, a local housing authority’s duty under section 189B(2) or 195(2) is a function of the authority to secure that accommodation is available for the occupation of a person only if the authority decide to discharge the duty by securing that accommodation is so available.”

This amendment ensures that where a local housing authority decides to discharge their duty under section 189B(2) or 195(2) of the Housing Act 1996 (inserted by clauses 5 and 4, respectively) by actually securing that accommodation is available for occupation by the applicant, sections 206 to 209 of that Act apply. Those sections contain various provisions about how a local housing authority’s housing functions are to be discharged.

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

I shall start with amendment 1. At our last Committee sitting on 18 January, I committed to tabling an amendment to clause 4 to ensure that tenants at risk of becoming homeless were sufficiently protected and had access to the required help and support. The Committee agreed amendments to clause 1, so that it now extends the period an applicant is “threatened with homelessness” from 28 to 56 days and clarifies that an applicant is “threatened with homelessness” if they have a valid section 21 eviction notice that expires in 56 days or fewer.

Amendment 1 to clause 4 extends the prevention duty to cover instances where a household that has been served with a valid section 21 notice still remains in the property after receiving 56 days of help from the local housing authority under the prevention duty, and is still at risk of becoming homeless. Specifically, it covers instances where a valid section 21 notice has already expired or will expire in relation to the only accommodation the household has available. The amendment ensures that, in such instances, the prevention duty will continue to operate until such time as the local housing authority brings it to an end for one of the other reasons set out in clause 4, even if the 56 days have passed.

I will also address a related question about other ways of ending a tenancy, which was raised by a number of Members—particularly my hon. Friend Michael Tomlinson— during the Committee’s consideration of clause 1. That clause and this amendment address the particular need to clarify the status of an applicant who has been served with a section 21 notice, but, obviously, people can be threatened with homelessness in a number of ways, as was pointed out in Committee, and any eligible applicant who is at risk of being homeless in 56 days or fewer will be entitled to support under the new prevention duty.

Photo of Sheryll Murray Sheryll Murray Conservative, South East Cornwall

Does the Minister agree that it is absolutely fantastic that we are addressing this situation? Given that the leader of the Liberal Democrats is on the front page of my local paper saying that if the Liberal Democrats were elected to the council they would supply more than 1,000 new homes to address homelessness, is the Minister not shocked that not one of them is in the Chamber today?

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

I have been shocked at how little input there has been from the Liberal Democrats: not one Liberal Democrat was here on Second Reading—and, as we can see today, they have not appeared on Report. My hon. Friend makes a good point. Although at a local level there may be some suggestion that the Liberal Democrats want to address this important issue, at a national level, they do not appear to be showing a massive interest.

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Conservative, Enfield, Southgate

One of the concerns expressed on Second Reading and in Committee, not least by my hon. Friend Will Quince, relates to councils that seek to ignore statutory guidance and that will recognise someone as homeless only when a bailiff’s notice is served. Shelter has expressed continuing concerns about that issue in respect of clause 1. Can the Minister reassure us that the guidance and prevention duties will mean that councils cannot simply hide and wait for a bailiff’s notice before acting on these vulnerable households at risk of homelessness?

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance. Furthermore, given how the legislation will now work, it will be in the local authority’s interest to work more quickly with people at risk of becoming homeless. As we discussed many times in Committee, the legislation will very much drive a culture change, so that people are helped far further upstream than they have been to date. We are particularly keen to end some councils’ practice of saying to people, “Just wait for the bailiffs to arrive and then we’ll try to help you.” We want people to be helped far earlier. We do not want them to face a court appearance and a county court judgment; that will not help them to secure accommodation later.

I move on. The remaining amendments in this group relate to the issues that we identified with clause 7 but that we were, unfortunately, unable to address at an earlier stage. We identified a key issue: what is a workable balance between incentives and protections in cases where an applicant refuses a suitable offer of accommodation at the prevention and relief stages? We have been working closely with the local government sector and the homelessness charities to resolve the issue and to develop a way forward; I thank all those who have provided their expertise and support. We will discuss the core amendments to clause 7 in the next group: they are amendments consequential to amendments made to clauses 4, 5 and 6.

Amendments 2 and 4 clarify the circumstances in which the new prevention and relief duties can be brought to an end by a local housing authority. They would require not only that a suitable accommodation offer had been turned down but that accommodation would have been available for at least six months. Clauses 4 and 5 insert new sections 195 and 189B respectively into the Housing Act 1996. Those set out the duties owed to those who are homeless or threatened with homelessness. Both clauses have provisions allowing those duties to be brought to an end if a number of circumstances apply.

Amendments 2 and 4 would change new sections 189B and 195 to require that the grounds for giving notice would not only be the refusal of an offer of suitable accommodation but that, on the date when the accommodation was refused, there was a reasonable prospect that it would be available for at least six months or a longer period, not exceeding 12 months, as may be prescribed in regulations. The amendments are relatively simple and ensure consistency with provisions elsewhere in the Bill.

Photo of Tania Mathias Tania Mathias Conservative, Twickenham 11:15, 27 January 2017

I do not want to take up much time. In the cross-party spirit of the debate, I give credit to my council and all councillors in the borough of Richmond upon Thames for all the work that is done.

I have a concern about these clauses. Every single homelessness case in my constituency of Twickenham is absolutely unique. I have come across a very small number of cases in which the homeless person has refused suitable accommodation for reasons of their individual situation: they are not sectionable, but the issue is to do with mental health. Will the final accommodation not be a full stop? Will the homeless person be able to come back to ask again for the accommodation?

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

I certainly agree that many local authorities across the country work very hard to help homeless people. We hope that the Bill will improve the situation further. On the circumstances that my hon. Friend mentions, I should say that a person could go back to the local authority for a review; there is a safeguard for people in that sense.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester

Will the Minister confirm my understanding that the Bill incorporates a particular and special safeguard—a full written warning—before any duty is then withdrawn? That is an extra protection to ensure that those facing a termination of duty know exactly what they are getting themselves into.

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

My hon. Friend has been a diligent member of the Bill Committee, and I thank him for his intervention. He is correct: the Bill provides for a final written warning. Obviously, we want to make sure that people have an incentive to do the right thing and accept an offer of suitable accommodation, but we also need to consider people who present challenges and need a final warning, in some circumstances, to make them think again and take up the offer the local authority has made.

Amendments 3 and 5 insert helpful signposts into clauses 4 and 5 to ensure that they are appropriately cross-referenced with clause 7. Specifically, they insert references to the provisions in clause 7 about ending the prevention and relief duties when an applicant has deliberately and unreasonably refused to co-operate, and to the provisions about ending the relief duty when an applicant has refused a final accommodation offer or a final part 6 offer. That simply means that the ways in which the prevention and relief duties can be ended are easier to see and understand for those reading the clauses.

Amendment 8, along with amendments 6 and 7, deal with the provision of interim accommodation while a local housing authority is helping an applicant to secure accommodation under clause 5. Amendment 6 sets out that, if a local housing authority has reason to believe that an applicant may be homeless, eligible for assistance and in priority need, it must secure interim accommodation. It also sets out how that duty comes to an end.

In cases where the local housing authority has concluded its inquiries under the homelessness legislation and decides that the applicant does not have a priority need, the duty comes to an end in two circumstances: first, if the local housing authority notifies the applicant that the relief duty is not owed; and secondly, if the local housing authority notifies the applicant that, once the relief duty ends, they will not be owed any further duty to accommodate.

Amendment 7 is a technical amendment to the Housing Act 1996 required as a result of amendments 6 and 8. Where an applicant has been provided with interim accommodation and refuses a final offer, they may request a review of the suitability of that offer. Amendment 8 ensures that the duty to secure interim accommodation continues until any review has been concluded and the decision has been notified to the applicant.

Finally in this group, I turn to amendment 9. The duties to applicants under clauses 4 and 5—the prevention and relief duties—are to help the applicant to secure accommodation. In some cases, this will entail the local housing authority securing this accommodation directly, rather than helping the applicant by, for example, providing a deposit guarantee. Amendment 9 provides that, where that is the case, the provisions of sections 206 to 209 of the Housing Act 1996 apply in the same way they would if the local housing authority secured accommodation under the main homelessness duty.

Those sections contain various provisions about how a local housing authority’s housing functions are to be discharged—for example, about how authorities may secure that accommodation is available and how they can require an applicant to pay a reasonable charge for the accommodation. Provisions also cover the requirements relating to placements in and out of district, including notifications to the hosting local housing authority.

I will leave it at that on amendments 1 to 9. I hope that the House will look favourably on them, in the spirit in which proceedings on the Bill have been conducted, and support them.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Housing)

I must say that, after the 14 hours and seven sittings in Committee that we have heard about, I was somewhat alarmed when the Government tabled 21 amendments on over six pages last week. I have to say that, on my first reading of them, I was not much the wiser as to what was happening. However, one perseveres, as one always does with legislation.

I must say two things. First, I do appreciate the difficulties the Minister and the promoter have had in squaring the circle so that local government, landlords and homelessness charities are all happy about the way the Bill works, rather than about the principles of the Bill, which I think have been agreed. I am also grateful to the Minister for giving us time with his officials to go through in some detail the implication of the amendments and why they are necessary, and I think I speak for my hon. Friends in saying that. It is regrettable that things could not have been done differently, but we are where we are, and the Opposition regard these amendments and the next set, which we will come to in due course, as either necessary or improving of the Bill, so we will not oppose any of them today, and I can be fairly brief in responding.

I have only two concerns to raise. I think we have all struggled with clause 1. When you start debating clause 1 in the sixth session of a Committee, you know that something is awry. There have been real difficulties with getting this operative clause of the Bill correct, and it is still not perfect. Much of the original clause 1 had to be omitted because it created more problems than it resolved. The key point—about extending the duty from 28 to 56 days —is still there, but there are concerns that, notwithstanding that, and notwithstanding the further amendments before us, which will extend that duty beyond the 56 days where necessary, local authorities will be able to continue to drag their feet in some cases. However, everything that has been said on all sides, and the refinements before us, which add to what is in clause 1, certainly show that the spirit of the Bill—I hope the same is true of the letter of the Bill when we come to the codes of guidance—really does require all local authorities to act at an early stage and to deal, particularly in the case of section 21 notices, with homelessness and threatened homelessness at an early stage.

The other point—the Minister may address this when we deal with the subsequent provisions—is what additional costs there are likely to be. There will undoubtedly be cost implications in relation to continuing prevention assistance beyond 56 days and—this is quite proper—to being clear about when interim duties come to an end and continuing them while reviews continue. I would like to hear from the Government not only whether those costs will be fully funded but whether the funds have been calculated. Will we hear about that today? We certainly need to before the Bill leaves both Houses. However, with those two caveats, I can be commendably brief and end my comments there.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I am pleased to support these amendments and to follow Andy Slaughter.

It is fair to say that the amendments have been some time in coming. I commend my hon. Friend the Minister, his officials, the homelessness charities and the landlord associations on assisting us in reaching an appropriate compromise. The hon. Member for Hammersmith pointed out that clause 1 was debated some way into the Committee sittings, as, indeed, was clause 7. By that time, we had passed clauses 4, 5 and 6, and these amendments relate to those clauses.

Clearly, the amendments we made to clause 1 in Committee had consequential impacts, which needed to be reflected in clauses 4, 5 and 6. Those clauses refer to the duty in cases of threatened homelessness, the duties owed to those who are homeless and the duties to help to secure accommodation. So the amendments before us are largely technical and follow up the changes made by the Bill Committee.

The most important aspect of this is that the prevention duty cannot end after 56 days with the individual or family still sitting in their home facing eviction under a section 21 notice under the Housing Act 1988, and with nowhere else to go.

Clause 1 of the original draft Bill was substantially changed before Second Reading, after pre-legislative scrutiny, and was substantially changed again in Committee. That had a consequential, knock-on effect on the other clauses in the Bill, and that is why the amendments are essential.

We have now got to a position with these clauses where we can help to make sure that local housing authorities act at an early stage. We do not want—I think this is true right across the House—a single individual or family to be told by their local housing authority, “Yes, you may be threatened with homelessness. Go back to your home, stay put and wait until the court action follows and the bailiffs arrive.” That is completely against the spirit of the Bill and is against what everyone wants to see. If we get to a point where landlords are taking tenants to court, gaining possession orders and getting bailiffs and county court judgments against tenants, those tenants, who will then be evicted and face huge costs, will be extremely unlikely to get accommodation in the private rented sector ever again.

In correcting this position, we have to end the bad practice followed by some local authorities—by no means all—of telling tenants to go back and stay put. It is important, above all else, that individuals who are faced with homelessness can get help and advice from the word go, once they approach the local housing authority. The clarifications proposed by my hon. Friend the Minister ensure that the local authority is not allowed to end its duty on reaching the technical position where the 56 days has expired. That is a very positive move.

The rest of the amendments in this group reflect the changes that we made to clause 7 in Committee. Once again, they ensure that protections are in place for applicants.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Labour, Leigh 11:30, 27 January 2017

The hon. Gentleman says that the protections are in place for applicants. Amendment 2 guarantees a tenancy of at least six months. As I understand it, that is a reduction in the current level, which is at least 12 months. I am not saying that this is necessarily wrong, but I would like him to comment on it. Often, because of the complexity in their life, people at least need security in their tenancy so that they can sort out other problems that they may have. Is six months really long enough? Might it not lead to repeat homelessness as people do not have that longer-term security behind them?

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

This has been discussed during the Select Committee’s homelessness inquiry, in the Bill Committee, and during our debates not only in this place but outside it with the various organisations involved. I am very keen that tenancies should be longer than six months, but I am also mindful of the fact that we do not want to get to a point whereby we reduce the amount of accommodation that could be available for people in this vulnerable group. I am equally certain that we do not want to get to a point, as we could have done during some of the debates, where we have an unrighteous circle, as it were, of people becoming homeless, being put in accommodation by a local authority, their tenancy coming to an end, and back they go to being homeless—it just becomes a repeat cycle. We are all committed to wanting to end that cycle. We do not get the opportunity to change legislation on homelessness very often. As I said, it has been 40 years since such legislation was introduced. We therefore want to put in the minimum standards so that, if necessary, the law can be changed by regulation to increase the period. We want a bare minimum to start with.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Labour, Leigh

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, and I accept that we would see six months as a minimum, but why cap it at 12 months in the amendment? If we want a minimum standard, that is fine, but why put an upper limit on it?

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

The Minister will explain that when he winds up. In certain clauses, there is provision for 12-month tenancies, and during our debates we reduced the position to six months with a cap of 12 months. The right hon. Gentleman should remember, though, that a variety of duties are addressed in the Bill: the relief duty, the prevent duty, and the duty owed to priority-need applicants. The predominant aim has always been not to place priority-need families in a worse position than they would otherwise have been facing.

Photo of David Morris David Morris Conservative, Morecambe and Lunesdale

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for introducing this Bill. I have listened to Members on both sides of the House, and the debate has been very collegiate. Will the Minister, and the House, consider the effects on our servicemen who leave the armed forces under the armed forces covenant? Due to problems that they have in certain cases—each one could be unique—would they be seen as a priority under this Bill?

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

If my hon. Friend would like to go through the 18 pages of the Bill, he will find that people leaving the armed forces are specifically mentioned as being owed a duty under it. Under the armed forces covenant, they should already be provided with accommodation and with help and assistance from their relevant local authority, but there is a new duty on the armed forces to refer people who are leaving to the relevant local authority so that they get help and assistance early on rather than having to seek advice separately. Someone who is leaving the armed forces, as a planned move, should be referred to their relevant local authority, which of course may not be where they are currently based as a member of the armed forces.

I am particularly pleased that the Minister has proposed in his amendments that the requirement for interim accommodation is continued until any reviews are completed. One of the key aspects of the Bill, from my perspective, is to make sure that applicants who are facing an absolute crisis point in their lives, many of whom are becoming homeless for the first time ever, are not put in a position whereby they are told by a local authority, “This is what you’re going to have—take it or leave it.” It is absolutely imperative that there is an agreement between the applicant and the local authority. If the local housing authority acts in an unfair way from the perspective of the applicant, there must also be a process whereby they can seek external help or assistance from appropriate charities in order to get a review to make sure that they are given the proper help and advice and end up being in a position to be offered accommodation.

I welcome these amendments and hope the whole House will support them.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee

When we discuss a Bill on Report, there are times when we find ourselves dealing with an awful lot of Government amendments and suspect that Ministers are trying, at the last minute, to slide one or two contentious issues past the House under the radar, thinking that people might miss them due to the great complexity of our discussions—[Interruption.] I am sure that my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham never did that when he was a Minister, as he has just indicated. This, however, is not one of those occasions.

As my hon. Friend Andy Slaughter said, there has been a great deal of discussion not only in the House, by Members on both sides, but outside it with the charities arguing the case for homeless people, the Local Government Association and landlords, among others, to try to get this right. It is important that we do get it right, even though the process has taken a bit longer than some of us would have wished.

Once again, I pay tribute to the diligence and forbearance of Bob Blackman in trying to get us moving forward in a consensual manner on these issues. As he said, it took us a long time to get to this version of clause 1, which has appeared in many formats. It goes to the heart of the concerns that many of us have about the workings of existing legislation. One of the worst aspects of the way in which homeless families are currently treated—even those who are acknowledged to have a priority need—is that they are told to go away, sit at home and wait for the court to hear their case, and that then the authority may act, once a court order has been made, to deal with their situation. In the very worst cases, they are told, “Wait until the bailiff has arrived and while you are out on the street, we might decide to deal with you as a homeless family.” That situation is not acceptable, so it is important that it changes as a result of this Bill. The hon. Gentleman said that, importantly, the 56-day provision will not end responsibility—the prevention duty continues beyond that time if a family does not yet have settled circumstances.

I had concerns that the specific requirement to deal with homelessness once a section 21 notice had been served, rather than allowing the matter to get to court, which was in a previous version of clause 1, had been taken out. I accept that the requirement for local authorities to exercise the prevention duty means that as soon as a section 21 notice is served and the family provide the local authority with that information, the duty kicks in and the local authority immediately has to seek to resolve the family’s homelessness and look for alternative accommodation for them.

The code of guidance, which was discussed at length in the Bill Committee—I had a discussion about it with the Minister outside the room and then we referred to it in Committee—will be important to make it clear to local authorities how they should treat a family who are subject to a section 21 notice and in priority need. They will need to make sure that they do not get to the court stage before action is taken. It is also important for making sure that an offer acknowledges, as far as possible, an individual family’s circumstances with regard to the schooling of children, the employment of family members, caring responsibilities and so on. Moreover, if a family have to be offered accommodation outside the borough, the receiving borough has to be notified that they are coming. Many of those important issues are in the existing code of guidance, but authorities have not implemented the code or addressed them.

We all hope that the Bill will be enacted before long. The Minister said helpfully in Committee that he will present the code of guidance to Parliament for approval, which is welcome. Our Select Committee has said that we will quickly arrange an evidence session on the code because we want to make sure that it is right. Getting the Act right but having a code of guidance that does not work will leave us no better off; getting both of them right will make the situation much better so that local authorities are able to address the issue of homeless families. I hope that Ministers will welcome that as another way in which the Select Committee can play a constructive role in this private Member’s Bill process by ensuring that the legislation has cross-party support and really works for homeless people.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I thank the hon. Gentleman—I shall call him my hon. Friend—for giving way. We look forward to the publication of the code of guidance once the Bill is enacted. The Bill also makes provision for issuing statutory codes of practice, so if local authorities fail to live up to both the spirit and the letter of the law, the Secretary of State will have the opportunity to impose on them a requirement to do what we expect them to do.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee

That is very helpful. The Select Committee might well want to extend its remit and look at those codes of practice as well to make sure that everything is working. Indeed, the Minister has gone further by saying that he wants local authorities to indicate to the Government how they intend to implement the Bill. Ministers want to work with the LGA to get templates for how elements of the Bill, including giving advice to individuals who are not in priority need, should be implemented. Those are welcome measures and the LGA will want to be thoroughly involved in the process. With those comments about the issues that will need to be addressed once the Bill becomes an Act, I am happy to support the Government amendments.

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

I will start by responding to Andy Slaughter. Significant concerns were raised on Second Reading, particularly with regard to the views of the Residential Landlords Association. In keeping with the spirit of the way in which this legislation has been developed, significant work took place to try to resolve that issue so that the Bill would not be put at risk during the parliamentary process. That work was done in conjunction with not just the RLA, but a number of charities and the LGA.

We want to get the registration right. I acknowledge that it would have been desirable to consider these amendments in Committee. Unfortunately, however, due to the challenges—some of them have been outlined by my hon. Friend Bob Blackman—in getting to a position in which the Bill works across the housing sector, it has taken some time to get where we are today, but I think we now have a good product, so to speak.

I thank not only the RLA and the LGA, but the various charities that have made a contribution. I also thank my hon. Friend for his patience and my officials for working tirelessly and at all hours to tie things up with various organisations and to achieve a good outcome.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Labour, Leigh 11:45, 27 January 2017

On Government amendment 2, which I asked Bob Blackman about, why cap the tenancy at 12 months? That seems to encourage local authorities to offer shorter-term tenancies, rather than making standard offers of longer-term tenancies. The Select Committee did not recommend a 12-month cap, so why have the Government inserted such a provision?

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will make the points that I was going to make and then I will directly address his point.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith mentioned Shelter’s concerns about clause 1. I assure him that we reached agreement with Shelter and other organisations that the clause would be acceptable before it was drafted and before the amendments were tabled. He also mentioned costs, about which we had a long debate in Committee. I note that he has been reassured by comments today, given his willingness to withdraw new clause 1. I undertook to consider further amendments and, once the Bill has been amended, I will be more than willing to share with the House what the additional costs will be.

I hope that Andy Burnham will be reassured that there is no upper limit. The reference to 12 months means that the minimum length of tenancy can be increased to 12 months through regulations. Basically, if the rental market changed and we were in a position to change legislation to reflect a 12-month rather than six-month tenancy, that provision would give us the flexibility to do so. It does not put a maximum cap on the tenancy that can be secured. If a local authority is able to secure a three-year tenancy because that is what a landlord is offering, people who were homeless or at risk of homelessness would be able to take up that offer of a longer tenancy. I hope that that reassures him.

I thank my hon. Friend—I nearly went too far. I am not sure that “hon. Friend” would be the right term, bearing in mind that I have another appearance before the Select Committee on Monday, but I thank Mr Betts for the part that he has played on the Committee. I thank him and the hon. Member for Hammersmith, as well as other Members, especially Helen Hayes, for the work that they have been willing to do behind the scenes to get the Bill to this point.

The hon. Member for Sheffield South East talked about the code of guidance, and it is critical that we get that right. As he knows, the code of guidance will be updated. The Bill includes a commitment to put that before the House, and we will work with the LGA on that code to ensure that we get it as right as we can. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East pointed out, the Bill contains powers to put in place a code of practice, so the Secretary of State can reinforce any existing legislation through regulations, or introduce new regulations.

There is a positive consensus across the House that the amendments will improve the Bill and make it more workable.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

Amendments made: 2, page 6, line 11, after “accommodation” insert

“and, on the date of refusal, there was a reasonable prospect that suitable accommodation would be available for occupation by the applicant for at least 6 months or such longer period not exceeding 12 months as may be prescribed”

This amendment provides that a local housing authority can only bring the duty in section 195(2) of the Housing Act 1996 (inserted by clause 4) to an end on the basis that the applicant has refused an offer of suitable accommodation, if on the date of the refusal there was a reasonable prospect that suitable accommodation would be available for 6 months or such longer period not exceeding 12 months as may be prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State.

Amendment 3, page 6, line 22, at end insert—

‘(9) The duty under subsection (2) can also be brought to an end under sections 193A and 193B (notices in cases of applicant’s deliberate and unreasonable refusal to co-operate).””—(Mr Marcus Jones.)

This amendment inserts, into section 195 of the Housing Act 1996 (inserted by clause 4), a reference to sections 193A and 193B of that Act (inserted by clause 7) under which the duty in section 195(2) can be brought to an end.

Clause 5