My Lords, this is an important subject. Clause 34 provides for deferred payment agreements and loans. In such an agreement,
“the charges or loan advanced is repaid by the adult or from their estate at a later specified date, or on the happening of a specified event, such as the sale of property. The debt is normally secured against the person’s property to ensure repayment”.
I say at once that we welcome the support to be given to such a scheme. However, I hope that the noble Earl will be able to respond to my noble friend on the point that he raised. His essential argument is that the scheme as originally recommended has been severely restricted, as indicated in paragraph 150 of the consultation, whereby a person is eligible only if other assets are less than the £23,250 limit. Can the noble Earl confirm that figure? If so, can he estimate for the House how many people he thinks are likely to want to use the scheme? The 40,000 figure seems even more mythical if people’s other assets have to be reduced to such a level. We need to clear up that important point either today or, if the Minister is unable to do so, perhaps on Third Reading.
I wish to speak now to my Amendment 63. One worry which we discussed in Committee concerns how local authorities are to run these schemes, and that worry remains. My noble friend Lord Lipsey spoke in Committee of his concerns about the creation of administrative difficulties for local authorities because each local authority would have to design and implement its own scheme. There would be a risk not only that the amount of energy which each authority had to expend would be extremely wasteful but that some very poor quality schemes could be developed. My noble friend Lord Warner, when discussing the balance of arguments between a national scheme or local schemes, said:
“The worst of all worlds would be not to take hold of this issue and leave it to a marketplace of 152 different bodies”— in other words, local authorities—
“without much guidance or assistance with compatibility of IT and issues of that kind”.—[ Official Report , 22/7/13; col. 1065.]
In Committee the noble Earl seemed a bit reluctant to accept the need for national direction in this area. The fact is that only a minority of local authorities currently operate deferred payment schemes. The local authorities’ responsibilities that we have discussed in relation to the Bill are many and extensive, and I shall not go through the list again. There is no doubt whatever that there are worries about whether local authorities really have the capacity to implement the legislation as noble Lords require. Instead of these 152 local authorities having all to develop their own deferred payment schemes, surely there is a persuasive case for a model scheme to be drawn up based on the experience of local authorities which are already operating a scheme but which are in a minority at the moment.
I have little doubt that a model scheme would save money by reducing the work that an individual local authority would have to do. The scheme would be informed by best practice and individual decisions would still be left to individual local authorities because they would be given a model scheme to which they could make adjustments. I should have thought that that would help ensure that the use of deferred payments would be developed and expanded as effectively as possible. I very much hope that the noble Earl will be able to agree to this amendment.