Local connection of a care leaver

Homelessness Reduction Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 7th December 2016.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Housing)

Good morning, Mr Chope. It is good to see you in the Chair again.

The clause is uncontroversial and we support it. The objective of the clause, as we see it, is to give greater flexibility in the case of care leavers, particularly when there is a conflict between different authorities or different tiers of authorities within the same area. I gently point out to the Minister that that is exactly the point I tried to make with amendment 4, which he rejected. It may be that, in looking at the Bill again, he would like to see those provisions not only for care leavers but more generally, and for local authorities to consider what their duties are towards people presenting as homeless.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Conservative, Mid Dorset and North Poole

I will briefly pick up on one theme in relation to clause 8, which I support wholeheartedly. As the hon. Gentleman said, it is relatively uncontroversial, but it is worth teasing out a little.

Of course, care leavers are at particular risk of homelessness. I think of foster carers. There are many excellent foster carers across all of our constituencies. Foster carers and families that I can think of in Dorset, in particular, look after children from beyond the boundaries of Dorset, and the clause will help them and local authorities to avoid any confusion as to whether there is a local connection for those care leavers. That relates to foster carers in particular, but there are other examples. I believe that the clause is uncontroversial and should go through unamended.

Photo of Flick Drummond Flick Drummond Conservative, Portsmouth South

I agree that the clause will substantially improve the ability of care leavers to access homelessness assistance. However, I would like to see some movement towards the Government’s “Keep on caring” strategy, which extends some support to care leavers up to the age of 25. There are other Bills looking at that as well. Will the Minister comment on that?

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Conservative, Enfield, Southgate

I very much support the clause and its focus on care leavers. I note that it is not an extension of the local connection that was considered in the draft Bill, which the Communities and Local Government Committee scrutinised and recommended should not be extended more widely—and that was accepted—as it could have caused some issues and was perhaps in conflict with existing guidance.

I want to ask the Minister about a concern that I think is shared by the hon. Member for Westminster North. The Select Committee’s earlier report recommended that the Government should consider the guidance given to local authorities for when families move from lower-cost areas to high-cost areas and subsequently present as homeless after a short period in private rented accommodation. That is a regular reality in Enfield, where many people come for accommodation from boroughs such as Westminster. That leads not only to the presentation of homelessness after a period of time in private rented accommodation, but associated needs as well. There are often complex needs, and the bill has to be picked by Enfield.

That is something that happens all too often and there needs to be a proper attempt to deal with it, with guidance and proper co-ordination. I have spoken to London’s deputy mayor for housing about the meetings that are taking place with directors of housing to try to deal with this problem, which is affecting outer London boroughs such as Enfield.

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

The Government welcome the clause. We believe that it will lead to more care leavers who experience homelessness getting help in the area that they feel at home in, where they are close to the people who are important to them and to the services that they use. As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate explained, broadly speaking somebody may have a local connection with an area because they live there or have been living there for a certain amount time, because they work or have family associations in the area, or because they have other special circumstances.

Photo of David Mackintosh David Mackintosh Conservative, Northampton South

Recently, the all-party group on ending homelessness held an evidence session with care leavers. One issue that came up, aside from housing, was that people in care often do not have the life skills to help them when they leave care and try to make it on their own in the world. Has the Minister seen that evidence? If not, I would be happy to send it to him.

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government) 9:45 am, 7th December 2016

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He has done an enormous amount of work with the all-party group. I am aware of the information he referred to, and would be more than willing to meet him to discuss it at greater length.

Under the existing rules, a young person leaving care can find it difficult to establish a local connection in the area where they feel most at home. That is likely to be a problem if they were living in an area different from that of their home local authority while they were in care, or if they have been looked after by a county council that has several local housing authorities within its boundaries.

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Conservative, Chippenham

Does the Minister accept that it is important to value and listen to the opinions of young care leavers, who are perhaps the most vulnerable in our society? I recently visited Alabaré in my constituency. One young woman told the harrowing story of being placed away from the area she identifies as home and the effect that had had on her.

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

I thank my hon friend for making that point. We should never forget that we are discussing a group of people who, through no fault of their own, have had a very difficult and tough start in life. When they are leaving care, we should not make the situation any more difficult for them; indeed, we should help them, which is why my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East has included this clause in the Bill so that we can help and assist a group of people who are often very vulnerable and deserve the best chance in life.

The proposed amendment to the definition of a local connection will make it easier for care leavers to get help with homelessness in the area where they feel at home, even if that does not fall within the current requirements. To make sure that it works in practice, we will work with local housing authorities, children’s services authorities and specialist voluntary sector agencies to review and update the guidance on how local authorities should comply with the new duty.

It is important that care leavers get the help and support they need. As I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South, when they are trying to secure help from homelessness services in the area to which they feel most connected, they should not be disadvantaged because of their background in care. When they find themselves facing a housing crisis, the change in the Bill should help them to get back on track and to move on in their lives in the area where they feel most at home and are most likely to have the support networks they need.

Photo of David Mackintosh David Mackintosh Conservative, Northampton South

There can sometimes be a difficulty when care leavers are looking for housing in two-tier areas because services are managed by different authorities. Will the guidance take that into account?

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

My hon. Friend makes a good point. As I was saying, the care leaver is often in the care of a county authority, which has the responsibility in that regard, but may then wish to reside in a district of the authority that has housing responsibility. The clause certainly will recognise that challenge in two-tier areas.

My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South takes a huge interest in care leavers and in other legislation currently going through the House that affects them. We cannot second guess other Bills when we are making this legislation. Any legislation being made by the Department for Education that might affect the age at which people leave care will ultimately have an effect on the work of local authorities. We need to wait to see those legislative changes before we seek to look at what further guidance will be provided to local authorities as a result of the Bill.

The intentions of the hon. Member for Hammersmith are honourable, but by extending the provisions we might very much end up with the guidance in conflict with the existing situation, so at this point we should not look to change it. I am also more than willing to sit down with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate to discuss the important issues he raises. During the passage of the Bill, I am sure we will get the opportunity to have a sit-down and a chat about them over coffee.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

We have had a useful brief debate on the clause. We should remember that the existing position for care leavers to prove a local connection is that they must be currently or previously normally resident in the area, be employed there, have a family association or have special circumstances. Care leavers are often unable to prove such a position, which makes it very difficult for them to get assistance when they need it on leaving care. Young people leaving care are extremely vulnerable and need assistance with housing.

My intention is to clarify the position so that it is straightforward for a local authority to house care leavers in their area if they wish to do so, and so that any district can accommodate care leavers if they are in the care of the county. The local connection will therefore be enhanced and provide a facility, as the Minister described. My intention is to make it much easier for care leavers to prove a local connection and therefore to gain assistance from the local authority.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 8 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9