Deliberate and unreasonable refusal to co-operate: duty upon giving of notice

Homelessness Reduction Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 18th January 2017.

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Question (this day) again proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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

When we broke at the last sitting, I was coming on to the subject of written warnings. I nearly got one this morning, I detected, but was very fortunate that I evaded the wrath of the Chair.

We would expect that before a local housing authority issued a written warning, it would make all reasonable efforts to engage the individual, explore the reasons for their failure to act and try to re-establish a co-operative relationship. Following that written warning, if the applicant continued deliberately and unreasonably to refuse to co-operate, the local housing authority might choose to issue a notice that brings to an end its duties to prevent or relieve the applicant’s homelessness.

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

I fear the Minister is about to move on. At that stage, is there not, under proposed new section 193A (3)(b), the right to request a review of that decision? The notice is therefore not necessarily the end of the piece, because the applicant may request a review if they feel they have been unfairly dealt with.

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

There is, as my hon. Friend rightly points out, a right to review. I am sure he realises that I will not go into too much detail about that, because we will deal with it far more when we come to the amendments tabled to the clause on Report.

Where a local housing authority has brought its duty to an end in this way, and the applicant was made homeless through no fault of their own and is in priority need, the authority will be required to make a final offer of a private sector tenancy of at least six months. The Government will review and update the homelessness code of guidance to provide clear guidance on how that will work in practice. As I said, that will include guidance on the meaning of “deliberately and unreasonably” refusing to co-operate.

Guidance will be developed in consultation with stakeholders across local government and the charity sector to ensure that it is clear and fair. We had quite a lengthy debate about that this morning and will discuss it on Report, so I will not go into it any further. We must ensure that the provisions are clear and fair, and that we minimise as far as possible the risk of someone failing to get the support they need. We will also work closely with stakeholders across local government to develop further regulations relating to the process that local housing authorities should follow. As colleagues have said, that is key to getting this right.

This is an important part of the Bill and of driving the cultural change we want, so that local housing authorities and individuals work together for the best outcome within a framework that is clear and fair, with a balance of responsibilities. Although the need for amendments is disappointing for all of us, the importance of the clause drives my determination to make the amendments that the Committee expects.

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

I hope the Minister will at some stage address the point that not only I but a number of colleagues made about the particular circumstances and needs of the applicant. I understand that we will have an opportunity to look at the clause when it is rewritten, but we were invited by the Bill’s promoter to make particular representations on those parts of the clause that we think should remain in it. Does the Minister agree that new section 193A(6) is an important part of it? Even if we do not use exactly these words, we should look at the applicant’s particular circumstances and needs when assessing whether he or she has unreasonably refused to co-operate.

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

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. We will deal with this in far more detail on Report.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 1