§ 1. Mr. Hinchliffe
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will review his policy on the provision of mandatory and discretionary disabled facilities grants.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tim Yeo)
This matter is being kept under review, to ensure that grant assistance continues to help disabled people least able to afford the cost of house adaptations.
§ Mr. Hinchliffe
Is the Minister aware that local authorities are having to make loans to many applicants because of their inability to meet the scheme's means-testing arrangements, which require certain contributions? In many instances the loans will never be repaid because of applicants' financial circumstances. Is the Minister further aware that some elderly and disabled people are being forced into permanent care because of their inability to make a contribution for adaptations under the scheme? Bearing it in mind that the scheme's means testing arrangements run contrary to the Government's care in the community proposals, will the Minister review the operation of the means-testing arrangements and of the scheme generally?
§ Mr. Yeo
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is questioning the principle of means testing, which his party did not oppose in Committee. If he is, it appears that he wants us to spend more taxpayers' money helping the best-off. If the hon. Gentleman is merely questioning the way in which means tests are undertaken in respect of adaptation grants, I assure him that we will review the system, which has been operating for less than eight months. We should like it to be up and running for a year before we undertake such a review. Nevertheless, we shall do that this summer and we will consult the associations that represent the local authorities which are administering it to ascertain how well it is operating.
§ Mr. Hannam
Does my hon. Friend recall that the original commitment in the consultation document was for 960 a non-means tested operation of the grant scheme? Given that there is means testing now, is my hon. Friend aware that many disabled people are now producing examples of the way in which the system is working adversely? When he undertakes his review, will he examine carefully the need to set different criteria for means testing in respect of the disabled?
§ Mr. Yeo
We will certainly examine the criteria that have operated during the first year and I shall be glad to hear the views of my hon. Friend, whose expertise in the subject is well known. The new scheme was intended to widen the range of home improvements that could be paid for by the mandatory facilities grant. There is no restriction on the size of the grant or on who can apply for one. We aim to allow more disabled people to secure more help and to enable them to live more independently and comfortably at home, if that is possible. In many cases, that objective has been achieved.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
I acknowledge the dilemma that presents itself in respect of means testing, but will the Department give special consideration to new build houses, so that there might be savings to a community in the long term in the form of new homes constructed to specifications that are designed to help the disabled?
§ Mr. Yeo
We have considered that. Ideally—this objective has the support of most of the voluntary organisations concerned—all new houses should meet standards of acceptability and convenience for the disabled, regardless of whether they will in the first instance be occupied by a disabled person or by a family that has a disabled member.