§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Lord Evans of Temple Guiting rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 4th March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Supporting People programme, of which these regulations form a part, will go live on 1st April and will bring together funding for a variety of housing: related support services. As my noble friend Lord Rooker announced on 20th February, the provisional amount of Supporting People grant that English authorities will receive to spend on housing-related support services in the financial year 2003–04 will be £1.4 billion. That money will fund services such as domestic violence refuges, sheltered accommodation for older people and accommodation for homeless people.
§ In addition to traditional fixed-accommodation schemes, a considerable and growing amount of support is now provided via non-accommodation based "floating" support. From 1st April, local authorities will take over responsibility for the payment of service providers. These regulations will allow authorities to recover support costs from service users who currently pay their landlord or other service provider. The Supporting People grant conditions and accompanying statutory guidance place strict conditions on local authorities' powers to charge so these regulations cannot be used to provide a new source of local authority revenue.
§ These regulations allow authorities to levy a charge for specified housing-related support services where those services were fully or partially funded on the qualifying date by transitional housing benefit. These services are set out in Schedule 1B of the Housing Benefit (General Regulations) 1987. In most cases, the qualifying date will be 31st March 2003.
§ In deciding whether they may impose a charge for a service under these regulations (specifically Regulation 3), authorities will need to determine whether the service was funded, partially or fully, by 535 transitional housing benefit on the qualifying date. In making that decision, it is the source of funding for the service on the qualifying date which the local authority will need to consider. A local authority will be able to charge for a service under Regulation 3 even if the original transitional housing benefit-funded service recipients no longer receive the service by the time an authority is considering whether charges should be imposed. In such situations transitional housing benefit would be considered to have been a source of funding for the service on the qualifying date.
§ The charging regulations do not allow authorities to levy a charge for other costs, for which housing benefit will continue to be paid. These are set out in detail at section 10 of the Housing Benefit (General) Regulations 1987.
§ The charging policy that these regulations form a part of was formally consulted on in the supplementary consultation document, Charging and Means-Testing (DETR January 2001). Further consultation was carried out at the same time as the statutory consultation on the directions and grants conditions. The regulations before us today are a result of this process and the need for them has been widely accepted by local authorities and service providers alike. I commend the regulations to the House.
§ Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 4th March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee]. —(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)
§ Baroness Hanham
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of these rather complicated and bureaucratic regulations. As I understand them, they switch the source of the money from housing grant to local authorities. I have a couple of questions. Is there any way in which vulnerable people might be adversely affected by the change? Why was it necessary to change the body which administers the charge? What is the purpose of the bureaucracy that the Minister outlined? One of the problems is that housing benefit is open-ended but the Supporting People programme is cash limited. If local authorities go above the level of the Supporting People grant, they will have to fund that themselves. I understand that the measure is supported by housing authorities and recipients. If the Minister can clear up the points I mentioned, I have no further observations.
§ Baroness Maddock
My Lords, I agree with many of the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, made. Do I understand that local authorities will not have to charge for certain services if they choose not to? We on these Benches welcome the fact that local authorities have a certain freedom with regard to the money we are discussing. The point that worries me— the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, touched on this—and about which I have expressed concern from the start is whether people will be adversely affected by the total change of regime, particularly as a result of the bureaucracy surrounding the change. I refer in particular in that connection to small organisations which offer help in this matter.
536 The Minister may know that recently we discussed the Community Care (Delayed Discharges etc.) Bill. I wonder how the measure we are discussing integrates with that Bill. I realise that the Minister may not be able to answer that point today. I refer to people who have problems being discharged from hospital. As I understand it, some of the funding under the measure we are discussing will be used to support people in their homes. There might be some difficulty in terms of integrating the two pieces of legislation. I seek reassurance that the Government are aware that the two pieces of legislation need to be integrated. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, I do not think that the measure is controversial at this stage of the proceedings. It was very controversial initially. Certainly, there has been concern about the total budget and whether councils would get the appropriate money. As I say, the measure itself is not too controversial, but I would welcome clarification of the points I have raised.
§ Lord Evans of Temple Guiting
My Lords, I shall have to write to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, about the connection between the measure and the Community Care (Delayed Discharges etc.) Bill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked whether vulnerable people would be worse off as a result of the change. The answer is no. If there were any question of that, we would be extremely unhappy. There has been some comment in the press about the intention behind the measure. An article in the Guardian last week raised that question and concluded that vulnerable people would not in any way be disadvantaged by the change. Claire Tickell, chief executive of the Stoneham Housing Association, states:Under the old regime our umbilical cord was with the [central] Government in terms of funding and local authorities had just a passive understanding of what we did. Now they will be actively involved in what we are doing and they will be properly engaged locally".That makes the point powerfully that local authorities will have this money to address their local problems. I give an absolute assurance that vulnerable people will not be worse off.
The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, asked why change was necessary. The reason is that the transitional housing benefit scheme was introduced as a temporary arrangement until this programme could be developed. I hope that I have not omitted to reply to any of the questions asked. I commend the measure to the House.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.