Single parents to lose council house priority: the queen's speech

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Public Policy Editor

Lone parents and families with children are to lose their priority claim to a council house under a Housing Bill which will provide a new right to buy for housing association tenants.

The move comes as single parents face a freeze in Lone Parent Premium and One Parent Benefit in the Budget. In addition, the pounds 5.20 a week premium, which is part of Income Support, is expected to be abolished for new cases.

The Queen's Speech confirms, however, that Peter Lilley, the Secretary of State for Social Security, has won his battle not to abolish the universal One Parent Benefit for new cases - a move which would have required primary legislation and which Mr Lilley feared might not get through the Commons, given the Government's slim majority.

Under the housing legislation, councils will only have to house the homeless in temporary accommodation, and they will be told to redesign their allocation schemes so that people declared statutorily homeless do not jump the queue for permanent accommodation ahead of others on the waiting list - for example, couples who may not yet have children but who live in substandard accommodation.

Ministers claim such a move will "reflect the underlying values of society" and balance housing needs "against the need to support married couples who take a responsible approach to family life".

But while the Government argues that will be fairer, the two main local authority associations yesterday claimed it would spell "misery" for homeless people and their children. The Chartered Institute of Housing said the Government was putting at risk the positive proposals in the planned Bill by persisting with the homelessness proposals.

The legislation will include giving tenants the right to buy new homes built by housing associations and grants worth between pounds 8,000 and pounds 16,000, which will enable some housing association tenants to buy their existing homes. Houses built in communities of fewer than 3,000 people will be exempt, however, to ensure that associations can continue to build in rural areas without the stock being lost for local people.

Commercial providers are to be allowed to compete for housing association grants and a string of measures are aimed at bringing more private money into social housing. These include setting up local housing companies which can use private finance to take over council houses.

In addition, new Housing Investment Trusts will be created in which breaks against capital gains and corporation tax will be used to encourage financial institutions to invest in homes for rent.

The Bill will, however, end mandatory renovation grants, producing a system which the Government claims will be more flexible. Housing associations and others, however, fear the Budget will cut housing investment heavily. The local authority associations said the effect would be to "push the country into a spiral of worsening housing conditions in the private sector".

All social landlords - housing associations, the new private social landlords and those who take over council housing - are expected to be made subject to the Housing Association Tenants' Ombudsman, who already operates on a voluntary basis, but who will now be given statutory powers.

Other measures will make letting easier for small landlords and create a statutory right to adjudication in disputes over construction contracts. The arrangements for registering architects will also be simplified.

n A Community Care (Direct Payments) Bill will allow the disabled to buy their own packages of care through cash grants from local authorities. The Billwill allow local authorities to decide whether or not to use their powers.