'Benefit hostels' incur Gummer's wrath

Inside Parliament

Councils are to be given new powers to close down benefit hostels and bedsit blocks if they cause a nuisance or annoyance to the neighbourhood.

The move, announced by John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, will be particularly welcome in seaside towns, where once-elegant hotels have become troublesome eyesores.

In many resorts former hotels and guest houses had become what are sometimes called "benefit hostels".

"Where these are badly managed, or where there are simply too many of them, there is often considerable nuisance and sometimes real danger. Such wholesale changes can alter the whole character of an area and damage the tourism industry, upon which many such seaside towns exist."

Speaking during the Second Reading of the Housing Bill, Mr Gummer promised amendments to enable councils to close down problem "houses in multiple occupation", without compensation. Councils will also be given powers to prevent new HMOs opening.

Much of the acrimonious debate on the Bill centred on its impact on the homeless. Frank Dobson, Labour's environment spokesman, said it was a "nasty, mean-spirited" measure which attacked homeless people. Mr Gummer, meanwhile, maintained it was about treating everyone on the housing waiting list equally.

Responding to a newspaper advertisement from housing charities, the Secretary of State said it was not a fair system to have several queues. "Everyone should be lined up together."

The Bill proposes a single waiting list route into local authority and housing association homes. Families and the vulnerable would be given a minimum of one year's accommodation. But Mr Gummer said others might actually be living in far worse conditions.

"This Bill ensures people are judged according to their needs," he insisted. "To each according to his need - or is this another thing that the Labour party have thrown out?"

Other provisions give more housing association tenants the right to buy, leaseholders greater protection, and council tenants a chance to vote for new social landlords able to use private money for improvements.

But little of this impressed Mr Dobson who said the Bill combined "Tory mean-mindedness and a lurch to the right". Instead of helping the victims of their policies, the Government was blaming them. "Faced with enormous queues for council and housing association homes, the Government isn't trying to shorten the queues by building more homes. Instead they propose just to rearrange the queue and hope that in the process the people affected will start blaming one another and that it might also distract attention from the Tories' record."

Instead of finding families somewhere decent to live, the Government was proposing to force them to live in "perpetual insecurity," Mr Dobson said.

He held up as the epitome of Tory policy the Clarendon Court Hotel, in Westminster, claiming it was occupied by 158 families living in "squalor".

"But the landlords won't be living in squalor. They're getting pounds 750,000 a year - pounds 14,000 a week - of taxpayers' money."

He said the hotel was infested by cockroaches and there were only six electric cooking rings shared by residents of 48 bedsitting rooms. "This Housing Bill doesn't propose to do anything to improve the living conditions of these families, nor does it propose anything to help them get somewhere better to live. Quite the reverse - it's likely to force them to stay there longer."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Baroness Lane-Fox warned that large companies such as have become so powerful that governments and regulators are left behind
techTech giants have left governments and regulators behind
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
'Prison Architect' players decide the fate of inmates
tech
Life and Style
A picture taken on February 11, 2014 at people walking at sunrise on the Trocadero Esplanade, also known as the Parvis des droits de l'homme (Parvis of Human Rights), in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor