Purge fails to tackle 'dole hotel' problem, Labour says

A GOVERNMENT clampdown on seaside 'dole' hotels advertising for benefit claimants could have only limited effects, a Labour social security expert warned yesterday.

The latest purge on so-called benefit tourism, announced by John Major through the pages of the Sunday Express and to take effect in April, will force hotels wanting to convert to social-security hostels to get planning permission.

The Government is responding to floods of complaints that coastal towns are suffering disorderly conduct, drug abuse and intimidatory begging. But the planning permission rule, to be officially disclosed today, will not affect hundreds of small hoteliers whose off- season turnover is wholly dependent on a steady supply of housing benefit.

Under the new rule, hotel proprietors seeking a 'change of use' to a hostel will have to apply for planning permission. 'It will let local people decide and I think their views will be pretty crisp,' the Prime Minister said in an interview with the newspaper. Sir Teddy Taylor, one of the seaside Tory MPs who urged Mr Major to plug the loophole, said his Southend constituency had been suffering a 'nightmare' with drug and petty crime problems.

No change of use application can be required, however, from operators of the thousands of hostel beds already created in towns such as Blackpool, Bournemouth, Brighton and Scarborough. The Government plans to tackle existing B & B hostels with a licensing system that would close establishments with poor standards.

Frank Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead and chairman of the Commons social security select committee, said the Government was not tackling the root cause of the problem.

The Thatcher administration limited the amount of time people could draw benefit in certain seaside towns - a return to something approaching the Elizabethan poor law where people were driven on after a few weeks, he told the BBC Radio's The World This Weekend.

'Now what they are trying to do is put up the shutters completely against such people. It won't work.'