29 March, 2023
Having the Government acknowledge that Anti-Social Behaviour is "not a low-level crime" can only be welcome news to the ears of victims, local communities and those front-line practitioners who are tasked with keeping them safe. I don't think that anyone would argue with this sentiment however, the proof of the pudding will very much be in the delivery of this action plan and as always, consistency will be paramount.
Much of the rhetoric contained within this action plan is a nod to previous / existing initiatives which have produced pockets of success yet not necessarily driven wide-reaching solutions to the national ASB picture.
Take Community Payback for example, whilst the majority of people will lend their support to the concept of "immediate justice", the reality can prove very different. Is there a risk in placing too much emphasis on this particular approach? The visible impact of clean streets and green spaces will undoubtedly be beneficial to the local environment however, Community Payback continues to have its challenges and contentious debate rumbles on.
I can recall anecdotes from different parts of the county where projects have appeared, in principle to be perfect for Community Payback yet were declined due them not have toilet facilities and a place to eat lunch within close proximity. Add to this, the view held by many people that the use of hi-vis tabards only serves to demonise individuals and ruin their life chances and furthermore, how will these projected be appropriately monitored and supervised? You can also cut and paste this question and apply it to monitoring of positive requirements around the ASB injunction.
Whilst remaining on the subject of community-based interventions, the commitment to one million extra hours of youth service support can only be a good thing however, we need to tread carefully around the expectation that young people involved in or on the fringes of Anti-Social Behaviour will automatically feel compelled to engage with youth services. We must therefore map out the availability of other diversionary provision and strive to seek out more innovative alternatives. Everyone acknowledges the importance of "getting in early" when it comes to supporting young people however, this action plan appears rather light on detail when it comes to working with perpetrators from other age ranges.
Nobody would argue with the sentiment of restoring pride in our communities. This is a vital component for tackling the bigger picture of Anti-Social Behaviour. Are we in a position where we can confidently state that we understand the true meaning of "community" in 2023? - Unfortunately not! If we (as a society) focus upon trying to recreate the nostalgic (and often romantic) vision of communities, then we can miss an opportunity to try to fix the problems of the here and now and therefore must delve deeper. Feedback from "involved residents" is essential when it comes to managing our neighbourhoods and the commitment shown by these volunteers cannot be underestimated however, do these views always represent the wider community? If not, is there a risk that this could skew the perception of "local priorities" and the allocation of funding that's associated with them?
Revitalising town centres and has got to be an achievable aspiration however, this goes way beyond reopening shops on our high streets. In order to achieve long term stability, we must carry out greater analysis on people's shopping habits, the ongoing impact of the cost-of-living crisis and identify how best to compete and work alongside the digital market. The local knowledge, profile and resources of Housing Providers will be integral to the success of the regeneration process.
It is encouraging to see that Housing Providers are "officially recognised" within the Action Plan as a key partner agency. Whilst in the majority of cases, Housing is firmly embedded within the community safety arena, this still can't be said in respect of some areas of the UK…. once again, the need for greater consistency is highlighted.
Making it "easier to evict tenants who are persistently disrespectful and disruptive to their neighbours" will offer comfort to victims whose lives have been torn apart as a result of Anti-Social Behaviour but what will this look like in practical terms? Much will depend on consistency (again!), proportionality, effective evidence gathering, robust audit trails as well as the interpretation and preferences of the presiding judge.
The" Three Strikes - Three Warnings" concept is designed to speed up the enforcement process and stop the harm to victims and others in the locality however, this has the potential to become "a bit Wild West!" It will be a judge who decides the outcome, not the Housing Provider and challenge will undoubtedly exist around the proportionality of the ASB incident which is deemed to constitute a "strike". Could a perpetrator find himself / herself in a situation where they evicted yet somebody living a few miles away in different Local Authority or Police Force area who replicates this behaviour remains in their home?
The reference to extending powers of arrest to ALL breaches of the civil injunction is also intended to enable swifter action, add to the armoury of available options and keep perpetrators on their guard however, much depends upon the interpretation of the respective breaches. The zero-tolerance approach to drugs will also intertwine with these breaches as well as breaches of tenancy.
Having a clear expectation that previous offences of Anti-Social Behaviour are detrimental for Social Housing is a constant issue for Housing Practitioners throughout the UK and one that requires clarity.
The importance of being able to acquire your own home is a huge incentive at any time but especially so given the current economic crisis. The "carrot and stick approach" should work in principle however, unsurprisingly, this isn't without its pitfalls. Housing Providers have often been accused of "vetting for letting" and encountered significant challenge from applicants (and defence solicitors) in situations where accommodation has been refused. The right for someone to rebuild and move forward with their life cannot be in dispute and as Housing Practitioners, we have a responsibility to facilitate this positive change whenever possible. We must, however, also be mindful that it completely justifiable to refuse a property to someone who's behaviour is likely to destabilise the respective neighbourhood at that moment in time although the applicant's circumstances must be continuously reviewed the situation and support their pathway to rehousing.
Local Authority Nominations are central to this process. In terms of Anti-Social Behaviour, Housing Providers don't always know what they are getting and therefore this means that the tenancy is destined to fail before it has begun. Whilst nobody would advocate riding roughshod over GDPR legislation we need to be sensible about the type of information that we share if we are to create settled and vibrant communities. This requires more consistent information sharing processes between Housing, Police, Local Authority departments and other agencies so I am glad to see a reference to "improving data, reporting and accountability for action" within the Plan although, I can't stress enough the importance of getting this process right and ensuring that best practice exists from region to region.
The new "Digital Reporting Tool" will have a key role to play with regard to data sharing, data collection and evidence gathering but more detail is required as to what this will look like. It must be accessible, easy for the victim / complainant to use, able to talk to other I.T systems (including bespoke databases). It is therefore essential that front-line Housing Practitioners are actively involved in the design and implementation process.
The quality of data available from all agencies (not just Police) will help to determine where hotspots are both defined and located based upon ASB reporting levels and other influential factors such as public confidence, customer satisfaction and the ability to feel safe.
For anyone who has attended any Forbes Solicitors ASB Seminars over the past few years, it will come as no surprise that I am really encouraged by the plans to extend delegated powers to Housing Providers for using the Premises Closure Order. This will undoubtedly speed up the process once the threshold / legal test has been met and remove the confusion around who is the lead agency in the respective area. We have seen a number of examples where delays have been encountered through a lack of clarity from region to region so I am confident that this can now be avoided as a part of collaborative partnership approach with Police and Local Authority colleagues which will clearly fit with the underlying ethos this Action Plan.
The Action Plan is underpinned by the strong message that "Anti-Social Behaviour will not be tolerated" therefore it is by definition very "enforcement heavy". We look forward to greater detail around the commitment to deliver support options for both victims and perpetrators and will be watching these developments with interest.
For more information contact Darren Burton in our Housing & Regeneration department via email or phone on 01257 240827. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.
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