17 September, 2014
A survey by Housing Quality Network (HQN) has found that the average number of physical assaults on staff working for social landlords has increased from 1.3 per organisation in 2007/2008 to 7.9 in 2013/2014. The survey also found that the recorded number of verbal assaults had doubled to 22.9 per organisation.
This is the latest survey to point to a rising number of attacks by social housing tenants and highlights evidence that abuse is becoming an everyday part of the job for some housing officers as the number of both physical and verbal assaults have increased.
Whether or not the latest statistics truly represent an increase in assaults is a difficult question and HQN have said that the increase could be partly explained by the increases in staff numbers at the organisations. Additionally, it could be put down to the fact that social landlords are getting better at recording incidents of violence.
However, we also know that social housing tenants are experiencing increased pressure due to welfare reform and the rising costs of living. Welfare reforms and cuts to various services, such as mental health teams, all contribute to the rise in challenging contacts housing staff have as they are faced with tenants who are frustrated by their financial and social situation.
Given the dramatic increase in reported assaults on housing staff, social landlords may now have to consider what they can do better to protect their staff. Many organisations now provide housing staff with safety alarms, trackers and other devices as well as having policies and procedures in the place for lone workers.
Legal action can also be taken against social housing tenants who commit verbal and physical assaults against housing staff. Here at Forbes, we have assisted a number of social landlords take swift legal action in order to protect their staff, from ex parte anti social behaviour injunctions to possession proceedings.
Additionally, since the introduction of a new discretionary ground for possession by the Anti Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, social landlords are able to seek possession of a property where a tenant is guilty of behaviour causing nuisance or annoyance to their landlord. This new ground (either Ground 14(aa) or 2(aa) depending on the type of tenancy) will apply where a tenant or a person residing in or visiting a property is guilty of conduct causing or likely to cause a nuisance or annoyance to the landlord of the property or to a person employed in connection with the landlord's housing management functions. This ground gives social landlords the opportunity to seek possession of a property where tenants or their visitors are abusive towards staff or contractors, regardless of where the behaviour occurs. The ground will assist social landlords in dealing with tenants who are abusive towards call centre staff and receptionists. It is also likely to be useful when dealing with tenants who are vexatious or unreasonable complainants.
Swift legal action will ensure not only that social landlords are able to protect their housing staff but also unacceptable tenant behaviour is addressed.