05 January, 2009
At a time when focus remains upon prevention and early intervention, the Government's Respect agenda has been encouraging Local Housing Authorities (LHA) to consider creating individual Family Intervention Projects (FIP). Their purpose is to offer extensive support to facilitate the rehabilitation of difficult families. With an expected increase in usage, it is important to be aware of their capacity and potential to provide support to problematic individuals. There is also a proposed additional option of Family Intervention Tenancies (FIT), offering a form of non-secure tenancy to families who have been evicted from their previous home because of past behaviour.
The projects originated from Dundee in 1995 and have been adopted by the Government to the point where there are now more than 50 FIPs across the country and it is anticipated that they will help approximately 1,500 families per year. FIPs are targeted at specific types of household, who have been involved in anti-social behaviour and been in contact with a range of organisations and bodies concerned with its prevention. They operate by bringing all of these agencies together and nominating a single 'key worker' for the family. This role co-ordinates and oversees the support offered and the input of each body, to work towards the same objective of rehabilitation.
Normally, the family in question will agree a contract with the FIP which will state the expectations of all the parties and the support to be made available to achieve them. Arguably the most important factor is the use of sanctions which can ultimately lead to the ending of the project and the family's eviction from the property if sufficient progress is not made. For the families concerned, this risk can bring into real focus the significance of adhering to the FIP's terms.
There are three major types of FIP; Residential work, Dispersed Tenancies and Outreach work. It should be noted that not all local FIPs will use all of these forms or may operate a mixture. It may be beneficial for interested parties to be aware of the categories used in their area. Although each has seen its own success, the dispersed tenancy and residential provision arguably have the advantage of removing the family from their tenancy, which can provide relief to aggrieved neighbours and break the links that have helped to ensure these individuals continue acting anti-socially.
Despite their potential for success, FIPs can become particularly expensive with costs ranging from around £6,000 for Outreach options, to up to £15,000 per family for Residential work. This cost-effectiveness factor provides an additional feature for interested parties to seriously consider as, given their relative infancy, the value of FIPs in dealing with anti-social families in a nationwide context remains largely unknown.
A particular difficulty identified with FIPs is that because the majority of agreements with problematic families and Local Authorities are secure tenancies, it has been difficult to evict them if the behaviour has continued or if there has been non-compliance with the support offered. This in turn has meant the power of the sanctions that could be imposed is diluted if there is no real threat of eviction.
The Government has recently sought to address this in the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008. In sections 296-298 (which will come into force 5 January 2009), provisions are made for the creation of non-secure 'family intervention tenancies' (FITs). These proposals clearly have implications for all parts of the housing sector.
For LHAs, an addition is to be made to Part 1 of Schedule 1 of the Housing Act 1985, which contains a list of tenancies which cannot be said to be secure tenancies. Therefore, an FIT will be a tenancy granted by the LHA to a person against whom a Possession Order under section 84 of the Housing Act 1985 either has been made in relation to Ground 2 or 2A, could in the opinion of the LHA have been made or could in their opinion have been made if the person had such a tenancy and where the tenancy has been granted for the purposes of the provision of behaviour support services.
It is important to note that a tenancy will not be deemed a FIT unless the LHA has served notice upon the tenant before they have entered the new tenancy. This notice must state the reasons for offering the new tenancy (which presumably must include for supplying behaviour support services), the dwelling to which the tenancy is granted, the other main terms of the agreement, the security available to the tenant, the fact that the tenant is not obliged to enter into the tenancy and the likely action to be taken by the LHA if they do not enter.
It is expected that alterations will be made to Part 1 of Schedule 1 of the Housing Act 1988. Otherwise, the same procedure for LHAs will be implemented with the exception of a Possession Order being made on Ground 14 or 14A of Part 2 of Schedule 2. This means that Registered Social Landlords will be able, if they wish, to develop their own stock of 'in house FITs'.
The main difficulty in using FITs will be in the identification of those families who would benefit sufficiently early to ensure that a notice is served before another form of accommodation is offered. Schedule 10 to the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 sets out a number of amendments made to the 1985, 1988 and 1996 Housing Acts because of these provisions. These are very complex and great care will have to be taken by members of the housing sector to determine whether a particular tenancy is eligible for conversion to a FIT. This is especially so where the Possession Order has been made before these provisions are enacted, but the Order has yet to be executed.
Furthermore, there are no review services available if a Registered Social Landlord opts to serve a Notice to Quit on a FIT. For a LHA, it may not serve such a notice unless it has already served notice on the tenant and a review has not been requested by the tenant, the request has been withdrawn or a decision has been made on the request. This should be served in writing and specify that the LHA has served the Notice to Quit, the reasons, when the intended service is and the right of review. The Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 also provides that regulations can be made specifying the description of people entitled to make a review decision, when an oral hearing is available and whether the tenant is permitted representation.
It is hoped that policies such as these will result in a decrease in anti-social behaviour by tenants. Past use of these choices suggests that they present a viable alternative to current powers. However, due to their recent introduction to the fight against disruptive conduct, both the understanding and efficacy of these tools on a wider scale is unclear at the present time.