15 March, 2010
The Home Secretary Alan Johnson has announced a proposal that all reports of Anti-Social Behaviour are to be dealt with in a 24 hour time frame, reports Inside Housing (12th March 2010). Siobhan O'Donnell from the Housing Litigation team at Forbes Solicitors considers how realistic the 24 hour deadline is and the likelihood of it having a positive effect on the protection of victims of Anti-Social Behaviour.
The tragic case of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca Hardwick has been widely publicised; Both the Local Authority and the police have come under high levels of scrutiny for failing to protect Fiona Pilkington and her disabled daughter Francecca from youths who taunted the family. The police received 33 distressed phone calls from Miss Pilkington in ten years, but had continuously classed her plight as 'low priority'. In order to escape the years of suffering her family had endured, she eventually killed herself and her daughter by setting fire to their car in October 2007.
Alan Johnson announces new measures
The Home Secretary Alan Johnson has announced that there must be no complacency in relation to this sort of behaviour. Consistent standards for dealing with situations of this nature must be guaranteed. He added that any breach of an Anti-Social Behaviour Order must be prosecuted; Victims must be supported and perpetrators should be subjected to the full range of enforcement powers. This is necessary as a preventative measure rather than as a last resort.
The 24 Hour Deadline
Mr Johnson went on to outline an initiative whereby social landlords and other agencies must respond to all complaints of ASB within 24 hours. This deadline is to be accompanied by improved managerial methods which include ensuring all victims have a named contact who will ensure they are kept informed of developments in their case. The need for this administrative development was further reinforced by the Pilkington case, where it was repeatedly noted that improved mechanisms for the 'sharing of information' may have helped prevent the tragedy taking place.
It would seem that the 24 hour promise is based primarily on the theory that victims generally need assistance that is almost instantaneous. Ultimately it aims to prevent further victims feeling that they have been left with no alternative but to take drastic measures to free themselves from the effects of ASB.
Community Safety Manager at Peabody, Liz Chambers, notes that more detail is required on how the proposed 24 hour response system would work. Although hypothetically this would be the ideal, we are left with the unavoidable question as to how realistic such a proposal is, particularly in light of already stretched resources.
Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, has confirmed that the police force face "hard choices" in prioritising their time. He reiterated that forces need to work harder in ensuring all reports of ASB are responded to, whether it be by the police themselves, or via the provision of support from other agencies such as Housing Associations and Local Councils.
The Scorecard System
A further mechanism that has been forged in the wake of the Pilkington case is the Scorecard system which aims to help relevant agencies identify vulnerable victims and witnesses in ASB cases. A group of agencies in Liverpool including Cobalt Housing have devised the system which involves victims being rated with regard to the likelihood of intimidation occurring in light of the circumstances of their case.
How the Scheme Works
Police officers visit victims and witnesses of ASB and rate them by giving a low, medium or high score when considering the degree of risk they face. Once the victims have been 'scored' officers then assist in devising a plan that considers the level of assistance they will require. This will range from very little to moderate assistance which may simply include the provision of security devices, to extreme measures such as rehousing being arranged. Victims are then monitored weekly and their risk assessment needs are reviewed regularly and altered as appropriate.
The Scorecard System is further evidence of steps being taken to devise innovative means of ensuring the protection of tenants who have become victims and/or witnesses of ASB. Measures such as this are perhaps more achievable on a practical level than a 24 hour deadline system and accordingly there is already a move towards utilising the scheme across other organisations.
Ultimately it is easy to suggest that ASB needs to be dealt with more efficiently in order to prevent further tragedy. However the practicalities of a 24 hour response deadline would need to be specifically addressed before such a pledge could be made. Limited resources in terms of both funding and time result in restrictions being placed on the likelihood of such a deadline being met in 100% of cases.