Making a statement

Anti-Social 2 iStock 000001684994XSmall 146x219Sarah Pearson looks at recent developments in the drive to tackle anti-social behaviour, including the new Community Harm Statement developed by the Chartered Institute of Housing.

A new tool for addressing anti-social behaviour has been launched by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH). The CIH, in consultation with other partner agencies, has developed the Community Harm Statement, which has been designed to make it easier for social landlords to demonstrate the impact that anti-social behaviour is having on the wider community.

The document encourages landlords to focus on how the anti-social behaviour has affected the community and local resources (not just individuals) and encourages landlords to collaborate with partner agencies to prepare the statement. It has been piloted by 11 landlords over a number of months and used effectively in court. The statement should strengthen landlords' cases and inspires the author to consider the impact of anti-social behaviour in a different way, such as how the harm impinges on types of accommodation, how the harm can be documented (e.g. the use of maps) and the costs associated with the harm being caused (e.g. extra police patrols and the impact on lettings).

The form, with guidance notes, is free and can be obtained from the CIH. It is a user-friendly document and it will help develop a consistent approach to tackling anti-social behaviour. It is also simple to complete and helps to concentrate the mind on aspects of a case which might otherwise get overlooked in the quest to help individual victims. But the statement will give a powerful signal to the courts which it will be difficult to ignore. This practical document will undoubtedly improve evidence gathering, encouraging a focus on improving community life.

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This is just one of a number of measures to combat anti-social behaviour which have been making the headlines. On 30 January 2012 Home Secretary Theresa May announced that the Government will set up pilot schemes this summer forcing authorities to act if people in five separate households complain about anti-social behaviour from a particular neighbour.

This attempts to address the situation where victims repeatedly report the same problem but without any action being taken. This 'community trigger' aims to stop "horror stories of victims reporting the same problem over and over again". The trigger was one of the measures proposed as part of the Government's plans to streamline and improve the powers available to agencies including social landlords in dealing with crime and anti-social behaviour.

This announcement follows high profile cases emphasising the need for more targeted action. A case in point was that of Fiona Pilkington who killed herself and her disabled daughter after repeated harassment from youngsters. She had complained to the police at least 33 times.

In May 2011 the Independent Police Complaints Commission published its findings, having investigated the way the police handled the case. It found that:

  • the police had systems in place that showed the extent of harassment the Pilkington family faced, but failed to use them properly;
  • incidents were dealt with by isolated officers without a structured approach;
  • officers failed to treat the anti-social behaviour as ongoing;
  • officers did not differentiate between general anti-social behaviour and specific harassment of the Pilkington family; and
  • aside from the family‚Äôs vulnerability, Ms Pilkington was a member of a local community that was reporting incidents of crime and anti-social behaviour, and asking police to carry out their responsibilities, which they failed to do.

Will the community trigger concept work? Reflecting on the Pilkington case, the community trigger would only have been achieved if four other residents had also been complaining. Are police systems able to coordinate numerous complaints to take action before the trigger? The police will want to avoid the trigger because it may indicate that it failed in its earlier response. Therefore, its relationship with other local partners, such as housing providers, will become increasingly important as the Government continues to focus on its localism agenda and push responsibility onto social landlords to help tackle anti-social behaviour.

Neighbourhood policing is likely to become more important and the local 'beat officer' may look for more support from housing providers who know about and are trying to deal with local nuisance issues. Eight police forces are currently trialling new ways of dealing with anti-social behaviour complaints aimed at the vulnerable or those who have repeatedly reported problems.

The Home Office has also announced a new Crime Prevention Injunction that aims to replace a number of remedies, including Anti-social Behaviour Injunctions (ASBIs), Anti-social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) and Individual Support Orders. In addition, a new Criminal Behaviour Order is designed to replace the ASBI on conviction (CRASBO).

The Home Office envisages that these new remedies will be "speedier and more effective", addressing the behaviour by imposing conditions that require the individual to deal with the underlying causes. A Community Protection Order has also been proposed which aims to "bring together" the array of tools available to deal with other types of nuisance such as graffiti and the use of premises closure orders. The Home Office wants to streamline the toolkit to make it more user-friendly and easier to enforce. However, there are already warnings of the dangers of replacing a number of remedies with ones yet to be tested.

And there is yet more, as we wait to discover if there will be a new mandatory ground for possession which would see a tenant evicted where they, or a member of their household or a regular visitor to their property are convicted of "serious housing-related anti-social behaviour". Housing Minister Grant Shapps has also suggested widening the grounds on which a landlord can seek possession by proposing to allow a landlord to rely on a conviction of the tenant, or a member of the tenant's household, no matter whether the offence was committed in the neighbourhood or not.

But will these proposals be effective? Where the court has discretion, it will still be required to consider whether or not it is reasonable to make a possession order. This is likely to include consideration of where the convictions took place. Where the court has no discretion and must make a possession order, a tenant may be able to challenge the making of an order on Article 8 human rights grounds. However, two recent Court of Appeal cases have emphasised the significance of the height of the Article 8 threshold and how exceptional the facts must be for a defence on this basis to succeed.

So the immediate challenge for landlords, in addition to the day to day work of tackling anti-social behaviour is to keep up with the ever-changing contents of the toolkit, to make sure the most effective remedies are being used.

Sarah Pearson is a senior solicitor in the Real Estate team at Blake Lapthorn. She can be contacted on 0844 620 3401 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  

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