Home affairs Committee - Minutes of Evidencehc 836

Back to Report

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Home Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 29 January 2013

Members present:

Keith Vaz (Chair)

Mr James Clappison

Michael Ellis

Lorraine Fullbrook

Dr Julian Huppert

Bridget Phillipson

Mark Reckless

Mr David Winnick


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Mr Jeremy Browne MP, Minister of State, Home Office, and Rt Hon Mr Don Foster MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, gave evidence.

Q147 Chair: May I welcome the Ministers, Don Foster and Jeremy Browne, to the Committee? This is our final session before the end of our inquiry into anti-social behaviour, specifically scrutinising the Bill, and you are our last witnesses. We have received a great deal of evidence in writing and orally. May I welcome Mr Browne back as a former member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, who has gone from poacher to gamekeeper?

Mr Browne: Who would have believed that I would ever get to sit on this side of the table, Mr Vaz? Mr Winnick was sitting exactly where he is now when I served on the Committee.

Mr Winnick: With any luck you will be sitting-

Chair: We have high hopes.

Mr Foster: I am enjoying the reminiscences of Committee Members.

Q148 Chair: Indeed. Now, down to business; I want to start with you, Mr Foster. You probably are very well aware of the cases of Fiona Pilkington and Suzanne Dow and the criticisms of the law that existed at that time that led to the deaths of the people I have mentioned. Do you think that the new legislation that your Government have introduced would have meant that they might indeed still be alive?

Mr Foster: The two key areas of the proposed legislation that my department has responsibility for relate to relationships between landlords and tenants and the ability of landlords to evict tenants under certain circumstances. As you know, in the first case we are looking at giving an absolute right for the landlord to be able to take a case for eviction to the courts. But in the other, the one that is more relevant to the question you ask, we are looking at adding to the current rights of a landlord the ability to take to court for potential eviction somebody who has been involved in a riot at a distance from the premises that they are currently renting. We have obviously consulted on that, as you know, and you have seen a copy of the consultation. I will be honest with you: there are mixed views as to whether the legislation will help in some circumstances, so it is impossible to say in the particular case you give, which I do not really want to comment on, whether that would help, but we do think it is an additional tool in the tool-kit to help tackle the really worrying issues of riots and anti-social behaviour.

Q149 Chair: Yes, indeed. Mr Winnick will probe you on the housing issues.

Mr Browne, the Pilkington case was obviously very concerning to the public, a Leicestershire case, and one that has resulted in a big change in the tactics of the police. Do you think that this Bill will deal with the situations that Fiona Pilkington and Suzanne Dow found themselves in, with constant telephone calls by people to the police and other agencies asking them to intervene, nobody intervening and ending with people losing their lives?

Mr Browne: I believe Fiona Pilkington was in your constituency, Mr Ellis. Let me make a couple of points. One is that is a very extreme manifestation of the harm that anti-social behaviour causes daily to thousands of our fellow citizens on a daily basis, and it is tragic. I do not think a Government Minister can say with absolute certainty that any legislation will be 100% guaranteed to prevent people finding themselves in those terrible circumstances in the future, but this legislation is very much designed in part with that purpose. The community trigger, which we may wish to get on to later, is precisely intended to try to require the agencies of the state to have a more joined-up and responsive approach to repeated complaints raised by members of the public, rather than those being compartmentalised in the way that I understand they were in the Fiona Pilkington case.

Q150 Chair: Let us move on to the community trigger; thank you for raising it. This is an issue that we wanted to pursue. Some of us are confused about the fact that the Government has not set a particular number for the community trigger; so, in different roads in a constituency or different streets in a city, different people react in different ways. Is this not a cause for confusion? Should we not have a threshold that can be followed and met rather than leaving it up to different communities to decide on different approaches? Isn’t this a recipe for chaos if it is left in this way?

Mr Browne: It is always possible to say, unless you have complete centralisation in government, that variations between one local authority and another or one police force and another or, for that matter, one school and another are a "recipe for chaos". What we want to do is enable local councils to have the best and most tailor-made, tailor-designed approach to anti-social behaviour in their area. In the extreme manifestations of sustained anti-social behaviour like those two cases that you raised it is impossible to envisage any trigger that would be set at a higher level than that. But it is possible to envisage that the circumstances in a predominantly rural area may be different to those within an inner city and that the priorities of the local council may be different. I think it is fair to say I am reasonably open-minded.

If the Committee feels very strongly that standardisation is the best approach, obviously the Committee should recommend that. But we have asked widely and we have had a variety of different responses. Some councils have said, "We would like to have a more tailor-made approach. We feel we know our community better than central Government knows our community. We feel we can respond more deftly if we have that flexibility". Others have said that they would prefer a greater standardisation. Others have said they are not quite sure. Clearly, if you go to the trouble of electing councils, there is something to be said for trusting them to understand the requirements of the communities that they serve while giving them an overall mechanism to try to enable it to be done successfully.

Q151 Chair: Let us go to your own community and your rural constituency. How many calls do you think people need to make in the street that you live in if there is some anti-social behaviour before you think the police ought to come?

Mr Browne: I hope that the local council in my constituency are pretty responsive. Of course, the measurement of the community trigger; it is not how often-

Chair: That is not an answer, Mr Browne.

Mr Browne: No. Well, the honest answer is that I do not know the answer. I have not asked anybody in my street. There only are 12 houses in my street. I have not asked the other 11 how many calls they have had. I have not reported myself to Taunton Deane Borough Council anti-social behaviour, so I don’t know how quickly they act on it.

Chair: I understand that.

Mr Browne: I have on other people’s behalf, but not on my own.

Q152 Chair: Right. So, because you are a constituency MP, as we are, how many calls do you think people ought to make before there is a response?

Mr Browne: I hope the response will be instant and one call will be adequate.

Chair: One call?

Mr Browne: But the test of the success of the community trigger is that it is never used. That is essentially getting to your point. I do not think it is a badge of honour that the trigger had to be there. But there are people, and we are all familiar with this in our constituencies, who say that there have been persistent complaints, quite often at a very low level. Each individual complaint does not in itself necessarily warrant intervention, or at least the authorities may feel that it does not, but the cumulative impact is severe on the victim. What we are trying to do is capture the cumulative nature of anti-social behaviour, whereas in the past the focus has tended to be on each instance in isolation. Clearly, if one act of anti-social behaviour by a particular perpetrator is more in the field of the police, then the next one is more in the field of the council and the next one is more in another field, the trigger gives an ability to try to knit together the different agencies of the state in a way that is more responsive to victims’ needs.

Q153 Chair: Sure; yes, we understand what the trigger is. We have taken a lot of evidence on this. One final question from me before I ask Dr Huppert to come in: if, for example, the trigger is set at five, and councils have been shown to fail and local agencies have shown themselves to have failed to respond to individuals ringing up, what is the sanction that is going to be used by the Government for those that do not perform when the trigger is switched on?

Mr Browne: I think the premise of the question is difficult because, in theory, of course, if you give councils flexibility, they could decide to set the trigger at such a high level that in practice no one would ever reach the point where the trigger could be used. There would be no sanction if you give the councils the flexibility to do that, although I think we start with the assumption that councils wish to serve the people in their area to the best of their ability. The same argument could be made for saying, "If you give freedom to a school head teacher, what will you do if he refuses to teach anybody?" I think it is reasonable for the Government to assume that headteachers want to teach pupils and it is reasonable to assume that councils want to serve the people in their area.

Q154 Chair: What is the sanction if they fail?

Mr Browne: As a Democrat, if I had a council that failed to take an interest in anti-social behaviour, I would vote out the sitting councillors and vote in some councillors who were interested in dealing with anti-social behaviour. There is always this trade-off in government that if you stipulate every single thing that a council should do, obviously there is no point having council elections because they are all required to do exactly the same as each other. But as soon as you give them some flexibility, some people may choose to make wiser decisions than others. We would hope that they would all make good decisions on behalf of the people they serve, but the trigger may be set at a different level in one area from the other, although there seems to be a settling around three offences over six months as being a figure that seems useful.

Q155 Dr Huppert: I have a couple of questions for each Minister. One of the great things about this process of looking at a draft Bill is one can look at legislation and try to improve it rather than the not very satisfactory Public Bill Committee process. If I can start with Don Foster and some of the issues there, my first question is around the evictions, because presumably part of the vision of this is, if it is easier to evict people, there would be more people actually evicted. What is the estimate of how many extra evictions there would be and what consequences might there be in terms of homelessness support or legislation?

Mr Foster: The very simple answer is we do not assume or expect that there will be any increase in the overall number of evictions. If you look at the social rented sector, there are about 4 million people living in that sector and there are, on average, about 2,000 evictions per year under the current legislation. The proposals predominantly speed the court process rather than make anything much easier. It is about speeding up the process. The reason we are keen to do that is because we have very many examples now of court processes taking several months, costing registered social landlords large sums of money, when the outcome is pretty inevitable anyway. This is about speeding up the process, not, as it were, encouraging landlords to suddenly jump into the eviction route as a first step.

One factor is worth bearing in mind: about 80% of all anti-social behaviour problems have been addressed before there has been any recourse to the courts whatsoever. So it is a small number in the first case. This is not about increasing the numbers. It is about speeding up the court process and reducing costs.

Q156 Dr Huppert: We are short of time; otherwise, I would love to explore that. The other quick question I wanted to ask you was about the riot proposals, because this would mean that there is a family living somewhere, one of their children gets caught up in a riot, something which they clearly should not do, and this would provide grounds for evicting the entire family. I realise this is a political comment, I think made by the Prime Minister, but do you think there is much chance that a judge would apply this in such a circumstance?

Mr Foster: I referred earlier very briefly to the evidence in our investigations on this. There are very mixed views, and quite clearly this is not using the absolute power; this is a discretionary power. That is where the court will decide whether it is reasonable that eviction should take place. That reasonableness will take into account all sorts of factors like the impact on the family and lots of other factors. It is possible in some circumstances that the court will find that it is appropriate, it is reasonable to do it, and the eviction will go ahead. The number is likely to be relatively small, but of course the crucial reason why we want to do this is to send out a very clear signal that behaviour such as rioting, where you are prepared to trash somebody else’s property, should make you consider whether you are going to be allowed to stay in your own property that you are getting very often at discounted rent. It is about sending out a very clear signal.

Q157 Dr Huppert: Jeremy Browne, there are a number of interesting aspects of this, and again it is good that it is a draft. I find clause 17 somewhat concerning, because it specifically disapplies the rules that say you cannot report proceedings involving children and young persons, which would presumably mean that children from the age of 10 could be named and shamed publicly, which would be a permanent effect, given what the internet and social media are like. Is that a deliberate policy? Is this something that could be reflected on if we were to make suggestions on it?

Mr Browne: The Committee should feel entirely free to make suggestions on all aspects of the Bill and we welcome your insights. There are two schools of thought, so it is perfectly legitimate to take the one opposite to that which informed the drafting of the Bill. The basis of that clause is that if somebody is restricted from going to a particular area, for example, it is rather hard to enforce that restriction if nobody knows that that individual is subject to that restriction. Quite a lot of anti-social behaviour is perpetrated by people under the age of 18, and so it would leave quite a big exemption if people under the age of 18 were not known to be faced with those restrictions.

Having said that, there is a perfectly legitimate counterpoint view, which is the one that you, Dr Huppert, have just made, and I am open to whether the Committee feels that the balance is right. I think it is important to afford protections to under-18s that do not exist for people who are 18 years old and over, but the Committee, if it were to recommend that, would have to be mindful of the practical consequences in some cases of people being subjected to restrictions, for example, in places they are not meant to attend, but the authorities who are trying to enforce those restrictions not having the information necessary to enforce them.

Q158 Dr Huppert: My final question is to understand the breadth of the injunction power, because it is, "The court has to be satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, the respondent has engaged in conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person". Now, I am sure there would never be a circumstance where I would do anything that might annoy you or you find a nuisance, but do you find that rather broadly determined? Should there be some sense of proportionality throughout the Bill?

Mr Browne: I had anticipated the question but without in any way thinking that was annoying or predictable. Let me disaggregate two things, as the media have confused them, even if members of the Committee are not confused. The Criminal Behaviour Order has a threshold of harassment, alarm and distress, i.e. a higher threshold. What we are talking about is the injunction-so, not criminal-which has a nuisance and annoyance threshold. It is just worth bringing to the attention of the Committee that this is not breaking new ground, because the injunction takes from the current processes that apply in the housing sector, and in the housing sector the test that is applied is nuisance and annoyance. This has not been magicked out of thin air as a threshold or as an expression by the drafters of the Bill. This is an attempt to use the powers of injunction that apply in the housing sector more widely but using the same threshold. Of course, we envisage that it will be used proportionately, and that would be for a court to determine. I am not sure whether requiring it to be proportionate in itself makes the court’s decisions about what constitutes proportionality any better informed than just allowing them to determine proportionality themselves. It is a lower threshold, but it is in line with the predecessor powers, and it is also a lower threshold than would apply for the Criminal Behaviour Order. So, we feel that we have the balance right, but again that is something that it is perfectly legitimate to have a difference of opinion on.

Q159 Bridget Phillipson: Returning to the community trigger, how can we make sure that we consider the qualitative and not just the quantitative experience that victims can have? For example, someone might only ring the police once because they are so fearful, but it might be incredibly serious. Equally, someone could ring the police on multiple occasions for something you might consider to be less serious. Do we have a tool that measures the seriousness and not just the quantity of calls?

Mr Browne: I will answer your question directly, but can I just say, not for the Committee, but for the avoidance of wider doubt, the point I was making a moment ago is that the community trigger is a fall-back. It is not the first port of call. It is the final port of call. I hope that in any of our constituencies or anywhere in the country if somebody raises a very serious problem to do with anti-social behaviour-I suppose at that point it might become criminal rather than anti-social behaviour-that the authorities would act straight away. They are not required to wait for three reports within six months or whatever the threshold is. I hope they would act straight away if it was serious, or even if it was not that serious, but is designed to try to have some way of stopping cumulative reports not being monitored, because each individual report is in and of itself not that important in the grand scheme of things or may appear not to be.

Q160 Bridget Phillipson: Is there not the risk that if you set that at, say, three or five or whatever it might be, then that might be misunderstood or interpreted by authorities as being the point at which intervention is necessary? I accept the point you are making that one call is one call too many.

Mr Browne: Indeed, and you make the case, if I may say so, slightly for not having the national level that some members of the Committee appeared in their questions to be showing enthusiasm for earlier, because as soon as you set a national level, that does appear to be what national Government deems an appropriate trigger for every area and some could interpret that as the target rather than the worst-case scenario.

The legislation says that consideration may be given to the persistence of anti-social behaviour and the adequacy of the response. Although it does not specify harm in each individual case, it doesn’t not specify it either, though that sounds rather like dancing on the head of a pin. It is perfectly within the power of a local council to set a higher threshold for the community trigger than the legislation contains. The legislation is, if you like, putting in place what would look like an identikit minimum threshold. If a council said that the trigger would be invoked by two reports of anti-social behaviour within a one-month timescale or one report that was of a seriousness of ABC requirements, they would not be required to do that, but they would not be prevented from doing that either.

Q161 Michael Ellis: I want to have a look at the injunction to prevent nuisance and annoyance, the IPNA. The draft Bill rightly focuses on the effects of anti-social behaviour on victims. However, in deciding how to deal with anti-social behaviour, the draft Bill currently gives no weight to intent or recklessness on the part of those responsible for the anti-social behaviour. Many, if not most, provisions of the sort that we are looking at would require some element of intent or recklessness; not all, I accept. Why doesn’t the Bill include a requirement for agencies and courts to have regard to intent or recklessness in deciding how to deal with anti-social behaviour?

Mr Browne: It is a reasonable point for consideration, but let me make two points. First, it is quite hard to measure intent. We are trying to make these measures as practical, flexible and easy to implement for local authorities as we can. There might be a wider ability for the Committee or anybody else to criticise the Bill on the basis that it has not bulked up the legislative content in all kinds of different areas. Of course, the more we do that, the more we remove discretion from local authorities, and we are trying to use these powers to empower local authorities and victims rather than be excessively prescriptive.

Secondly, anti-social behaviour can be perpetrated unintentionally as well. If I was playing extremely loud music at 4 am every morning, I may not have done that with the intention of committing an anti-social act that discomforts my neighbour. I may not even know whether my neighbour is at home that night or whether my neighbour is elsewhere.

Michael Ellis: In such cases you might be being reckless as to the intention.

Mr Browne: I suppose the point is that one might inadvertently create a requirement on intent that diluted the proposals, because we would want them to capture extreme and unreasonable behaviour. Where the person could make a defence that their behaviour was unintentionally causing anti-social behaviour and if no intent could be proved they would not be subject to the provisions.

Q162 Michael Ellis: I take your point precisely and I agree with it in as much as it would be more difficult for the authorities to prove intent than otherwise, less difficult to prove recklessness, but still slightly more difficult than not having to prove either intent or recklessness. As far as your answer is concerned about making it easier for the authorities to prove anti-social behaviour, I think that is certainly true. Kent police suggested that adding the word "harm" to the definition to reflect the focus on the victim and the potential seriousness of anti-social behaviour would be a good thing, in their submission, so as to in effect show that some harm is caused; the potential to cause harm is a factor. Do you think that should be added to the definition of anti-social behaviour?

Mr Browne: I would be cautious about doing that, because it would mean that the perpetrator could argue that his or her anti-social behaviour should be disregarded because it was not possible to prove that the victim had experienced harm and also because harm is a rather subjective test. In my experience as a constituency MP, different people can respond differently to different levels of harassment, and therefore I suppose you could argue that one person experienced harm in one circumstance and one did not. But as I said in response to Ms Phillipson, if we make sure that we keep these powers reasonably flexible, there is nothing to stop a local authority having some sort of harm threshold rather than just a numerical measurement within the way they apply these laws. It does not require them to, but there is nothing that requires them not to.

Q163 Michael Ellis: Mr Foster, did you have anything you wanted to add to that?

Mr Foster: It may be just for clarification to the Committee to understand that my Department’s responsibilities really are in relation to clauses 83 to 88 in schedule 4. While I have views on some of the issues you are debating, clearly Mr Browne is the Minister with responsibility. But if I could just use it as an opportunity to say that the one thing that I hope the Committee will take into account is some of the other bits on the sides of the legislation. For instance, with the powers of local authorities, I hope you may wish to have regard to the ability of local authorities to introduce a licensing scheme for private landlords where there is anti-social behaviour. You may wish to look at whether or not that is an area that we could be considering making changes to.

Michael Ellis: The points that Mr Browne makes are very relevant to the issue in as much as clearly the import of the Bill is to make it more difficult for those people who commit anti-social behaviour to get away with it. I think that some of the issues that we have been talking about in the last couple of minutes would actually put a bar to that, so I appreciate the points that you have made.

Chair: Thank you, Mr Ellis. Let us move on to housing.

Q164 Mr Winnick: Ministers, the injunction to prevent nuisance and annoyance-IPNA I suppose it could be pronounced, not to be confused with IPSA-as we know can be used or will be used presumably in the near future against tenants of social landlords. The obvious question is why not extend it to privately rented accommodation as well as owner occupiers?

Mr Browne: It is. That is precisely what we are doing. I found this as a constituency MP: if somebody comes to my surgery complaining about sustained anti-social behaviour, as they do quite often, and the perpetrator or the alleged perpetrator lives in social housing, there is an immediate sanction to hand if I can persuade the local council to go down that path, whereas if the alleged perpetrator owns their own home, then it is much harder. We have applied the injunction or it is envisaged through the legislation the injunction will apply to people who live in their own property, either rented or where they own the house in which they live.

Q165 Mr Winnick: It does not seem to be clear, not only to myself but to Manchester City Council. Manchester City Council called for IPNA to be extended to the private-rented and owner-occupied sector and argued the case that in the last 12 months in Manchester they have had over 2,000 cases in the private sector of anti-social behaviour.

Mr Browne: I am forcefully agreeing with you because I own-well, I still have a big mortgage on it-my house in Taunton and it is pot luck who chooses to move in if the neighbours sell their house. A lot of people would have concerns about anti-social behaviour legislation not covering people in the private sector. That is why the injunction is, in the jargon-this is new to me, Mr Winnick-tenure-neutral, by which the people writing this helpful note mean that it applies to people in the private sector as well as in the social housing sector, with one exception, as I understand it, which is that the injunction does not extend to banning people from going to their own property that they own. That was seen as an excessively big power for the state to take on: that if you, Mr Winnick, had committed anti-social behaviour, you would not be allowed to go to your own house. But the other injunctions, in terms of playing music in the middle of the night or whatever, would apply just as much for you in your own house that you own as they would do if you were renting from the council.

Mr Foster: If I could just for clarity, if subsequently there is an offence proven in court of anti-social behaviour, then the ability to use the absolute power that is covered in clause 83 would apply to people in privately rented accommodation as much as to people in social-rented accommodation.

Q166 Mr Winnick: On the basis that we have a remarkable language-long may it continue; a language that everybody should be able to understand-is it absolutely clear, be it to myself, to other colleagues here or to Manchester City Council, that tenants in privately rented accommodation and those in owner-occupied premises, with the proviso that the Minister, Mr Browne, has just made, that it will apply?

Mr Foster: Yes.

Q167 Mr Winnick: Now, isn’t there something adrift when having said what you have said, an authority like Manchester was not of that view? Otherwise obviously they would not have made the submission that they have made. Can that be clarified?

Mr Foster: I am sure we would be very happy to talk to colleagues in Manchester about that and clarify the position. If I could just make one thing very clear, in the case of the use of the absolute power in relation to clause 83, as I have said, it applies both equally to the privately rented sector and socially rented accommodation. Of course, the likelihood of it being used in the privately rented sector is much lower because it is much easier for a private landlord to have somebody leave their property anyway because normally they have a six-month tenancy agreement with a no fault either side ending of it. So it is available for use in the privately rented sector; it is less likely to be used in those circumstances.

Mr Winnick: Excellent. Since this is hardly a day for me to in any way antagonise Liberal Democrat Ministers, I will leave it at that.

Mr Foster: We can discuss your views on these issues in the division lobby later today, Mr Winnick.

Q168 Bridget Phillipson: In terms of Criminal Behaviour Orders, as the legislation stands, we have been told again by Manchester that they would like to be able to issue these orders. What risks do you see within that recommendation, if any?

Mr Browne: This touches on ground that I was discussing a quarter of an hour ago. When they are discussing this proposed legislation, people blur the Criminal Behaviour Orders and the injunctions. We see the injunctions as being the type of power that would be used by a council, but the Criminal Behaviour Orders are of a higher magnitude. They have a higher threshold. The Bill envisages those being used by the police, not by councils. Because they are attached to a criminal act, you are in a different space with those, so it is not our proposal in the Bill to allow councils to proceed with Criminal Behaviour Orders. That is a power for the prosecution to exercise.

Q169 Bridget Phillipson: What role do you see for police and crime commissioners in terms of this legislation and the wider anti-social behaviour agenda?

Mr Browne: I would be surprised if every single police and crime commissioner in the country did not at some point in their campaign apply themselves to the wider issue of anti-social behaviour, because certainly in my experience as a constituency MP it comes up the whole time and people are upset and inconvenienced and sometimes worse than that, by the behaviour of other people in their neighbourhood. We envisage-although of course it is up to PCCs, as directly elected people, to decide their own priorities for their police forces-that working alongside councils and others and using these powers, if the Bill proceeds along the lines that the Government envisages, it would help PCCs and police forces and councils and others to better serve the residents of their area, with the obvious caveat that they make the decisions about strategic priorities of police forces.

Mr Foster: It is largely through evidence from the police forces that we know that a very large proportion of crime is caused by a very small percentage of families. From that evidence, we have established the Troubled Families Unit, which is targeting 120,000 families across the country, working with local authorities, bringing agencies like the police together. The police will play a key role in that, and I am sure that the police and crime commissioners will become heavily involved in that sort of work.

Q170 Lorraine Fullbrook: Ministers, the draft Bill proposes a new power called Community Remedy, which would allow victims of anti-social behaviour to choose from a list of punishment options. Last week, Liz Walker, a victim of anti-social behaviour, told the Committee that victims are more interested in getting anti-social behaviour stopped, rather than in reprisals. We have heard from many victims of anti-social behaviour where restrictions have been placed on a perpetrator, but they have been ignored. What is the Government doing to improve enforcement of anti-social behaviour interventions?

Mr Browne: None of these measures should be seen entirely in isolation. We do not want the victims to be ignored. We want local councils, police and others to take their complaints seriously, and we hope that the measures in the Bill will enable them to do that more effectively. What the remedy tries to do is to build on a lot of informal good practice around how people at very early stages of anti-social behaviour and lower-level criminality-typically but not exclusively younger people-can be constructively diverted away from evolving into more serious and persistent perpetrators of anti-social behaviour and crime. A measure that is seen to have had some good results in this area, and has quite good evidence to show this, is the remedy or variations on the remedy-different people call it different things in different areas-whereby victims can feel in some circumstances a degree of empowerment that the perpetrator of the act is being made to face up to the consequences of their crime and that the victim has some say over that. The perpetrator can confront the consequences of what they have done and sometimes it gives them food for thought and they do not do it again in the future. I am not saying that this is an alternative to injunctions or, in more extreme circumstances, Criminal Behaviour Orders where those are appropriate. I am saying it is another card in the deck, another arrow in the quiver or whatever the expression is. There is a range of measures available, and this is one of them.

Mr Foster: Some of the problems we know as constituency MPs are where landlords themselves are taking no action when they should be against tenants who are causing problems for other people. That is why we have the licensing powers I referred to earlier where a local authority can license landlords on the grounds of anti-social behaviour problems. We have notified all councils of the powers that they have in tackling rogue landlords with a document that we are happy to share with the Committee that we published in August last year that talks about some of the inspection powers, the ability to close down premises and so on. Equally, I agree that very often tenants and others want to tackle the problem, which is why things like the work we are doing to help tenants get more actively involved in the areas where they live, in the running of those estates or whatever, is crucially important, so we are promoting tenants’ associations. There are a number of measures to help, but of course the Troubled Families Unit is absolutely the most important, with £400 million-odd being invested, ultimately saving money by bringing agencies together and tackling some of the very worst anti-social behaviour that is taking place at the present time.

Q171 Lorraine Fullbrook: The interventions that you talk about are a multi-agency approach. How would you monitor the positive fulfilment of those multi-agency approaches?

Mr Foster: I would be very happy to share with the Committee in more detail the criteria being used, for instance, with the troubled families project, which I think is one of the most important, where we have set out the criteria to identify a troubled family, which includes very significantly the issue of anti-social behaviour. We have also established the criteria for the success of the multi-agency approach, which is bringing those agencies together, sharing the resource to make sure you do not have repeated visits of half an hour each time ticking boxes and going away, rather than taking action. That includes reductions in the level of anti-social behaviour. The anti-social behaviour is very clearly one of the key focuses of attention in the work of the Troubled Families Unit, which is now well under way and having some quite significant success already.

Q172 Lorraine Fullbrook: But across the board on all agencies there will be a monitoring system put in place by the Government?

Mr Foster: Well, the Troubled Families Unit is trying to bring this together.

Lorraine Fullbrook: Is that a no?

Mr Foster: If you have a troubled family with a large number of agencies, whether it is the police, truancy from school, the Probation Service, the Police Service, social services and so on, they all go in, and they all have their reporting mechanisms. All the time is spent on simply filling in the tick-box form to say you have been-and this is where you are. There would be a single reporting mechanism that covers the key issues, including anti-social behaviour, that will be reported on and will be monitored by a single agency.

Q173 Lorraine Fullbrook: Will that be standardised? Will the monitoring procedures you are talking about be standardised?

Mr Foster: I hope we will learn a lot of lessons from the work of the Troubled Families Unit that will be shared more widely, but we are only in the first few months of operation, so I think in fairness we will get reports over time and report back.

Mr Browne: Two points on your point. My experience in my constituency with a variant of the Community Remedy is that it should not be seen as the knock-out-punch final sanction that busts the problem. It is deliberately going in at the earlier stage and trying to nip problems in the bud. It may well be that the problems are not nipped in the bud and measures have to be taken beyond the initial remedy, but it is a way of giving communities greater say. It certainly can put some people back on the straight and narrow in a way that is in their interests and their wider community’s interest that should take place earlier rather than later in the process.

The second more substantive point is that failure to comply with a remedy could be escalated up to the court case1. Of course, the problem with some of these remedies, is that it might be at a very low level. If an adolescent, a child or teenager, has stolen-it is a rather old-fashioned example-a pint of milk on a housebound elderly lady’s front doorstep and the remedy in some way helps to impress upon the perpetrator of that act that that was an anti-social thing to do and the infirm elderly lady is not able to go out and buy another pint of milk because she cannot get out of the house, it may be that that actually works rather effectively. Now, whatever sanction is put in place-a rather modest sanction in those circumstances, one would expect, because the theft is after all only a pint of milk-the point I am making is that it may not even be possible in practice to escalate that very high up the system, because the nature of the offence is such a minor offence in the first place. It may well be, although we do not want to advertise it greatly, that the remedy is about as far as we are likely to go, and we hope the person accepts it. But in more extreme circumstances, in theory it could perfectly well be escalated into a more serious position if a person fails to comply over a period of time.

Q174 Lorraine Fullbrook: I understand that, but I am concerned that there does not seem to be a standardised monitoring system in place for the multi-agency solution that you are talking about.

Mr Foster: The problem we have at the moment is there are a very large number of agencies seeking to address the issues surrounding troubled families. Those troubled families have multiple problems, of which anti-social behaviour is one: truancy and alcohol, drugs, all of those things will be others that we are seeking to tackle. The first stage in this process is simply bringing the different agencies together to work out what is the best-targeted assistance that can be given to the members of those families to address all of those particular issues, to do it in a way that is less bureaucratic, less time-consuming in terms of form-filling and so on. We have a very clear set of criteria as to what demonstrates success. It is limited. It is filled in just by one person representing all of the various support that is given. We are moving very close to what it is you seek, but we are still in the early stages.

Q175 Chair: That is very helpful. Can I just very quickly in conclusion, because we are coming to the end of the session, ask you to give me a brief answer to this? How many times have you met Louise Casey?

Mr Foster: Three times.

Q176 Chair: The £400 million that has been given to the Troubled Families Unit: what are your benchmarks? How do you know this money is well spent?

Mr Foster: We have targeted 120,000 as our target number of families to be addressed over the period of time. We have already identified 45,000 for the current year.

Q177 Chair: What have you done with them? Identifying problems seems very-

Mr Foster: Every single local authority now has a troubled families co-ordinator. Every one of those troubled family co-ordinators identified the families they are going to work with in this first period of time. They have already-

Q178 Chair: What have they done for the families? It sounds like a lot of bureaucrats. What has happened to the families?

Mr Foster: No, it is getting rid of the bureaucracy and already we have a number of stories of real success, of turning families around.

Chair: Right, so what would be extremely helpful-

Mr Foster: I can give specific examples, which I am more than happy to share with the Committee, where we have specific examples of success that has already taken place, including getting people back to work, including people going back to school and stopping anti-social behaviour.

Chair: Mr Foster, that is very helpful, and we are very interested in this, because sometimes Select Committees pick up and examine and then do not come back. We are very keen to know what is happening in this unit.

Mr Foster: We have very recently produced a report on the current state of play, which I am very happy to make available to the Committee.

Chair: That would be very helpful. We will do that and we will also have some additional questions that we will send you, and that will be extremely helpful.

Mr Foster: We will look forward to receiving them. We are in a learning phase, Mr Vaz, and we would be delighted to learn from Members of this Committee.

Chair: Well, we are not here to teach you. We are here to ask questions, Mr Foster, but you are very flattering; obviously it is from all your years on the Education Select Committee.

Mr Foster: Your assembled wisdom that Mr Browne appears to be so sad to have left the opportunity to be participating in is much welcomed.

Chair: Thank you very much. We will not go on with this mutual admiration society. I think we must draw to a close, but thank you very much. We are most grateful. Thank you, Mr Foster. Thank you, Mr Browne.

[1] Witness note: we would like to clarify that if an offender fails to comply with the greed sanction or action under the Community Remedy, they could face prosecution for the original offence.

Prepared 18th February 2013