Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill

Written evidence from the Local Government Association (ASB 35)

About the Local Government Association

1. The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national voice of local government. We work with councils to support, promote and improve local government.

2. We are a politically-led, cross party organisation which works on behalf of councils to ensure local government has a strong, credible voice with national government. We aim to influence and set the political agenda on the issues that matter to councils so they are able to deliver local solutions to national problems.

3. The LGA covers every part of England and Wales, supporting local government as the most efficient and accountable part of the public sector.

Overview

4. The LGA welcomes the added flexibility to tackle anti-social behaviour that this Bill provides. We appreciate the amendments the Home Office made as a result of feedback received, by the LGA and others, during the development of the proposals and pre-legislative scrutiny. For example, the proposals in Part 1 of the Bill on injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance now include a power of arrest, as recommended by the LGA.

5. There remain some areas where we believe the proposals would benefit from greater clarification or amendment.

5.1. It is not clear how the ‘positive requirements’ imposed on perpetrators of anti-social behaviour through the injunctions and criminal behaviour orders will be funded (given budget cuts facing councils);

5.2. We would like to see the Government advise Police and Crime Commissioners to consult local authorities on the use of dispersal powers in their areas, should this action be under consideration;

5.3. We are concerned that closure notices can only be made if ‘reasonable’ efforts have been made to inform the owner in advance. Sometimes premises need to be shut down immediately for the protection of the public, so the process should not be delayed and this should be clarified in any subsequent guidance;

5.4. We would like to see greater ability to tackle anti-social tenants in private housing. This could be achieved by extending the scope of the injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance

5.5. On the community trigger, the LGA would like to see the threshold set by local partners, including the police and council. A national threshold will fail to take account of local circumstances, where it may need to be higher or lower than the suggested three complaints.

6. Councils know that the most effective way of tackling anti-social behaviour is to stop it happening in the first place. This means working in partnership with schools, youth offending teams, health, fire services, probation services, and the police to steer people away from activity which causes harassment or distress to others.

7. Councils have a good track record of providing services that turn lives around, both in terms of supporting those affected by anti-social behaviour, and rehabilitating perpetrators. However, continuing this support will not be easy due to the budget pressures on councils and other public services.

8. The provisions within the Bill relate to all persons from the age of ten years and over. The Bill thus presents an opportunity to consider how anti-social behaviour rules should apply to young people. Where they are responsible for such behaviour, the focus of the response must be to help them grow into law-abiding citizens, and be proportionate to their age, behaviour and any similar history.

9. The extension of dangerous dogs legislation to private land will help councils work with the police to respond to issues as they arise, and the growing concerns about dangerous dogs and their owners. Combined with the anti-social behaviour measures, these proposals offer councils and local partners the ability to work together to tackle the very real fear that irresponsible dog owners have created for some local communities.

10. We remain to be persuaded of the need for a specific dog control notice in the legislation. With no clear description of how a dog control notice would fundamentally differ from the provisions included in the Bill, we would prefer for guidance to be developed by the dog charities alongside the Home Office and the LGA. This could then set out how all local partners can get maximum benefit from these tools to protect local communities and improve the welfare of dogs.

Part 1 – Injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance

11. The LGA supports the creation of a genuine civil order that allows councils and other partners to act swiftly to protect victims and communities, and can be obtained on a civil burden of proof. As the proposals were being developed, the LGA raised concerns that a power of arrest could not be attached to the injunction, so the Government’s decision to provide for a power of arrest to be attached is welcome.

12. Councils have a good record of providing services that turn lives around. Continuing this support will not be easy due to budget pressures on councils and other public services. The Impact Assessment for the injunctions does not quantify the cost of imposing ‘positive requirements’, partly because the existing Individual Support Orders or Intervention Orders have been used so infrequently. While we support the ability of courts to impose positive requirements as part of the injunction, the LGA is concerned that, as the use of positive requirements is predicted to impose an additional financial burden on councils, the overall estimates that the injunctions will be cheaper to use than ASBOs may not be right, and councils may be placed under an additional financial burden.

13. As with current legislation, the provisions relate to persons from the age of ten years and over. The Bill therefore presents an opportunity to consider how anti-social behaviour rules should apply to young people, in particular when it comes to handling of cases where there is a group of defendants with varied ages, some of whom would be treated as young offenders while some would be treated as an adult. This could mean the case being heard in two different courts with the cost implications and additional burdens placed on witnesses that brings. Where young people are responsible for anti-social behaviour, the focus of the response must be to help them grow into law-abiding citizens and be proportionate to their behaviour and any similar history. The distinction between the youth justice and the adult criminal justice system in England is an important principle that should also underpin the response to anti-social behaviour.

14. We support the Home Affairs Select Committee’s finding that injunctions should only be available after attempts to resolve the issue through informal support and acceptable behaviour agreements have failed. The overwhelming evidence concerning the ineffectiveness of custody in preventing reoffending by young people reinforces the view that it should only be used as a genuine last resort. Three out of four of those leaving custody go on to commit further offences and according to the Ministry of Justice the average cost of a place in a Young Offender Institution is £65,000 a year.

15. The LGA also supports the ability of the court to impose positive requirements as part of the injunction on young people, although it is essential that there is consultation with youth offending teams where the young person is under 18.

Part 2 – Criminal Behaviour Orders

16. The LGA supports the introduction of Criminal Behaviour Orders, which is similar to the anti-social behaviour order currently available on conviction. However it is important that before seeking an order against someone under 18, the Youth Offending Team is consulted and closely involved, in order that the support available to the offender is considered and any issues such as learning difficulties or mental health are understood.

17. It is also vital that where someone under 18 is subject to an order that there is an annual review of the situation.

Part 3 – Dispersal powers

18. The provisions on the use of dispersal powers would see the decision made on whether to use dispersal powers resting solely in the hands of the police. While rationalisation of the powers is welcome, the current designation of areas where the police can exercise dispersal powers is done in consultation with the local authority, while in some cases councils have responsibility for making the orders. Use of such powers can on occasion prove controversial, which is why their use should be dependent on democratic oversight. This could be provided by Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), but given the local nature of the issues that dispersal powers are used for, and the large area PCCs cover, this will be challenging.

19. Councillors on Police and Crime Panels or community safety scrutiny committees could provide alternative and valuable mechanism for providing the local community with a voice in the use of the dispersal powers. As a result, the LGA would expect PCCs, when scrutinising the use of dispersal powers by officers in their force, to consult local authorities in their area as to whether the use of such powers is appropriate, proportionate, and effective.

Part 4 – Community protection notices / Public spaces protection orders / Closure notices

20. The LGA welcomes the introduction of these notices and the flexibility they offer, which will allow councils to decide how to take action swiftly and effectively to prevent and tackle anti-social behaviour. The LGA will be seeking to work with councils to offer guidance on the effective use of these powers.

21. Councils are familiar with problem premises and these notices will allow them to take action swiftly with local partners to ensure property does not house or lead to anti-social behaviour. However, the LGA has a concern about closure notices only being made if ‘reasonable’ efforts have been made to inform the owner in advance. Sometimes premises need to be shut down immediately for the protection of the public, so the process should not be delayed and this should be clarified in any subsequent guidance.

Part 5 – Recovery of possession of dwelling-houses: anti-social behaviour grounds

22. These powers represent a serious sanction and councils would use them in a proportionate way, investing in prevention and working with partners.

23. Clearly it is crucial that the use of these powers do not result in displacement of the problem rather than solution. This is particularly important when considering councils’ homelessness duties and the Government should clarify how the new powers will interact together.

Anti-Social Behaviour in private rented accommodation

24. A further issue is the two tier approach to dealing with anti-social behaviour in different types of housing tenure. The LGA is of the view that the Bill could be extended to provide councils with the means to deal more effectively with anti-social behaviour committed by private sector tenants. This can be a considerable problem in some areas, and it should be noted that the injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance can only be used to exclude tenants from social housing.

25. One means of dealing with this issue would be to amend the injunction provisions to allow private tenants and owner occupiers to be excluded from their homes in the same way that social housing tenants will be able to be excluded from their homes.

26. An alternative would be to provide private landlords with greater incentives to take action to manage their tenants better. The Housing Act 2004 allows councils to selectively licence private landlords in the whole of their area or part of it where there is significant and persistent anti-social behaviour problems, and private landlords are not taking action to tackle this. A scheme can currently be introduced where local residents, tenants and landlords have been consulted for at least 10 weeks. Where a licensed landlord fails to take action the council can apply for a management order to allow it to take action against the tenants. There remains the issue from a council’s perspective that it of course has to take action if the landlord fails to.

27. In Scotland there is a positive requirement on private landlords to take action to deal with anti-social behaviour through the Anti-Social Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004 and landlords also have to be registered with their council. If the landlord fails to tack action the council can serve a notice on them specifying the action they have to take, and if this is ignored the council can seek an order banning the landlord from collecting rent. Provisions similar to those in the Scottish legisl ation could be inserted into this Bill to provide private sector landlords with a greater incentive to take action against anti-social tenants.

Part 6 – Local involvement and accountability

28. Councils face a continual challenge to ensure the most vulnerable victims of antisocial behaviour do not slip through the net. As a result, the LGA appreciates the value of the community trigger. The Home Office has published the results of the community trigger pilots and these identify a number of benefits of introducing the trigger, and from it being able to identify cases of long term and persistent anti-social behaviour.

29. However, we would like to see the threshold for the trigger set by local partners, including the police and council. A national threshold will fail to take account of local circumstances, where it may need to be higher or lower than the suggested three complaints.

Part 7 – Dangerous Dogs

30. Local communities have suffered because police and councils have been left powerless to respond to growing concerns from residents about dangerous dogs and their owners. The extension of dangerous dogs legislation to private land will help councils to work with the police to respond to issues as they arise.

31. Educating the public about responsible ownership, and allowing councils to direct irresponsible owners to undertake training, can provide a greater protection for the public.

32. The LGA has open and productive dialogue with the dog charities and before the Government proposals on anti-social behaviour were put forward, we supported their work to introduce specific dog control notices as an opportunity to address the day to day fear that irresponsible dog owners are creating in our communities.

33. We are aware that there is continued pressure for specific dog control notices to be included in the Bill. The LGA remains to be convinced that separate tools are necessary as no details have been provided of the specific gaps in the provisions for the injunctions, community protection notices or public space protection orders that a dog control notice is needed to fill.

34. However, we do recognise that existing proposals for dog control notices do not require approval from a court and therefore would enable councils to respond quickly and require less resource than some of the tools available in the Bill. Whether final parliamentary decisions favour the introduction of generic anti-social behaviour measures or specific dog control notices, we would welcome the opportunity to work with the Home Office and the dog charities to develop guidance about how all local partners can get maximum benefit from these tools and shared expertise to protect local communities, improve the welfare of dogs and work together to encourage general promotion of responsible dog ownership.

July 2013

Prepared 10th July 2013