Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill

Written evidence from CHP (ASB 55)

1. Introduction

1.1 CHP is based in Chelmsford, Essex, and is a locally managed and governed charitable housing association. The company’s aims are to provide excellent services and to increase the supply of affordable homes to those in need. As one of approximately 2,000 housing associations in the UK, CHP works closely with residents, local authorities, private sector companies, other charitable agencies and public sector bodies to constantly improve the services we provide. CHP has a Quality of Life team which manages tenancies, estates and tackles anti-social behaviour.

1.2 CHP currently makes good use of the various powers available under current law to tackle antisocial behaviour (ASB). On the whole these allow us to take effective and proportionate measures to deal with the variety of nuisances and minor crimes which fall under the definition of ASB. As a provider of housing, CHP has a contractual relationship with residents (in terms of their tenancy agreement) which puts us in an influential position within communities with respect to tackling ASB.

2. Summary

2.1 On the whole CHP welcomes many of the proposals outlined in the draft Bill and think the range of tools and approaches contained within it have the potential to provide agencies with an effective toolkit that builds upon current practice. We do, however, have a few concerns which are summarised below.

· There is a certain ‘brand recognition’ around current ASB tools, ASBOs, for example, are extremely well known and understood. However, there are already lesser known tools (Anti-social Behaviour Injunctions or ASBIs, for example), the creation of new tools with new acronyms has the potential to cause some confusion. We suspect that explaining the changes of the Bill and the new terminology to all relevant stakeholders may present a challenge.

· We have concerns that the Bill comes at a time of significant reduction in provision supporting vulnerable people (both victims and perpetrators). In our experience effective partnership approaches which focus on early interventions prevent ASB becoming entrenched. Addressing entrenched ASB is very often a resource intensive process. Therefore, reductions in funding for agencies that specialise in early interventions and providing positive activities for people at risk of offending is likely to represent a ‘false economy’.

· We would like to seek clarification regarding what rights of audience housing providers will have in different courts under the Bill. Ideally, we would like the legislation to spell out clearly the rights of audience for housing providers when applying for Crime Prevention Injunctions.

· We are concerned around recent developments in the passage of the Bill, which suggest that social landlords will be unable to take action against private tenants when they are engaging in ASB against social tenants. We would like Parliament to revisit this decision.

· We are not convinced of the need for Section 91(1) (offences connected with riot). There are already many tools which allow the police to deal with riots and if these tools are not implemented correctly on the ground then the issue is one of implementation and not legislation. As it stands this section is likely to be very difficult to operate in practice. We would also question why the provision focuses exclusively on rioting and exclude crimes such as rape or murder.

3. Evidence

3.1 Making sure that all relevant agencies and the public understand the changes introduced by the Bill will be key to its success. For example, the implementation of the Bill should include comprehensive guidance and training for relevant bodies, including the judiciary. From our experience, judges are sometimes not aware of all the ASB tools currently available (such as ASBIs) and this could be exacerbated by further changes to terminology. This risk will need to be managed in the Bill’s implementation plan. Much of the success of any piece of legislation, in terms of achieving its aims, is determined by how it is implemented. In the past, previous governments have attempted to address implementation failure with further legislation (for example the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003). Lengthy, excessive and ineffective additional legislative processes may be avoided by careful implementation planning which involves key stakeholders.

3.2 A key factor in tackling ASB is the way in which different agencies work together and share information. Our experience of this varies depending on the different areas we work in and the different agencies we work with. We recognise, for example, that there has been considerable progress with regards to how housing providers and Police work in partnership. However, there is still a feeling that effective information sharing only takes place when working relationships are built with certain individuals within agencies. Information sharing protocols need to not only be agreed but to also be disseminated and understood fully across partner agencies to prevent delays and frustrations in information sharing, which can damage relationships. For example, we have experienced a situation whereby a PCSO has been concerned about losing their job should they share information with CHP for the purposes of reducing crime and disorder. This Bill could, therefore, represent a useful opportunity to clarify issues around data sharing between different agencies involved in tackling ASB. Clearly defining what powers different types of agencies have and what the public and other agencies should expect from them regarding dealing with ASB would be highly beneficial and, hopefully lead to a more consistent approach to inter-agency working, nationally.

3.3 We welcome that the Bill (in terms of the requirements for perpetrators under the Crime Prevention Injunction) seems to recognise that enforcement is only part of a holistic approach to tackling ASB. Our experience, as well as a significant body of research, suggests that engaging with vulnerable perpetrators (especially young people) and providing positive activities and tailored support is an efficient and cost effective way to tackle ASB. However many of the agencies that conducted this type of work have seen their funding cut or have been abolished (Essex Connexions, for example) in recent years. This has left a gap in provision locally that, as a landlord, CHP is not best placed to fill. Focusing on early interventions prevents behaviours from escalating or becoming entrenched. This has a huge effect on the life chances and social mobility of people as well as being a significant drain on public resources. Reducing the availability of early intervention and support services for vulnerable people stores up problems (and costs) for the future. There is also a severe shortage of support services for people with alcohol addiction. From our experience, alcohol related crime and disorder impacts on many areas of the community (domestic violence, night time economy, arguing and shouting that leads to physical assaults and general disturbances in a neighbourhood) that can seriously impact on quality of life. Therefore investing in early intervention in such cases will reduce the demand for further ASB interventions by preventing the ASB from occurring in the first place.

3.4 We are aware that concerns regarding social landlords’ right  of audience in court around ASB cases has been raised previously by other providers of social housing, for example in the evidence presented by the Hyde Group to the Home Affairs Select Committee (pre-legislative scrutiny report Additional Written Evidence, Vol.3, Feb 2013 ). We would concur with these concerns and also wish to seek clarification regarding whether or not housing associations will have a right of audience in court for applying for crime prevention injunctions. If we require legal representation this will impact on costs and overall control of managing cases effectively. Often staff have an excellent knowledge of the cases and are better placed to answer questions in court than legal representatives. In addition we would like to see (either in the legislation or any associated guidance) clarification regarding timescales by which applications and breaches of Crime Prevention Injunctions should be heard in court. It is our experience that timescales for court hearings can be lengthy and this impacts on victims willingness to come forward as witnesses and on their health and wellbeing whilst they wait for issues to be resolved.

3.5 Under existing law, social landlords can obtain ASB injunctions against private tenants where they have an impact on social tenants. Social tenants are victims as well as perpetrators of ASB and in a number of cases social tenants are the victims of ASB perpetrated by residents in other tenures. It is worth noting that it is often social landlords that take the lead on tackling ASB. Taking a holistic approach to managing mixed estates means engaging with all members of the community, regarding ASB issues. We do not see any reason to change this. Certainly, should this power be removed, the issues above regarding inter-agency working take on greater importance as we would need rely heavily on the police in cases of ASB committed against our tenants by private tenants. Alternatively, there will be a need to ensure that local authorities have a duty to do take on cases (currently dealt with by social landlords) where private tenants commit ASB against social tenants. However this could prevent swift action being taken if they do not have the capacity or knowledge to undertake appropriate action. In our experience, for example, it is sometimes the case that local authorities do not utilise ASBOs effectively. This provision could, therefore, present difficulties for local residents as housing providers are often best placed to make swift decisions and act responsibly to support victims of ASB in the community.

3.6 Lastly, It is our view that that, in practice, the recovery of properties under Section 91(1) – offences connected with riot - will present numerous practical difficulties. The decision to evict tenants requires careful and balanced decision making which takes account of numerous factors such as their individual circumstances, past behaviours, proportionality, relevant legislation as well as many other factors. This provision seems to not take account of this real world complexity and ignores that, where appropriate, landlords are able to take (and have, in the past, taken) swift actions against the tenancies of people connected with rioting. However we would suggest that, if the provision is to be retained that other, equally or more serious offences, such as murder and rape should be included.

July 2013

Prepared 17th July 2013