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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 836 -i
House of commons
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Home Affairs Committee
Draft Anti-Social Behaviour Bill
Tuesday 15 January 2013
Rebecca Bryant, Ian Whiteway and Peter Castleton
COUNCIllOr Anita Lower
Eamon Lynch, GAVIN SMART, Kevin Williamson and Jane Plant
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 101
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 15 January 2013
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Mr James Clappison
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Rebecca Bryant, ASB Services Lead, Manchester Council, Ian Whiteway, ASB Manager, Richmond Housing Partnership, and Peter Castleton, Community Safety Manager, Brighton & Hove City Council, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: I refer all those present to the Register of Members’ Interests. Could I invite Rebecca Bryant, Ian Whiteway and Peter Castleton to come before the Committee at the dais? This continues the Committee’s inquiry into the anti-social behaviour legislation. This is a pre-legislative scrutiny session. Just to go through, so we are clear from the Committee who everybody is, Rebecca Bryant, you are the Anti-Social Behaviour Lead for Manchester City Council, and you have held that position since March 2007?
Rebecca Bryant: Yes.
Q2 Chair: Mr Whiteway, you are the Anti-Social Behaviour Manager for Richmond Housing Partnership. Is that correct?
Ian Whiteway: That is correct.
Q3 Chair: Where is that based, Mr Whiteway?
Ian Whiteway: It is based in Richmond in Surrey.
Q4 Chair: Mr Castleton, you are the Community Safety Manager of Brighton & Hove City Council?
Peter Castleton: Yes.
Q5 Chair: Thank you for coming here. I want to start with a general question to all three of you. None of you are elected officials. You are all officials of your organisations. We will be hearing from councillors in a later session. Why is the legislation not working? Why do you think new legislation has had to be introduced? Ms Bryant?
Rebecca Bryant: I think we in Manchester have been lobbying for some time for wider powers in the private sector that would be akin to an anti-social behaviour injunction, which would allow us to take more prompt action against perpetrators of anti-social behaviour. On the whole, in Manchester we have used the previous legislation very well and have a significant number of orders that have worked with a low breach rate for our anti-social behaviour orders. So, on the whole, we were fairly pleased, but I think there needs to be a streamlining of the anti-social behaviour legislation.
Q6 Chair: As an example, can you tell me how many ASBOs took place in Manchester last year, for example?
Rebecca Bryant: At the moment, we have 230 live anti-social behaviour orders. The majority of those are for over-18s, not young people.
Q7 Chair: If you had this new legislation, based on what you have seen, how many would that increase by? This is obviously an estimate.
Rebecca Bryant: I think that, in the private sector, we would increase our ability to take action probably in about 10% to 15% of cases.
Q8 Chair: In addition to what you have, so another 20 or so cases?
Rebecca Bryant: Yes.
Q9 Chair: Mr Whiteway, do you think the legislation is not suitable, that we need to amend it and improve it?
Ian Whiteway: I think we are quite lucky in housing that we have the anti-social behaviour injunction, and I think this new legislation encompasses that and makes it wider for councils and police to use. Our injunction is really quite effective. For example, if we get a call in the morning that an incident has occurred, we can get that into court the same day and we can get a power of arrest and an exclusion order on some people the very same day. That alleviates the problem for that person straight away.
Q10 Chair: I have lived in Richmond. I was actually parliamentary candidate in Richmond for my first election. I would not have thought that that was a hotbed of anti-social behaviour. If you compare Richmond in Surrey to central Manchester, it is pretty different, isn’t it? How many anti-social behaviour orders or injunctions have you had in the last year in Richmond?
Ian Whiteway: Richmond Housing have probably had about five or six injunctions in the past year, but-
Q11 Chair: Out of a population of about 250,000 people?
Ian Whiteway: That is right, yes.
Q12 Chair: It is not a huge number, is it?
Ian Whiteway: No, and we are one of the safest boroughs in London, but, when we do get anti-social behaviour, we have to act quickly to deal with it, and we are quite effective at doing that.
Q13 Chair: Would it increase as a result of the new legislation? Would you see it going up from five to a higher figure?
Ian Whiteway: It would not increase. What it would do is obviously there would be fewer ASBO injunctions that the police and the council make, and the new IPNA-as it is known or would be known-is a very effective, fast way of dealing with anti-social behaviour, whereas the ASBO could take weeks, even months, to go through court and get the evidence needed.
Q14 Chair: It is a much quicker remedy?
Ian Whiteway: A much quicker remedy.
Q15 Chair: Mr Castleton, what about in your area in Brighton? Again, that is as different to Richmond as Richmond is to Manchester.
Peter Castleton: Indeed.
Chair: How many orders did you have, for example, last year in Brighton?
Peter Castleton: We have about between 40 and 45 orders running generally, and we took out, I think, seven or eight fresh orders last year. It is a tortuous process. It takes too long. It doesn’t bring relief quickly enough for victims.
Q16 Chair: Do you think as a result of this legislation you will be able to get more orders?
Peter Castleton: I think we will be able to bring swifter justice and remedies to communities. If that means that we need to have an order, then we would have that. I would echo what my colleagues are saying about ASBIs as well. They have been useful because they are much faster. I think the key to this is speeding up the process. It has become slower and slower over the last 10 years.
Q17 Chair: What you are basically telling the Committee is that it is the statutory framework at the moment that is slow. As constituency MPs, we all get people coming to our surgeries complaining that the council has not taken sufficient action. The council then blame the police, the police then blame social services, and I wonder, as a local MP, whether it is the framework that is wrong or whether it is the agencies that are wrong. What do you think of that, Ms Bryant?
Rebecca Bryant: In Manchester, our partnership working is very strong. We work together on a local level. We have integrated neighbourhood management teams, with the police and the council sitting together. So I find it very hard to believe that-
Q18 Chair: Do you hear that kind of criticism, the public saying, "Well, look, we have heard about ASBOs", and they will hear about these new orders, "but the problem is, when we go to complain to one agency, they pass me on to the next agency," and it is an inter-agency problem rather than the legislation?
Rebecca Bryant: No, I think that the victims that we deal with say that the court process takes too long. Once you make an application, it can take a significant number of months before, for example, you can get the possession of somebody’s property or you can get a final order.
Q19 Chair: Sure, but that is another agency, the court, isn’t it?
Rebecca Bryant: Yes. I suppose you could say it was the judiciary rather than the actual statutory framework.
Q20 Chair: Mr Whiteway, inter-agency co-operation?
Ian Whiteway: I think partnership working is the way forward. I do not think there has been anything that has put into place all the partners working together more effectively than this new legislation.
Q21 Chair: Does it do that?
Ian Whiteway: This would fit the bill because, as I say, the all-encompassing new injunction is there for each partner to use but, more importantly, to work together effectively to deal with the problem.
Q22 Chair: Mr Castleton?
Peter Castleton: I think there will be agencies who will take a contrary view, particularly social-care agencies and youth justice agencies who are often advocating on behalf of an individual who is being subjected to an order, who has perhaps had a very traumatic set of circumstances surrounding them, and I think part of the delay is inter-agency delay. We have positive working in Brighton, but the best result is that you get a balanced outcome for an individual. There are agencies that potentially are taking contrary views locally for us.
Q23 Chair: Give me three quick changes that you think would improve this legislation from each of your vantage points-Mr Castleton?-or even one if you cannot think of three.
Peter Castleton: I really welcome the fact that we will have a lower burden of proof. I think that is really important, and that should bring swifter responses. That is the most pleasing thing to see. I am keen that we can bring swift remedies for victims who are suffering as a result of anti-social behaviour, young people as well as adults.
Q24 Chair: Mr Whiteway?
Ian Whiteway: I think quicker responses to dealing with anti-social behaviour, a more joined-up approach in dealing with it, and, more importantly, dealing with vulnerable persons and getting their problems sorted out a lot quicker.
Q25 Chair: Ms Bryant?
Rebecca Bryant: I think I have three.
Chair: Well done.
Rebecca Bryant: We would like access to the criminal behaviour order, along with the CPS, and how we would work that I think would need further consideration. We would like to have the power, along with our social housing colleagues, to exclude perpetrators who live in private rented or owner-occupier property, and also to hold them responsible for the behaviour of their visitors and the people who reside in their property, akin to social-housing legislation. Thirdly, we would like the police and crime commissioner to be the appeal body for the community.
Q26 Chair: Does Mr Lloyd know this?
Rebecca Bryant: He may do.
Q27 Steve McCabe: I want to ask about this point that has been made about owner-occupiers who are the source of the behaviour. You said that has been a major problem in Manchester, and I think in other parts of the country. Which power in the legislation that has been drafted would enable you to tackle that more quickly and more efficiently than you can at present?
Rebecca Bryant: Having access to the injunction that is being proposed would allow us to take action against both owner-occupiers and also those who are tenants in the private sector.
Q28 Steve McCabe: Do you mean this injunction could prevent nuisance and annoyance?
Rebecca Bryant: Yes. But that is restricted in comparison to the type of injunction that you can obtain in the social sector.
Q29 Steve McCabe: Can I just understand this, because I have been trying to work out how this will work in practice? I understand the demand to tackle owner-occupiers; I think that is a legitimate concern. But as I understand it, anti-social behaviour in the context of this injunction is defined as conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person. Quite often, on that basis some of my colleagues here, and some of the witnesses and even myself, must be guilty of anti-social behaviour on quite a regular basis. How easy do you think it is going to be to obtain these injunctions at court? You talked about a lower burden of proof, but, quite frankly, if it is conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person, I would think your chances of succeeding in the court are pretty slim on that basis. People are going to argue that the victim is actually just intolerant and is not subject to any reasonable behaviour or tolerance of other people’s lifestyles. Are you sure this is really going to work?
Rebecca Bryant: As far as Manchester, I think the test around nuisance and annoyance is a better test than with an ASBO, because it is wider and it captures more different types of behaviour that may be perpetrated. I would not say it is easier to obtain. Obviously, it is based on the evidence that your witnesses provide and about your casework management, and how you can show the impact on the community and those vulnerable victims. I would not say easier but faster.
Q30 Steve McCabe: Your problem at the moment is you are having trouble providing evidence that satisfies the court using the existing powers, and as the period the powers have been in force has developed and case law has developed, you have been less and less successful. We are now bringing in a new test that says that anybody in any part of the country could be guilty of this just because somebody else considers their behaviour annoying. Do you really think the courts in this country are going to be that quick to respond to this?
Ian Whiteway: I think we are living these injunctions day by day at the moment and to get an injunction in court, to get to that point, is a lot of time and effort, a lot of statements. There are some hearsay bits and pieces that go into that. More importantly, we have to look at trying to find the best remedy we can to alleviate the problems of those people that are suffering day in, day out, constantly, and the injunction at the moment really does do that. So opening it out wider to other agencies to bring their body of evidence as well is only going to strengthen the case.
Q31 Bridget Phillipson: Many constituents who come to me about anti-social behaviour report good partnership working between the statutory agencies, but I think the cases that take the longest to resolve and are the most difficult are often those around private landlords. Do you think anything in this legislation will address that, and what further action is needed in this area?
Rebecca Bryant: I could give you an example in Manchester. In the last 12 months, we have had over 2,500 cases in the private sector of anti-social behaviour, so it obviously is a significant issue. We do work very closely with landlords in the private sector to try to support them in managing the behaviour of their tenants, but if that is wider and it is also about owner-occupiers, too, I think the injunction being broadened out into the private sector will give us the opportunity to support the management of those properties by us taking action to support those communities.
Peter Castleton: That is not generally our experience in Brighton. Our most vulnerable victims tend to be in social housing, and although we have had one or two issues with the private rented sector, we do not have the same experience as Manchester, and therefore my focus has not been so much on that part of the legislation. I do, of course, acknowledge that it would be useful to be able to do that, and there are vulnerable victims. I think perhaps the issue sometimes is that private sector tenants are not identified as vulnerable as quickly as they are in social housing.
Q32 Bridget Phillipson: I do not know what the split in terms of the numbers is, for example, in my area, but I know that it is more difficult often to deal with those cases and can take longer, because sometimes there is a reluctance on behalf of a private landlord to engage with the police or the council. Where you have a social landlord, that social landlord will usually work responsibly with others, but with private landlords, where there is a complete reluctance to do so, there is often very little that neighbours can do to remedy that.
Rebecca Bryant: Certainly from our perspective, the people in the community experiencing anti-social behaviour can come to the local authority and we will respond on their behalf, as we have a statutory duty to deal with anti-social behaviour and crime. While we will try to work with the landlord, I think our primary concern is protecting the most vulnerable communities from anti-social behaviour. Fundamentally, we will have a closure order that can be used in the private sector to close premises if the anti-social behaviour is serious enough.
Q33 Dr Huppert: Can I add on Mr McCabe’s question, because I think I share his concern. None of us want to see a bureaucratic process that takes a lot of effort, but the phraseology here is extraordinarily broad. The language is "conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person" and allows any prohibition or requirement on this. It annoys me that there are people who do not vote Liberal Democrat in Cambridge. I would not think it would be appropriate to have an injunction to require them to do so. It clearly would not annoy Mr Ellis, but I dare say there are other people that might upset him. Do you think there should be something in here to talk about the activities being necessary and proportionate, or the injunction being necessary and proportionate, as opposed to just the purpose of preventing the behaviour?
Rebecca Bryant: I think the proportionality test is something that happens anyway in the court process and a court will only order an injunction if it is just to do so. So we will go through the evidence and provide evidence to show that it is proportionate that an injunction should be in place, as opposed to us just going to get them for very low-level anti-social behaviour.
Q34 Dr Huppert: So if the legislation said that, that would not cause any practical problems?
Rebecca Bryant: I think it would increase the number of arguments around the word "proportionality" and probably be a dream for the legal profession and the defence industry to generate further appeals and more lengthy legal argument. I do not think it is necessary.
Peter Castleton: I think it does push it down to a much lower level, but I think the key to it is having proportionate responses to that lower level of anti-social behaviour as well. Legislation is not the only way to deal with anti-social behaviour. There is nothing to stop housing officers, police officers and colleagues knocking on doors and talking to people and trying to resolve things before you end up in a legislative process. What the courts often do not fully understand, perhaps because it is not terribly well explained sometimes, is the amount of work that goes on to address the anti-social behaviour before you end up with a legal remedy.
Q35 Michael Ellis: I would like to move on now and ask you about the community trigger, the point at which-as its name implies-the community decides when action should be triggered by anti-social behaviour. The question is: how does one set the level of trigger? Clearly, communities will have different viewpoints on this matter. What would you say about it?
Ian Whiteway: I think we have three different views here, which is probably going to be useful to you. I think there that should probably be two thresholds, one for maybe inner-city, urban areas, and one for maybe countryside areas, because obviously the level of tolerance might be slightly different in different areas. I think you have a totally different view there, haven’t you?
Rebecca Bryant: We consulted with our stakeholders, so the police, social landlords and colleagues from children and adult services about how we would set up our community trigger trial, and we also spoke to some members of the community, although it was a very small number of people. Based on the type of cases that we deal with in Manchester, and the complexity, we felt quite strongly that the threshold should be quite high, so I think of all the trial areas we have the highest threshold, which is three incidents of anti-social behaviour and the complainant perceives that there has been no action taken. I think the nature of anti-social behaviour cases is that in the majority of cases there will be definitely more than one incident of anti-social behaviour.
Peter Castleton: Brighton is probably the lowest of the trigger trials. It only has to be reported once before. We consulted with colleagues on that. I think some of our-
Q36 Michael Ellis: So you are expecting police to act on the first episode? One incident would trigger police response?
Peter Castleton: What the trigger is about for me is service recovery and making sure we are delivering a service to people rather than another complaints procedure, so that was the approach that we took.
Ian Whiteway: I think you have our trigger process from Richmond in front of you there. It is a quick process in dealing with really vulnerable people that may not have been able to give us the information before. From our point of view, it is a good process that we have put in place as a failsafe, really, to recover if we do get triggers that we might have missed in some way or anti-social behaviour reports that we might have missed.
Q37 Michael Ellis: I take it from your varied answers that you would not support a national set trigger. Would it affect your areas adversely?
Ian Whiteway: It would be better to have one national trigger, because what you might find is some areas might set the trigger higher to maybe areas that might be less well equipped to deal with the volume that might come through. That could be an issue in the future, so one trigger for everyone would be the most sensible.
Rebecca Bryant: My view is that it should be a local trigger based on the types of cases that you get-the complexity. In normal case management processes, you are expected to deal with anti-social behaviour when it comes. You agree an action plan with your complainant; you provide support; you review diary evidence. This is about when we collectively have not responded, so where the local authority has not spoken to the police, or it seems like that to the complainant. In our experience, and the complexity and the volume of cases that we have, we certainly would not want to have a trigger that was perhaps suitable for Richmond, which is a very different dynamic and population in comparison to Manchester, and I think it is very much about-
Q38 Michael Ellis: So you strongly support the idea that it be local discretion and would work best that way?
Rebecca Bryant: Yes.
Peter Castleton: In Brighton and Sussex, our PCC, for example, might well want a trigger that is uniform across the whole of the county. It would depend where that trigger was set as well and what response times are expected. I think there is an argument for raising the game for areas that perhaps are not delivering the service that they should do in the first place, to argue for a national trigger.
Q39 Michael Ellis: I think the idea-is it not?-is to give local people in any part of the country the exercise of their own discretion as to where these episodes will apply.
Ian Whiteway: It is. I think you are in danger there, though, of maybe one area that is right next door to another area where their trigger is set quite low and the next area is set quite high. That person’s trigger could actually be activated in the next sector but not in their own, and that might be an issue.
Q40 Michael Ellis: They are not all written in stone, though, are they?
Ian Whiteway: No.
Michael Ellis: They can be changed.
Q41 Mr Winnick: The country was shocked, as you will know, over the suicide of Fiona Pilkington, who committed suicide and also killed her mentally disabled daughter as a result of the abuse and harassment over a period of time where no effective action had been taken by the police and the social agencies. Do you feel that as a result of the changes that are taking place such an event is not likely to occur again? Mr Castleton?
Peter Castleton: Speaking for my area, our case management and risk assessment of the most vulnerable victims is much better than it was, as a result of revised standards and practices within the city. Lessons have been learned from Pilkington and other unfortunate cases similar to that. So I am confident that we are in a much better-
Q42 Mr Winnick: Sorry, you were saying there is another case?
Peter Castleton: There are a number of cases where it has been evidenced that partners have not spoken to each other, action has not been taken, or action has been taken and it has not been communicated to victims. I am confident in my area that we are much better now at assessing vulnerability and having a joined-up approach to casework. That will continue, regardless of how this legislation looks. To reiterate my earlier point, there is a lot of work that goes on to reduce vulnerability for victims, which is our primary concern, and can often take place prior to any enforcement action.
Q43 Mr Winnick: You do not believe, as far as your area is concerned, that such a tragedy could happen?
Peter Castleton: I would not say that. I could not say that. I do not think any area could ever say that.
Q44 Mr Winnick: No, but most unlikely?
Peter Castleton: I am confident that we are much better than we were.
Q45 Mr Winnick: The same, Mr Whiteway?
Ian Whiteway: No one can ever foresee what is going to happen in the future. What we can do is put very strong procedures in place so that we support the vulnerable people as much as possible. I think the vulnerability matrix that you also see in front of you is a good way of finding out from anyone who reports anti-social behaviour, on whatever level, that there are questions that need to be asked to find out how vulnerable these people are. We also use that now for the alleged perpetrators because they could be vulnerable as well.
Q46 Mr Winnick: When you say one can’t be certain, of course one can’t be certain. That is taken for granted. But what I am asking is if the process in dealing with anti-social abuse now involves a trigger and the rest of it, would you say the likelihood of such a tragedy happening is that much less?
Ian Whiteway: I think, born out of what happened with the Pilkington case, it has made everybody work closer in partnership, share information more and effectively find out the vulnerabilities of people at a much earlier stage, and hopefully that will prevent this happening again.
Q47 Mr Winnick: In your area?
Ian Whiteway: Yes, definitely in our area.
Q48 Mr Winnick: It may be different-Ms Bryant?
Rebecca Bryant: I do not think anybody can guarantee that there will not be another Fiona Pilkington in this country, but I think what we have done, collectively and nationally, is work together to formulate a risk assessment matrix, which is used in every case in Manchester that comes in, where we assess the vulnerability of that complainant in order to try to provide support to the vulnerable victim. But if we were not aware of the problem in the first place, it would be very difficult for us to guarantee.
Q49 Mr Winnick: When we had the social workers in in previous sessions about child abuse, their response tended to be that the climate was different at the time, some 10 years ago. Would you say that the climate is now different as regards anti-social behaviour and the suffering that undoubtedly takes place as a result of people causing a great deal of harassment and the rest of it? Very briefly, Mr Castleton?
Peter Castleton: Yes, I think it is. I think professionals on the frontline have a much better understanding of vulnerability. Particularly police colleagues, who have dealt previously with criminal matters, now have a better understanding that an incident that might appear to be relatively minor might have a significant impact on an individual.
Q50 Mr Winnick: Mr Whiteway?
Ian Whiteway: Yes, I would say that we work much more effectively with all our partners nowadays, and if anything has come out of the whole of this, it is really a good working relationship with everyone to alleviate the problems that much quicker.
Q51 Mr Winnick: Same for you?
Rebecca Bryant: Yes, I would agree.
Q52 Dr Huppert: Tell us how the trigger works. There are clearly levels at which one can set a trigger. If it is set too high, it can defeat the purpose; if it is set too low, there is the risk of spending too much time on frivolous or malicious complaints. We heard from one police force that trying to filter out vexatious cases could be a real strain for them and distract the police from their focus. Do you think there is a risk of that, and at what level do you think a trigger would be simply too low and would carry too many problems? I do not mind which of you wants to answer.
Peter Castleton: Shall I go first? We have a low threshold, and it was a concern of a number of my colleagues that we would see a significant number of vexatious complaints. That has not been borne out in our experience, so we have not seen that. We have had one complainant who could be described as vexatious in that there were other actions going on in which they were a perpetrator. But the key thing that the trigger does is causes the agencies to re-examine the activity and the actions that have been taken in relation to that case. It is a quick-time case review, in the case of Brighton and Hove, which then sets actions if there are any that need to be set. It most often sets communication actions to the victim and those affected by the behaviour of that individual.
Ian Whiteway: From our point of view, we have a very good vexatious complainant policy in place to back this up, and because of that we can review these cases at a very early stage once they come in. If we determine that that is the case, then we would obviously have to write to these people and say that is what it is. In the main, we do not get that problem. We get people that come to us obviously wanting to alleviate their problem, and we need to do that as quickly as possible, and this process is there for that.
Rebecca Bryant: In Manchester, we have had one of our triggers that you could say was vexatious. The individual had been to our complaints process at the city council, been to the ombudsman, been to the IPCC and been told there was no case to answer, and then used the community trigger. We decided they had not met the threshold. So I think proportionately we are not looking at a significant number here across the city. We also have a vexatious complaints policy that has now been tied into our community trigger trial. If necessary we would use that, but I think in most cases we would say, "This complaint does not meet our threshold," and, therefore, we believe that the action that has already been taken is fine.
Q53 Mr Clappison: I take it from each of you that a fair amount of discretion is needed in this, but can I ask Manchester in particular about this. One of the problems that I have come up against in this field is when the person who is making the complaint is frightened, sometimes very frightened, of the people who are causing anti-social behaviour. Do you have a concern with your trigger being set so high-three complaints for individuals-that somebody might be too frightened to come and make a complaint, particularly if they have made one complaint and seen that nothing has happened, as they would see it? It takes quite a lot of courage to make a single complaint, and to make three in a row would take a lot of courage.
Rebecca Bryant: I think it would be very rare for somebody in Manchester who has complained to the local authority or the police or a social landlord about anti-social behaviour to not have action taken. We work very well together in trying to resolve cases of anti-social behaviour. We take the vulnerability of an individual. It is paramount to how we respond and how we develop our case. In some respects, I would welcome the fact if someone came to us and said, "You’re not responding well," because that gives us an opportunity to review our processes and procedures, which I think are relatively good as a partnership in the first place.
Q54 Steve McCabe: I wasn’t clear that I understood from the answers I heard what you do when someone makes a complaint-and I think this is the case in a low threshold-and the person being complained against lodges a counter-complaint. That seems to be remarkably common in my part of the world and in other areas as well. How do you make sure that the counter-complaint is not vexatious and does not gum up the system?
Rebecca Bryant: Certainly in Manchester-and I think I probably speak on behalf of most of my colleagues who are practitioners in anti-social behaviour-a full investigation takes place into a complaint of anti-social behaviour, so it is not just taken carte blanche that one person’s word is the right word. If there was a counter-allegation, which often there are in our cases, we would investigate that counter-allegation. We attempt to collect witnesses aside from the initial complainant, and in most cases when we intervene-I think in about 75% of our cases-the first intervention or that warning intervention is successful. We do not go on to do the full process in the majority of our cases.
Q55 Bridget Phillipson: Following on from that, isn’t the problem sometimes with these counter-allegations that mediation results from that or the recommendation of mediation? While that can work in lots of cases, sometimes I think the original complainant-if we say the original complainant is the person who has the genuine grievance-can then get a bit angry that they see there being a suggestion of parity or that in some way they are to be held responsible or they are at fault, once their neighbour or the other person looking into them counter-complains, following a complaint that they have made.
Peter Castleton: What you have to remember in this, before you get to the trigger-you are asking us questions about how we manage anti-social behaviour more generally. It is often the case that there are two lots of anti-social behaviour being committed, there are two offenders and there are two victims in it. What people want-what they all want universally-is for the anti-social behaviour to stop. That is our priority. If we need to use the law to do that, we will do that. But there are a number of cases that we manage all the time, and currently, in Brighton and Hove where we have people who are clearly victims but are clearly offending as well. You are asking us questions about detailed case working, which includes mediation.
Ian Whiteway: From our point of view, we have changed the name of "mediation" to "case assessment" because we feel that people will take it up more with a different name, and because of that, we can also do mediation with just one person. We do not need two people to do mediation to start the process off.
Rebecca Bryant: For us, mediation is appropriate in some cases. In some cases, one interview is appropriate; and in some cases, legal action is appropriate to handle the issues we are presented with. We have lots of different ways of dealing with anti-social behaviour, so there is not one right way, I think.
Q56 Bridget Phillipson: A final question, in terms of trigger activation so far, how many of those have concerned young people under the age of 18 in your area?
Rebecca Bryant: For us, none.
Ian Whiteway: We have had none.
Peter Castleton: One for us.
Q57 Bridget Phillipson: Is there a different approach applied to young people who are responsible for anti-social behaviour, as opposed to adults? Do you have different ways of dealing with that?
Ian Whiteway: I think we need to be sensitive to the point that we take seriously anyone who makes a complaint of anti-social behaviour, but the young, old, vulnerable, anyone, should have the chance to activate the trigger if they deem it necessary.
Peter Castleton: Where you have a young offender, you need to involve other agencies in assessing the vulnerability of the perpetrator as well, so one has to consider different things definitely.
Q58 Bridget Phillipson: In terms of Manchester?
Rebecca Bryant: I agree with that. It is about involving other agencies, but it is also about proportionate action, and because someone is a young person does not mean that they will not necessarily be a serious perpetrator. I think that we need something within our arsenal to take action against anti-social behaviour to deal with young people who are acting anti-socially.
Chair: Thank you so much for your evidence today. I know that colleagues of yours at Richmond Housing were keen to also give evidence. Please feel free to write to us on all these matters. We are very keen to look carefully at this whole area. If you think we have missed anything out, then please do contact us. Thank you very much for coming.
Examination of Witness
Witness: Councillor Anita Lower, Local Government Association, gave evidence.
Q59 Chair: Thank you very much for coming to give evidence. I am sorry we are running a little late, but we will try to be succinct in our questions to you. You are not just here as the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Newcastle, though that is your position. You are here on behalf of the whole of the Local Government Association, and we are most grateful to you for coming here today. When we ask you questions, there may be one or two about Newcastle, but primarily it is going to be about the LGA’s view on the Bill.
You have heard my colleague, David Winnick, talk about the Leicestershire case of Fiona Pilkington, and obviously this is uppermost in our mind whenever we consider changes to the legislation. I know to some extent it is guesswork, because you cannot know for certain that this would never have happened if we had had this legislation, but if we had had things like the community trigger, do you think that the situation and the scenario might have been different?
Cllr Lower: The community trigger is one way to look at it, but I do think that it is not the solution. I think that there is much more about joined-up working and about partnership. One of the better examples that I would call would probably be the anti-social behaviour co-handling pilot, which went ahead in 2011, where we had I think it was eight police forces that joined in two council areas. They looked at when they got a call about anti-social behaviour; they assessed the vulnerability of the person, and then talked to the agencies and had joint meetings so they could highlight that very quickly. I think the trigger is more about failure than about actually progressing the care of someone who is vulnerable in the system.
Q60 Chair: One of the things that happens to me-I am sure it happens to you as a local councillor-is people come on a Friday to my surgery and they say, "Look, what am I going to do about this dreadful group of people who are upsetting my mum? We call the police and they say, ‘Get on to the housing department.’ We call the housing department and they say, ‘Get on to the social services department.’ We call the social services department. They take out an order. It takes so long to get through the courts." In fact, last Friday I went to see a man who was beaten up. He is a 47-year-old man in my constituency, beaten up in a lift as he was trying to get up to his flat, and local people were complaining about gangs of young people who were involved. You mentioned partnership, but we have all been around for a long time round this table, and I am sure you have been a councillor for a number of years. Why do we always think just using the word "partnership" is enough? Is this about actually the partners doing something for local people? Do we need more legislation, or do we need people to move quicker?
Cllr Lower: I think it is a bit of both. The legislation is there and we have been using it very well, but it needs to be modernised and it needs to move on. I do think that we need to reassess how we work in partnership with people, and we need to be able to respond to victims and to those who do complain much quicker and to be much clearer about what is going on for them. One of the problems we have is communication, and I think a lot of the-
Q61 Chair: Whose fault is that? Is it the council? Is it the police?
Cllr Lower: I think things get tied up. Things get tied up in the courts; people get tied up with being witnesses. It is supporting people who have been victims and getting them through into actually giving evidence about it.
Q62 Chair: Should there be one agency that is responsible for telling people what is going on?
Cllr Lower: There should be, but it doesn’t have to be the same agency. What it should be is that, when agencies get together and they have a case meeting, someone updates the person who that case meeting is about.
Q63 Chair: You do not need legislation to do it.
Cllr Lower: No. I think that what this legislation does is it makes that much more of an opportunity because it brings those partners together in a more formal way, because things have to be discussed, there have to be joint efforts rather than people going it alone and no information passing between the agencies that are involved.
Q64 Chair: If you were the Housing Minister in this coalition Government, how would you improve this? What would be the one big thing you would do about this legislation that would make it better?
Cllr Lower: The one thing for housing would be about the private tenants. One of the problems is that we are getting increasingly more people who can’t afford to buy houses and who are renting privately from absentee landlords, and we have very little power over not just their behaviour but how they live their lives. That can have an effect on communities, whether it is late-night parties or it is not looking after gardens, whether it is coming in late, the noise-all sorts of things have an impact, and there is nothing in the legislation that gives us powers to deal with that.
Q65 Dr Huppert: Could I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association?
We have experience of ASBOs and how they have been used for a number of years. Do you think they are taken seriously by people at the moment? Do you think they work as a remedy?
Cllr Lower: They were a good starting point. I think they have now become very, very diluted. For example, in Newcastle, I visited a family and the grandmother had a photograph on the wall, which was the front page of the Evening Chronicle, because her grandson was the first one in Newcastle to get an ASBO and she thought this was wonderful. They have lost that impact. We do not have the follow-up on them. We have to move away from the punishment idea and look at how we prevent it, how we help and how we support those who are victims. It is not just about punishment and saying, "This person is wrong." We need to look at why they are doing it, what we can do to prevent it and to stop reoffending. That is the big issue for us.
Q66 Dr Huppert: You will have seen that the crime prevention injunctions apply to people under 18 as well. Do you think the balance is right between injuncting somebody-I think they have to be over 10-and trying to put things in place to change their behaviour in other ways?
Cllr Lower: We have to look at all of these measures as the end product, and we have to start from where we start dealing with it at the beginning. Yes, if someone has to get to the stage of actually being taken to court and given an injunction-but there are other measures. We can talk about restorative justice. We can talk about the short, sharp shock. We had an example in Newcastle where we had some young graffiti artists who were decimating an area, were caught by the police and their parents were brought in and given the option of criminal record or a paintbrush. They went out and they repainted garage doors, backyard doors, everything, tidied up the back lanes, and it had an effect on them, but they did not end up with a criminal record. So it is about looking at how you deal in proportionality to what the crimes are. I do not think any of us should be saying that the first thing you do with a 10-year-old is take them to court and give them a criminal record.
Q67 Dr Huppert: Lastly from me-if I may just briefly-the draft legislation is incredibly broad in terms of what might be covered and does not specify that it should be proportional. Do you think it should be clearer that proportional activity is what we are talking about here, not a very, very low, easy trigger?
Cllr Lower: Yes. I think that there should be a lot more in here about how we prevent, how we deal with it at early stages, and how we nip it in the bud rather than allowing it to develop. I think there is a lot here about actual punishment fitting the crime, but it is about why the crime happened in the first place that we need to look at in more detail.
Q68 Bridget Phillipson: Councillor Lower, you talked a moment ago about the private rented sector and the problems there, and I would agree with the comments that you made. What legislation or action do you think is needed in this area, both in terms of private-sector tenants who refuse to change their behaviour but I think perhaps more importantly landlords. We seem to have very little control at times over the actions of irresponsible landlords.
Cllr Lower: I am not an expert on landlord law, but what I would say is there are issues around what is available to councils to deal with social landlords and private landlords. I think the problem is that private landlords can be individuals; they can be remote. They do not have to buy into the city, and that is where problems come. I think we could have stronger laws about how you actually become a social landlord and how you are monitored and licensed, which would help to solve some of those problems and make them a little bit more answerable to local government and to people around them.
Q69 Bridget Phillipson: To give an example, in my area-not a million miles away from Newcastle-when we had difficulties with one particular area and with some private landlords the council had to make great efforts to track down where the landlords actually lived. It transpired that one landlord lived in Hong Kong, had bought very cheap properties, had put in tenants who were not behaving themselves and were causing real difficulties for the community. Even finding out who the landlords were and then bringing about some action was a very protracted process for the council.
Cllr Lower: There are things that we can do, but it has to get to extremes. In some cases we have actually bought property and taken out orders to possess property that has not been looked after and has not been brought up to standard. But I do think that the legislation needs to be clearer that this is becoming a more obvious problem. As fewer people can afford to buy houses, more people are renting, and without those restrictions and covenants that we have on a social landlord, it is very difficult for us to deal with.
Q70 Steve McCabe: I want to ask you a couple of questions about cost, first of all. On crime prevention injunctions, does the LGA have a view about whether or not councils will have enough money for the positive requirements that are going to be available?
Cllr Lower: If you ask any local council, I think they will tell you they do not have enough money for anything at the minute. Being honest about it, I think the estimated cost of this is about £300,000 a year, and spread across the whole of the country that is not a huge amount. One of the things that we need to know about is how much it is going to cost us to go to court and how many times are we going to do it. Nobody knows that yet, so this is a figure that has been put in there.
Q71 Steve McCabe: £300,000 sounds a very modest figure to me.
Cllr Lower: Well, it does, but that is what the Home Office are estimating it will cost between us.
Q72 Steve McCabe: Yes, but I wondered what the LGA thought about that.
Cllr Lower: Our view is that the resource implications will depend on the courts. If they continue with the ASBO type as a civil order that would not be as much, but in 2002 of course the burden of proof was changed to make it much more of a criminal case, therefore we have to build up more evidence, and we will have to have more investment. Until it actually comes into place, we are not really sure. We are working from the Home Office estimate, but it will be across the councils and social landlords, and across the country, and of course it will depend on how successful we are at preventing some of this before it actually gets to court.
Q73 Steve McCabe: I think I am right in saying that there will be a fee charged, which I think is set by local authorities-is that right?-for the requirements in a criminal behaviour order.
Cllr Lower: Yes. Criminal behaviour orders need to be monitored, and there is a cost involved to councils.
Q74 Steve McCabe: Has any work been done on what that will cost and how you-
Cllr Lower: Not that I am aware of. I do not think there is anyone who has piloted anything. I am not sure off the top of my head. I can find out from the LGA and let you know about that for certain. It will vary greatly because, of course, if you have someone providing a course in London, it will be a different cost to what it will be in the north-east. It is also about the quality of the courses, and about the effectiveness and looking at the outcomes and whether they have actually worked to stop reoffending. So there will be a lot of work around that when it comes into place, and, until that happens, I do not think we can put a figure on it.
Q75 Steve McCabe: If you discover the LGA has been doing any work on that, would you forward it?
Cllr Lower: We will pass it on. Yes, certainly.
Q76 Steve McCabe: Thank you. Can I also ask you about dispersal powers? Previously, when those have been exercised, they have been the result of a consultation with the police and the local authority. I understand the proposal is that the police will be solely responsible for this in the future and they won’t have to consult local authorities. Do you foresee any problems with that?
Cllr Lower: To be honest, I think this is one part of the legislation that the LGA is really concerned about. It is the fact that those powers will be solely now with the police to use at their discretion. One of our considerations would be that, at the very least, the PCC should be involved, but given that the police and crime commissioner areas are so large, it really should be local councillors or MPs as well. When it comes down to it, anyone who has a problem with this will turn up at the councillor’s surgery or an MP’s surgery. They will not turn up at the police station to ask why, and we have to know the reasons why. Dispersal orders are fine, but there is no limit on the space of where you actually disperse to, so we could be dispersing from one community to another, and as local members, we have to be there to say the reasons why and to justify that. To not be involved in the original decision making will be very difficult. We see that as a backward step in this policy: that you are taking away that local knowledge and local view of what works and what doesn’t. Just to say that the police can come in and say, "You will move from A to B," is not a reason to go ahead. It should be a discussion. It should be around the table, and everyone should have a view on that before it is decided and why.
Q77 Steve McCabe: Let me ask you one last question about dispersal powers. There is a temptation to say if there is a group of young people hanging around anywhere, as far as some folk are concerned that is a problem. You must hear it all the time. I do. I have a 16-year-old son, and he tells me that sometimes when he is hanging around with a group of friends it is because they feel there is safety in numbers and they are not doing anything bad or anything wrong. Do you think there is a danger that the way this power is exercised, particularly if there is not local authority involvement, it could not put enough emphasis on the safety of the young people and too much emphasis on folk who fear that a group is automatically problematic?
Cllr Lower: Yes. What we need to remember is that most young people are law-abiding. It is a very small minority. If you look at the way that ASBOs are being granted, very few are under 18. Most young people want to just be on their own but are seen as a threat just because there is a crowd of them. I think this is where it becomes apparent that local members have that local knowledge. If there is a group of 20 or 30 young people gathering at the shops and they are not doing any harm, do we really have to say to them, "You are not allowed here, you must go somewhere else."? If they are somewhere not doing anything, we need that local input. I really feel that there are a lot of dispersal orders that could be used just for convenience rather than for an actual reason of crime.
Q78 Chair: Thank you. We must move on to our next witnesses, but I want to thank you. There must be many members of your organisation that have real-life examples. The Committee can obviously take evidence from people like yourself and others, Ministers and chief police officers, but what we really want is real-life examples of how the system works at the moment. So if you know of anyone who is prepared to share their experience with the Committee or if you know where there is good practice going on-I know you are going to say Newcastle but anywhere else-please let us know, because we are keen to go out and have a look at this in practice. Maybe not the whole Committee, but individual members I know will want to go and have a look. We are most grateful to you.
Cllr Lower: We will speak to the LGA staff and draw up a list of things that may be of interest.
Chair: Please, and if you could communicate with our Clerk, then we would like to look at some really good examples of this in practice.
Cllr Lower: Yes, there are plenty of them out there.
Chair: Thank you very much. There will now be a change of witnesses but also a change of Chair. I call Dr Julian Huppert to the chair.
In the absence of the Chair, Dr Huppert was called to the chair.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Eamon Lynch, Social Landlords Crime and Nuisance Group, Gavin Smart, Chartered Institute of Housing, Kevin Williamson, National Housing Federation, and Jane Plant, Law Society, Housing Law Committee, gave evidence.
Q79 Chair: Can you start off by identifying who you are and what your organisations and roles are briefly, just for the record?
Jane Plant: My name is Jane Plant. I represent the Law Society for England and Wales, particularly the committee that represents housing lawyers across the country.
Kevin Williamson: Good afternoon. My name is Kevin Williamson, and I am head of communities and wellbeing at the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations.
Eamon Lynch: My name is Eamon Lynch, from an organisation called Social Landlords Crime and Nuisance Group. We are a membership organisation that represents or is made up of approximately 300 social housing providers throughout the UK, but predominantly England and Wales.
Gavin Smart: My name is Gavin Smart from the Chartered Institute of Housing, which is the professional body for people working in housing.
Q80 Chair: Thank you all much. We have had a submission from the Law Society Housing Committee that suggests that many of the draft proposals here are unnecessary, may increase the complexity of the law in this area, lead to substantial delays and exacerbate the need for costly litigation. I presume you would agree, so if I start at the other end of the table-Mr Smart, would you agree with that?
Gavin Smart: I am not sure we do agree with that. I think we support the changes. We like the idea that this legislation streamlines the tools that are available and reduces them down. Some of the existing tools are not regularly used. Our anti-social behaviour officers who go out and have worked with landlords over recent years have been very clear that landlords tend to use only two or three of the existing powers. This legislation focuses down on two or three routes. It makes it simpler, and also they add something to the mix as well. The community protection notice is a lower-level tool that you can use to deal with lower-level anti-social behaviour. I know that making change for change’s sake is not always a welcome thing. I think this is welcome change, and it adds something to the tools that are available and it simplifies-
Eamon Lynch: I think fairly similar to what Gavin said. I do not think it is the case that landlords generally would have said we need a change in the law. I think they were-as you heard in the earlier sessions-quite practised and well-versed in using the existing powers. That said, there are some welcome advances and improvements, and I think there is a general acceptance that, after 15 years of evolution of these tools and powers, taking stock and a review and rationalisation is appropriate.
Kevin Williamson: Slightly more nuanced, I guess; we have obviously consulted with our members. The current suite of tools that are available to housing associations have very good support, so about two thirds of our members think that the current suite is effective. Indeed, 90% of our members think that the ASBI in particular is effective, so we are very happy that a lot of the provisions that relate to the ASBI are carried into the new IPNA, so that is good. That said, I think about half of our members believe that the current provisions are often rather costly and time-consuming, so they certainly were not beating our door down. At the moment, the big issue obviously is welfare reform and all of the pressures that brings with it. But because these measures are not intended to erode the powers of our members, they will be broadly supportive and will try to bring forward constructive suggestions.
Jane Plant: I think the Law Society’s position is not that the whole raft of the legislation is unnecessary. In fact, we do actually support quite a bit of it. Our main concern really surrounds the mandatory ground for possession for serious anti-social behaviour cases. We do welcome the extension of the injunction to those under 18. ASBOs, as effective as I personally think they have been, are costly and do take a long time now. The fact that there is delay is more to do with the court process itself rather than due to the legislation. I deal with anti-social behaviour on a day-to-day basis and I think that the current legislation is working well. The ASBI is effective; we get great turnaround times; the breach rates are relatively low. From the Law Society’s point of view, our written submissions have basically been limited to criticising and questioning whether the mandatory ground for possession is necessary. Our view is that the current tools and powers for eviction are fine as they are, they are working, and it is actually going to lead to more cost and more delay in terms of the challenges if these new mandatory powers are brought into force.
Q81 Steve McCabe: What do you think will happen if there are situations where these positive requirements that can be attached to orders clearly would be appropriate-would make sense, but the local support agencies do not have the money to fund them?
Gavin Smart: That is one of our concerns. In a time of significant reductions in public expenditure there is a concern where you could imagine landlords wanting to include a positive requirement but thinking to themselves, "But I know that the agencies that will provide the services that support this in the place that I am thinking about are not able to provide any more of that level of service, so what is the point in putting in a positive requirement that we can’t see being resourced?" I suppose a follow-on concern from that is that one might imagine that judges would say, "Well, actually this is a good step forward to be able to put positive requirements into injunctions, and we should see that happen on a regular basis." If knowledge of the local environment means you choose not to put one in, not because you do not think it is a good idea but because you just do not think it is likely to be resourced, there is a risk of failure to get the injunction, and that would be unfortunate.
Eamon Lynch: To answer your question directly, in cases with an anti-social behaviour situation where positive requirements may be considered appropriate and beneficial but frankly the provision is not there then I think the action would be to proceed with the order to stop the harm, while it is not giving up on support to rehabilitate, but I do not think it should get in the way of action.
Kevin Williamson: The principle is obviously a very good one-it is a more rounded proposal-but perhaps we need to see a bit more in terms of evidence in the regulatory impact about the resources available and what that potentially buys. I know that is very difficult.
Jane Plant: We already have something similar with the individual support orders for anti-social behaviour orders. They can only be put into order where it is practical and achievable, and we can’t have a situation where people are breaching orders because the provision is not there. I think that it is useful, it should be there and we should have positive requirements, but we have to be very mindful not to impose them without knowing that that service is available in the local community first.
Q82 Steve McCabe: Can I check-I think you have just referred to it, Ms Plant-if there is a requirement inserted in an order, that it follows that there should be a breach process for someone who does not comply with it?
Jane Plant: It will be an offence to breach any term of the injunction, a positive or negative aspect of it. It will not be able to impact the rest of the attachments, and someone will not be able to be sent to prison for failing to engage in a particular activity; but none the less, it still will be a breach of the order for which there can be proceedings brought.
Q83 Steve McCabe: Forgive me, I may have got this wrong, but that sounds to me like someone suffers anti-social behaviour, an order is applied, a requirement is attached to it, it seems like a sensible idea, and the person does not comply with it. There is not much of a sanction there, is how it sounds to me. Have I got that wrong, or is that how it will work?
Jane Plant: I am guessing there could be a fine imposed if they did not comply. I think it would be quite draconian to send someone to prison for failing to engage in perhaps a drug rehabilitation programme or something like that. I think the legislation is drafted in that way to avoid that, which I think we would have to support. But it is difficult when there are positive requirements to actually enforce them and to ensure that they are being complied with and then to take appropriate action that is proportionate, which I know was talked about in previous sessions.
Steve McCabe: Thank you. Does anyone dissent from that, or is that a common view?
Chair: Thank you, and please do not think you all have to answer every question if you just want to agree.
Q84 Mr Winnick: When I receive complaints-and I am sure the same applies to other politicians-about anti-social behaviour, I write to the police. I should say, as you are not representing the police, it is really rare that I get a response before my office starts to chase up, but leave that aside. But where the social landlord organisation is involved, obviously not in anti-social behaviour but where the person concerned or alleged to be concerned is a tenant of a social landlord, obviously I write to that body as well as the local authority. At what stage do you believe the social landlord should be actively involved in dealing with anti-social behaviour? Mr Lynch, you represent social landlords. Do you accept there is a responsibility where it is alleged the trouble, the harassment and the nuisance generally arises from a tenant of a social landlord?
Eamon Lynch: In my experience, the action starts as soon as there is a complaint and alert that there is a claim of anti-social behaviour happening. It is as soon as they become aware. There are legal requirements, published policies and procedures and so on, and all the ones I have seen make the commitment that as soon as a report is received a response will be made. Most often that is graded according to urgent, immediate within 24 hours, or otherwise within usually three to five days, something of that order.
Q85 Mr Winnick: Let me pursue this question of social landlords. Obviously, a good deal of alleged harassment and nuisance comes from people who are in no way tenants of social landlords-that goes without saying-but where the alleged person or persons are tenants of social landlords and it is proven that such nuisance is occurring and all attempts made to persuade the people involved to stop it, what action should be taken by a social landlord?
Eamon Lynch: The ultimate sort of sanction, of course, is eviction; removal from the property. That is generally accepted as being an action of last resort; but none the less, one that should not be shied away from where it is necessary to do so. You have heard in the previous session about the case management trials, for example, from 2011 and not just because of those sorts of trials, but I think the big focus in the last couple of years has been on what is called the spectrum of harm and protecting from harm and that kind of thing. Associated with that really is prompt investigation, problem-solving with partners as appropriate, and identifying what is needed to ideally put a stop to the behaviour from here on in and moving away from-how common it was I would argue with-the kind of scenario that people throw up about how many final warnings. I think it is about having a clear action plan, ideally developed in association with the complainant, the victim, and from the perpetrator’s point of view that we talk through approaches, we talk about mediation and so forth; but ultimately, that moves forward to a conclusion, and that conclusion is focused on limiting and hopefully removing the threat of harm.
Q86 Mr Winnick: You agree with those comments, I take it?
Kevin Williamson: Just very briefly, I think previous witnesses have stated that probably about 75% or 76% of anti-social behaviour incidents are resolved before we get anywhere near the sort of formal end of stuff, and then you are into a whole range or suite of tools. It is really at the extreme end when we are talking about injunctions and then possessions. These are relatively tiny numbers.
Jane Plant: I only wanted to add that, by law, each housing provider must have a published anti-social behaviour policy and procedure and that goes from the first complaint right through to eventual eviction or anti-social behaviour injunction proceedings. They must have a clearly documented policy, and they do take it very seriously, in my experience, right from the outset.
Q87 Mr Winnick: No one can be certain about what can happen in the future-that goes without saying-but if you bear in mind the tragedy of the Pilkington family, which obviously the four of you are perfectly well aware of, and what occurred when the person concerned took her daughter’s life and then herself as a result of a failure to act against persistent harassment, which the mother and the daughter could not stand any longer, are you reasonably satisfied that there is sufficient liaison between the local authority and other agencies in your areas in order to have co-ordinated action where such tragedies are likely to occur? Just brief answers; Mr Smart?
Gavin Smart: There is always the risk that things will go wrong, but people also learn from where things did go wrong. I think the Pilkington case brought into sharp focus the need to ensure proper communication and the proper recognition of a pattern of potentially quite low level but very, very damaging behaviour. I think that has been understood as a result of that case.
Q88 Mr Winnick: Mr Lynch, red alerts for these sort of cases?
Eamon Lynch: I think the biggest challenge for me is around housing associations and understanding the diversity of the sector in terms of housing associations that operate across multiple local-authority areas and, therefore, partnerships. I think there still are issues to be addressed in terms of how to more efficiently and/or effectively engage both ways between them and the partnerships. There is a big logistical issue around communication, information sharing and so on.
Q89 Mr Winnick: Anything to add, Mr Williamson?
Kevin Williamson: I would echo that. Obviously, it is at the front of all our minds at the moment, but we should not be complacent. This legislation gives us again an opportunity to make sure that those partnerships are working effectively.
Jane Plant: I think there is still some room for concern. In some of the cases that I do see, I would go back to the social housing provider and ask if they can provide me with evidence about how the agencies have interacted up until the point where I am involved, usually at a later stage, because it will have got to legal proceedings by then. It has improved over the last 10 years or so dramatically, but I still think there is room for improvement in multi-agency working.
Q90 Bridget Phillipson: In terms of young people and how this affects young people, when minors are involved the injunction to prevent nuisance or annoyance requires a hearing in the youth court. Where incidents concern the wider family or individuals who are not minors, who are adults, is there a risk that young people will have to appear in court twice or that different decisions could apply to the same charges?
Jane Plant: Yes, is the short answer. I can see why the provisions set out that minors should be dealt with in a youth court, because it is more geared to deal with children and their needs. But quite often it is not just a one person in the family situation. It is quite often mum and dad, a big brother who might be over 18 and somebody under 18 who are causing the problems. To deal with them in two very separate ways might result in different findings that are conflicting, and I think we need to look at whether there can be a different provision for a group action.
Q91 Bridget Phillipson: Do you think there is a provision that could be put in place that would deal with that? What would you recommend?
Jane Plant: I think perhaps if it was several members of a family, for example, there could be a provision for a group application, so there are multiple defendants within one application. If somebody was under the age of 18, they are going in there with their parents in any event, and I do not see the harm in them going into the county court for those proceedings.
Q92 Bridget Phillipson: Would anyone else like to contribute on that point?
Eamon Lynch: Just to say I agree with it.
Q93 Lorraine Fullbrook: I do apologise for being away, but I have read your papers. I would like to ask about the powers of possession, and I hope nobody else has asked this question. Does the Bill do everything that you would like to see it do to speed up the process for problem tenants?
Eamon Lynch: No, in short. I think the timescale for possession proceedings is a significant problem. You have probably read elsewhere it can take up to 12 months, or seven months on average. We would always say there is something that can be done to speed up the legal process in relation to that. Partly I think the measures brought forward in the Bill were a response to that, and our understanding is that they will make an improvement in a limited number of cases. So they address the issue in respect of some cases, but they do not address comprehensively the issue of delays in the judicial process.
Q94 Lorraine Fullbrook: What further action would you like to see, rather than have limited cases that this would solve, to have the majority of cases solved?
Eamon Lynch: Jane has far more experience in terms of the legal process, and it may be there are bits that can be speeded up there. But the big issue, it seems to me, from when I was taking cases on behalf of a landlord was the timescales set by the court may well be to do with capacity and things like that.
Q95 Lorraine Fullbrook: It is a judiciary issue rather than a process issue?
Eamon Lynch: Yes. Others may complement that with process improvements as well, but that is beyond my specific detailed knowledge.
Q96 Lorraine Fullbrook: Would anybody else like to make a comment about the speeding-up of the process?
Jane Plant: On behalf of the Law Society, the response that we have put in is basically about the proposed mandatory powers for possession in terms of it has been introduced to try to speed things up and to reduce costs. Our viewpoint is that it will not do either and that the current eviction process is actually working. There are process issues. The number of judiciary has been vastly reduced. Getting before a judge and getting a hearing date is taking longer and longer. The court staff are struggling to keep up with the admin of the court side of things, and so things are taking longer. Things that we would normally see in a trial in, say, six months are probably now taking nine, 10 or 12 months. That is not just a process thing; that is the way that the law has been developed, introducing complications such as discussing whether the eviction is proportionate where there is a mandatory ground for possession. That is something that the Law Society feels quite strongly about in terms of these proposals and does not really support the fact that there should be any more mandatory ground for possession, even to deal with severe anti-social behaviour cases.
Q97 Lorraine Fullbrook: Just on that, do tenants evicted for causing anti-social behaviour simply take up the same habits with new neighbours wherever they are moved to, or could some sort of offender management programme be put in place to prevent repeat problems?
Kevin Williamson: This is probably a joined-up agency-type question again. There is, quite rightly, this concern about you are moving the problem from one place to another. If you have a joined-up agency approach and you have perhaps some intensive family intervention, it is quite possible that the fresh start can be helpful, and there are case studies that suggest that. But it does rely on that joined-up effort.
Q98 Lorraine Fullbrook: In your experience if there is no multi-agency approach and somebody is evicted and moved elsewhere, do the majority of your cases cause aggravation to other areas that they are moved to?
Kevin Williamson: Presumably, the ultimate destination of some of these people would be the private rented sector, and so what would be the mechanism, if there was not that joined-up approach, to capture whether behaviour had changed or otherwise? Unless others have evidence, it is difficult to answer that question.
Gavin Smart: I think it would be quite hard in the private rented sector, which is highly mobile. I am not sure you can track the behaviour. I suppose what I would say is that it demonstrates how important that multi-agency approach is, because you do want to catch people and make an intervention but you do not want to leave them in place where they are causing significant misery to the people who are the victims of their behaviour. It is a tricky judgment, but I think where other routes have been exhausted and you end up with eviction that is the right route. The question is then what do you do with the householder that has been evicted.
Eamon Lynch: Purely on an anecdotal basis, I can think of individual cases where people who have perpetrated anti-social behaviour have been housed by a social landlord in a different area and have not perpetrated anti-social behaviour or not to the same sort of extreme sort of levels as previously. Perhaps that just points to the specifics of individual cases, the metaphor of big fish, small pond, and that kind of thing, removing them from certain sort of effects that may trigger or exacerbate that behaviour. As has been mentioned as well, we have things like starter tenancies, introductory tenancies and family support intervention sorts of programmes. Risk assessment may not be precisely the right term, but if we are accommodating people with that sort of history of anti-social behaviour, then there are cases and indications that with that sort of prior knowledge proper not only placement but support and management of those tenancies does improve the situation.
Q99 Lorraine Fullbrook: Under the draft Bill, would this not come full circle? If people were moved elsewhere and were causing aggravation to the community in their new area, would this not come back to a community trigger?
Gavin Smart: It might do if people are moved and are causing problems again, but I suppose it is worth reflecting on the fact that part of the purpose of this approach is for people to understand there are real consequences to their actions. In some cases, I think being exposed to those consequences allows people the opportunity to actually sit and think and to change their behaviour, so it is not the case that it has no effect on the behaviour of the individual or the household in question. I think sometimes people realise if they have been moved to another area, they have been given another chance, and they realise that landlords do take it seriously and will take action.
Q100 Chair: Are there comments from the rest of you on this?
Kevin Williamson: Just to say that the policy intent here, as I understand it, is not to increase the number of people in possession but just to speed up the process, as I understand it.
Jane Plant: Just a quick point on that: if somebody is evicted for anti-social behaviour then they will most likely be deemed to be intentionally homeless, which will cause them great difficulty in being re-housed in social housing. So that may account for why we do not always see them reoffending within social housing. They often tend to go into the private rented sector, and that comes back to previous issues that we talked about before about whether there is enough regulation of the private rented sector. But I must say that where people have gone back into social housing-I have evicted the same family twice from two different landlords, so I think there is an issue that they can simply be moving the problem as well.
Q101 Chair: One final question from me: one of the great things about this process of draft legislation is that there is still time for the Government to change anything, and our role is to make suggestions on changes rather than just for or against. Given that, can you each suggest one thing that you would like to see changed, if there is anything? What would be your priority if you could persuade the Government to change one thing? I am happy for anybody to start.
Kevin Williamson: Can I go for a couple, then, and be cheeky while people are thinking? Two areas where we are trying to work our way through stuff a bit are around noise and the community protection notice. If I give you the clause, your people will research it later. Clause 38(5), I think, seems to exclude action in relation to statutory noise, but part of the purpose of a CPN, where 30% of complaints arise, is around noise. How does that all interact is a question that we would have. Just being cheeky, as I was saying, on response to complaints, clause 92(4)(a), and persistence-the question in our mind there, and I think you had a discussion earlier about the trigger-is does persistence just imply a focus on quantity of complaints rather than the vulnerability issue, which I know you are all seized by.
Jane Plant: I will go. Obviously, I have already made it clear that we would remove the provisions for mandatory possession. But one amendment that definitely in our view should be made is that the test for a without-notice injunction is not set out. There was a case a few years back that looked at an eviction in the family at 9 pm. The TV cameras had turned up, and it really highlighted that they can be misused. In light of having the benefit of that case in front of us, we should really put a test in just to mirror the test that we use now.
Eamon Lynch: I would draw attention to the injunction to prevent nuisance and annoyance that, as you have heard, is closely modelled on the existing anti-social behaviour injunction. I would add as well that the proposed sort of test-i.e. nuisance and annoyance-is exactly the same as with the existing injunction that works extremely well, and the evidence is there. But the two things associated with that, which you have already heard, are this issue of where there is more than one respondent/defendant, particularly if they cross the age ranges, and the ability to hear that in the same court, and also to extend, again where appropriate and proportionate, the ability to exclude beyond the social-housing sector and make that sort of tentative line. The second, which is not so much improvement or change to the Act really, is to look also at the systemic-type issues such as information sharing and clarifying that it is okay to share information.
Gavin Smart: Not much else to say; I support what Eamon has said. I suppose the observation I would make, although I am not absolutely clear this is a change to the legislation as such, is where there is an delegation of community protection notices, we think that it would be much better if that was not on a case-by-case basis. If it were able to be done in advance for an agreed time period for an agreed purpose, that would seem to us to be a much more effective and less burdensome way of doing it.
Chair: Thank you all very much. The Committee will meet again next week.