The idea of fewer, more simplified, flexible and streamlined powers to tackle anti-social behaviour sounds very laudable in principle.
However, we need to realise that the housing sector has spent years gaining invaluable experience of working within existing legislation in partnership with other agencies, to prevent and tackle ASB whenever it occurs in our communities. Over the years there has been much case law to support what we do.
I know that ASBOs are not always as effective as we would like, however, they, along with ASB Injunctions (ASBIs), have helped us deal with anti-social behaviour very efficiently in the past. It is essential that enforcement agencies can still rely on the power of arrest.
All complaints should be dealt with first time and quickly, they shouldn’t have to wait until the number of people or frequency of complaint reaches a certain level. In taking this approach, the need for community triggers is limited, although they would provide another route for residents to highlight ASB.
Another area of interest relates to the introduction of proposed mandatory possession grounds. I am aware that the National Housing Federation has previously expressed concerns about the impact of recent legal judgements which required landlords to clearly demonstrate that they have acted proportionately and reasonably. Only after future testing in Court will it become apparent whether or not the proposal will become an entirely effective tool in an enforcement of officer’s arsenal.
I imagine that the new reforms will be met with some reluctance. Among social landlords there may be the view that ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’.
The current set of tools and powers have worked well for years and agencies and the courts know how and when to use them. New powers mean re-training, new forms and processes, new court rules and challenges and appeals over the first few years to test how they work.
Fortunately, some of the changes are not that significant. Currently, injunctions are heavily used – they are quick, no consultation is involved so the landlord controls the process and a power of arrest is available. The new Crime Prevention Injunction will work in a similar way – it will still operate through the county court, though with simpler criteria, and comes with a new helpful extension so it can be sought against 10 to 17-year-olds.
The Community Trigger is designed to ensure that repeated ASB complaints must be dealt with. This will no doubt be popular with the general public but for social landlords there will be concern about “serial complainers” requiring more attention than their complaints justify.
The White Paper says legislation will not outline what action should be taken by authorities once the “trigger” has been activated, and allows each area to decide what the trigger threshold, criteria and process should be.
For housing associations that operate over many different local authority areas, it could create an administrative headache.