When we talk about nuisance neighbours we don’t mean someone who
annoys us by popping round for a cup of sugar at midnight. Families
whose behaviour is deemed “antisocial” are typically aggressive
towards their neighbours, have children apparently out of control,
and make a lot of noise. And antisocial neighbours dubbed by the
government and the tabloids as “families from hell” can have a
devastating impact their neighbours.
A Home Office survey of the first 100 cases seen by the
neighbour nuisance expert panel established in February 2004, found
that more than two-thirds of neighbour nuisances were caused by
families. Half were lone parents and half couples with children.
Half the cases involved threatening and intimidating behaviour, and
much of it was alcohol and drug-related, with noise, criminal
activity, criminal damage and violence the most common complaints.
In 38 per cent of the families, children were not attending school
regularly, or at all.
One or two troublesome families can make the neighbours’ lives
miserable, but there are legal remedies when the nuisance reaches
Antisocial behaviour orders (Asbos), acceptable behaviour
contracts (ABCs) and the threat of eviction are the most commonly
used lines of defence. Asbos, which were introduced in 1998, are
civil orders made by a court for a minimum of two years. They
prohibit people from acts likely to cause harassment, alarm or
distress to their neighbours, and from entering defined areas.
ABCs are theoretically voluntary agreements between individuals
and the local police, the housing department, registered social
landlord, or school. They are often offered as an alternative to
prosecution, eviction or school exclusion and are used to encourage
young adults, children, and parents to take responsibility for bad
behaviour. ABCs are intended to tackle harassment, graffiti,
criminal damage and verbal abuse.
From the point of view of children, eviction only compounds
family difficulties, and the government has now acknowledged that
families who cause most trouble to other people are often those
with the most severe problems of their own. In February the
government announced £1.25m funding, to be split between 50
new action areas signed up to its Together campaign, to provide
intensive parenting programmes. The money – £25,000 for each
area – won’t go far. But it may stimulate voluntary sector
organisations and others to develop interventions which offer more
to troubled and troublesome children than an Asbo.
The Dundee Experience
The NCH Dundee Families Project was established in 1996 to
tackle the root causes of neighbour nuisance, when it became clear
that eviction was counter-productive. Since then it has worked
directly with 250 families. It provides three main support services
to families: via outreach, residence in a “core block”, and in
Gill Strachan, service manager of the Dundee Families Projects,
outlines a typical therapeutic intervention.
“The first step is a thorough assessment over four to six days,
examining family dynamics, relationships, the family’s functioning
internally and externally, substance misuse and issues around loss
and separation. We ask about their parenting experience and how it
has impacted on their own,” says Gill.
Following the assessment, project staff join a wide variety of
agency workers to draw up a detailed support plan, with specific
tasks and interventions.
They work intensively on behaviour patterns on a one-to-one,
family or group basis. They teach anger management and parent
skills, and cover basic cooking, budgeting and the health and
welfare needs of the children. Workshops focus on issues such as
managing a tenancy, living in the community, and how to live with
neighbours. The children have sessions that examine schooling
issues, acceptable behaviour, and roles and responsibilities in the
“A lot of our families are affected by alcohol or substance
misuse and we set a clear expectation that they are working towards
– or are on – a reduction programme, with very detailed goals and
“Some families move on fairly quickly, but others have such
long-standing problems they need help for many years. Glasgow
University, which published research into the project in 2001,
found that two thirds of the cases were successful, while one
fifth did not meet the expected targets and one tenth of families
refused to engage with it.
Detailed estimates suggested that the project saved Dundee City
Council £117,600 a year because of the decrease in tenant
evictions and because fewer children were taken into care.
Facts from the Families Project
About two thirds of households were
Nearly all families were reliant on
benefits. <E0DC> 70% of adults had drug/alcohol
Over 50% of adults had criminal
Almost half the children showed
evidence of neglect.
More than half the women had
suffered domestic violence.