‘Respect’ proposals to fine evicted families will ‘exacerbate poverty’

The government has been criticised for proposing to fine or cut the benefits of families evicted because of antisocial behaviour, under measures unveiled in its Respect plan published this week.

Families who have been evicted would be expected to accept help from an intensive support scheme run by the council and those who refuse could have their housing benefit temporarily withdrawn.

Local authorities will receive 28m to deliver the schemes, part of 80m allocated to implement the overall plan over the next two years.

But Shelter director Adam Sampson warned that withholding housing benefit would “exacerbate poverty, move the problem on to a new set of neighbours and increase homelessness” rather than tackle the causes of the problem.

The proposals form part of a range of measures which shift responsibility for implementing antisocial behaviour policies onto local authorities, which will be obligated to ensure outcomes are met through local area agreements.

Measures to increase the responsibilities of parents of children who engage in anti-social behaviour are also covered by the plan. Parents who do not supervise children who have been excluded from school for the first five days of their exclusion may be prosecuted.

Schools will be able to directly apply for parenting orders, rather than request them from their local education authority, as was previously the case. They will also be able to use voluntary parenting contracts before the child is excluded.

Councils will be able to increase the number of agencies that can issue orders – previously limited to LEAs, youth offending teams and the courts – with police community support officers and housing officers named as possible executors of the orders. Community officers will also be given new powers to take part in truancy sweeps.

New schemes for truants and their parents will also be introduced, with the prospect of prosecution or penalty notices for parents who do not co-operate or who make “insufficient progress”.
The government will set up a National Parenting Academy to train front-line staff, including social workers, to “deliver high quality parenting support”.

David Hawker, chair of the Association of Directors of Education and Children’s Services, said: “The government’s approach is right, but the devil will be in the detail. We need to strike the right balance and be very careful that we don’t end up with families falling though the net.”

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