Two vehicles, one destination

Tackling the “Neighbours from Hell” who feature in so many
newspaper headlines and television programmes is one of the
cornerstones of government policy. It was put on a statutory
footing last November when the controversial Antisocial Behaviour
Act received royal assent.

In a guide to the act, Home Office minister Hazel Blears defends
the government’s approach: “Too many people have had to put up with
the consequences of antisocial behaviour. A minority has, for too
long, spread disorder, fear and distress.” She adds that the act’s
new powers will make “a real and lasting difference” to

The act introduces powers to allow local authorities, housing
officers, police and other professionals to crack down on
antisocial behaviour. They include:

  • Permitting councils and housing action trusts to apply for
    antisocial behaviour orders (Asbos).
  • Lifting of media reporting restrictions on Asbos after
    conviction in youth courts.
  • Extending penalty notices for disorder to 16 and 17 year
  • Dispersal of intimidating groups, including in some areas
    allowing police and community support officers to escort
    unsupervised children home after 9pm.
  • The immediate closure of crack houses.

Traditionally, social services and housing have approached
tackling antisocial behaviour from positions at opposite poles.
Social services have provided the perpetrators with the necessary
support services – while still living in their homes – to address
the reasons behind their behaviour. But housing has taken more
punitive action by sanctioning or evicting individuals who cause
major problems in their neighbourhoods.

Stonham Housing Association, a social housing provider straddling
housing and social care, supplies accommodation, care and support
in 549 projects in England to more than 11,200 vulnerable people a

Chief executive Claire Tickell says the association aims to build a
bridge between housing and support as the two “need to be
inter-related” if socially excluded people are to become part of
their communities.

Some housing providers, says Tickell, may be tempted to look at
antisocial behaviour from a narrow perspective and take action
under the act. But she warns that antisocial behaviour “will not go
away as a result of a one-dimensional approach”.

It is not just housing professionals whose approach to antisocial
behaviour has left a lot to be desired. Diane Henderson, head of
care, support and diversity at the National Housing Federation,
says there are some “star-crossed [social services] staff for whom
the client is never wrong”.

Improved communication between social services and housing have
allowed both professions to take a more realistic approach to
dealing with the issue, she says.

The definition of what constitutes antisocial behaviour can be a
problem in deciding how to stop it. Henderson says: “What one
agency will say is a person’s medical condition another will call
criminal, and another unfortunate,” she says. “It is striking the
balance between not supporting an axe-wielding criminal and looking
at why someone is making life hell for others.”

So how do local authorities get their different departments to work
together on addressing antisocial behaviour? The Home Office’s
antisocial behaviour unit is funding four trailblazer councils in
England to develop new ways of working. One, Manchester, has been
awarded £599,000 to create multi-agency interventions.

Susan Triggs, assistant director of housing, says Manchester has
approached the issue with an authority-wide perspective since 1992.
This month the council started its research into what methods work
and how they can be improved.

The council works with a family that is behaving antisocially to
try to change their behaviour before they lose their home. “It is
far better to have systems and procedures in place to work with
families than evict them. We want to help families become part of
the community,” says Triggs.

But does this mean that antisocial people can stay in their homes
while making the lives of those around them unbearable?
Manchester’s director of children, families and social care,
Pauline Newman, denies this is the case: “You can’t just leave the
issue of antisocial behaviour because many of the victims are

She says it is not acceptable for social services to say that
antisocial behaviour is nothing to do with them, as it is not
solely a housing issue. “The message we disseminate is that we are
working together and no-one gets the luxury of a polarised approach
to tackling antisocial behaviour.”

But does eviction make the situation worse for an antisocial tenant
and their family? Newman says Manchester does not take evictions
lightly and it is not necessarily “a downward spiral” for those

Sutton Council in London has worked hard on joined-up antisocial
behaviour policies. The issue came to a head in 2000 when its
housing staff obtained several Asbos. Eleanor Brazil, strategic
director of community services, questioned the housing department
on the level of input from children and families, and youth justice

“They were involved superficially but not seen as having a role in
prevention,” Brazil says. “We had a radical rethink and set up a
group involving police, social services, education and the
voluntary sector.”

When a tenant is going to be evicted, Brazil checks whether the
children and families team has offered appropriate support. “An
organisation only has to do this a few times for it to become
common practice.” She concedes that such an approach may “come less
naturally” when housing is the only department dealing with the
situation. Sutton has 8,000 tenancies and, in 2003, 28 antisocial
behaviour injunctions were issued. It started 15 possession
procedures, four of which went to eviction.

So what should social services and housing staff do when faced with
an antisocial client? Brazil says they should come together
promptly and consider what lies beneath the problem. But she
admits: “This can be difficult for front-line housing staff as they
have to deal with difficult situations on estates where other
tenants are upset.”

Henderson agrees and says professionals should ask themselves what
support the person needs and how the needs of other tenants and
residents can also be met. But she sounds a warning: “If a local
authority goes too far in any one direction you may not be helping
the antisocial tenant or the other neighbours.”

Social landlords’ responsibilities under the act

  • All social housing landlords must publish their policy and
    procedure on dealing with antisocial behaviour within six months of
    the act becoming law.
  • Social landlords can apply for a demotion order against a
    secure or an assured tenant who is habitually antisocial. This ends
    the person’s tenancy and replaces it with a less secure
  • Social landlords can apply to the courts for a housing
    injunction to prevent nuisance behaviour which indirectly or
    directly affects their housing management functions.

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