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ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR PROCEDURE

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					   Housing Services




ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR
      PROCEDURE




PROCEDURE SUMMARY
     Reviewed March 2007




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                     ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR PROCEDURE

A SUMMARY


Introduction

This document is a summary of the Council’s Anti-social Behaviour Procedure. The
Procedure is intended as a guide for Housing Services staff and sets out:

   the Council’s definition of anti-social behaviour (ASB)
   the legislation available to Housing Services for tackling ASB
   how staff should deal with initial complaints of ASB
   when to pursue legal remedies for ASB and an explanation of these
   suggested remedies for ASB on a problem by problem basis


Definition

The Council has adopted the following definition of ASB, taken from the Anti-social
Behaviour Act 2003:

“Conduct which is capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to anyone who
has the right to live in accommodation owned by the Council, those living in
neighbouring properties, whether they be owner-occupiers or tenants of other
landlords, or those who work in the locality or use local facilities, or which
directly or indirectly relates to or affects the housing management functions of
the Council.”

It should be noted that ASB has been held by the Courts not to be normal,
reasonable behaviour such as day to day living noise which may cause disturbance
to neighbours because of a particular sensitivity or because of poor sound insulation.

In respect of racial harassment, the Council has also adopted the definition
recommended by the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry:

“A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim
or by any other person”


Legislation

The law as it affects ASB is constantly evolving and Housing Services staff receive
training to keep up to date with any changes. Legislation dealing with ASB includes:

   Housing Acts 1985 and 1996 – these Acts set out the Grounds for Possession
    for Council tenants. Breach of these Grounds could lead to a tenant being
    evicted. The 1996 Act also provides for Councils to adopt Introductory
    Tenancies.
   Crime and Disorder Act 1998 – this Act introduced Anti-social Behaviour Orders
    (ASBOs) which the Council can obtain against perpetrators of ASB.
   Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 – this Act widened the powers to obtain ASB
    injunctions by including behaviour “capable” of causing nuisance. It also
    introduced Demoted Tenancies.



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ASB – the early stages

Housing Services has legal responsibilities as a landlord and must follow Council
Policy (see the separate document Statement of Policy on Anti-social Behaviour
which is also available in summary form). Staff will enforce the Conditions of
Tenancy by acting to solve a complaint where ASB is reported, and all complaints will
be treated seriously and investigated thoroughly.

This Section deals with the preliminary reporting of ASB and covers the following
areas:

   Mediation – complainants are advised to aim for conciliation rather than
    confrontation in the early stages of a dispute. To this end the Council uses the
    services of East Surrey Community Mediation, an independent body which offers
    free mediation to Council tenants.
   Diary and Record Keeping – it is important that both staff and complainants
    keep records of the nuisance both to assess progress and to use as evidence
    should the nuisance escalate. Complainants are given diary sheets to complete
    and staff complete an Initial Report and log the complaint on a spreadsheet.
    There is a separate reporting procedure for complaints of racial harassment, and
    a corporate as well as departmental register.
   Receiving complaints – a complaint can be made verbally or in writing by the
    victim themselves or on their behalf by a Councillor, MP, Citizens’ Advice Bureau,
    Social Services, police or other agency. It is not necessary for a complaint to be
    in writing before taking action. Anonymous complaints will be dealt with if they
    can be substantiated by other means, eg witnessed by the Management Officer.
   Interviews – staff are given guidance on how to conduct the interview with the
    complainant and, if agreed, with the alleged perpetrator. There are separate
    guidance notes for incidents of racial harassment.
   Action plan – the interview will end with an agreed action plan. This may include
    diary keeping, referrals to other agencies or interviewing the alleged perpetrator
   Interviewing the perpetrator – such an interview will normally produce one of
    three results: denial, counter claims or acceptance. The procedure sets out how
    the Management Officer should deal with each of these depending upon the
    individual circumstances and evidence available.
   Acceptable Behaviour Contracts – (ABCs) are informal agreements with no
    legal basis, nor are they legally enforceable. They are used primarily to curb
    ASB by youths. They set out specific examples of unacceptable behaviour and
    are signed by the youth, his/her parents, the Management Officer and the police.
    ABCs have been found to be very effective in dealing with low-level ASB and
    preventing its escalation to more serious incidents.


ASB – Legal Action

In considering whether to take legal action against the perpetrators of nuisance the
Management Officer must undertake a range of Customer Safety Checks. There
are some vulnerable tenants where legal action should only be considered as a last
resort. The court will rightly be concerned about the tenant’s lack of culpability and
the likely harm to the tenant that may be caused by eviction in the light of their
illness. Those whom the council may consider vulnerable might include:




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   tenants with mental or physical disabilities
   elderly tenants
   families with young children
   tenants with substance misuse issues.

Following the Customer Safety Checks, the Management Officer will assess the
severity of the ASB and the evidence available and will decide, with reference to the
Estates Manager and Legal Services as appropriate, on the next step. There are a
number of legal remedies available to Housing Services including:

   Injunctions – these can be ASB injunctions as set out in the Anti-social
    Behaviour Act 2003 which may or may not carry a power or arrest if breached.
    Alternatively the Council can apply for a “common law” injunction in order to
    enforce the terms of the Conditions of Tenancy. In either case, the matter will be
    referred via Legal Services to the County Court and evidence will be needed in
    order to convince the judge to make the order. The evidence could take the form
    of photographs (for example of an untidy garden), or may require witnesses to be
    present or to swear affidavits. An injunction can be a stand-alone remedy, but
    may also be used in tandem with other proceedings, for example to stop ASB
    pending a possession hearing.

   Anti-social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) – these are commonly thought of as
    being for use against youths, but in fact can be obtained against any person over
    10 years old. The main condition is that the person in question has acted in an
    anti-social manner which was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to
    one or more persons not of the same household. Formal consultation with the
    police is required before an application for an ASBO can be made. An ASBO (in
    similar fashion to an ABC) will typically set out specific examples of unacceptable
    behaviour and will often specify areas that the perpetrator cannot go to, or
    curfews.

    Although the process for getting an ASBO is civil in nature and hearsay evidence
    is admissible, the burden of proof is the criminal criteria of “beyond reasonable
    doubt”. This is because breach of an ASBO is a criminal offence. Hearsay
    evidence should therefore be particularly strong, and it will always be preferable
    to have first-hand witness or police evidence for an ASBO application to succeed.

   Serving a Notice – a Notice is literally advice to the tenant that legal proceedings
    have commenced. A Notice of Seeking Possession is used against a secure
    tenant who has breached their Conditions of Tenancy; a Notice of Proceedings
    for Possession is for an Introductory tenant; a Notice of Proceedings for
    Demotion is for a secure tenant, but where the Council is seeking to demote the
    tenancy to insecure status for 12 month rather than seek possession. The Notice
    is the final warning to the tenant – if they continue to fail to abide by the
    Conditions of Tenancy after the Notice has been served, the Management Officer
    will refer the case, via Legal Services, to the County Court for a hearing.

   Court Hearing – with an Introductory tenancy the judge has no discretion but to
    award possession. With secure tenants, the judge may decide to award a
    suspended possession order rather than an outright which in effect gives the
    tenant a final chance. The judge also has discretion as to whether to demote a
    tenancy or not. The Council can apply for a demotion order at the same time as
    a possession order so that the judge has the option of awarding one or the other.




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Before, during and after the legal process, the Council has a duty in respect of
witness and complainant support. This support could range from merely keeping
the complainant informed to awarding a management transfer. The Management
Officer will assess each situation individually and if necessary carry out a risk
assessment of the complainant’s home environment. Safety of the complainant or
witness is paramount. The Council recognises that ASB can make tenants feel
vulnerable and will work with other agencies to support and protect them such as:

   Social Services
   Police Community Support Officers
   East Surrey Domestic Violence Forum
   Victim Support.

Whilst hearsay evidence and professional witnesses may be used, it is important for
victims themselves to give evidence as this will be more detailed and will show first-
hand the distress and annoyance the nuisance is causing. Complainants must be
made aware from the outset that whilst hearsay evidence may be acceptable for
lesser remedies such as injunctions, it is unlikely that ASBOs or possession or
demotion orders will be obtained without direct evidence from the complainants.

The final legal remedy detailed in the Procedure is Environmental Health
Abatement Notices. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 gives powers to local
authorities and private individuals to take action where problems are “prejudicial to
health or a nuisance” and includes areas such as:

   smoke
   noise
   accumulation of rubbish

In such cases the Management Officer will work closely with Environmental Health in
order to obtain an Abatement Notice. Failure of the perpetrator to comply with the
Notice can result in a fine or a prison sentence.


ASB Complaints – problem by problem

Part 4 of the Procedure deals with the main causes for complaint:

   Property – including unauthorised alterations, illegal use and vandalism
   Noise – including parties, music and rowdy behaviour
   Personal conflict – including graffiti and threatening behaviour
   Dogs
   Communal Areas – including rubbish and children congregating
   Cars
   Gardens

This Section sets out who can deal with each type of complaint (eg Housing
Services, Environmental Health, the police) and what they are able to do.




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Conclusion

The ASB Procedure is primarily a guide for staff and will be reviewed every three
years unless there are legislative or policy changes in which case it will be reviewed
sooner.

If you wish to receive a copy of the full Procedure, please contact Maureen Farnell,
Housing Services Manager on 01883 732806.

Reviewed March 2007




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