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Specialist courts can cut anti-social behaviour rates

Glenn Harris
May 30, 2023

Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) is a serious problem in our communities. Neighbours (and others) who make excessive noise, indulge in drunken behaviour, or attract criminality to neighbourhoods by drug dealing or other illegal acts make life miserable for the law-abiding majority.

This is no small matter. In the twelve months ending in September 2022, the Police recorded 1.1 million incidents of ASB. Recent research by Resolve and YouGov estimates there were as many as 10 million victims of ASB in the last three years, a number of victims considerably higher than official records suggest.

Further, 44% of adults say ASB is an ongoing problem in their area and 57% say more needs to be done to tackle ASB. Alongside these statistics, Midland Heart’s own experience is that ASB is a serious and ongoing problem.

57% say more needs to be done to tackle ASB. Quote

That’s why Midland Heart worked with Shaun Bailey MP and Baroness Newlove to set up the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Anti-Social Behaviour. The APPG provides a forum for parliamentarians and other interested parties to discuss the challenges they face in addressing ASB and how these might be overcome.

During the last 6 months, the APPG has heard evidence from housing providers, tenants, ASB specialists, academics, police and crime commissioners, and others about the problems they face in addressing anti-social behaviour in their communities. The group has now published its first report and has made a number of wide-ranging recommendations.

Firstly, there are problems with defining ASB. It is not always clear what counts as ASB and what doesn’t and when action can and cannot be taken. The group has therefore recommended that the government and other stakeholders clarify the definition of ASB and the threshold for action with a national awareness campaign.

The report also recommends that social landlords promote a clear definition of ASB and what they will do to address it and support tenants. Social landlords must communicate better with their tenants about the powers they have and publish and publicise the number of ASB cases they deal with and the outcomes; including explaining why no action was taken where this is the case.

Secondly, the report highlights the need for better data collection and analysis of how ASB is addressed. The lack of information about ASB stems at least in part from the fact that breaches are dealt with in civil court as ‘contempt’ and so outcomes are not recorded as they would be in criminal cases.

The centrepiece of the report is a recommendation to pilot a ‘problem solving housing court’ to address ASB and other housing issues e.g. arrears and possession claims. The group heard about ‘problem solving courts’ in evidence from the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands, who have piloted this approach for female offenders at risk of custodial sentences. 

‘Problem solving courts’ can make an order for a defendant to see the same judge on a monthly basis to review their case, alongside working with agencies providing a bespoke support programme to address the underlying issues that have led them to be in court.

‘Problem solving housing courts’ would take a similar approach to addressing ASB by requiring perpetrators to meet regularly with a judge and work with support agencies to address any underlying issues they have. As well as ASB, a specialist housing court would enable rent arrears, possession cases and other issues to be dealt with by judges who have undergone specialist training on housing issues and understand the complexity of law in this area.

A specialist court dealing with ASB would also be able to collate more reliable data on how ASB is being addressed and what works and what doesn’t. Accurately evaluating the effectiveness of ASB policy will be key to learning from experience and improving our responses.

Launched at a mid-May reception in the House of Lords, the report has cross-party backing, and has been endorsed by Conservative Peer, Baroness Newlove; Labour's Mike Amesbury MP; and the Liberal Democrat's Sarah Green MP. It's also supported by over twenty Police and Crime Commissioners, several leading academic researchers on ASB and some of the country's largest housing associations. I’d like to thank all those who contributed to the inquiry.

Whilst it’s a great piece of work, the hard work of convincing the government of the value of the recommendations begins now. I look forward to working with MPs and civil servants to deliver the changes that we need.

Glenn passport style

Glenn Harris is CEO of Midland Heart, one of the largest social housing providers in England. Midland Heart also supports the APPG for Anti-Social Behaviour.

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