In 2010, antisocial behaviour was perceived by the public to be at an all-time low, yet the past ten years of austerity have seen a rise in violent crime and antisocial behaviour. One of Boris Johnson’s first actions as Prime Minister was to pledge the recruitment of 20,000 more police officers to tackle these issues. Beyond policing however, it can be argued that prevention of antisocial behaviour should begin in the community, with housing providers sharing a responsibility to provide these safe environments.
The majority of negative terminations of tenancies are due to affordability and antisocial behaviour-related issues. Antisocial behaviour (ASB) can significantly undermine the expectation for housing providers to build calm and peaceful environments; often it is the behaviour of a few that can unsettle a neighbourhood, or make the way of life for victims untenable. Early intervention and strong policies towards victim protection, alongside the fostering of cultural understanding can help stop issues before they escalate.
In many cases the most vulnerable tenants and their families are those who are victims of ASB. Those with substance abuse problems; mental health issues or those in violent relationships are disproportionately likely to suffer the consequences of crime and ASB. But what happens in instances when the perpetrators of such behaviours are also some of the most vulnerable tenants? Identifying who is at risk and establishing a pre-tenancy agreement is fundamental to building sustainable tenancies and protecting those most in need.
Broxtowe Borough Council gives us best practice examples of understanding the nuances of ASB where both perpetrators and perceived perpetrators are also potentially vulnerable tenants. In dealing with occurrences of ASB, a tenant’s vulnerability is assessed in the initial stages of an investigation and subsequently taken into consideration with any action taken.
The 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Act placed the duty on local councils and housing providers to tackle and investigate harassment, vandalism, intoxicated behaviours, excessive noise and hate crimes. Since then, housing providers have been bound to publish and regularly review their ASB policy. Local authorities have the powers to take further action if unacceptable behaviour continues beyond warnings and early interventions. The failure to tackle ASB within your housing stock has a range of repercussions, the first of which is the negative impact these actions have upon the victims of this behaviour. Poor behaviour without swift intervention can quickly escalate into more serious crime that further undermines the quality of life of the wider community. Furthermore, trust in organisations can be impacted for current residents, as well as potential customers and business partnerships if ASB is not handled swiftly and fairly. In addition, more quantifiable damage can also occur against the bricks and mortar of your stock.
If your housing stock is diverse in either its geography or cultural make-up, it may be more difficult to develop a uniform ASB policy that addresses the full spectrum of complex needs. Key to strategies for tackling ASB taking positive effect, is that residents can easily access and understand them. Sharing what works with other housing providers and pooling resources alongside benchmarking could go a long way to bolster stretched services; show publicly where you have had successes in changing behaviour and building understanding. While working together with the police, local groups and other agencies can help deliver appropriate and proportionate responses.
The number of tenants in arrears and average value of those arrears is less for tenants who have undertaken the pre-tenancy workshop. There is also a higher number with rent accounts in credit and to date no anti-social behaviour cases.
One of the greatest tools for housing providers are introductory and starter tenancies. Under these, residents go into properties with an understanding that there are rules that need to be adhered to; if the behaviour or rent record isn’t satisfactory in the introductory period these tenancies can be extended to give residents a chance to improve.
In an increasingly diverse nation, conflict and prejudices can be built up through fear and misunderstanding. In order to build cohesive, understanding communities, one element of pre-tenancy training should be to adopt a zero-tolerance policy to harassment and hate crime. For those unfamiliar with the expectations associated with their tenancy, continuous support should also form a core part of the offering.
Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and the fire service found in 2018 that 40% of respondents nationally think that crime and antisocial behaviour is a problem in their area, up from 25% in 2015.
Diana Johnson, Kingston Upon Hull North, Speaking in Parliament 7th February 2019
Strategies should encourage and empower tenants to help themselves; schemes such as neighbourhood policing are a strong way for residents to build up the communities that they want to be living in. The presence of a Neighbourhood Policing Team can be an exceptionally effective way of employing a citizen-focused strategy to tackle ASB, but it is also necessary for those tenants encouraged to form one, to build this in partnership with local police and housing providers.
One of the key requirements for an ASB policy, is how accessible it is to your residents. It is imperative that victims of ASB feel confident that they can report incidents and that all residents in a community know the behaviour that is expected of them in the pre-tenancy stages. As part of our Sustainable Tenancies series, we recently explored how housing providers can fairly roll out digital self-service. Digitising the reporting of ASB can benefit complainants, meaning that for each tenant or issue logged, there would be an open log for both resident and housing provider to use as evidence if early invention doesn’t succeed. According to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, a perpetrator must be recorded exhibiting verbal attacks at least twice for it to legally constitute harassment. The first direction given by Citizens Advice regarding ASB is to, ‘Keep records, your records will be useful if you decide to take things further.’ If this recording process is embedded into online services, digital self-service provides a tangible bolster for residents.
Consistent disturbances or harassment can lead to people wanting to leave their home and by extension, their tenancy. Instances such as these can have a substantially negative impact on tenants’ quality of life and the sustainability of those tenancies. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation found in Scotland that 59% wanted to leave their property due to antisocial behaviour. Investment in good ASB policies paid off however, with that number dropping by 20% following intervention by housing providers. Investing in pre-tenancy training and clear ASB policies and processes can ensure residents are clear as to what is expected of them and protect the most vulnerable, strengthening tenancies and securing incomes.