Housing and Anti-Social Behaviour: The Way Ahead
- The Government also undertook, in response to a recommendation of the Scottish Affairs Committee to bring forward a co-ordinated programme of administrative measures to deal with the problem of anti-social behaviour. These included new Scottish Office guidance on housing and neighbour problems. This was published in November 1998 and disseminated advice and details of those of the Committee's recommendations directed to landlords. It also stresses, as recommended by the Committee, the importance of inter-agency and inter-departmental co-operation in tackling neighbour problems.
Guidance on Housing and Neighbour Problems
- SODD Circular 16, "Housing and Neighbour Problems" (November 1998) outlined the new legislative measures brought in under the Crime and Disorder Act. The Circular also sought to draw together into a comprehensive practical guidance manual for housing staff (and others with an interest) the advice and good practice already identified by a number of bodies.
- Circular 16 stresses the need to have a tenancy agreement which is capable of being readily understood, and which setss out in plain English a clear and comprehensive coverage of the rights and responsibilities of both landlord and tenant. It stresses how important it is that the tenancy agreement spells out the action which will be taken to deal with anti-social behaviour, and that consistent enforcement of tenancy conditions is undertaken if agreements are to have any force. The importance of the tenancy agreement cannot be overstated. It is probably the most effective tool the landlord has if they are to manage a problem tenant particularly if that tenant's behaviour warrants that he or she loses the tenancy. If a tenant is to be taken to task for breaking a condition of tenancy, that condition must be clearly stated. Any action to evict a tenant for anti-social behaviour will require to be raised on the grounds that a condition of tenancy has been breached. It is particularly important to spell out in detail the conduct that is required of a tenant under the terms of the tenancy agreement and not simply to rest on a broad definition of conduct.
- In 1996-97, with funding provided to it by The Scottish Office, the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland produced a Model Secure Tenancy Agreement (MoSTA) for use by local authorities, Scottish Homes and other secure landlords. There had not been, until then, any model secure tenancy agreement for public sector tenants equivalent to the Model Assured Tenancy Agreement (MATA) first produced by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations in 1988 and revised in 1990 and 1997. As a result, tenancy agreements issued by local authorities, Scottish Homes and other secure landlords in Scotland varied widely.
- The model agreement sets out clearly, comprehensively and in plain English, the rights and responsibilities of both the landlord and the tenant. Under the heading "Respect for Others" the model sets out explicitly the behaviour expected of the tenant, those living with the tenant and any visitors under the tenancy agreement, including particular prohibitions on behaviour which may cause nuisance or annoyance to neighbours or any person in the neighbourhood and on harassment or assault of any person in the house or neighbourhood, for whatever reason.
- The MoSTA includes a summary document for use by lettings officers in explaining to tenants precisely what the agreement means and what the consequences will be if any of its terms are broken. [Beverly - do we need to give some sense of how widely MOSTA based tenancy agreements have actually been adopted??] Many local authorities have adopted the MoSTA, tailoring the model to suit the needs of their particular areas.
- Circular 16 stresses the value to landlords of using mediation to intervene to resolve problems before they escalate. There is potential for widespread use of mediation to nip problem behaviour in the bud before it becomes intractable and difficult to resolve. The option of mediation can also provide a spur to improved behaviour by spelling out the more drastic measures that might have to be taken if the option to resolve the problem by mediation is not taken up. The Scottish Affairs Committee report urged The Scottish Office to discuss with landlords and other agencies how mediation services might be provided across Scotland. As a first step, the Department commissioned a study, to examine how mediation is used in Scotland and to provide guidance to housing landlords. Copies of the research report, "Resolving Neighbour Disputes through Mediation in Scotland" and "Main Findings" were distributed to all social landlords and others with an interest in February this year.
- In August, SACRO (Safeguarding Communities Reducing Offending) was awarded £186,513 over 3 years to allow them to provide a training centre, a consultancy service, and seminars to encourage the expansion of community mediation throughout Scotland in line with the recommendations made by the Scottish Affairs Committee. We hope many landlords will make use of these services.
- Circular 16 makes clear that legal remedies should only be used by landlords when preventative and management approaches have failed to resolve the problem effectively. In particular, action to evict a tenant for anti-social behaviour should be seen as a last resort, not only because of the seriousness of taking away someone's home but also because eviction will not in itself resolve the problem; it will simply move it elsewhere. The guidance stressed that landlords should ensure that their written policies and procedures include advice on how and when legal remedies should be used; landlords were also encouraged to evaluate their use of legal remedies.
Crime and Disorder Act 1998
- Annex A lists the legal remedies currently available to landlords to deal with the problem, including those brought in under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Those new measures brought in under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 which most directly impact on anti-social behaviour are discussed below.
Anti-social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs)
- This is an order which can be applied for by the local authority in consultation with the police against an individual whose behaviour is anti-social (i.e. causes alarm or distress to one or more people not in the same household as themselves). The order will prohibit the person from doing whatever is considered necessary to protect people in the area from further anti-social acts by the person.
- Applications can also be made by the local authority against owner-occupiers; private sector tenants; and tenants of public sector landlords, including local authorities. Orders can only be made against those aged 16 or over. Applications will be made to the sheriff court acting in its civil capacity. Allowance is made for co-operation across neighbouring police and local authority boundaries. Children under 16 are not included in such orders as such persons may be reported to a Childrens Hearing and it is up to the hearing to decide what measures are required.
- Breach of an order without reasonable excuse is a criminal offence with a maximum penalty on indictment of five years in prison.
- The Executive is aware of concerns that the court process for the granting of an anti-social behaviour order is not sufficiently speedy to put an immediate stop to bad behaviour in the way that interim interdict can and of the suggestion that the solution would be the provision of interim Anti-social Behaviour Orders . This issue was considered during the passage of the Crime and Disorder Bill. It was felt, however, that urgent cases would be likely to involve criminal conduct and could be addressed by other means, such as the use of interim interdict. Where there is a particular urgency, the local authority applicant can seek that the period of notice to the person against whom the Anti-Social Behaviour Order is made, should be as little as 48 hours, and then make representations to the sheriff to justify an early diet being fixed for the hearing.
Anti-Social Behaviour as ground for eviction
- Section 23 of the Crime and Disorder Act extends the grounds available to public sector and other landlords to repossess a house in cases of criminal conduct committed, or anti-social behaviour committed or likely to be committed, in the locality of tenanted property by the tenant, or someone residing or lodging with them, or by visitors to the property. In recognition of the reluctance of neighbours to give evidence where there is a risk of intimidation and retaliation, the new requirement to prove only that anti-social behaviour is "likely to" occur allows those not directly affected, such as employees of the landlord, to observe the bad behaviour and give evidence that the behaviour they had observed was of a sort likely to cause alarm, distress, nuisance or annoyance. This will enable tougher action to be taken against drug-dealers and other criminals, and will facilitate the use of professional witnesses.
- Housing legislation already provided discretionary grounds for eviction where the house was used for criminal or immoral purposes, or where the tenant or any person residing in the property conducted themselves in a manner which caused a nuisance or annoyance to residents, either in the property itself or in the vicinity of the house. The provisions did not, however, extend to cover criminal acts committed in the locality of the house, or to cover the activities of visitors to the properties. Section 23 of the Crime and Disorder Act amends the provisions in these areas and brings the Scottish provisions into line with those for England and Wales.
Once again, it is important that the tenancy agreement should contain in detail the behavioural conditions expected of a tenant, someone residing with him or her and any visitors so that any breach of tenancy condition can be enforced.
Additional police powers of seizure of sound-producing equipment
- Section 24 of the Crime and Disorder Act brought in additional powers for the police to seize noise making equipment which is disturbing neighbouring households. The new provisions enable the police to confiscate equipment immediately for 28 days if someone fails to stop the noise when asked to do so by the police under the Civic Government Act provisions. The owner can then ask for the equipment to be returned to him, but will have to collect it in a way which suits the police and to pay whatever charge the police consider reasonable to cover their costs.