Scotland's approach to antisocial behaviour: review findings

This report presents findings on the perceptions of current approaches to antisocial behaviour in Scotland, based on discussions with key stakeholders including victims and frontline staff. The report will help inform future reviews on best practice for preventing and tackling antisocial behaviour.

Annex A: Background paper and questions given to participants

Is there another way to approach antisocial behaviour?

Discussion paper by the Scottish Government and Scottish Community Safety Network


1. Addressing antisocial behaviour (ASB) remains a key aim of many community groups, agencies and statutory bodies across Scotland. ASB is a re-occurring problem which continues to affect both rural and urban communities.

2. There is no precise definition of antisocial behaviour and it can mean different things to different people. However, the Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004 defines it as:

  • acting in a manner that causes or is likely to cause alarm or distress
  • pursuing a course of conduct that causes or is likely to cause alarm or distress to at least one person not of the same household as the perpetrator

3. The Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004 was the last time legislation was put in place to address the issue in Scotland. The publication ‘Promoting Positive Outcomes: Working Together to Prevent Antisocial Behaviour in Scotland’ however, was developed by CoSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) and the Scottish Government in 2009 and is currently the key framework that antisocial behaviour practitioners in Scotland use for guidance. This framework set out a new approach, focussing less on Antisocial Behaviour Orders and more on “smarter” solutions using prevention, integration, engagement and communication as key tools. This approach has meant Scotland has seen a welcomed decrease in punitive action, however - are there further steps we can take to prevent anti-social behaviour?

4. The Christie Commission’s findings in 2011, identified the need to take a preventative approach to tackling social issues. Since then, there have been many initiatives which have been influenced by, and built upon, the aims of this work. However, over a decade on from the Christie Commission, it is clear that we must also consider how to refresh and modernise this agenda and reflect that there is still a long way to go concerning effective prevention. How might we do this?

5. The general landscape of community safety in Scotland has changed and developed over the last 10 years (see the 2018 report Community Safety – The emerging landscape and future opportunities and the 2019 report Developing a Community safety Narrative for Scotland) which has mirrored justice policy, in terms of seeing a shift in its interpretation of prevention with increased focus on understanding what drives people to offend. Indeed, the recently published Vision for Justice in Scotland prioritises the need for person-centred, holistic and trauma-informed services that use the skills and assets of communities and people with lived experience to create safer communities and shift societal attitudes and circumstances which perpetuate crime and harm.

6. Existing examples of this kind of approach, can be seen through:

  • Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) which has used a public health approach to tackle gang and knife violence, with the work of the VRU now being replicated in other parts of the UK and receiving international acclaim.
  • The work of Community Justice Scotland using what they term as ‘smart justice’ to prevent offending and keep people out of prison as far as possible by addressing the needs of people affected by the justice system through effective community interventions and support.

These initiatives have used the best evidence around ‘what works’ to design innovative services that are making real progress in tackling social problems. Drawing inspiration from these examples - is there another way we might approach anti-social behaviour? What might this look like?

There are some examples from England and Wales of approaching ASB in a different way, for example, by the introduction of Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) to engage with local communities and address low level disorder. These PCSOs are given more scope to support work to reduce the vulnerability of those engaging in ASB rather than using enforcement. It is an approach that is also being used in City of Edinburgh Council, through their Family and Household Support Service.

Current Scottish picture of ASB research

7. The SCSN undertook some research in 2020 entitled ‘The Scottish Picture of Antisocial Behaviour’ which tells us that:

  • Levels of ASB have decreased over the past 10 years and the public have noticed this decline in their areas. 29% of adults in 2017/18 thought ASB was common in their area which is down from 46% in 2009/10. Police data continues to highlight general disturbances; noise nuisance; neighbour dispute; and vandalism as the most frequent forms of ASB reported to them.
  • Nevertheless, those living in the most deprived areas, in socially rented housing and in large urban areas, as well as younger people, are more likely to perceive ASB issues in their area.
  • While it is an improving picture, there is a strong link between ASB and area deprivation, possibly arriving as a result of intensively neighboured housing and a lack of community facilities and social services.
  • Perceptions of ASB and who engages in it are also often inaccurate and influenced by stereotypes.
  • Court action for ASB has decreased over the last 10 years, reflecting a shift from treating ASB as an issue of law and order to one of addressing the vulnerability of those engaging in ASB to prevent further issues.

8. The key findings from the report point to the need to address false perceptions around ASB and its prevalence but also how best to approach the issue in a holistic way, working with all members of the community. The report clearly indicates that the community safety sector are on the right track in Scotland but reiterates a message that we have further to go in finding solutions together.

9. Feedback from local authorities tells us that since the advent of the pandemic, there has been an increase in ASB due to rising frustrations, lower tolerance and increased mental health difficulties, substance misuse and isolation. However, we also know that during COVID-19, ‘pro-social’ behaviour happened organically, such as, doing shopping for others, clearing paths of snow, or keep a watch for elderly neighbours. While ‘building back better’ from the pandemic, there is a rare opportunity to learn more about what drives ASB as well as keeping hold of the collective goodwill shown during the pandemic.

10. We also know since the pandemic that there is public support to continue much of the adaptation and innovation that emerged during this time of crisis. Various studies have pointed to the list below as key areas of support. How might these influence another way to approach anti-social behaviour?

  • Person-centeredness
  • A focus on relationships
  • Participation and collaboration with communities
  • Agility and flexibility
  • Fostering community spirit
  • More support for the vulnerable
  • Addressing income inequality and social justice

What could another way to approach ASB look like in Scotland?

11. Thinking about the above, we are interested in knowing what you think another way to approach ASB might look like; whether you feel this is something that could be delivered in Scotland; and, if so, what should this include and how might we go about this?

12. Specifically:

(a) What changes should be made to the current approach or what further steps should be taken to help prevent ASB?

(b) What might the challenges – or the unintended consequences - be of making these changes?

(c)How could we support people better to deal with ASB?

13. Please let us know your views in person at an event / or by emailing:

14. If you have been affected by anti-social behaviour, you can contact:

15. Please find some blogs produced by SCSN for further reading:



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