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Housing and Anti-Social Behaviour: The Way Ahead

Housing and Anti-Social Behaviour: The Way Ahead

Anti-social Behaviour: Nature and Extent of Problem

  • The spectrum of anti-social behaviour is very wide and it is difficult to find a neat definition of the term. The Scottish Affairs Committee in its 1996 report on Housing and Anti-social Behaviour found Shelter's definition of anti-social behaviour to be helpful. According to Shelter's definition, "anti-social behaviour occurs where behaviour by one household or individuals in an area threatens the physical or mental health, safety or security of other households or individuals." The Committee pointed out that "the search for a definition of anti-social behaviour is not merely an academic exercise, it has a direct bearing on the agency which has the responsibility for dealing with it and may be open to interpretation by the courts".
  • Anti-social behaviour ranges from what might seem to be nuisance and lack of consideration on the one hand, to serious criminal activity on the other. By far the largest category of complaints come within the range of low to medium level but often intractable disputes between neighbours over clashes of lifestyles, boundary disputes, litter, noise and the behaviour of children. These complaints lend themselves to management resolution through effective use of tenancy conditions and enforcement of such conditions, the use of mediation services and co-operation between agencies. Less common, but often with more serious consequences are the cases which attract media interest, where the behaviour of one household causes serious problems within a whole neighbourhood. Typically, these cases involve harassment, violence and criminality and, although few in number, can adversely affect the lives of whole neighbourhoods and turn whole estates into 'no go' areas and add to the general problem of social exclusion. Such cases are often not so readily amenable to preventative measures, or mediation and may require a legal remedy to halt the behaviour or lead to eviction. The Government has taken tough action to deal with these problems and the Executive is committed to whatever further action is necessary to protect the human rights of the vast majority of decent citizens in Scotland.
  • It is extremely difficult to establish a realistic estimate of the scale of the problem of anti-social behaviour. One frequently quoted English figure suggests that dealing with neighbour problems takes up around of 20% of housing managers' time, and a Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland (CIH) survey gave some Scottish estimates of the staff time spent on neighbour complaints, ranging from 5% to 40%. Aldbourne Associates' survey of 45 British social landlords (1993) found that an average of 20 per cent of housing management time was spent on dealing with complaints about neighbours' behaviour.
  • The Scottish Office's Baseline Study of Housing Management, published in 1995 (and currently the subject of re-examination), questioned over 2,000 tenants on neighbour problems. The Study revealed that one in five public sector tenants had experienced a problem in the previous year. By far the greatest number of complaints (43%) were centred around problems of noise, with threats of violence and verbal abuse accounting for 26% of complaints, and difficulties associated with children and teenagers some 24%. The numbers of tenants causing a serious problem can be as little as 5% but this small number of cases can have a disproportionate impact on the community. A study by NACRO, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders ("Nuisance and Anti-Social Behaviour - a report of a survey of local authority housing departments", January 1998) found that housing departments in England and Wales were having to respond to complaints from between 3 per cent and 7 per cent of tenants in a year and that dealing with the consequences of anti-social behaviour costs 15 per cent of departments more than £100,000 per year.

Scottish Affairs Committee

  • Such was the concern that in June 1995 the Scottish Affairs Committee announced that it would conduct an inquiry into Housing and Anti-social Behaviour. The Committee invited written submissions from organisations and individuals, and held evidence sessions in London and in various parts of Scotland.
  • The Committee's Report, published on 18 December 1996, was wide-ranging, and thorough and recognised the complexities of dealing with a problem as diverse in its nature as anti-social behaviour. Its recommendations were, for the most part, capable of being achieved without legislative or procedural change, or additional expense. By providing a benchmark analysis of the issues, the Report went a long way to help improve the current working practices of the many bodies and agencies with a direct interest.
  • Many of the Report's recommendations were directed to landlords and other bodies; others were for The Scottish Office; and a considerable number concerned the operation of the justice system and therefore had implications for the judiciary, the Scottish Courts Administration (Courts Group of the Justice Department) and the Crown Office.