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The Elephant in the Room

Mental Health and Anti-Social Behaviour

This week is Mental Health Awareness week.  As we hear from victims and speak to agencies, it is clear that mental health and anti-social behaviour are closely interlinked.

It is a difficult topic and we would suggest that often in cases of ASB it is the elephant in the room – that is, the obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss or challenge.

Doubtful?  Listen to the account of this victim who completed our online survey:

“I have been accused of being put here by the Housing Association and Council to spy on my neighbour, then he raved for 4 hours about cults making sacrifices and murdering people, that his car had been tampered with by residents, that myself and other residents were all acting together in a cult, watching him with binoculars and using radios to communicate with each other.  He says the nurses from nearby home are involved too.  He told me that men dressed all in back go into his house when he’s not there.  Says tenancy officer had been accessing his medical records and that he goes into his house when it’s empty.  Accused me of putting blue crystals in his water and tampering with his supply.”

The upshot of all this, which has caused real distress to the victim, is that the Housing Association has closed his complaint because the person is not violating their tenancy agreement.

The Challenges when Mental Health is involved

There are unique challenges when there is mental health involved.  First of all, in a situation like that described above, both perpetrator and victim are victims – one of the anti-social behaviour, the other of what would seem to be mental health leading to delusions.  There are also people who report anti-social behaviour who themselves are suffering mental health.  This may affect their perception of what is really anti-social, and therefore seem unreasonable in their complaint.

Further complications include:

  1. some agencies can seem reluctant to get involved in reported ASB or a neighbour dispute when there is mental health involved
  2. some victims are left to suffer in silence because the agency they report the ASB to is unsure what to do about the perpetrator because of his or her mental health and the vulnerability involved
  3. because of confidentiality, often the victim cannot even be told that the perpetrator is suffering mental health – it is never mentioned, only suspected

The Community Trigger

We have championed the Community Trigger since its introduction in October 2014.  Interestingly, we have been told by agencies that they sometimes recommend the Community Trigger to a victim they are working to help, because “it is the only way to get Mental Health round the table”.

This is extremely concerning.  An agency like the Council needs to get the victim to activate a formal process like the Community Trigger to get the Mental Health department of the same Council to attend a meeting and contribute their solution to the situation.

We are sure there is a high correlation between mental health and anti-social behaviour, especially given how subjective the definition of anti-social behaviour is, and how dependent on perception it is.  Dealing effectively with anti-social behaviour involves good partnership working.  It also involves individuals and communities being reasonable and tolerant but seeing action taken when behaviour is unacceptable.

If mental health is hidden and unspoken, proper partnership and communication is impossible and victims will continue to be fobbed off and unsupported, and those suffering the debilitating effects of mental health will not receive the support they so desperately need.  So let’s get the elephant out of the room and be more mental health aware.

Trigger brings Positive Results

ASB Help has outlined many of the failings of the Community Trigger (or ASB Case Review) in our report: “The Community Trigger: Empowerment or Bureaucratic Exercise”.  However, it is still our belief that it has the potential to make a real difference.  Here is a case study which shows how positive results can come out of the process.

Housing Association inexperience

Scenario: a tenant of a Housing Association complained to her local Council that despite making numerous reports to her landlord about noise nuisance from a neighbour, nothing had been done.  She said that her requests for updates from the landlord were ignored.

On investigation it was found that the problem neighbour had moved out of the property to live with a new partner.  This meant that her son was now living alone at the property and was having regular, rowdy parties with his student friends.

The Housing Association reported that they were having trouble getting evidence on which they could act.  They had also been unable to speak to the named tenant to discuss the complaints with her.

The Community Trigger

The victim contacted the Council to activate the Community Trigger.  The threshold was met and the review meeting was attended by representatives of the Housing Association, the Council, the Police and Victim Support.

As the different partners met to discuss the case, it became apparent that the Housing Association lacked the confidence and knowledge to deal with the issues.  The Housing Association had been so focused on the ASB that it had overlooked the potential subletting issue.

Positive Results

The Community Trigger Panel advised the Housing Association to issue a ‘notice to quit’ as the named tenant was believed to be living elsewhere.  They also offered advice on how to monitor noise.

The Housing Association followed the Community Trigger Panel’s recommendation and wrote to the named tenant who, fearful of losing her own home, moved back to the property.  The noisy parties stopped immediately and there was complete respite for the victim.

The Community Trigger process was a success and brought respite for the victim.  It also brought positive results for the Housing Association and its capacity to deal with issues of ASB too.  The Council has offered ongoing support to the Housing Association which is really beneficial to both parties.

Our Comments

It is so encouraging to see the positive results from this Community Trigger application.  We are glad the victim knew that it was available to them to use and that they will have seen such a great result from the process.

It is also great to see the Housing Association, rather than going on the defensive, was open about its inexperience and has accepted help.  This is key to an effective Community Trigger process – that all parties around the table can be open and honest about what they have done to resolve anti-social behaviour, and be willing and ready to learn how they could improve.  Recommendations were made, then were implemented, with a positive result all round.  Wonderful to see!

Age UK radio interview

During the month of April, a radio interview with Age UK was aired a number of times on ‘The Wireless’, to an audience of older people.  We were delighted to be a guest on the ‘We’ve Got Mail‘ programme, alongside Age UK’s own expert on anti-social behaviour, Lottie Beauchamp.

We answered questions from 5 different victims of anti-social behaviour, as follows:

1.   My Mum got new neighbours a few years back. They are nice enough and helped her with her shopping after she had a fall. However, they’ve done nothing to their garden since they moved in and it looks a mess now. They’ve got these tall trees and hedges that are hanging over Mum’s fence. There’s barely any natural light in her living room, which is where she spends most of her days, and I’m worried about what the roots are doing to her foundations. Surely this isn’t legal!

See our Advice about boundary issues here: http://asbhelp.co.uk/neighbour-disputes/

2.    I live on a council estate and the family upstairs are the neighbours from hell. They are constantly making noise when they are at home and the dad works nights, which disturbs my sleep. I can hear everything they do up there – I don’t understand why they’re so loud! I have lots of health problems and the lack of sleep and stress is making it worse. Please help, I’m at the end of my tether!

See our Advice about noise issues here: http://asbhelp.co.uk/noisy-neighbours-noise/

3.    I own my house but the property next door is privately rented. Previous tenants have been good and kept themselves to themselves, but the current lot are awful. There seems to be at least ten people living in one small house and there are always visitors coming and going. The front garden is full of rubbish and I’ve seen rats crawling about. The tenants are always having parties with music blaring at all hours. One of them keeps a large dog which I’m sure is dangerous. I’ve complained to the police and the council countless times over the past few months. Sometimes someone turns up to tell them to turn the music down, but beyond that nothing seems to be being done. What should I do next? How should I get them to take this issue seriously?

See our Advice about what to do when no-one seems to be listening here: http://asbhelp.co.uk/community-trigger/

4.   My wife and I live in a housing association flat. We’ve had problems with one of our neighbours for years now – both the housing association and the police have been involved. Things have taken a turn for the worse recently and we don’t feel safe in our home anymore. The housing association have said they will move us, but we haven’t heard anything from them in a while – we don’t understand what is going on. Is there any other way we can move?

Our answer focused on security of tenure – see Age UK’s Factsheet 9 on anti-social behaviour in housing and Factsheet 68 on security of tenure for comprehensive information on this. 

5.   I’ve just moved house to be closer to my daughter. The house is lovely, but I’m having problems with the pub on the corner. Of course I saw it when I went to view the house, but I didn’t realise how late it would stay open. The noise is deafening and there have even been fights outside my front door! Is there anything I can do about this?

See our Advice about issues with pubs and clubs here: http://asbhelp.co.uk/premises-licences/

Older People and ASB

Anti-social behaviour can affect anyone in any place.  However, older people can suffer its effects to a much greater extent, especially because many older people spend a lot more time in their own home.  Therefore anti-social behaviour from neighbours will affect them for more hours of the day than someone who is heading out to work and school each day.

Older people can feel more vulnerable and therefore can be more easily frightened.  Our tips on being frightened address some simple ways to help with this.

Another area of anti-social behaviour that may particularly affect older people is disputes over gardens and garden boundaries, especially where spending time in their garden is a hobby and a source of pride.  Living next to untidy gardens or issues around overhanging branches could cause significant distress.  We have information on neighbour disputes and environmental offences which cover these issues.

Do not suffer in silence. There is power in numbers and there may be other neighbours on your street who can support your case.  Emphasise when you report anti-social behaviour to agencies such as the Council, Housing Association or Police how the anti-social behaviour is affecting your health.  Older people whose health is being affected should be treated as a higher risk, and therefore higher priority, for local agencies.

Dispute Despair

Absolutely nothing was done.  It all still continues.  We are either ignored or treated as perpetrators.’  ‘Jack’, London

This is Jack’s side of the story:

No action has ever been taken against my neighbours who continues a 2 year campaign of every instance of ASB imaginable against both my household and another tenant in the property of 3 flats.  We have both continually provided evidence of this woman’s ASB but are both continually ignored by our Housing Association and the police.  In fact, the Housing Association gives this woman their full support by believing without question or investigation of any kind every lie and false allegation she continually makes about my neighbour and I.

Jack has been threatened with an Injunction for something he didn’t do which he said was without any investigation and purely based on the other party’s complaint.

The list of behaviour Jack has suffered is long and horrible:

  • racial abuse
  • damage to their car
  • brick through their window
  • dog poisoned
  • hundreds of live maggots thrown onto their steps and flat door area several nights in a row
  • verbal abuse
  • accusations of drug dealing
  • stealing their post
  • filming them 24/7
  • taking photos of them

Jack has been told that the Housing Association is aware of the neighbour’s behaviour, attributable to mental health.  However, it doesn’t make sense as why they would threaten Jack with an injunction.

Neighbour Dispute

To ASB practitioners, this may sound all too familiar.  The complexities of a neighbour dispute – who to believe and who is doing what.  How can someone contacting us as a victim be seen by the Housing Association as a perpetrator?  Hear Jack’s cry:

Yesterday my neighbour and I received a letter from the Housing Association warning us of OUR ASB and highlighting how WE could be breaching our tenancy agreements  This letter has been generated by more lies from this woman and yet again, without question or any investigation have been believed and taken as truth by the Housing Association.  Where is the help for people like us who have someone like this woman using and totally abusing the system to wreak havoc, cause misery and distress and invoke fear into innocent people?

What is really going on?

Our Comments

When we hear a story like this our initial reaction is deep concern at the way Jack is being treated.  Yet, we are also well aware that there are always two sides to the story.

The agencies acknowledge that there are complications in acting due to mental health.  Yet they then give warnings of injunctions without investigation to Jack. This seems incompletely inconsistent.  This is clearly some missing information on what is happening but there are some important factors to highlight from this story.

  1.  We would recommend to Jack that he activate the Community Trigger.  This would mean that all agencies, including the Housing Association, the local Council and the police, can come together to review Jack’s case.  Jack should request a clear response from that review of where mistakes have been made (perhaps insufficient investigation, lack of mental health support) and what else can be done to resolve the problems.  (Activating the Community Trigger can sometime give the support you need to get a house move as part of resolving the problem.)

2.  This case is a classic example of a Neighbour Dispute and ultimately it has been left to deteriorate into a tangled mess.  This is why it is so important for agencies to take early action and investigate early complaints – see this Housing Association example: http://asbhelp.co.uk/can-read-write/.  We wonder whether mediation was ever offered and how responsive the Housing Association really was when Jack first expressed his concern.

 

 

Let’s Talk

The kids continue to run until way after 11 at night.  Since they moved in my daughter struggles to fall asleep and wakes up scared when the loud “bangs” sound so late.”  ‘Sam’

Anti-social behaviour takes so many different forms.  We all have different levels of tolerance to it – since it is defined as causing harassment, alarm or distress, we will all define different behaviour as anti-social.

This case study shows a situation where a 2 year old girl is experiencing alarm and distress which in turn is distressing to her parents.  However, it strikes us that it is also a clear situation where mediation needs to be the way forward to solve the problem.  Finding a way to talk through the issues is key.

The neighbour in the flat above has two children who run up and down the house “all day long”.  Sam feels he is already making compromises by sacrificing his daughter’s nap, knowing he can’t expect them to be quiet in the middle of the day, but after 9pm the noise becomes a problem.

He says he has spoken to them repeatedly as well as leaving a polite note.  His daughter “struggles to fall asleep and wakes up scared when the loud ‘bangs’ sound so late“.

Meanwhile, the neighbours accuse Sam of being intolerant, saying: “they complain too much and should move to a country house if they need their daughter to sleep“.

Let’s Talk

We recently looked at the value of considering mediation in situations of anti-social behaviour.   Mediation brings the two parties that are in conflict together with an independent person present to hear both sides of the story.

Everyone will have a different take on the situation when reading this story.  Many will empathise with Sam’s struggle to get his daughter to sleep and it is certainly concerning that she is waking alarmed with the noise.  Others will feel it is too intolerant and that noise is a natural result of living in a ground floor flat.

The fact of the matter is that both Sam and his neighbours live there, and want to enjoy their homes.  In situations like these the opportunity to talk together, with someone independent to help ensure both parties can fully explain their perspective, holds huge value.  Tension and frustration is damaging to our health but in a situation involving noise like this, that is unlikely to be classified as a statutory nuisance, there is very little available to agencies to resolve the situation.  This is a place for mediation to try and figure out how to live well together for the benefit of everyone.

Is Mediation Right for You?

One area of dealing with ASB that we haven’t covered much is that of Mediation.  This is where someone independent of both you and the person who you feel is being anti-social towards you comes to listen to both of you and seek to resolve the problem.

In anti-social behaviour, there are many clear-cut cases where there is a victim or victims and a perpetrator or perpetrators.  Someone chooses to behave in an inconsiderate way and their neighbours suffer from this behaviour, try and tolerate it and eventually report it.  The perpetrator does not care about the effects of their behaviour on others.  In a situation like this mediation would be difficult.

However, there are also many cases where the picture is less black and white.  This is perhaps more common now as we so often do not know our neighbours.  As such we do not know what their lifestyle is like, what is important to them and what causes them stress.

Mediation is an effective way to stop anti-social behaviour before it gets worse, hopefully before it starts to impact on your health.

UK Mediation has this to say about Neighbourhood Mediation:

Neighbourhood Mediation – keeping you and your neighbours on good terms

Your home is your castle. You don’t want anyone intruding into your personal space, disturbing your peace and relaxation, or preventing you from enjoying the time you spend at home or with your family.  

Most of us have neighbours, and we can get on with them most of the time. And when there are any difficulties or disagreements, most of the time we can all sort things out with a chat over the fence. Sometimes, however, communication breaks down. There are disagreements or persistent complaints which, if left unaddressed, can turn into more significant problems. 

Mediation is a quick, cost effective and private method of resolving your dispute, saving you from the stresses and costs of court of formal action. An expert mediator can get you and your neighbours talking again: clearing up misunderstandings, agreeing practical steps for how to make things better between you, and moving on from your disagreements. 

Mediation – How it Works

Mediators help people in a situation find a solution that is acceptable to all parties.  They visit everyone concerned, listen to what the problem is and what they want to see change.  They will then arrange a neutral venue for a confidential joint meeting. At that meeting ground rules are agreed, such as not interrupting and using respectful language, and then each person has the opportunity to explain the problem as they see it.

Mediators listen to all sides and then work with them to identify the issues that need to be addressed and how they are going to do that.  The mediator will not solve the problem for them, but help the people involved come to an agreement on what needs to be done going forwards to resolve the issues.  Mediators are independent and do not take sides.

Mediation – Pros and Cons

Mediation requires time and effort to make it work.  However, so does taking someone to court – a LOT more time and effort.  Even in court, if a case got that far, magistrates would want to see that all other ways to resolve the problem have been considered and mediation may be recommended anyway.  Agreeing to mediation shows you are willing to try to understand the other person’s perspective and find a compromise.

Some people who suffer ASB simply want the perpetrator to be evicted from their home.  As a charity seeking to be a voice for victims of ASB, our focus is strongly on the aim being to STOP the anti-social behaviour, not make someone homeless.  Mediation can be very effective to stop the behaviour that is causing you distress and restore neighbourhood relationships.

The disadvantage of most mediation in the UK is that it has a cost.  Some areas provide a free service but not everywhere.  You may also be able to convince your local authority to pay for the mediation – it will still cost them less than taking court action.

There is no overall organisation to represent all mediators in the country.  The College of Mediators is a membership-based organisation where you can find local mediators, but only those that have chosen to become a member will be registered.  Your best source of information is your local authority which should have information about local mediation services in the area.  You can also arrange informal mediation with someone independent in the community coming to listen to both parties – perhaps a Neighbourhood Watch member or the local vicar.

Unfortunately mediation will only work if both parties involved agree to it.  If you want to try mediation but the person whose behaviour is causing you alarm or distress does not want to try mediation, you are stuck and will have to rely on local agencies taking necessary action.

For a case study on where we would recommend mediation, see here: Let’s Talk.

 

Can you Read and Write?

 

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of leading a workshop at the Resolve ASB annual conference on “Putting Victims First”.  I co-led the workshop with an ASB practitioner from Greater Manchester who is passionate about putting victims first and led the section on how we do that practically. Her casual mention of the fact she asks people “can you read or write?” before she leaves them with a diary really struck me.

Diaries are a classic way to start gathering evidence in cases of anti-social behaviour.  Yet, I wonder how many practitioners do ask that question: “Can you read and write?”  It might seem an unnecessary question but it really got me thinking.  Whilst the UK boosts 99% literacy, it is widely recognised that more than 1% of the population are functionally illiterate and struggle with reading information from unfamiliar sources or on unfamiliar topics.

There are also people whose second language is English who may particularly struggle to write in English.  What struck me with Janice’s comment was how aware she was of all the hurdles that could be placed in front of a victim of anti-social behaviour.  She showed through and through a victims-first approach.

Hurdles to reporting ASB

Anti-social behaviour is under-reported, and sometimes when it is reported, action is not taken nor is the victim taken seriously.  How many of the most vulnerable in our society are in those two categories – either they find the whole experience of trying to report an incident of anti-social behaviour too overwhelming, or once they pluck up the courage, they may struggle to clearly articulate the problem and are fobbed off or ignored.  Or sent a letter with further information which they find incomprehensible due to unfamiliar terms and an overload of jargon …

Speaking at a Surrey ASB Practitioners Forum last month, I urged delegates to keep their communication clear, remove jargon, and take time to explain unfamiliar processes such as the court system.  It can be easy to forget that victims have no clue about all this.

At that forum I was challenged by someone about how accessible we as a charity really are.  She commented that only a small proportion of victims of ASB would have access to the Internet to find our website, and then only a small proportion of them would be able to read through the content we have there.  I feel that is harsh and unfair.  92% of the UK population has access to the Internet and we have sought to make our information as clear as possible for victims.  Yes, they need to be able to read, though they may have advocates who can access the information and share it with them.  Unfortunately anti-social behaviour is such a complex topic that it cannot be simplified too much – we are keen not to mislead victims that it is easy to define and easy to resolve.  Usually it is not.

Yet this is a good question to keep holding out there: “Can you read and write?” We are a small charity and are aware that we cannot yet reach the most vulnerable in our society who do not have access to the Internet and cannot read English.  Yet it is worth remembering, anti-social behaviour can hit anyone, anywhere – it is not just areas of deprivation – and therefore we believe there are still many people who can benefit from our resource.  For those who are isolated, our hope is that someone somewhere will listen and connect them to the help and advice they need.  That when they pick up the phone to report the problem, the official at the other end listens carefully, chooses to put the victim first and takes prompt action to help them.

Tips for Putting Victims First

Janice’s tips for how to keep victims in the centre were:

  1. Prioritise going to talk to the victim after they call in to report the ASB (in the next couple of days, not a week next Thursday!  Note: visit, not write)
  2. Empathise and really listen to what they are sharing
  3. Do not downplay what they say but ensure they feel that you care about the effect the behaviour is having on them (such as sleep deprivation, effect on work/school performance, health impact, fear, anxiety, isolation, etc.)
  4. Clearly explain what you plan to do, what you can do and what you can’t do to help them
  5. Check in with them on an ongoing basis to see how they are coping and whether the behaviour has improved if a warning has been given

Halloween Headache

The witching hour is upon us once again – for some a source of great fun, for others something to be dreaded. I think you probably either love or hate Halloween! What comes to your mind when you think about this time of year? The clocks going back, gathering round a bonfire or going to a fireworks display, children dressed up in a vast array of Halloween outfits? As a child I remember going down to the local fireworks display, bundled up in hat, scarf and gloves.

I don’t remember anything much going on for Halloween. That has definitely increased in recent years. There is a spike in anti-social behaviour over the two events of Halloween and Bonfire Night. Police officers know it and increase their patrols. Some areas run special Operations to target anti-social behaviour over these two weekends.

It can be a time of deep fear for some people, especially the most vulnerable. The elderly, people with disabilities or suffering ill health (physical or mental) may find the modern-day celebrations of Halloween scary or threatening. Misuse of fireworks is dangerous and can be frightening.

Victims of persistent anti-social behaviour are already struggling to cope with the effects of noise or harassment, or environmental ASB. Some will use Halloween and Bonfire Night as an excuse to make their lives even more unbearable. Others may not realise the harm and distress they are causing and that Halloween and Bonfire Night antics may push their neighbour’s over the edge in what they can cope with.

To those taking part in Halloween and Bonfire Night activities:

Remember they are not an excuse to make a nuisance of yourself nor get into trouble with the law. Respect the fact some of your neighbours may not want to join in the fun. Be considerate of them, for example many young children and pets are very scared of bangs, elderly people may be terrified of opening the door to a stranger in the dark.

To those who do not like getting involved:

Prepare for the events so that you are not caught off-guard. Respect those who wish to celebrate Halloween and Bonfire Night and know how you will respond. Be tolerant of a bit of noise – it is only once a year after all. If you feel scared, have a look at our tips for coping with that.

HOWEVER, if things get out of hand, and especially if you are already a victim of persistent anti-social behaviour and this is the final straw, or you are being targeted and harassed, please please report it to the authorities. They can only act if they know about the problem. Act Now! Don’t suffer in silence. The police are on high alert awaiting your call.

2 Years On: The Battle Continues to put Victims First

Today is 20th October 2016 – it marks the two year anniversary of the implementation of the majority of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.  (I say majority because the injunctions were delayed until 2015).

A year ago I published a blog on my Trigger Thoughts and how little we knew about whether the Community Trigger was being accessed and activated by those who needed it.

At the two year anniversary, we have a lot of data and evidence to show that the Community Trigger, as suspected, is fraught with problems.  Our recent report The Community Trigger: Empowerment or Bureaucratic Exercise? highlighted the issues around this particular power.  It has been misunderstood by many agencies, the statutory guidance has been completely disregarded with respect to making it clearly accessible to victims, and data on its usage has not been reported.

We will continue to campaign for a Community Trigger that is fit for purpose.  We will continue to pressure government bodies to take responsibility for ensuring the legislation and statutory guidance is complied with and to step up for victims and make the necessary, and perhaps radical, changes required to truly put victims first in this process.

There was a recent debate in the House of Lords about the PSPO which led to a commitment to review the statutory guidance.  This review was also mentioned this week, specifically in relation to a question about the efficacy of the Community Trigger and Community Remedy.  It is music to my ears to hear others raise similar questions to us about this legislation.  I would however question the response of ensuring the guidance “remains relevant and up-to-date”.

ASB practitioners referring to the guidance would, I am sure, agree with me that it is not so much a question of relevancy and being up-to-date, as it is a question of clarity on how some of these powers should work (for example, the consultation process for PSPOs).  We want to ask the following:

bullet    Who is reviewing it?

bullet    Are they ensuring there is input from a range of practitioners?

bullet    Will they be brave enough to make radical changes to ensure victims are put first?

bullet    And who will ensure local areas are implementing the guidance?

For it is not really about how the guidance reads.  It is about who is responsible for its implementation and for ensuring it is being followed.  The statutory guidance can say anything – it will be irrelevant if not followed, as proved by our Community Trigger research with respect to making it accessible to victims and the reporting of data.

We have submitted our suggestions for how the guidance could be improved with respect to the Community Trigger but I am today convinced that our input needs to go deeper than that – to champion the victim which is supposed to be at the heart of each power in the legislation.  I am concerned that if we do not, no one else will, and the guidance will experience minor tweaks and we will still be none the wiser as to the efficacy of the legislation.

Incidentally, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for the Home Office did not answer Douglas Carswell’s question.  He asked about policy to review the efficacy of the Community Remedy and Trigger.  She responded that the guidance would be reviewed.  He didn’t ask about how good the paperwork was – he asked about how effective the powers were.  Surely you would have to ask practitioners and victims that question …

I read this article in The Third Sector today – a reminder that we must get to work, we have a goal to achieve.  ASB Help has certainly not reached the charity stage Matthew Sherrington refers to where “organisational structure, systems and process start soaking up a lot of energy”.  This is a strength and advantage that on this 2nd anniversary motivates us to keep shouting up for victims so that in practice, not just rhetoric, they are put first.

The Community Trigger. Empowerment or Bureaucratic Exercise?

ASB Help has launched a report after considerable research into the Community Trigger. The report asks whether this power has created the intended empowerment for victims or whether in practice it is nothing more than a bureaucratic exercise. Please see below for the Executive Summary. The full report can be read here: http://asbhelp.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/The-Community-Trigger-Empowerment-or-Bureaucratic-Exercise-Sept16.pdf

Executive Summary

In May 2012 the Home Office issued a White Paper entitled ‘Putting Victims First: more effective responses to anti-social behaviour’. This was a precursor to the development of the 2014 Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act. In her foreword, the Home Secretary at the time (our current Prime Minister) stated that the government wanted to empower victims and communities. It is worth quoting the full paragraph here:

We want to empower victims and communities. Too often people in a local area are desperate to have the behaviour that’s blighting their neighbourhood dealt with, they just don’t know how to get the authorities to take action. Elected Police and Crime Commissioners and neighbourhood beat meetings will help, but we will support local communities by introducing a new Community Trigger to compel agencies to respond to persistent anti-social behaviour. We are working with a number of leading local areas, including Manchester, West Lindsey and Brighton & Hove to trial the trigger this year.[1]

Following a long tradition in the field of anti-social behaviour, no plans were put in place to evaluate the effectiveness of legislation brought in to address the issues identified in the White Paper. This report specifically analyses the way in which the Community Trigger has been introduced in law, interpreted around the country, and utilised in practice. It will indicate a wide breadth of usage and a situation that falls far short of the aim of empowering victims. In many cases, we would suggest it is nothing more than a bureaucratic exercise, creating more paperwork, draining already tight resources, and yet still not bringing desperately-needed respite for victims.

Specific issues we have identified in this report are that:

bullet there is great confusion over how to use the Community Trigger;

bullet there has been limited does cialis work with alcohol publicity of the Community Trigger meaning that many victims who would be entitled to activate it are unaware of its existence;

bullet statutory guidance to make the Community Trigger accessible to all victims has been frequently ignored; and

bullet data on its usage is very difficult to obtain and effectively compare.

Alongside these issues, we are concerned that victims are not being properly represented or heard in the case reviews that do take place. Fundamentally, victims of anti-social behaviour are not being put first.

ASB Help was set up after the landmark case of Fiona Pilkington who killed herself and her disabled daughter Francecca in 2007 in desperation after police failed to adequately respond to her 33 calls to report harassment. The Community Trigger should be a power that can prevent another case like the Pilkington one occurring. Without some important changes to the way it is being both interpreted and used in practice, we believe another Fiona Pilkington could easily happen again. We believe she would not have known it existed given the lack of promotion and if in her area the only way of activating the Trigger was through the Police by calling 101 it is highly unlikely she would have had the emotional strength to try that given all her past difficult experiences of calling that very same number. There is potential in the Trigger but work needs to be done to make it more accessible and improve agency attitudes towards its purpose.

[1] Home Office. Putting Victims First. More Effective Responses to Anti-Social Behaviour. May 2012, page 3