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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Looking to the future of dealing with Anti Social Behaviour

Responses to the DSD proposals for a Housing (Anti Social Behaviour Bill) NI close on the 24 March 2014. Nicola McCrudden, Housing Rights Service Policy Manager, outlines her concerns about the content of these proposals.

The nature of anti social behaviour

Anti social behaviour (ASB) is a serious issue and can have devastating consequences on people’s lives. At HRS, we have become aware that anti social behaviour is complex and multi faceted. This is due to the direct experience we have of advising both people who have complaints about ASB in their neighbourhood and also people against whom complaints of ASB have been made.  Last year we dealt with over 1,000 ASB enquiries. On average there were similar numbers of issues relating to Housing Executive, Housing Association and Private Rented Sector housing. It is interesting to note, however, that in only 100 cases ASB was identified as the primary housing problem.

ASB cases can be complicated. We have witnessed circumstances where there has been misunderstanding about the nature of some people’s behaviour. This is particularly relevant where the behaviour is connected to mental health and/or disability issues. In our view, early intervention is critical to identify families and individuals who are vulnerable and who need additional support and advice to ensure any difficulties do not escalate. However, the provision of such support is not consistent throughout the social housing sector. Some social housing providers need to be more proactive in their approach to the assessment and provision of support. This in itself could help change behaviour and prevent the need to resort to costly statutory remedies.

Proposal for a new form of tenancy

We are very concerned about the new form of tenancy i.e. the Short Secure Tenancy (SST) which the DSD is proposing to deal with ASB. We interpret the SST as a downgraded temporary tenancy for 6 months. After this time the SST either becomes secure again or possession is sought to bring the tenancy to an end using a largely administrative process. The court “would be required” to grant possession in such cases.

Also, it seems that the basis for the downgrade would be a historic conviction in the previous 3 years where:

  • A tenant, or household member, has been convicted of an offence which involves using the property (or allowing it to be used) for immoral or illegal purposes, or commits a criminal offence in the property, or locality; or
  • Certain court orders, such as ASBOS or injunctions have been made against the tenant or household members.

Firstly, we believe that a landlord’s focus should be on relevant, current behaviour. Where someone has been found responsible for ASB and convicted on that basis the court will have passed a sanction relating to addressing the offence. Downgrading the tenant (and household) to a SST is a further unnecessary act of punishment.

Secondly, we object to a system which provides social landlords with significant powers to downgrade a secure tenancy without having to involve the court in this decision. In our view, the removal of secure tenants’ rights by a largely administrative process runs contrary to the principle of natural justice. Denying the tenant an opportunity to present a defence and test the reasonableness of possession action is unjust and not in the interest of promoting access to justice. We strongly urge the DSD to consider any human rights and due process issues arising from these proposals.

Other suggestions to deal with the problem

HRS is of the view that there are already adequate means of addressing ASB in social housing, both statutory and non statutory. What is missing from the proposals is any kind of analysis of the current use of these existing ‘tools’. There is no compelling evidence in the document to support the need for a new form of demoted tenancy.

We firmly believe that eviction should always be a last resort. We suggest that the following alternatives be considered:

  • To legally require social landlords to offer “appropriate” support earlier in the process i.e. while the tenancy is still secure to avoid the need to pursue costly statutory remedies.
  • Any measure to remove security of tenure, which could lead to an easier eviction process, should be made by application to the court to allow judicial discretion to be applied.
  • Greater use of non-statutory measures such as ABCs, floating support and management transfers where appropriate.

To help inform the development of legislative proposals HRS is asking DSD to provide a breakdown of usage of existing ‘tools’ (both statutory and non statutory) and to also fully consider any human rights and due process issues arising from the new system of SST.

For further information read our response

Tagged In

Social Tenancies, Policy, Homelessness, Opinion

This article was written on 21 March 2014. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.