Anti-social behaviour appears to be a menace that is on the increase in today’s society. Of course, such problems have always existed to a certain extent, but there is a definite statistical rise in the number of incidents reported, and both police forces and local authorities are having to find additional resources to deal with such matters.
Anti-social behaviour may come in many guises, ranging from blatant criminal damage and harassment to noise problems coming from neighbours.
The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 attempted to address this phenomenon by way of the introduction of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (or ASBOs). These may be obtained through Magistrates’ courts, even though in actual fact they are civil law remedies. Where a person breaches an ASBO, this will then become a criminal matter.
ASBOs do not really seem to have had the desired effect. In fact, in some locations within England and Wales, some young people view these court orders as a joke and a passage of life, and if you do not have one, you are the exception rather than the rule.
People who are suffering anti-social behaviour will often feel extremely frustrated, frightened and alone. Unfortunately, there are a number of police forces that really fail to get involved in such circumstances, and the victim may feel as though the police are merely paying “lip service” to their situation. It is at times like this that you would need to realise that you do not and should not put up with such behaviour, especially when the behaviour you are being subjected to is of a criminal nature.
If you feel that the police are failing to take the matter seriously enough, you should forward an official complaint straight away. If this is not resolved through the police force itself, you can always attempt to lodge a complaint with the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). This may all sound very extreme, but unless you have worked in housing law, you will not realise the scale of the problem that really does exist here.
If the anti-social behaviour is of a civil nature, there is something that can be done to attempt to resolve the problem. Your first port of call should be your local authority. For noise pollution or anything else that may be considered to be a statutory nuisance, the local authority’s Environmental Health Department would have a duty to investigate the problem under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Where a statutory nuisance is proven to exist, the officers will have a range of measures available to them to prevent any future problems. This can be a very tedious process though. Most Environmental Health Departments are massively understaffed. Some local authorities have specialist departments that are specifically set up to deal with anti-social behaviour, and in such circumstances you should definitely liaise with them.
Current laws do not go far enough to address the growing problem of anti-social behaviour. It is clear that more drastic legislation is long overdue, and punitive measures must be seen as a definite deterrent rather than the joke they are at present. People need to feel safe in their own homes, and they should be able to lead their lives without fear of intimidation from bored and inconsiderate individuals.
If your work involves advising people on this area of law, you will no doubt feel that your hands are tied to a huge extent. Once the victim has exhausted the avenues that we have mentioned above, they tend to reach a point where they feel completely helpless and will even consider pursuing court injunctions themselves in an attempt to try to resolve the situation. This is one part of housing law that needs to be evaluated and very quickly, as people are not being afforded the help and assistance that they need to end such situations.