A local authority’s failure to effectively implement the range of sanctions for Anti Social Behaviour is the subject of a report by the Public Service Ombudsman of Wales, Case 200702044 – Conwy County Borough Council.
The whole report (there is a link on that page) is worth reading, highlighting lack of awareness, systems, procedures and apparently a disinclination to take complaints seriously on the part of the LA. Following a number of previous reports, the LA was supposedly instigating a new internal procedure during the period concerned, but it seems to have had little impact.
What is particularly clear from the report is that at virtually all levels in the LA, from housing officer to the urgent ASB panel, there was a clear misunderstanding of the requirements of ASBis, Demoted Tenancies and subsequent possession proceedings, in terms of procedure, required evidence and the civil burden of proof, such that the neighbour victims of the anti-social behaviour suffered a further 3 years or more. Mostly, the Council just sent the odd warning letter and a few NSPs, with no further action.
Remarkably, the victims’ landlords, an RSL, took action against the principle offender, the son of the LA’s tenant, at an early stage in the form of an ASBi, and apparently thereafter attempted to tutor Council officers in the available options, to little effect. The RSL even went to the expense of obtaining advice from their solicitors on the requirements of a possession order from a demoted tenancy to pass to the manager of the Council’s ASB unit, who was apparently completely unaware that a possession order was mandatory if the decision process had been followed correctly.
In fact, even after getting a demoted tenancy for their tenant, the Council managed to provide the tenant with all the emails of complaint from the neighbours, including their email address, without getting the neighbours’ permission, prior to a review hearing of a decision to obtain a possession order. The review overturned the decision to seek possession, apparently largely because a councillor who lived on the estate ‘hadn’t had any problems’ with the tenant.
The neighbours had suffered years of verbal and racist abuse, bricks through the window, car tyres slashed and the cars damaged, eggs and metal objects thrown at the house, noise from parties and police raids next door. This was largely supported by evidence from the police. On the other hand, the tenant had alleged that the neighbours had ‘looked at her funny’. (Even the tenant’s solicitor warned her about making vexatious complaints). For the review, this somehow turned into a ‘personality clash’.
The Ombudsman was concerned to find that the recommendation sof previous reports had not been carried through, despite being well after the compliance period. There was a continuing lack of knowledge on the part of staff, a failure to communicate with the victims effectively or at all, and an over-reliance on the police for expertise and for driving cases forward. In fact, the Council seemed to have gone to ‘extraordinary lengths to preserve’ the tenancy.
The neighbours, one of whom was disabled with severe health problems, and who had a young son, were recommended to be paid £2,500 for each of the four years at issue.
While the RSL had been trying to implement a transfer for the neighbours, they were also on the Council housing list. The Council had failed to address their position on the housing list and wholly failed to consider whether s.183 HA 1996 was engaged, despite it not being reasonable for them to remain in the property in the face of the targetted ASB. It did not require an application to be formally made for the Council’s duties under s.183 to be invoked and they should have been here.
A public report was issued, requiring action by the Council (although it has since transferred its housing stock).