Louise Casey, the Government’s Co-ordinator for the ‘Respect Task Force’, at the Home Office, talks online, exclusively to NFHiB to answer your questions concerning anti-social behaviour and associated problems.
We would like to express our thanks to Louise Casey for agreeing to take part in our interview as part of her busy schedule, her answers and information will be very interesting and informative to many Neighbours From Hell in Britain readers.
Who is Louise Casey?
Louise Casey is the Government’s co-ordinator for Respect, a role that she has held since September 2005.
Louise heads up the new, cross-government Respect Task Force based in the Home Office. This new unit will play a vital role in improving our communities and the lives of people in them by tackling problems such as poor parenting and yobbish behaviour.
Louise was formerly the National Director of the Government’s Anti-social Behaviour Unit, also based in the Home Office. The Unit was established in January 2003 to ensure our response to tackling anti-social behaviour is improved.
Before that Louise led the successful strategy to reduce the number of people sleeping rough and established the Homelessness Directorate in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Between 1992 and 1999, Louise was Deputy Director of Shelter and, prior to that, held a number of posts in the social welfare sector.
“Most people know what respect is. Most of us take our responsibilities to our families and to other people seriously and try hard to raise our children well. Most communities are safe and secure and are good places to live. Most of us learn respect from our parents and our families – they are later reinforced by good schools and by other people we know in our local communities.
But some individuals are not learning these values or are choosing to disregard them. Where that happens, their sense of what behaviour is acceptable or unacceptable disappears.
The Respect Action Plan set out a framework of powers and approaches to promote respect positively, bear down uncompromisingly on anti-social behaviour; tackle its causes; and offer leadership and support to local people and local services.
The Respect programme is a cross-Government strategy, agreed across Government, backed across Government.”
May 2006 – Online Question & Answer Session with Louise Casey
Neighbours From Hell in Britain often supports many members who are too frightened to make a complaint concerning anti-social behaviour or nuisance neighbour activity. Can you give any assurances as to the support and protection that should be available to encourage individuals to make justified complaints?
Witnesses are crucial to tackling anti-social behaviour: whether they are victims of anti-social behaviour directed against them specifically, or residents who witness anti-social behaviour directed against the community. We need witnesses to report incidents – to provide evidence – and to help police enforcement action taken against perpetrators.
We have introduced a number of measures to make it easier for witnesses to give evidence including extending special measures for intimidated or vulnerable witnesses to ASBO proceedings. Previously, as ASBOs are applied for in civil proceedings, the use of special measures such as live links for witnesses was not possible.
We have also made it possible, in cases of extreme intimidation of witnesses and victims, for professional witnesses such as Anti-Social Behaviour Co-ordinators and police officers to give anonymous evidence on a witnesses’ behalf.
You can find out more about the measures we have in place to support victims and witnesses at together.gov.uk.
Some individuals who live within different Police Authority areas experience very varied responses from those authorities when complaining about anti-social behaviour. Are there any plans in place to address this or positive action a person can use to tackle issues where some authorities appear to not take anti-social behaviour very seriously?
New proposals outlined in the recently published Respect action plan demand strong local leadership and a consistent approach to tackling anti-social behaviour in all areas. ‘Face the public’ briefing sessions will make representatives of a local Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership available and accountable to local people to discuss their concerns and any problems they have pursuing a legitimate complaint, while the Community Call for Action will give the public a way of holding services to account where they do not deliver on a community concerns.
We will ensure that local services tackle bad and promote good, behaviour, for example by introducing a Respect Standard for Housing Management which will ensure that every tenant of a landlord who adopts the Standard knows that their landlord will act quickly and decisively to tackle anti-social behaviour.
Can you confirm who the 50 Local Authorities were who were attributed with ‘Trailblazer’ status last year? What can residents living within these areas expect to see?
The Anti-Social Behaviour Unit at the Home Office designated 10 Trailblazer areas in October 2003 to get extra support in their work tackling anti-social behaviour. In these areas local authorities and the police are working with local people to take swift and effective action against local problems such as intimidation, nuisance neighbours, vandalism, graffiti and rubbish dumping. The 10 trailblazer areas were Brighton, Westminster, Camden, Bristol, Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Sunderland.
A further 50 Action Areas were announced in October 2004 – these were spread across the country and are areas where the local Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership together with their local communities have identified anti-social behaviour as a priority and as a result have been designated this special status.
As well as receiving extra help to combat anti-social behaviour, in these neighbourhoods local authorities and the police will work with local people to take swift and effective action against local problems such as intimidation, nuisance neighbours, vandalism, graffiti and rubbish dumping.
East of England
Southend on Sea
Newcastle upon Tyne
Yorkshire and Humberside
Both Trailblazers and Action Areas have all signed up to a package that makes clear their commitment to tackle, not tolerate anti-social behaviour. They agreed to work with the public to identify their top 50 issues in relation to anti-social behaviour. They have dedicated Action Days to troubleshoot anti-social behaviour, priority access to all elements of the national campaign on tackling ASB and receive regular communications packs from the Home Office with latest updates, news, good practice, and shared learning.
There has been a huge response from practitioners and local communities in these areas, showing determination to tackle not tolerate anti-social behaviour. Powers and tools have been used widely and wisely, demonstrating that barriers and obstacles have been overcome and are no longer an excuse for inaction.
These areas receive help, advice and a small amount of funding from a small dedicated team within the Home Office who work with them to make a success of their Action Area status.
Respect Areas will be announced later this year.
It is often difficult to encourage witnesses to come forward to appear in court when addressing the major problems of large, community based, ‘gangs’. Such gangs often are known to cause damage, violence and intimidation against these witnesses. Why can evidence not be given in a closed court, via video link up, to protect the witness from the ‘accused’ and hopefully prevent such individuals from experiencing these kinds of intimidation?
We have extended the right to ‘special measures for witnesses’ to ASBO proceedings even though they take place in a civil court, so use of video link or screens is now possible to protect witnesses who feel intimidated. In addition, it is also possible for professional witnesses such as police officers to give hearsay evidence on behalf of an intimated witness to preserve their anonymity.
As a general rule the English system of administering justice requires that it be done in public and in relation to magistrates there is a statutory obligation to sit in ‘open court’.
Nevertheless any court including a magistrates’ court may use its right to exclude the public from proceedings if this is necessary in order to administer justice. Usually, except for certain exceptions, the court should only exclude the public if the administration of justice would be made difficult by their presence, whether this is because the case could not be effectively tried or victims and witnesses would be deterred from appearing in court by the presence of the public.
We are very aware that victims of crime and anti-social behaviour need support to give evidence. Responding effectively to the needs and concerns of victims of crime is a key element of a successful criminal justice system and is why the Home Office has also recently commenced a recruitment campaign to appoint – for the first time – a new Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses.
This new post will provide an independent voice on how best to meet the needs of victims and witnesses and develop support services.
At Neighbours From Hell in Britain, we sometimes hear that members have pursued many different options to help positively deal with anti-social behaviour they are experiencing. Some members have been in contact with MP’s who have passed legitimate problems to yourselves at the Home Office in order to allow a Co-ordinator to become involved. What is in place to assist then, when an individual has been through all these steps and is still suffering?
The Together Campaign and the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 brought in a number of important tools and powers that made it possible to tackle nuisance behaviour quickly and effectively and allow the law-abiding majority to reclaim their communities. We provide guidance for practitioners and the courts and run the Together Action Line to help practitioners to find the best solution to problems using all the tools and powers on offer. We have come along way but we know there is not a consistently strong approach to tackling anti-social behaviour in every area.
We don’t want anyone to continue to suffer from the impact of anti-social behaviour after they have reported it and involved the authorities and the Respect Action Plan contains a raft of new measures that will ensure effective enforcement of powers to tackle anti-social behaviour and improve community justice procedures.
We will consider strengthening summary powers to bring about immediate protection for those suffering anti-social behaviour and we will focus on bringing in civil measures which can be used to bring rapid relief to communities.
These measures include improving and tightening powers that currently exist; for instance, Anti-social Behaviour Injunctions which allows social landlords to apply to the courts for an injunction to stop anti-social behaviour, Local Government Injunctions which can be used to tackle public nuisance including prostitution, begging and drug dealing and ASBOs. We will also introduce new powers, like the House Closure Order which will give the local authorities the power to evict residents and seal up a property associated with persistent anti-social behaviour.
The ‘Face the People’ sessions run by Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships and the new Community Call to Action powers will allow local people to feel confident that their problems are being listened to and that all that can be done is done.
Would the Anti-Social Behaviour Unit be able to provide a clear view concerning people who make homeless applications under part VII of the Housing Act (1996 – as amended) on the grounds of violence (s177, HA ’96) and anti-social behaviour by individuals in the neighbourhood?
Our focus is on nipping anti-social behaviour in the bud by intervening with the perpetrators and protecting the community. If someone is forced to leave their home because of anti-social behaviour they are suffering we would consider that we and the local services that should be supporting them have failed.
The Respect Action Plan is about empowering local communities to take a stand against such behaviour and demand a response from their public services.
Some police forces seem less than willing to use ASBOs. Can you confirm why you think this is the case and is there any repercussion on those authorities who appear to be unwilling to use the ASBO, where they apparently should?
There is good work being done by local communities to tackle anti-social behaviour. In the last few years more than 7,300 ASBOs, 13,000 Acceptable Behaviour Contracts, 400 dispersal orders and over 513 crack house closures. But I believe that although we have come along way in tackling anti-social behaviour we have still not gone far enough. And when I hear of one area that has 30 ASBOs and another facing similar challenges with 300 there are clearly discrepancies in approaches.
We want to empower local people to be able to call for services to take proper action by making sure they know what powers are available and how local services should be using them.
We are committed to making sure that people across the country receive the same service whether they are in Sunderland or Southend. However it is true that ASBOs are just one of a number of tools available for tackling anti-social behaviour and can be used in cases of more serious or persistent anti-social behaviour. It is for local agencies to decide on the most appropriate intervention for tackling anti-social behaviour based on the seriousness of the behaviour in question and their knowledge of what will work best locally.
The key issue is whether anti-social behaviour is being reduced on the ground, not which measure is used to achieve this. The ‘Face the People’ sessions mentioned in the earlier question will be an opportunity for local people to raise any concerns they have about the use of tools to tackle anti-social behaviour in their area. The Community Call to Action will provide a way for community groups to trigger a response from local services if they feel a serious and persistent problem has not been dealt with.
Increasing numbers of people with anti-social behaviour now seem to be moved from ‘social housing’ into the ‘private rented’ sector, can you advise on the strategy for dealing with this issue?
We believe that anti-social behaviour should be tackled no matter what kind of housing the perpetrator lives in. Among the new measures proposed in the Respect Action Plan we will be consulting on introducing a power, similar to a Scottish anti-social behaviour power, which enables premises that are associated significant, persistent nuisance to be closed and sealed for a set period of time (usually three months).
How this might work in England and Wales would be a matter for consultation. The trigger for the new power is likely to be persistent anti-social behaviour over a period of time – as it is in the Scottish closure power and the similar ‘crack house’ closure power already in operation in England and Wales.
The power affects access to the property rather than tenancy. Everyone must accept their responsibilities to behave in an acceptable manner and we do not envisage that there would be a distinction between tenants and owner occupiers in the way that this power would operate.
Often young people are bored and without engaging activity, which can lead them to behaving inappropriately in public areas/communities. Often meaningful activities are out of reach geographically or too expensive for young people to access. What realistic and tangible steps are being implemented to ensure that young people have a positive contribution to their communities, live as a respectful neighbour and can then carry these values through into adult life?
We agree that constructive and purposeful activities have enormous benefits for young people and can encourage and enable them to contribute to their communities and help divert them away from anti-social behaviour.
The Government has invested more money in sport than any other, some £3 billion since 1997, directly benefiting hard to reach and disadvantaged groups.
In the Green Paper, Youth Matters, the Government set out its commitment to ensure that all young people have access to activities that they find interesting and exciting in their local area.
Youth Matters put forward a series of proposals, including the introduction of a new £53 million Youth Opportunities Fund to allow young people to set up schemes themselves. New Youth Opportunity Cards will encourage young people to engage in activities in their free time by giving them money to spend on activities via a ‘top up’ card. It also proposed new legislation and national standards to support the increased provision of activities. The Government will be publishing its response to the Youth Matters Green Paper shortly.
However we believe that lack of a youth club or activity is never an excuse for serious anti-social behaviour.
The ASBO is recently attracting much media attention. More and more often anti-social behaviour orders are featured within local and national media. How can the Anti-Social Behaviour Unit ensure that members of the public understand and have access to correct and practical information concerning ASBO use, when media ‘snippets’ either give incorrect or small amounts of ASBO related information?
The fact that ASBOs are a household expression and appear in the dictionary and on Eastenders is something we’re proud of. Why? Because of the peace and security brought to thousands of people’s lives because of them and that people know that real action will be taken against anti-social behaviour.
Publicising ASBOs is important because it helps the members of a community play a part in challenging the behaviour of the subject of the ASBO. Because of this is crucial that local services work hand in hand with their local media to achieve the necessary publicity.
The Together website offers guidance on best practise for effective publicising of ASBOs and although coverage of so called ‘novelty’ asbos seems to predominate, a very large amount of the publicity generated, certainly in local papers, plays a big part in making sure that the authorities know if the prohibitions of an ASBO are breached. Obviously we can’t control the media but by giving them the right information in the right way we can help to make sure that ASBOs are effectively enforced.
Can you advise if the Anti-Social Behaviour Unit has any statistics on the numbers of anti-social behaviour orders that have been taken in the last year and how many of these have been breached? Is enforcement action a common result of these breached ASBO’s?
The latest ASBO statistics published by the Home Office on 28th March show:
• The total number of ASBOs issued up to September 2005 stands at 7,356.
• 816 ASBOs were issued in the quarter July to September 2005.
• 2679 ASBOs were issued between January 2005 and September 2005
• The percentage of ASBOs issued to juveniles is 43%. The percentage for adults is 55%. The percentage where the age was unknown is 3%
• Current figures on ASBOs suggest that around a 42% are breached but more up to date figures will be available later this year.
• When an ASBO is breached it goes back before the courts. Breach rate is not an indication of failure. What it shows is that ASBOs have teeth and if people don’t abide by them there are serious consequences.
Government Press Release (January 2006): Respect Action Plan
PM’s Speech (January 2006): Launch of Respect