Local authorities have argued that “out of necessity” they use eviction, or the threat of it, as the primary way of dealing with anti-social behaviour on council estates.
However, housing department staff have found that only a handful of the most serious cases are ever prosecuted successfully. Eviction is seen as a panacea for anti-social behaviour. Councils are seen to be doing something, and conventional wisdom says that making an example of the few will act as a deterrent to the many.
However, councils may end up treating tenants that do not pay rent in the same way they treat those who vandalise or racially harass tenants. In some cases they end up using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
Whole families may be evicted as a result of the actions of one family member – but this is merely passing the problem on to someone else, and it is time that other solutions were fully investigated.
Solicitors have to look beyond a simple legal solution to the complex problem of anti-social behaviour. They must be social workers, police and mental health professionals as well as the collar and gown when dealing with the problems on our estates; they must intervene earlier; and they need a variety of tools to deal with the problems they encounter.
There are several key changes that could be made:
The Government has recently proposed the idea of introductory tenancies which can be terminated if a tenant fails to satisfactorily complete a one-year probationary period.
Solicitors in public service cannot apply a purely legal solution to the problems resulting from anti-social behaviour on estates.
A multi-agency approach can provide a more effective strategy to prevent anti-social behaviour. It requires social workers, teachers, police, environmental health officers and mental health professionals to work together to examine the cases of families where there is anti-social behaviour long before they face eviction and homelessness.
Information is important, and must be shared by police and lawyers. To some extent, current legislation prevents information-sharing. The police hold information on computer and their use of it is governed by the Data Protection Act 1984. This means that housing lawyers do not get the information they need when they need it. This information should be available when its use may prevent a crime being committed.
Finally, there is a need for exclusion orders that stop individuals from entering council estates when it is believed they will commit criminal offences there. In this way lawyers can prevent anti-social behaviour.
At times, local authorities have been slaves to the use of eviction to solve the problem of anti-social behaviour on council estates because of the necessity for them to act.
Public sector solicitors and other legal professionals that deal with the consequences of anti-social behaviour should see that eviction must be the last resort, not the first, when dealing with problems of this nature.
To evict tenants is to admit that our support services have failed.