The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 (the Act) received Royal Assent on 13 March 2014 and the Home Office has now released its long anticipated guidance for frontline professionals. Whilst some key elements of the Act are already in force (most notably the new amendments to Ground 14 of the Housing Act 1988), it has now been confirmed that the bulk of the new powers will come into force from 20 October 2014. Registered providers of social housing should consider their procedures and policies in light of the changes brought about by the Act and their use of these new powers from October onwards, and we will be in further contact shortly as to how Bevan Brittan can assist with any changes needed.
This wide-ranging legislation contains a number of important new measures for providers of social housing, including:
- A new civil Injunction to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance ("IPNA"), which will replace the Anti-Social Behaviour Injunction ("ASBIs") and Anti-social Behaviour Order ("ASBOs"). Unlike ASBIs and ASBOs, IPNAs may require defendants to carry out positive acts (for example, attendance at alcohol/drug rehabilitation or the removal of rubbish or obstructions). It will also be possible to apply for IPNAs against under 18's through the Youth Courts.
- New mandatory anti-social behaviour grounds of possession for properties let on secure or assured tenancies. This provision has been brought in to speed up the eviction of landlords' most anti-social tenants and those who have been convicted of the most serious criminal offences. One or more of the following conditions must be met in order for an absolute ground of possession to be available:
- a conviction for a serious offence
- a breach of a civil injunction ie. a court proven breach of an IPNA
- a conviction for breach of a Criminal Behaviour Order (CBO), which is a new order under the Act and may be granted upon conviction for any criminal offence. It forbids behaviour causing harassment, alarm or distress
- a conviction for breaching a noise abatement notice
- closure of a property for more than 48 hours under a closure order.
Where one of the above conditions is satisfied, the court must grant a possession order (subject to any available human rights defence raised by the tenant, including proportionality) so long as the correct procedure has been followed. The court will not be able to postpone possession to a date later than 14 days after the making of the order except in the most exceptional circumstances. To take advantage of these new powers and avoid procedural challenges by tenants, it will be essential for social landlords to comply with the requirements of the legislation to the letter.
In particular, strict new notice requirements will apply where these new grounds are used. Whilst not bound by the terms of the legislation to do so, the Home Office guidance indicates that registered providers of social housing will be expected to make a review procedure available to give tenants the right to challenge the decision to seek possession under the new mandatory ground.
- A new ground for possession of homes for offences connected to a riot;
- A new "community trigger" allowing victims and communities the right to request a review of their case and bring agencies together to find a solution. Registered providers of social housing may be co-opted into such a group under the Act, and it seems likely that if this becomes a popular tool for local communities, the pressure and administrative burden on social landlords to process anti-social behaviour cases quickly and effectively will increase.
Whilst the new powers to be introduced by the legislation are likely to be welcomed by social landlords on the whole, they do bring with them additional responsibilities. The best strategy for social landlords will be to plan early for the changes and to equip yourselves upfront to ensure you are ready to deal with legal cases post 20 October 2014. This will require your staff to be conversant with the new rules and powers, and your policies and processes will need to be revisited to ensure they are compliant with the Act. Those that do so are likely to prosper, whereas those that don't are likely to find themselves embroiled in legal challenges by tenants and their advisers.