In its recent report on ASB, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) has said that people are suffering from anti-social behaviour because councils are not thinking comprehensively about how they can tackle it. The Ombudsman upheld 74% of the cases it has investigated in the past year (ranging from issues such as inconsiderate parking to ongoing harassment and intimidation), and found that too often local councils across England are not using the broad range of tools available to them to tackle ASB - often because they do not fully understand the powers they have as local authorities.
Main issues identified in the report:
- Lack of awareness and use of the ASB Case Review
- Delays responding to residents’ calls for help
- Delays acting on evidence presented to them
- Failure to work and communicate well with other agencies (e.g. not bringing in other agencies, or believing certain matters to be solely police issues)
- ‘Gatekeeping’ - Some councils have been preventing access to their services by imposing fixed conditions (e.g. in one case, a man reported a disturbance from the loud music of a neighbour’s 13-hour party and the council told him it would only look into matters once he recorded six incidents within 25 days)
- Not using the full range of powers available
We are all too aware that the potentially powerful ASB Case Review remains largely unknown and underused. This is a sector-wide issue that urgently needs addressing if we are to help victims of ongoing, perpetual ASB (and these are the victims who desperately need a solution more than most). Our YouGov research shows that just 6% of the general public fully understand what the ASB Case Review is and how to request one, and so we are pleased to be working with the Home Office on the relaunch and continued promotion of the ASB Case Review this year, but this is something we all need to take responsibility for.
Do staff fully understand the ASB Case Review? More importantly, do clients/tenants/residents know what it is and how to request in your local area?
Of course, it is well reported how councils are struggling with the current levels of funding and resources they have available to them. This certainly goes some way to explaining the delays responding to residents’ calls for help, the delays acting on evidence presented to them and perhaps also explains why some councils have been ‘gatekeeping’. The Ombudsman themselves note that, “more than ever, council services are under immense pressure and we often see councils with few dedicated ASB officers, dealing with excessive caseloads with little time to spend on each case. We do not seek to dismiss the difficulties councils face in these circumstances.”
The current resources/funding available to local authorities is a challenging and politicised issue, but when one considers a lot of the issues identified in the report, significant progress can be made - and significant suffering prevented - by a simple, cost-effective commitment to getting better at communication.
The Ombudsman notes, “even where it has done everything else on the case well, councils’ work can be let down if it does not keep in touch with the complainant.”
Victims and potential victims (the public/residents/tenants/clients) should be told about their rights, including what the ASB Case Review is and how to request one. This could be as simple and as cost-effective as a short paragraph included on every council tax bill or other piece of communication already being sent out.
After a report has been made, victims should be informed instantly that their report has been received and be given clear information on what will happen next, what support is available and general information outlining the process. This includes clear information for how to contact officers during the investigation if there is new evidence or further reports relating to the same case. A lot of this can be automated to make the process as cost/time-effective as possible. Resolve can help to ensure that you have an efficient triaging procedure and automated communications system in place for dealing with reports.
While evidence is being gathered or councils are looking into reports, victims should be kept up to date with the progress of their case. Even when there are no updates, a simple message to say that the report is still being looked at can go a long way to improving a victims experience. Again, this can be largely automated. A simple message could be scheduled to go out every week/fortnight, only requiring a person to modify the message when there is some tangible progress or update.
We also need to improve the way we communicate with other agencies - i.e. opening up new channels of communication with local partners from police, housing, health, youth services etc. This doesn't have to be a lengthy, formal process - simply reach out to your partner agencies and start developing new working relationships. Rather than simply referring the complainant to another agency, it may be better to link in with the other agency directly and consider together what support the individual needs and what each agency’s role should be in that case. As suggested by the Ombudsman, if another agency should take the lead on the matter, liaise with the agency and report back to the complainant on what action is being taken and by whom, and ensure the complainant has all of the information and contact details they need. “It is not sufficient to simply tell a complainant that they should report a matter to the police and then take no further action.”
The report has also suggested that some councils are referring cases to other agencies even when they have the powers available to them to deal with the case themselves. We, at Resolve and as a sector more widely, have worked hard to secure the full range of tools and powers that we currently have available to us, so it is a shame to see these not being more widely understood or used. This could also be related to a lack of capacity, or could also be improved by better communication and training. Do staff know about and understand all of the tools and powers they have available to them? It might be worth revisiting professional development plans - Resolve can help with this too.
While the report highlights some very serious issues, it is worth noting that there are many councils who maintain excellent response times, who work brilliantly with their local partners, and use the full range of tools and powers available to them to deal with cases and support victims of ASB.
We know that victims of ASB are generally not satisfied when they do report ASB (regardless of whether they have made this report to their local council, housing provide, or the police), and many of the issues highlighted in this report are sadly not only applicable to local councils. We have work to do as a sector, but getting better at communicating is a good place to start.
In October Resolve will host a free webinar and roundtable session (online) for local authorities, to examine the key issues highlighted in the report and to explore what feasible, effective solutions are currently available to remedy these issues.
You can access the Ombudsman’s full report here: https://www.lgo.org.uk/assets/attach/6465/FINAL.pdf