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ASB: Overview of legislation

This content applies to England

Specific legal remedies available to occupiers experiencing antisocial behaviour and harassment that is not intended to force the occupier to leave her/his accommodation.

Since violence, environmental nuisance and/or illegal eviction may accompany these offences, advisers should also consider the legal protection provided by the legislation outlined below.

Protection from Harassment Act 1997

This Act can be used to tackle harassment by a landlord, harassment by other people in the locality and discriminatory harassment. The Act makes it a criminal offence for any person to pursue a course of conduct which:[1]

  • amounts to harassment of another person, and
  • s/he knows or ought to know is harassment.

A person can be said to know that the course of action they are pursuing constitutes harassment if a 'reasonable person in possession of the same information' would think it was harassment.

A 'course of conduct' means - in relation to a single person - conduct that occurs on at least two occasions, or on one occasion to each of two or more people.[2] It is a course of conduct as a whole which must constitute harassment,[3] and it is for the courts to decide whether a course of conduct constitutes harassment.

It is a defence if the course of conduct pursued was reasonable in the particular circumstances.

Harassing someone includes causing them alarm or distress, or putting other people in fear of violence.[4]

The statutory definition of harassment is deliberately wide. The courts have held that in order to constitute harassment and justify the sanctions of the criminal law, behaviour must go beyond that which is 'unattractive or regrettable' or even 'unreasonable and disproportionate'[5] to that which is 'oppressive and unacceptable'.[6]

In a case where a housing association had sent a number of letters accusing two of its long-term tenants of taking inappropriate images of children and of antisocial behaviour, and threatening them with possession action, the Court of Appeal held that the careless, uncritical and inadequate inquiries made by the housing association in relation to the alleged breaches of tenancy meant that the letters were sent out on an incorrect and unjustified basis. A reasonable person with the information which the association knew or ought to have known would have thought that the course of conduct it embarked upon in sending the letters amounted to harassment of the tenants in question.[7]

Offence of 'stalking'

The Act also criminalises 'stalking' someone where this amounts to harassment - examples of stalking given in the Act are following, watching or spying on someone.[8]

Sanctions

A person guilty of harassment can be punished by imprisonment and/or a fine. Where the harassment has put someone in fear of violence, this carries a higher imprisonment sentence. The criminal court can make an order restraining someone from committing further offences.

The Act also enables anyone who has been subjected to persistent harassment to seek an injunction against the perpetrator and/or claim damages for anxiety and/or injury and/or financial losses resulting from the harassment. The court, in deciding the level of damages to award, will consider factors such as the period of time that the harassment has been going on, the vulnerability of the victim, and the motivation of the perpetrator.[9] Foreseeability of the injury or losses is not an essential element in that cause of action and, once it is proved that the perpetrator has committed harassment, s/he is responsible in damages for the injury and losses which resulted from her/his conduct.[10]

Breach of a restraining order or an injunction made under the Act is punishable by imprisonment and/or a fine.[11]

Housing Act 1996

The Housing Act 1996 allows local authorities to tackle antisocial behaviour by, for instance, the use of Introductory tenancies [12] and through policies restricting access to an allocation of social housing.[13]

With respect to the allocation of social housing, a local authority has the power to decide that a person with a history of antisocial behaviour will:

The Housing Act 1996 also extended the grounds for possession against secure[16] and assured[17] tenants to include:

  • antisocial behaviour against any person living or visiting the locality
  • allowing the property to be used for illegal or immoral purposes (eg by persons other than the tenant)
  • domestic violence.

Further, a homeless applicant could be found intentionally homeless if s/he lost accommodation as a consequence of her/his antisocial behaviour or that of a member of her/his household.[18]

Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003

Part 2 deals with antisocial behaviour in the housing context. The Act requires certain social landlords to prepare and publish policies and procedures on anti-social behaviour that must be made available to the public.[19]

Social landlords can ask the court to demote secure or assured tenancies to twelve-month 'probationary' tenancies. If during the probation year the landlord has cause for complaint about the tenant's behaviour (including rent arrears), the tenancy can be terminated without needing to prove any grounds for possession.[20]

Demotion involves the court making an order that:

  • ends an existing secure or assured tenancy, and
  • replaces it with a new tenancy which gives the tenant reduced security of tenure for a period of time, and
  • carries forward arrears and credits from the old rent account on to the new rent account.

Policing and Crime Act 2009

Part 4 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 contains provisions for the police or a local authority to apply for an injunction aimed at tackling 'gang-related violence' or 'gang-related drug dealing activity'. Injunctions can be obtained against any person aged 14 or over, can make prohibitions associated with gang membership such as from being in a particular place or wearing a particular item of clothing. They can also make requirements that, for example, a person presents at particular places at particular times or participates in certain activities at prescribed times.

Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014

The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 enacted new provisions aimed at reforming the antisocial behaviour rules and tools previously available. It also repealed much other legislation around antisocial behaviour, including:

  • Sections 1 to 4 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 which create antisocial behaviour orders (ASBOs), individual support orders and other less common orders.
  • Part 1 and part 1A of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 which allows for closure orders of premises where drugs are used unlawfully or which are associated with persistent disorder or violence and for social landlords to obtain antisocial behaviour injunctions against people causing a nuisance or annoyance which interferes with people living in or 'engaged in lawful conduct in' the neighbourhood, other accommodation owned by the landlord or the employees of the landlord.

Note that ASBOs already made will continue to have force until their expiry.[21] Breach is punishable by fine and/or imprisonment.[22]

The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act consolidated and simplified the law, reducing the pre-existing antisocial behaviour tools and powers from 19 to six. These are described on the relevant pages and are:

The 2014 Act has also introduced a new mandatory ground for possession for antisocial behaviour against secure tenants and assured tenants, as well as new community powers.

The government has issued Reform of anti-social behaviour powers: statutory guidance for frontline professionals.

Local Government Act 1972

This Act gives general powers to local authorities to combat all forms of harassment, including racial and sexual harassment. An authority can defend or appear in any legal proceedings and/or instigate civil proceedings in its own name. This means that a local authority could, for example, take proceedings to evict a private tenant who is harassing another occupier where the perpetrator's landlord will not take action.

Authorities can also use the Act to apply for injunctions against perpetrators, usually for breaches of criminal law, such as drug dealing or burglary, or to take criminal proceedings, for example under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which does not specifically give local authorities powers of prosecution.[23]

However, it is extremely unlikely that an authority would use their powers to take civil proceedings on behalf of a tenant, for example in a damages claim following harassment or illegal eviction.

Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 protects individuals from being unlawfully discriminated against on the ground of one or more of the following protected characteristics:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • race (this includes colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins)
  • religion or belief
  • gender
  • sexual orientation.

[1] ss.1 and 2 Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

[2] s.7 Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

[3] Iqbal v Dean Manson Solicitors [2011] EWCA Civ 123.

[4] s.4(1) Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

[5] (1) Worthington (2) Parking v Metropolitan Housing Trust [2018] EWCA Civ 1125.

[6] Majrowski v Guy's and Thomas's NHS Trust [2006] UKHL 34.

[7] (1) Worthington (2) Parking v Metropolitan Housing Trust [2018] EWCA Civ 1125.

[8] s.2A Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

[9] Saxton v Bayliss [2013] EWHC 3136 (Ch).

[10] (1) Jones (2) Lovegrove v Ruth [2011] EWCA Civ 804.

[11] s.3(9) Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

[12] s.124 Housing Act 1996.

[13] s.161 Housing Act 1996.

[14] s.160ZA(6) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.146 Localism Act 2011.

[15] s.166A(5)(b) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.147 Localism Act 2011.

[16] s.144-146 Housing Act 1996.

[17] s.148-149 Housing Act 1996.

[18] s.191 Housing Act 1996.

[19] s.12 Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003.

[20] s.14 Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003.

[21] para 24, sch 11, Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014; art 4 Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 (Commencement No. 8, Saving and Transitional Provisions) Order 2015 SI2015/373.

[22] See Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (as amended).

[23] s.222 Local Government Act 1972.

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