This page is targeted at housing professionals. Our main site is at www.shelter.org.uk

Criminal remedies

This content applies to England

An outline of the most commonly used statutes designed to protect the public from antisocial behaviour, harassment, and related offences.

Assault and criminal damage

Where a crime has been committed or a person fears a crime is about to be committed, s/he should contact the local police station immediately (or dial 999 in emergency situations). It is for the police to intervene where a crime has occurred, such as assault, burglary or criminal damage to property, but the decision to prosecute the alleged perpetrator(s) rests with the Crown Prosecution Service. It is however important for victims to report all incidents to the police and, where possible, to take the name(s) and address of any witnesses.

Harassment and illegal eviction

Harassment is defined in the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 as:

  • acts likely to interfere with the peace and comfort of those living in the property or
  • persistent withdrawal of services that are reasonably required for the occupation of the premises.

The Act creates two separate offences of harassment.[1] The first offence can be committed by any person and the second can only be committed by the landlord or her/his agent. For both offences it is necessary to prove both the act and that the perpetrator had either the intention or reasonable cause to believe that the act would cause the occupier to leave.

Harassment

Harassment is defined by the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 as a course of conduct carried out on at least two occasions, which causes a person to fear violence, and is an arrestable offence.[2] The Act created two criminal offences:

  • criminal harassment may occur where a person acts (on at least two occasions) in such a way as to cause harassment of another person and the perpetrator knows or ought to know that the behaviour amounts to harassment[3]
  • aggravated harassment may occur where a person behaves in such a way as to cause another person to fear (on at least two occasions) that violence will be used against her/him and the perpetrator knows or ought to know that the behaviour will cause fear of violence on each of those occasions.[4]

Harassment includes alarming or causing the person distress[5] and can include persistent verbal abuse.[6] Examples of behaviour regarded as harassment include persistent, abusive telephoning; stalking, abuse in public; threats against the person and threats to cause damage.

Penalties

A conviction for harassment or aggravated harassment carries a punishment by imprisonment and/or a fine. On conviction for either offence the court may also make a restraining order (or an injunction) to protect the complainant from further harassment.[7] Breach of a restraining order is a criminal offence carrying a prison sentence.[8]

Racial harassment

The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 introduced the concept of racially aggravated offences.[9] Crimes such as malicious wounding, grievous and actual bodily harm, common assault, criminal damage and harassment are deemed to be racially aggravated if the offence was motivated by the victim's race or perceived membership of a racial group. The alleged perpetrator can be tried for both the basic offence and the racially aggravated offence, each of which carry their own penalties, both financial and custodial.

Street homelessness

Street homeless people can be affected by the dispersal measures under Part 3 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. A failure to obey a dispersal order without reasonable excuse is a criminal offence.[10] In theory, groups of young street homeless people might be forced to disperse, which could increase the risks they face.

Begging may be perceived as being capable of causing harassment, nuisance or annoyance and could lead to an injunction or criminal behaviour order, as well as arrest. Begging is a recordable criminal offence.[11] Being a recordable offence means that an offender's fingerprints and photograph are stored in the national police computer system, making it easier to identify repeat offenders.

[1] s.1(3) Protection from Eviction Act 1977.

[2] s.1 Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

[3] s.1 Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

[4] s.4 Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

[5] s.7(2) Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

[6] s.7(4) Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

[7] s.5(1) Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

[8] ss.3(3)-(9) Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

[9] s.28 Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

[10] s.39 Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

[11] Vagrancy Act 1824; National Police Records (Recordable Offences) (Amendment) Regulations 2003 SI 2003/2823.

Back to top