Labour councils weak stance on evicting "neighbours from hell"
As I noted recently, the Government is giving councils and housing associations more power to evict those who have engaged in anti social behaviour. If someone is convicted of various offences - such as criminal damage or assaulting a neighbour - the landlord will be able to seek a speedy and straightforward conviction on those grounds. They will not have to go through the same case twice - with all the delay and anguish for the victim.
Also the law is to be toughened from the present vague grounds, written into tenancy agreements, of being able to evict someone involved in violence in "the local area". In future it will be anyone in the UK. Following the odious behaviour of yobs during the August 2011 riots there was strong support - 62% in favour with 24% opposed - for evicting those involved in rioting and looting.
There are many people on the waiting list for council housing - sometimes in pretty dreadful temporary housing, hostel accommodation, and even bed and breakfast hotels. Why should they be kept waiting while thugs are allowed to continue in council tenancies enjoying a subsidised rent?
Of course councils will have discretion over when to use these powers. For example, they could act against those for whom there is already evidence of wrong-doing, but which was previously considered not to able to justify court action.
Yet when I put in a Freedom of Information request for responses to the Government's consultation I found that several Labour councils didn't even want these powers made available.
Here are some of those taking a soft line on "neighbours from hell", and their reasons:
- Enfield Council: "There may be increased expectations / enquiries from tenants, leaseholders, residents, partners agencies (including the Police) to evict a family because the tenant or a member of the household has been convicted of a criminal matter in another court anywhere in the country."
- North East Derbyshire Council. "The Labour Group debated whether it should be easier to evict people where criminal or anti-social behaviour is committed away from the offenders’ home, e.g. rioting and looting in another area. They were unanimous in agreeing that this was an unfair proposal."
- Barnsley Council: "The general consensus is that this proposal is a step too far."
- Islington Council: The proposal removes a critical element of the current law – that the crime or anti- social behaviour that may result in the loss of a home is linked to the home either through the home being the centre of the activity or the activity being in the vicinity of the home. The loss of a home for a crime seemingly unrelated to the home is a new development that sets a new precedent in housing law. It is one that may be in conflict with Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998."
- Hackney Council: "Broadening the definition to offences committed in the UK is too wide. We would prefer the definition to specify offences committed within the local authority’s administrative boundary and / or within the boundary of any adjoining local authority (i.e. any of those sharing a boundary)."
- Hull Council: "Extending the discretionary ground in this way means that tenants can be in effect punished twice for the same offence whilst owner occupiers for example cannot. This does not appear to be equitable."
- Norwich City Council: "We believe that the new mandatory power would lead to dissatisfaction with our service; by providing a swift and easy route for landlords to evict tenants for anti-social behaviour this is likely to create an expectation that it should be used."
- Haringey Council: "The use of this power would be a punitive measure on top of that already imposed by the court for the original offence; adding eviction to the sentence laid down by the court seems excessive."
- Cannock Chase Council: "The Committee do not support the Government’s proposals to extend the scope of the current discretionary ground for possession."
- Lewisham Council: "The proposed amendment would enable an additional and significant punishment on top of the criminal justice system’s sanction for those convicted of criminal behaviour namely the eviction from their home. It is our view that punishment of those convicted of criminal offences should be for the criminal justice system, not administered by housing providers."
- South Derbyshire Council: "Although you are proposing this as a discretionary ground and the courts would still exercise the discretion on the merits of the specific case, this Council is of the view that is wrong in principle for a home to be repossessed for a matter unconnected with that tenancy."
- Waltham Forest Council: "We are not in favour of extending the discretionary ground in this way since we believe that Criminal Justice System is best place to deal with people who have committed these offences, and that eviction of a tenant must be linked to the area in which they reside."
The comments from Enfield and Norwich were the most outrageous I thought: If we are given more power to evict neighbours from hell it will be a great nuisance as we may find ourselves expected to actually deal with the problem.
There was a welcome contrast in the joint submission from Waveney and Suffolk Coastal District
Councils which proposed:
A big impact, publicity campaign at the launch of these powers will greatly help to create confidence and put would-be perpetrators on notice that a tough new approach is available to Landlords and that it will be used.
Most of the responses were positive - including those from housing associations and some Labour councils such as Newham. Some of the criticisms were for the proposals to be stronger and offer wider grounds for evictions. For example the submission from my council, Hammmersmith and Fulham said:
Breach of injunction for anti-social behaviour. Why is this limited to only injunctions? Why is this not extended to ASBOs or other Environmental legislation notices, such as Noise Abatement Notices? This should also be extended to cover Non-Molestation and Restraining Orders.
Often those who wrote in, attacking a tougher approach, were left wing lawyers and lobby groups - Shelter, the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, the Criminal Justice Alliance, the Chartered Institute of Housing. The usual suspects spent their taxpayer-financed existence writing in to object. All these Guardianistas living in Victorian terraces who have probably never visited a council estate or even watched a DVD of Michael Caine's Harry Brown.
Their resistance to better protecting the victims of yobbery is a disgrace. Ed Miliband said of Tory MPs:
“They hit people they never meet and whose lives they will never understand.”
Mr Miliband's comment would be better directed to the sort of Human Rights lawyers attending dinner parties at his £1.6 million home in Dartmouth Park.