Victims' Commissioner responds to new Home Office guidance on tackling Anti-Social Behaviour

Nearly 15 months after the publication of the previous Victims’ Commissioner’s report ‘Living a Nightmare‘ which highlighted the frustration and sense of powerlessness felt by so many victims of anti-social behaviour (ASB), the Home Office has published its guidance on ASB and, in particular, the “Community Trigger”.

This is the term used to describe a community resolution meeting, triggered by the victim, to see what further action might be taken to resolve the ongoing problem of ASB.

Baroness Newlove’s report – published in April 2019 – found victims were being kept in the dark about the Community Trigger and when they did seek action, they were being passed from one agency to another.

Importantly, more often than not, despite being able to trigger the resolution meeting, they were not allowed to attend he resolution meeting in order to explain the impact of the behaviour on them and their families.

‘Living a Nightmare’ called for victims to be given the right to attend in person to set out the impact of the behaviour in their own words.

These closed meetings usually comprised of those local officials whose actions had failed to tackle the ASB to date. This failed to give victims confidence and gave the impression local agencies were ‘marking their own homework’. The report called for independent chairs who could provide challenge.

Responding to the Home Office’s new guidance Victims’ Commissioner fo England and Wales Dame Vera Baird QC said: I was pleased to see the title of the relevant chapter in the guidance ‘Putting the Victim First’ and that it acknowledges ‘the debilitating impact that persistent or repeated anti-social behaviour can have on its victims, and the cumulative impact if that behaviour persists over a period of time’.

It also explains ‘…the ‘Community Trigger’, is an important statutory safety net for victims of anti-social behaviour.’ and that it helps to ensure ‘…that victims’ voices are heard.’

But sadly, the guidance fails to live up to the promise in the headline.

Yes it calls on local agencies to place information on their websites and in other accessible formats, although it is unclear how this might be enforced. We know many fail to do so. .

Astonishingly, the guidance still stops short of giving victims the right to attend in person.  Instead it talks about  ‘…  good practice to have somebody involved in the case review to represent the victim, such as from Victim Support ….’

And  ‘Consideration should also be given to whether it is appropriate for the victim to be invited to attend the case review   …or whether, in the circumstances, there are good reasons for them not to do so. In such circumstances, it may more be appropriate to invite a representative of the victim to attend’.

“How can the ‘victims’ voice be heard’ if they are not even allowed to attend and speak for themselves? And if the resolution meeting takes place behind closed doors, how can the victim have any faith in the outcome?

As far as independent challenge is concerned, the Home Office has held back from requiring independent chairs for the meetings. Instead, the limit of the ambition is:  ‘Where most of the agency representatives have been involved in a particular case, consideration should be given to involving somebody independent in the review to provide an external or fresh perspective on the case and the action that has been taken.’

The hearing has only been called because the victim has made several complaints about the ASB and they feel it has not been successfully tackled. It must surely therefore be the case that all cases need a ‘fresh perspective’.

For too many, the nightmare of ASB continues to blight their lives and they feel no one is listening. Sadly, I do not believe this guidance will offer them much comfort,” Dame Vera concluded.