“Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) is a serious problem in our region and more widely. Those that make excessive noise, indulge in drunken behaviour, or attract criminality to neighbourhoods by drug dealing or other illegal acts make life miserable for the law-abiding majority”.
In this article, Glenn Harris MBE (Chief Executive of Midland Heart, one of the largest social housing providers in England) introduces the concept of ‘Problem solving housing courts’ being trialled in the West Midlands and the impact that this proposed pilot could make in tackling this huge challenge.
ASB is no small issue. In the twelve months ending in September 2022, the Police recorded 1.1 million incidents of ASB. Recent research by Resolve and YouGov estimates there were as many as 10 million victims of ASB in the last three years, a number of victims considerably higher than official records suggest. Further, 44 per cent of adults said ASB is an ongoing problem in their area and 57 per cent said more needs to be done to tackle ASB. Alongside these statistics, Midland Heart’s own experience is that ASB is a serious and ongoing problem.
As a landlord that proudly has its roots, and most of its homes, in the West Midlands and wider midlands region, Midland Heart is determined to lead on the issues that affect our tenants and communities. That’s why we worked with Shaun Bailey MP (Member of Parliament for West Bromwich West) and long-time ASB campaigner, Baroness Newlove, to set up the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Anti-Social Behaviour.
During the last 6 months, the APPG has heard evidence from housing providers, tenants, ASB specialists, academics, police and crime commissioners, and others about the problems they face in addressing anti-social behaviour in their communities. The group has now published its first report and has made a number of wide-ranging recommendations.
The centrepiece of the report is a recommendation to pilot a ‘problem solving housing court’ to address ASB and other housing issues e.g. arrears and possession claims. More specifically the report calls for the pilot to be in the West Midlands region and in a non-urban comparator region.
Part of the reason the group recommended this is that it heard in evidence from Simon Foster, the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), that the region is already pioneering the use of a ‘problem solving court’ to deal with female offenders at risk of custodial sentences. The West Midlands PCC has worked with the courts to introduce this new approach where the court can make an order for an offender to meet monthly with the same judge and work with support agencies providing wraparound support.
The APPG thought that there was real potential for this approach to be successful in addressing anti-social behaviour also.
‘Problem solving housing courts’ would take a similar approach in addressing ASB by requiring perpetrators to meet regularly with a judge and work with support agencies to address any underlying issues they have. As well as ASB, a specialist housing court would enable rent arrears, possession cases and other issues to be dealt with by judges who have undergone specialist training on housing issues and understand the complexity of law in this area. A specialist court dealing with housing issues would also be able to collate more reliable data on how ASB is being addressed and what works and what doesn’t. Accurately evaluating the effectiveness of ASB policy will be key to learning from experience and improving our responses.
In recommending this new and innovative approach, we don’t only want to improve the way that ASB is addressed for all concerned but place the West Midlands at the forefront of piloting the new approach. ‘Problem solving housing courts’ have the support of both Andy Street (Mayor of the West Midlands) and the PCC and offer a real alternative to the existing flawed system.
The hard work of convincing the Government of the value of the recommendations begins now. I look forward to working with the Office of the Mayor, the PCC, and MPs and civil servants at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Home Office and Ministry of Justice to deliver the changes that we need.
Click here for a recording of a webinar that the Centre for the New Midlands hosted in 2020, focused on ‘If the time had come for a dedicated Housing Court’
ABOUT OUR AUTHOR:
Glenn has been Chief Executive of Midland Heart since March 2018 and was previously Finance Director.
Glenn joined Midland Heart following a career spanning seven years at East Midlands Development Agency (EMDA), where he spent five years as Executive Director of Corporate Services, followed by two years as Deputy Chief Executive. Prior to that, he was Deputy Chief Executive at NHS Logistics, supplying over £1bn of consumable goods to all NHS Trusts across England.
Glenn received an MBE for services to business in 2012.