Law guide: Complaints & disputes

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Solutions (England & Wales)

Contents

Introduction

Anti-social behaviour (ASB) is behaviour that causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress. It is also behaviour capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to a person in their home. It includes a range of problems: noisy neighbours, abandoned cars, vandalism, graffiti, litter and intimidating groups. It creates an environment where crime can take hold and affect people's everyday lives.

What you can do

If anti-social behaviour is a problem in your area, you can:

  • Talk to your local anti-social behaviour co-ordinator, who can help you tackle the problem
  • Get involved to help prevent and tackle ASB when it does occur
  • Report ASB incidents
  • Be a witness to support legal action and stop ASB by getting court orders

In some cases witnesses' identities can be kept anonymous.

Below is a summary of the most important mechanisms for dealing with anti-social behaviour.

Anti-social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014

The Anti-social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 replaced several other laws in England and Wales that dealt with various aspects of anti-social behaviour. It changed some of the orders that could be obtained under those laws.

Acceptable Behaviour Contract (ABCs)

An ABC is a written agreement made between a person engaging in anti-social behaviour and their local authority, Youth Inclusion Support Panel, landlord or the police. ABCs are designed to get individuals to acknowledge their anti-social behaviour and the effect it has on others, with the aim of stopping that behaviour at an early stage. An ABC sets out the types of anti-social acts the person agrees not to continue and outlines the consequences if the contract is breached.

ABCs, although designed for young people, can be used for offenders of any age. ABCs are informal and flexible, so can be used for various types of anti-social behaviour.

ABCs aren't legally binding, but can be referred to in court as evidence in applications for injunctions or in eviction or possession proceedings.

Penalty notices

A Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) can be issued for certain offences instead of prosecuting the offender. A Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND) is another one-off penalty which can be issued to people who commit offences which amount to anti-social behaviour.

Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) generally deal with unreasonable conduct that has a persistent detrimental effect on the quality of life of the residents of an area. This includes violating a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) (see Public Spaces Protection Orders below) and for environmental offences like dropping litter, minor graffiti offences, not cleaning up dog fouling or noise nuisance from a private residence during the night. They can be issued by local council officers, police community support officers (PCSOs) and certain other accredited people. They can be issued to anyone over ten years old. Set penalties apply.

Penalty Notices for Disorder (PNDs) are issued for more serious offences, like throwing fireworks or being drunk and disorderly in a public place. PNDs can be issued by the police, community support officers and certain other accredited people.

PNDs can be issued to anyone over 18 years old – the amount of the fine depends on how bad the behaviour is. There are two tiers of conduct attracting set fines. Other examples where a PND may be issued include behaving in a way likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to others, selling alcohol to an under 18 year old or breaching a fireworks curfew. PNDs should be issued for single instances of disorderly conduct and not where the person carrying out such conduct is guilty of a pattern of such behaviour.

Admitting guilt by paying the fine under a penalty notice is not the same as a criminal conviction. However, failure to pay the fine may result in higher fines, or imprisonment.

Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs)

These orders were introduced by the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 and replaced various other orders such as designated public place orders, gating orders and dog control orders. They allow local authorities to make orders restricting certain types of behaviour in specified areas. Their aim is to protect local communities from the detrimental effects of such behaviour. They can cover a wide range of behaviour.

To grant such an order, the local authority must believe that the particular behaviour is happening in that area and has, or is likely to have, a detrimental effect on the quality of life of the people in that area. The effects must be continuing and unreasonable. A single PSPO can cover a range of activity in an area, for example requiring dogs to be kept on leads and owners to clean up after them and preventing drinking alcohol in a specified area. A PSPO can last up to 3 years and can be extended by the local authority if necessary. The local authority must consult with the police, community representatives and the owners and occupiers of any land affected.

Designated public place orders, gating orders and dog control orders made before the legislation introducing PSPOs came into force on 20 October 2014 continue in effect for 3 years. From 21 October 2017 if they are still in effect they will be treated as PSPOs. They can be enforced by council, police and community support officers. Failure to comply with a PSPO is an offence punishable by fine or by a fixed penalty notice.

Injunctions and interim injunctions

Under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 an injunction can be granted by the court if they think it is just to do so. An injunction is an order prohibiting a person from carrying on the conduct specified in the order, or a requiring them to do what is stated in the order. Injunctions replace the former Anti-social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) in England and Wales. An injunction that requires a person to do something must specify who will supervise that person to ensure they carry out the order. Injunctions can be given against a person aged 10 or over who is engaged in, or threatening to, carry out anti-social behaviour.

The court also has power to grant an interim injunction if an application for an injunction has been made, but it has not yet been heard by the court. A breach of the injunction will allow a court to make an order to arrest the offender.

Breach of an injunction will entitle the court to make further orders to enforce the injunction. There are special provisions for youth courts to make supervision orders for children between 10 and 18 and detention orders for children between 14 and 18.

Criminal behaviour orders

Criminal behaviour orders were introduced by the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, and replaced the former Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) on conviction.

A Criminal Behaviour Order can be made against a person convicted of an offence if:

  • The offender has engaged in anti-social behaviour.
  • The court is satisfied such an order will prevent them engaging in such behaviour in future.
  • The prosecution applied for the order before sentencing (the prosecution should first consult the local youth offending team if the offender is a young person).
  • The offender is sentenced or conditionally discharged of the offence.

The order specifies the conduct that the offender is prohibited from or is required to carry out, and how long it will last. If the offence was committed before the offender was 18, the order must last between 1 and 3 years. After the age of 18, the order must last not less than 2 and can last indefinitely until a further order is made.

If the offender breaches the criminal behaviour order, they will be guilty of a further offence punishable by fine and/or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 6 months for a summary conviction or not exceeding 5 years on indictment.

Powers of dispersal

The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 creates certain dispersal powers.

Dispersal powers are used in public spaces (such as shopping arcades or parks) where groups gather and intimidate and harass the public. Once the police have authorised the use of dispersal powers in a specified dispersal area, they can direct persons they have reasonable cause to believe are engaging in anti-social behaviour or contributing to crime or disorder in the area to leave that area and not return for a specified time up to 48 hours. The authorisation must be in writing, signed by the police officer giving it and specify the grounds on which it is given.

The police can't prevent a person having access to their home or use these powers against a child under 10.

CCTV and anti-social behaviour

CCTV has proved to be a highly effective tool in discouraging anti-social behaviour. CCTV can sometimes be used in court as evidence to prove someone was in a certain place or that they committed an offence.

CCTV can also help to improve community safety and prevent undesirable behaviour, because people know their actions are being recorded.

However, the use of CCTV needs to be balanced against the rights of individuals under the Human Rights Act 1998 and Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). Use by public authorities is dealt with on a regional basis.

Private individuals using CCTV to protect their homes from crime and anti-social behaviour must comply with the DPA. The European Court of Justice in a case from the Czech Republic (Rynes) held that the Data Protection Directive (on which the UK DPA is based) applied where a person installed CCTV on their house which also monitored the public footpath outside their house to protect their family from crime. The householder passed the recording to the police who prosecuted persons caught on camera on the footpath using a catapult to break a window of the house. Such recording by a private individual did not come within the exception in the Directive for video surveillance carried out for public security, defence, national security or in the course of state activities relating to the area of criminal law. It also did not fall within the exemption for processing data for household or personal use. The owner of the camera was a data controller and had breached the rights of the persons on the public footpath that he had recorded as he did not have their consent to do so and had not notified them he was filming them.

CCTV code of conduct

The government has published a code of conduct for the police, local authorities and the National Crime Agency for operating CCTV in public spaces under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 - This code applies only to England and Wales and contains 12 guiding principles. The government wants other operators of CCTV to comply voluntarily with the code. While recognising the importance of CCTV in fighting crime and anti-social behaviour, the code points out that this aim must be balanced against privacy and data protection rights of individuals. The surveillance must be proportionate to achieving a legitimate aim. There is a Surveillance Camera Commissioner to monitor compliance with the code.

The UK Information Commissioner issued guidance on CCTV use. The guidance refers to the 12 guiding principles of the code under the Protection of Freedoms Act referred to above. However, the ICO guidance is intended for private individuals and businesses as well as public bodies and is aimed at ensuring compliance with the Data Protection Act (DPA). The DPA requires that recording data must be justified, necessary and proportionate to the aim for which it is done. So the ICO encourages persons using CCTV to consider whether there are alternative measures to use to achieve the same aim, e.g. improved lighting at night. The user should assess the impact on the privacy of other people. The information should be kept secure and deleted when no longer necessary.

The government has also published guidance to individuals using CCTV cameras outside their houses to protect themselves from crime. The guidance suggests that the user consider what is necessary to protect the property, advises neighbours and others that the camera is in use and that recordings are regularly deleted so they are not kept longer than necessary. It also suggests that you should avoid breaching neighbour's privacy rights by filming their property.