Law guide: Complaints and disputes

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Solutions (Scotland & Northern Ireland)

Solutions (Scotland & Northern Ireland)


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.

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 ASBO applications or in eviction or possession proceedings.

Penalty notices

A Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) and a Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND) are one-off penalties which can be issued to people who commit offences which amount to anti-social behaviour.

In Scotland, Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) generally deal with anti-social behaviour like being drunk in a public place, refusing to leave licensed premises when asked to do so, urinating in public places, vandalism and breach of the peace.

In Northern Ireland Penalty Notices are issued for offences like disorderly behaviour in public or behaviour leading to a breach of the peace. They can be issued to anyone over 18 years old.

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.

Anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs)

An ASBO is a court order applied for by local authorities, police forces (including the British Transport Police) and by registered social landlords (these are landlords providing social housing). In Northern Ireland ASBOs are applied for by the district council, the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland or the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. They can't be applied for by members of the public, but people do get involved by collecting evidence and helping to monitor breaches.

ASBOs aim to protect the public from further anti-social behaviour from an individual, rather than punish the person. They ban the individual from repeating the offending behaviour or entering a set area, and last for a minimum of two years.

ASBOs are designed with communities in mind, to encourage people to get involved in reporting local crime and anti-social behaviour. They're not criminal penalties, so they won't appear on a police record. However, breaching an ASBO is a criminal offence and the punishment for this may be a fine or even imprisonment.

Powers of dispersal (Scotland)

Dispersal powers are used in public spaces (such as shopping arcades or parks) where groups gather and intimidate and harass the public. Once an area has been designated a dispersal area, then police can direct groups of two or more people to leave if they are causing a nuisance, and if they don't live in the area. They may be excluded from the area for up to 24 hours.

The local authority must agree to the dispersal order and the decision must be published in a local newspaper or by notices in the local area.

Powers to tackle anti-social behaviour granted to local authorities include the following:

  • The power to disperse groups of more than two people in designated trouble spots
  • The introduction of parenting orders to compel parents to take reasonable steps to prevent their children from committing crimes
  • The ability to extend electronic tagging to children under 16
  • A ban on selling spray paint to people under 16
  • Fixed penalty notices for offences such as litter, vandalism, drunken behaviour or consuming alcohol in a public place as well as for less serious offences such as littering
  • More powers for councils to deal with private landlords who turn a blind eye to anti-social tenants
  • More powers for the police to close 'crack houses', premises where drug-dealing takes place
  • Extending ASBOs to 12-15 year olds

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 below.


The Scottish Government has its own CCTV Strategy for Scotland that outlines the principles to be followed by operators of public space CCTV systems in Scotland. The principles aim to ensure that these systems are operated fairly and lawfully and comply with the Data Protection Act.

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