22 Jul 2022

Harm Centred Approaches to Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB)

As we’ve seen during ASB Awareness Week 2022, anti-social behaviour is not a low-level crime and can have a devastating impact on the lives of those affected.

We often talk about harm when discussing ASB cases. In this context, we usually mean the impact the ASB is having on those suffering from it. Some behaviours might be annoying, but they often cause very little harm, such as a dog fouling in a communal garden. Other behaviours are likely to cause the victim a much greater level of harm, such as threats of violence or actual violence.

Even where you are managing two ASB cases where the behaviour type is identical, the victims may be suffering different levels of harm. For example, a tenant could be playing loud music until 11 pm every night. One neighbour works five nights a week. When they do hear the noise at the weekend, it doesn’t cause them too much nuisance as they do not have a specific time to get up the next morning. The neighbour on the other side is elderly. They are on medication for high blood pressure, which is being made worse by a lack of sleep. They have to listen to the noise every night.

The response required is therefore likely to be different. There is a reason why we frequently hear the statement “no two cases are the same” when it comes to managing ASB matters.

When managing cases of ASB we should adopt a harm centred approach. This means considering the level of harm caused to the victims throughout our case management. It is particularly important when deciding how serious a case is and what the best course of action should be.

So, when we decide whether and how a report should be categorised as ASB we should consider both the type of behaviour exhibited and the impact it is having upon the victim/s.

It also helps to prioritise the most serious cases. Cases with a higher level of harm should be dealt with more quickly, to ensure we are helping those most in need first.

We can measure the level of harm in several ways:

  • When a report of ASB is first received, we often assign it a category based on the severity. These categories are usually identified within our ASB policy. Where the behaviour is more serious, we usually say that we will respond more quickly, as well as considering the appropriateness of urgent legal action such as without notice injunctions. To ensure a true harm centred approach, we should categorise reports not just on the behaviour type (e.g. whether there has been an act or threat of violence), but also on the impact that the behaviour is having (e.g. is it having a serious impact on the emotional and mental wellbeing of the victim/s?)
  • We often complete a victim risk assessment after we have interviewed the complainant. This assessment is based on national research, which identified some of the factors that might mean someone is at a higher risk of harm. This helps us to identify people who are vulnerable and guides us to an appropriate response to reduce this, such as by considering urgent legal action, or by referring the case to a local partnership meeting to create an action plan with our partner agencies.

It is also important to remember that irrespective of whether someone scores highly on the risk assessment, being a victim of ASB is not a pleasant experience. One of the best ways you can support someone suffering ASB is to keep in contact with them. Update them on the progress of their case regularly. If they do not hear from you then they are likely to assume that nothing is being done.

When deciding on the level of harm, it’s also really important to consider the case as a whole, rather than each individual incident. The impact of all the incidents together is likely to be far higher than each individual issue. For example, if you suffer one night of disrupted sleep from a neighbour playing music, this is likely to be annoying. If it happens several times a week, the impact will be far greater. Sleep deprivation can cause mental and physical health issues and can be really serious. If we judged the level of harm based on each incident of noise, we would not be making an accurate assessment of the overall harm being caused to the victim.

Harm will also be a factor when deciding on the most appropriate and proportionate action to take in an ASB case. The action we take should not be an incremental one, where we start at the bottom rung of the ladder with a warning letter, working our step-by-step way up to the top. Instead, it should be a decision made based on what is proportionate and likely to prevent further incidents (and harm) being caused. The impact that the behaviour is having on the victim/s must be an important factor in deciding the level of action that is proportionate to take.

Finally, we often consider ‘harm centred’ to relate to the victim/s only, but it is an important concept to think about when working with the people causing the ASB. The lines between victim and perpetrator can often be very blurred; perhaps the perpetrator is being exploited or perhaps they have support needs themselves. When we are taking action in ASB cases, we should, therefore, also consider what support and intervention we can offer to the person causing the harm.

Written by Janine Green

Janine is an award winning specialist in community safety and anti-social behaviour (ASB). You can find more of Janine's blogs, webinar recordings, and podcast episodes at www.janinegreenasb.co.uk/resources