Councils ‘frequently’ failing to tackle anti-social behaviour, watchdog finds

Councils are too often leaving anti-social behaviour unchecked, a watchdog has found as it criticised a failure to tackle incidents including a neighbour’s 13-hour house party and another where a man had tennis balls thrown at him.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said it had “frequently” found councils across England were failing to grasp the problems caused by anti-social behaviour as well as their own powers to address it.

In a report published on Wednesday, it said it had upheld nearly three-quarters (74%) of the cases it has investigated in the past year – ranging from low-level issues such as dog fouling and inconsiderate parking to more serious sustained harassment and intimidation.

In one case a man complained to his local council about a neighbour who left bagged dog faeces outside his kitchen window in a bin until collection day, shouted abuse at him, threw tennis balls at him and physically assaulted him.

The council said the behaviour was not anti-social but instead related to a private dispute between the pair and said the incidents should be reported to the police.

But the ombudsman said the council was at fault and should apologise, offer mediation, and “properly consider allegations of ASB (anti-social behaviour) rather than simply referring complainants to other bodies, such as the police”.

In another case, a person complained about a neighbour’s house party which lasted more than 13 hours but the council said its policy meant it would only consider taking action if he recorded six incidents within 25 days.

Despite another similar incident a few weeks later, the council closed his case because it said it did not meet its criteria. The ombudsman said the council’s policy was “too inflexible and did not accord with its duty to consider each case on its merits”.

The report stated: “The faults in these cases highlight a range of problems.

“There are sometimes long delays in councils responding to complainants, or acting on information they have received.

“We see cases where officers appear to lack the confidence to make decisions, despite having apparently compelling evidence to justify taking enforcement action – dragging matters out and leaving anti-social behaviour unchecked.

“We see councils referring people to the police, believing anti-social behaviour is purely a police matter and they have no duty to act. We also see examples where councils have accepted a case for investigation but failed to liaise properly with the police, or other agencies, despite there being an obvious benefit to information sharing.”

Ombudsman Paul Najsarek said while anti-social behaviour can “blight our communities” and have an impact on people’s mental health, “all too often in our investigations we find councils not thinking hard enough about how they can step in to help”.

He added: “Councils in partnership with other agencies, when using their powers to the full, can have a profound effect on people’s quality of life – both in terms of taking action against perpetrators and providing support to victims.

“I urge leaders to read this report and reflect on their services to ensure they fully understand the range of powers at their disposal and provide the best possible support to the people they serve.”

A spokesperson for the Local Government Association, which represents councils, said local authorities take a “balanced and proportionate approach” to complaints.

They said: “Anti-social behaviour (ASB) can have a devastating impact on communities and individuals, and councils are committed to working with their partners and communities to prevent ASB and protect residents from offenders who can make the lives of the people they target a misery.

“Councils will always take a balanced and proportionate approach to using the tools at their disposal to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour and so it is vital all agencies – including the Government – ensure all measures in the ASB Plan launched earlier this year are adequately resourced.”

A Government spokesperson said: “Keeping neighbourhoods safe is an absolute priority which is why the Government has introduced the anti-social behaviour action plan.

“Our plan is backed by £160 million of funding and will make our communities safer by ensuring perpetrators face swift and visible justice, tougher punishments and introduce early interventions to reduce this behaviour.

“Councils should use all available powers to tackle anti-social behaviour, and through our action plan the Government is providing dedicated funding to support Police and Crime Commissioners, working with councils and others, to target enforcement in the areas where anti-social behaviour is most prevalent in their communities.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2023, All Rights Reserved.