A woman who made repeated complaints about her neighbours should have been informed of the legal tools available to tackle anti-social behaviour, including the Community Trigger, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) has found.
Introduced by the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, the Community Trigger (also known as the ASB Case Review) gives victims of persistent ASB reported to any of the main responsible agencies (such as the council, police, housing provider) the right to request a multi-agency case review of their case where a local threshold is met.
The woman, who lives alone in her privately-owned home, is vulnerable because of her age and chronic medical conditions, which affect both her physical and mental health.
She has logged concerns about ASB and harassment from her next-door neighbours since 2012, after she initially reported them to Luton Borough Council for causing a nuisance by feeding vermin.
The council and police gave the neighbours a warning, but since then, the woman claims she has been subject to verbal abuse and derogatory comments about her mental health and received threats to harm her. She has also had false accusations made against her.
The woman made numerous complaints about her neighbours, but the council’s Priority ASB team closed her case. A council investigation into her complaint wrongly directed her to the Housing Ombudsman, which can only investigate complaints from social housing tenants or leaseholders.
The woman eventually complained to the LGSCO after her MP became involved. During the Ombudsman’s investigation, the council reviewed her case, recommended mediation and asked her to send further evidence for a case review meeting.
According to the Ombudsman, the council failed to tell the woman about her right to use the Community Trigger, despite her repeatedly expressing her dissatisfaction with the council’s investigation. Instead, the manager of the Priority ASB team was asked to review the case.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “Neighbourhood antisocial behaviour can be incredibly distressing for those experiencing it – and can lead to people feeling vulnerable in the one place they should expect to feel safe. So I am concerned Luton Borough Council is not publicising properly people’s right to have their ASB cases reviewed under the Community Trigger.
“I hope that by reminding officers of these powers, others in the Luton area will have a greater chance of having their issues resolved.”
In this case, the LGSCO has recommended Luton pay the woman £250 to recognise the distress, inconvenience and uncertainty it caused.
In addition, the Ombudsman asked the council to consider what steps it needs to take to promote and publicise the Community Trigger to ensure greater public awareness. It should also issue a reminder to officers that they should always consider whether it is appropriate to use wider ASB powers when they receive complaints, the Ombudsman said.
Furthermore, Luton should remind officers who investigate complaints at the final stage of its complaints procedure that people who are not council tenants or leaseholders cannot complain to the Housing Ombudsman. As a result of its investigation, the LGSCO amended its published information to make this process clearer.
A Luton Council spokesperson said: “We would like to apologise very sincerely to the woman affected by this matter.
“We take reports of antisocial behaviour extremely seriously, and we have let both this resident and ourselves down for not following the correct procedures in this case.
“These are certainly not the high standards of service that our residents deserve, and that we expect from ourselves."
The spokesperson added: “We have learned from the findings of this report and have already tightened up our processes to ensure this does not happen again. Our teams have developed an action plan to address this fully.
“Any resident who needs to report an instance of antisocial behaviour to our team should do so using the contact details available on our website.”