Housing and anti social behaviour officers should act swiftly to tackle noise

Janine Green, ASB Practice and Projects Manager at the The Social Landlords Crime and Nuisance Group (SLCNG) considers the challenge anti social noise presents. SLCNG is a national body for England and Wales consisting of over 300 member organisations, all sharing a responsibility for tackling anti social behaviour within our communities. Members manage around 75% of the housing stock and the role of SLCNG  is to help develop and promote best practice.

Noise nuisance is a term that strikes fear through anti social behaviour (ASB) practitioners, yet we know that it is one of the main issues complained about by residents.  Recent figures suggest 33% of complaints relate to noise, and it is often seen as one of the most difficult types of ASB to resolve, but why is this?

Experience has shown that noise nuisance presents a number of challenges. Firstly, it covers a huge range of behaviour, from carrying out DIY through to loud, drug fuelled parties. There is never a “one size fits all” solution to ASB, and this is never truer than when dealing with noise. A simple letter or mediation referral may resolve an issue involving a resident playing their television a little too loud, but the same actions are probably not appropriate for someone who has an open door policy, allowing known criminals to congregate.  Coupled with this is the fact that it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between what is reasonable daily activity and genuine ASB – after all, when do we decide that banging of doors and running up uncarpeted stairs in a flat is no longer acceptable? Whilst an absolute answer to this question doesn’t exist, what is clear is the need to be honest and open with complainants, never raising their expectations unnecessarily but equally taking reasonable concerns seriously.

It can also be very difficult to illustrate the harm that has been caused by noise nuisance – it is far easier to comprehend how a punch to the face or a threat to kill could affect someone, but if we haven’t been subjected to problems of noise ourselves, can we ever fully empathise with the debilitating effect that it can have on our daily lives?

It is often the case that the tools in our partnership kit are more limited in relation to noise issues – we know that Environmental Health teams have a statutory duty to investigate noise nuisance but, understandably due to the thresholds, positive outcomes are not always forthcoming even where we are sure nuisance exists.  In addition, our overstretched and well-meaning police force have very few powers in relation to noise, all resulting in much of the solution falling to ASB/Housing Officers.

So how can we surmount these issues? We must be pragmatic when dealing with noise, where appropriate empowering the parties to resolve issues between themselves, as well as adopting practical measures, such as the use of headphones for loud music or installing slow release hinges on heavy, slamming doors.

Changes to legislation are imminent – the aim of the new ASB, Crime and Policing Act, due for commencement in October 2014, is to widen the current powers, allowing for an injunction to be obtained in more cases, a tool which is often seen as more flexible and quicker  to obtain than the, soon to be no more, ASBO. Coupled with this will be the ability for social landlords to use a faster route of possession for matters where an injunction or a noise abatement notice is breached. We also wait to see how the Community Protection Notice may be used for noise nuisance matters and whether these have desired impact.

Above all else, we must ensure we clearly understand the harm being caused, act quickly and appropriately at the earliest stage and never be afraid to take strong action if required – 33% fewer victims would certainly be something to celebrate!

Janine is the ASB Practice and Projects Manager at the Social Landlords Crime & Nuisance Group

Email   Tel: 024 7647 2725



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