Judges get power to fast-track eviction of nasty neighbours


Judges are to be given new powers to fast-track the eviction of tenants who harass their neighbours.

Under present laws it can take more than a year to evict perpetrators of anti-social behaviour even if there is the clear evidence of abuse.

Today the Government will announce new rules giving judges the automatic power to order the eviction of tenants who have already received an anti-social behaviour order.

They would then be considered to have made themselves "intentionally homeless" and councils would have no obligation to re-house them.

But critics of the proposals warn that anti-social neighbours will merely be moved from house to house without addressing the root causes of their behaviour.

Grant Shapps, the Housing Minister, will also announce a joint working group with the Ministry of Justice to look at other ways of speeding up the lengthy eviction process.

There will also be a fund established to create a new team which will provide tenants and landlords with advice on eviction procedures.

Responding to reports of anti-social behaviour costs government agencies about £3.4bn a year and MPs from both political parties say it is one of the most distressing and intractable problems they face in constituency surgeries.

Measures to tackle anti-social behaviour were first introduced in the mid-1990s, and since then more and more powers and measures have been added.

ASBOs were first introduced in 1998. In 2003 the Home Office formed the Anti-Social Behaviour Unit with an annual budget of £25m. In September 2005, the Government announced the creation of the cross- government Respect Task Force to take forward the anti-social behaviour agenda and in January 2006 it published the Respect Action Plan.

Ministers believe this swifter process for evicting nuisance tenants will act as a deterrent.

Mr Shapps said: "Like many MPs one of things which crops up time and again in constituency surgeries is the difficulty communities have in evicting neighbours who blight their lives with anti-social behaviour.

"One of the things it shocked me as a minister to discover was that even if someone has already been given an ASBO that doesn't necessarily count as cause in eviction proceedings. I want to change this and give judges automatic grounds for eviction in such cases as well as speeding the eviction process up in general."

But Kay Boycott, the charity Shelter's director of campaigns, said it was a blunt tool. "Removing courts' discretionary powers and forcing them to evict people, despite possible extenuating circumstances, is a blunt tool to deal with a complicated problem," she said. "Something as critical as whether someone might be made homeless is surely too important to be left to the discretion of a landlord who may not be wholly impartial.

"Considering competing claims and the evidence involved in these complex cases should be left to the courts, particularly where cases involve tenants with a mental health problem, disability or where children are involved."