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'Neighbours from hell' may be denied benefits

Neighbours from hell will be stripped of housing benefit under a new crackdown on antisocial behaviour unveiled by ministers.

Problem families who are evicted from their homes for antisocial conduct will face a sliding scale of benefit cuts if they refuse to mend their ways, John Hutton, the Work and Pensions Secretary, said.

They would face a 10 per cent cut in housing benefits for a month, rising to 20 per cent for another month if they do not behave, he said. The benefits could be removed entirely for up to five years if they still refuse to co-operate, ministers said.

Families evicted for anti-social behaviour will be offered "appropriate rehabilitation", but will face benefits cuts if they refuse.

Ministers are to introduce legislation "as soon as is practicable", and hope to launch the first pilot schemes by 2008. Ministers also warned that they would cut funding from local authorities if they did not draw up "respect" action plans.

Details were announced after a meeting of the cabinet committee responsible for driving through the Government's "respect" agenda, chaired by Tony Blair. The Prime Minister opened up the cabinet room to hear from police and other agencies clamping down on antisocial behaviour.

Mr Hutton said: "Communities are fed up of the disruption caused by people who show no respect for their neighbours. The threat of sanctioning housing benefit will send a clear signal to the handful of people evicted each year for antisocial behaviour that they must address their problem behaviour and engage in rehabilitation.

"It is not right that people who get evicted should be able simply to move to another area and continue their bad behaviour. These antisocial neighbours must realise they have reached the end of the line. The right to housing benefit must and will carry a responsibility to be a decent neighbour."

But David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "No amount of talking up his 'respect agenda' will drive down crime on the streets. Mr Blair should understand that what we need is tough policing, tough sentences, and competent management of the Home Office if he really wants to be tough on crime."

Sir Menzies Campbell, leader of the Liberal Democrats, added: "This is a smokescreen for a Government in turmoil. The Prime Minister's getting tough on councils instead of tough on crime."