Racist council tenants will face fast-track eviction

Click to follow
Council tenants who racially harass asylum-seekers will face fast-track eviction under government plans to combat so-called neighbours from hell.

Council tenants who racially harass asylum-seekers will face fast-track eviction under government plans to combat so-called neighbours from hell.

Under proposals being drawn up by ministers, housing law would be reformed to allow local authorities much more scope to repossess the homes of those who commit neighbour nuisance.

The momentum for change has increased in Whitehall in the past week after one asylum- seeker was murdered and another was stabbed on the Sighthill estate in Glasgow.

Apart from combating racist attacks, ministers also want to root out those whose anti-social behaviour makes life intolerable for tens of thousands of long-suffering residents on council estates.

Radical reform of housing tenure law is bound to provoke controversy among some tenants' rights groups, but ministers are determined to act and believe that nearly all tenants, who are law-abiding, want to see effective change.

The option favoured by the Government is to force all tenants to sign new tenancy agreements, which would be subject to a "good behaviour" review every two years.

For all but a tiny minority of tenants, the review would simply be a rubber stamp, but for the anti-social element it would mean swift repossession of their home.

At present, tenancy agreements last for life and councils encounter extreme difficulty in evicting problem families who disrupt their community or abuse neighbours.

Witness intimidation often hampers the eviction of racists and as a result it is the victims who end up being transferred out of the area instead of the perpetrators. Although the Government intends to review its asylum-seeker dispersal programme and the integration of refugees in the community, it is equally determined not to allow racists to dictate policy. "Of course we need to look at how the programme is executed, but we will not abandon the whole idea of dispersal because of the racists," a government source said.

"In fact, we want to help councils crack down harder on those who harass their neighbours. It's not just asylum-seekers, there are many British citizens from ethnic minorities who are victims, too."

Glasgow City Council served an eviction notice two months ago against Jean Brown, a Sighthill tenant whose two sons singled out asylum-seekers for abuse, but the authority has found itself weighed down by bureaucracy as it tries to remove her from the estate.

As well as new tenancies, a more contentious change being considered by the Government is the abolition of secure tenure for council residents, a legal protection from eviction that has existed since 1980.

Prior to the 1980 Housing Act, tenants had little security and repossession was relatively quick and certain, but many councils now feel the time has come to make the process simpler once more.

Under the more radical proposals, a new form of social tenure would be created so that councils could perform evictions without even going to court as at present.Whereas councils are now better equipped to deal with problem tenants, thanks to being able to impose anti-social behaviour orders, many authorities feel they need tougher powers because residents face intimidation when cases go to court.

The Independent has learnt that the Law Commission, backed by the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, has started a review of housing law because of worries that neighbour nuisance has got out of control.

The commission has been asked to deliver a report and draft Bill by July 2003. A consultation paper is expected to be issued early next year.

Some councils already have so-called Introductory Tenancies, but partly because they are probationary for only one year and have in-built appeals procedures, less than a third of town halls have decided to use them. Most evictions have been enforced because of rent arrears ­ not for anti-social behaviour.

Ministers have been particularly impressed with Nottingham City Council, though, where officers are pioneering the idea of new "good behaviour" tenancies.

Peter Jackson, the city's assistant housing director, said that the council had obtained legal advice and that such radical moves would not breach the Human Rights Act.

"Our argument is that eviction should be quicker, and it should be more certain. Support for reform among tenant representatives and residents is overwhelming," he said.