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Anti-social behaviour powers and young adults: How dispersal powers, community protection notices and public spaces protection orders are used to sanction young adults

Practitioners' Accounts...

Authors: Matt Ford, Roger Grimshaw and Helen Mills

Six powers are used to sanction ASB. The three powers considered in this report are:

Dispersal Power

A police-only power to exclude individuals from a specified area for up to 48 hours.

Community Protection Notice (CPN)

Enables councils, the police and housing providers to give notices to individuals and businesses prohibiting them from doing, and / or requiring them to do, certain things.

Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO)

Allows local councils to prohibit or require specific behaviours in public places.

This briefing provides a first indication of how these tools are being used with young adults. To our knowledge, this is the first attempt to capture what is happening on the ground in local areas. As such this briefing is an important and necessary step to understand the lessons about the reallife implications of measures put in place by legislators typically far away from the streets of their subsequent use. Together with the previous publication, this briefing looks at previously unchartered waters.

Very little information is in the public domain about ASB powers; how they are used, who is being sanctioned by them, or what the outcomes are of using them. There is no centralised data collection about their use, and there is significant local discretion regarding when and how they might be applied.

The practices this briefing refers to are part of new and evolving approaches. The tools described here have their origins in ASB strategies that have been in operation for several decades. However, the overhaul of the ASB framework in 2014 created new mechanisms for the - potentially much more extensive – use of ASB responses by councils, housing providers and the police. This briefing covers three of the six powers created in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

In addition, young adults have been established as a group for whom there are specific needs. The Transition to Adulthood Alliance have focused on how prisons, probation, courts and policing could best respond to these needs. However, to our knowledge, young adults have not been the subject of research regarding ASB powers. Age considerations in ASB, at least in terms of the research literature, have tended to focus on under 16 year olds.

ASB has also attracted controversy. For some, ASB legislation has created important tools which can legitimately make public spaces places everyone can enjoy. Others have been critical about the potentially arbitrary nature of an ASB enforcement approach; that its use represents a failure to address fundamental social problems, and may further marginalise vulnerable groups. A recent example of the furore these tools can cause was in Windsor. Windsor’s council leader advocated for a police-led enforcement approach to tackle ‘organised begging’ and ‘rough sleeping’ in the run up to the Royal Wedding in May 2018. His approach to homelessness was met with both local and national criticism.

The statutory guidance governing the use of ASB powers was updated in December 2017, in part in response to concerns about its use to disproportionally target some vulnerable groups (such as rough sleepers). Additions made to the guidance highlight the importance of focusing on nuisance behaviour rather than specific groups and advises local implementers to give consideration to proportionality prior to commencing with an ASB enforcement approach.

This briefing is not intended to promote the greater use of ASB powers. Nor have we set out to show the use of these powers is necessarily unjustified. Instead we hope to offer rigorous, objective information and critical analysis about the way these powers have been used since important changes in their governance. We hope this is a useful contribution to the ongoing debate about ASB.