Section 12A — Short Scottish secure tenancies

Part of Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 10:30 am on 17th June 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour 10:30 am, 17th June 2004

As the minister said, amendment 49 seeks to remove the provisions that were inserted by a successful stage 2 amendment that broke the link between ASBOs for children and the tenancy of their whole family. I remain convinced that such a link is unjust, and that it would add to inequality by having one law for the poorer in society and another for the richer; the bottom line is that children in the social rented sector and their families would be treated in a harsher manner than those in owner-occupied houses for the same antisocial behaviour. There are many measures in the bill that should be supported because they will help to tackle unacceptable behaviour in our communities, but amendment 49 adds nothing to that aim. It is discriminatory.

My amendment was lodged at stage 2 to address concerns that had been raised by Shelter Scotland, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and Barnardo's Scotland, and it was supported by a majority of the committee. I am not sure what the precedent is for the Executive overturning a successful stage 2 amendment, but the fact that it is seeking to do so is disappointing.

The background is that the Executive seems to be applying ASBOs for children in the same way that it applies ASBOs for adults with regard to tenancy. The minister explained how the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 linked ASBOs for adults to tenancy, which was contrary to the original concept that ASBOs should impact solely on the individual who performed the behaviour. If amendment 49 is agreed to, that system will be extended to children and the powers that are given to sheriffs to serve ASBOs on under-16s could lead to a child's behaviour impacting on the tenancy of their whole family, including other children, which could lead to homelessness. That would mean that there would be more innocent victims of antisocial behaviour—the people who live with the child.

Although I remain concerned about ASBOs for under-16s, welcome changes have been made, which recognise that children's ASBOs are different from adults' ASBOs. The stage 2 amendment ensured that ASBOs for children would be different from ASBOs for adults in the case of SSSTs, and that they would apply equally to all children. It ensured that a child's ASBO would not constitute grounds for converting a tenancy, which meant that the ASBO would impact only on the behaviour of the child in question, not on the whole family. That would not have undermined the Executive's view of ASBOs as effective measures for children. There would still be robust responses, but they would be the same for all children. Currently, support for adults with ASBOs is provided only when a tenancy is being converted. For under-16s, it would be more appropriate to link that support to the ASBO, so that all children would be treated the same, whatever housing type they lived in.

In a letter to the Communities Committee, the Deputy Minister for Communities stated:

"The alternative to maintaining the power for social landlords to convert a tenancy to a SSST is that landlords who have serious concerns about the behaviour of young people living in their properties may move straight for eviction. There is no doubt that the ASBO could be used as evidence to support the application for eviction on grounds of antisocial behaviour."

But it is not that easy to evict. The court has to give the go-ahead based on grounds that are given by the landlord, and it would be expected to take reasonableness and family circumstances into account. However, if the tenancy is converted to an SSST, eviction can take place on application without any grounds being given, so eviction is much easier and can be done on the whim of the landlord. That is ironic, given that the Executive, rightly, has just received an international award for having the most progressive legislation on homelessness in western Europe. This creation of the risk of eviction for families does not sit well with the Executive's progressive agenda, which I fully support.

Shelter believes that support is an alternative to eviction and that, as the costs are much the same, it is better to give support. Why cannot support be given without conversion to an SSST? The minister seemed to say that support could be given, so why not do it? That is a bit of a red herring, because if amendment 49 is agreed to, we will not be able to get away from the fact that the parents and family of a child who lives in social rented housing will be treated differently in law from those who live in owner-occupied housing. That is unfair, and it runs counter to the principles of social justice; antisocial behaviour, as we know, is not confined to the children of the working class who live in rented houses, so responses in law to antisocial behaviour should not discriminate on that basis. Surely the perpetrators of the same antisocial behaviour should be treated in the same way, regardless of their social background.

The stage 2 amendment would have put all children on an equal footing in terms of ASBOs, regardless of housing tenure type. If amendment 49 is agreed to, some children will be treated differently from others, depending on whether they live in social rented or owner-occupied accommodation. That is discriminatory and unjust. The stage 2 amendment, which the Executive now seeks to overturn, ensured parity for all children, irrespective of parental wealth and social background. On those grounds, I cannot support the Executive's amendment 49 and I urge other members not to do so.