Look who’s talking
When residents on Islington’s Andover estate complained about anti-social behaviour, they never expected their details to be sent to the perpertrators. Here, Rhiannon Bury kicks off our safer communities special by investigating the damage done by the council’s data blunder
The atmosphere is strained on the Andover estate in north London. With its sprawling collection of low-level flats and rabbit warren of pathways, it is typical of many estates in the capital. But last week it was thrust into the spotlight over an error that has left more than 50 residents afraid for their safety and distrustful of their local authority landlord.
Andover, which is home to 3,000 people, had been blighted by anti-social behaviour. Fed up with the noise, drug taking and parties late into the night, residents complained to their landlord. Islington Council responded by securing injunctions against 10 people. But when it sent out the paperwork detailing the terms of the injunction to the offenders it made a terrible mistake: it included the names and addresses of 51 tenants who had brought the complaint.
‘The flats below used to be crack dens,’ one resident says. ‘I complained to the council but it took them ages to sort it. It’s not nice to live above that sort of thing.
‘Now I’m worried that my details might have been published somewhere because I complained about these people.’
As reported in Inside Housing last week, the council has been forced to draft in 24-hour police patrols, seven families have asked to be moved from the estate over fears of reprisals and the authority faces the possibility of legal action over its blunder.
The delicate relationship between the council and the community has been well and truly rocked and trust in Islington’s anonymous ASB reporting system all but gone. So can the authority rebuild its tenants’ confidence and what are the wider consequences of its mistake on the fight against ASB?
Living in fear
As Inside Housing walks around the estate it becomes clear just how wary residents are. Some shut doors in our face while others open them cautiously, with the chain on. If anyone we speak to is one of the affected residents they’re not letting on.
Since the council’s mistake became public it has apologised to all 51 residents. Extra police patrol the estate, which is flanked by two main roads. A pair of bobbies stroll around, looking quietly relaxed, while we chat to residents.
‘I have noticed the extra police presence,’ one young woman says. ‘I haven’t been out much this week just in case there are any problems.
She is one of many residents on the estate who feel they can no longer trust the council’s anonymous reporting system for ASB. A telephone hotline, which allows people not to give their names, was launched just two months ago, along with a one-stop ASB team. The council’s aim was to simplify the process of reporting ASB in the borough, which has the third highest crime rate in London. Now it is fighting to keep residents on side.
‘It certainly makes me think twice about reporting that sort of thing in the future, especially if it’s quite minor annoying things, like a party,’ the woman adds.
‘We do have problems with some kids hanging around down there,’ another man says, gesturing to the pathway below his front door. ‘You hear them at night, shouting.’
A third man says generally the estate is a nice place to live but ‘you get problems with kids hanging around with nothing to do’.
Paul Convery, executive member for community safety at Islington Council, says his priority is to rehouse and protect residents affected by the problems.
‘We have referred ourselves to the Information Commissioner and are conducting an internal investigation into this breach,’ he explains. ‘We have also commissioned an external review of information security throughout the council. Residents throughout the borough are still reporting anti-social behaviour to us. We continue to take all such complaints seriously and will restore confidence in our ASB service.’
Confidential reporting is key to helping landlords identify trouble hotspots says Eamon Lynch, managing director of the Social Landlords Crime and Nuisance Group. He says landlords spend years building good relationships with tenants.
‘There’s nothing as good as actual witnesses and first-hand accounts of anti-social behaviour [for securing a conviction]. To ensure people come forward, trust is absolutely fundamental and there’s been enormous investment down the years. It’s about maintaining that.
‘This does show how easily trust can be taken away.’
The Home Office is set to launch pilot areas to test a new community ‘trigger’ - a neighbourhood-based reporting system - as part of a wider review to change how ASB is reported. The idea of the trigger is that it will tackle persistent, low-level ASB, such as that experienced on the Andover estate, by tracking the number of complaints from a particular individual or a particular area. When a certain number of complaints have been reported in an area, authorities would be required legally to take action. But for anyone to come forward, people need to know they will be protected.
Back on Andover, residents seem worried about potential repercussions from troublemakers.
‘I’ve heard someone was called a “grass”,’ one woman tells us. ‘No one wants to be scared to report things. Nothing is ever going to get better otherwise.’
Councillors and ASB officers in Islington will have their work cut out to restore tenants’ trust on the Andover estate. While they work to turn things around they will also have to hope that there is no retribution against those tenants who took a stand against ASB in the first place.