THE COMMUNITY TRIGGER – FIVE YEARS ON
As we rapidly approach the five year anniversary of the commencement of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, much recent media attention has focussed on the Community Trigger. Arguably, it was the change to the ASB toolkit that attracted the most attention when the legislation was first proposed, designed to give residents the ability to request a partnership review of their ASB cases. The question therein lies: has it achieved what it intended?
The answer would seem to be an unequivocal no. The charity ASB Help, established in 2013 to campaign for improved support for victims of ASB, has published a number of reports with the most recent being available here. These reports clearly indicate that a huge amount of improvement is needed in relation to both accessibility and accountability. More recently still, the new Victim Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, has voiced her concerns about the Community Trigger, believing it to be fundamentally flawed and in need of a legislative overhaul.
As a trustee for ASB Help and after speaking with many organisations about the good, bad and ugly in relation to the Community Trigger, it appears that there is one overriding issue that is causing the process to fail: a real lack of understanding about what the tool is designed to achieve.
Organisations may claim to recognise that the Community Trigger is a separate process to an internal complaint’s procedure but in reality, there is still a perception that the process is designed to find fault, criticise and point the finger of blame.
The true purpose of the Community Trigger, and where the value is most clear, is where it is recognised that an application and subsequent activation of the Community Trigger process is not a sign of a failing by the organisation. It may be that the organisation has done everything they possibly can do, following their policy and procedure to the letter. The purpose of the Community Trigger review is to see whether there are any solutions that haven’t been considered or other partners that can be brought into the case.
When it is considered by an organisation as an exercise in blame finding, a number of things naturally happen which cause the overall process to fail:
- The policy is drafted in such a way as to reduce the number of applications that meet the threshold for review. Quite naturally, if the process is perceived as something that is designed to criticise and find failing, organisations will be keen to avoid this as far as possible. Thresholds are therefore high and often inappropriate; for example, some will say that the application will only meet the threshold if no action has been taken or the case is still open. The problem with both of these approaches is that just because some action is being taken doesn’t mean that it’s the most suitable or that the case wouldn’t benefit from a partnership review.
- Advertising of the process is not proactive: one of the key challenges that ASB Help found with their research was that residents did not know about their rights with regards to the Community Trigger. Given that the tool was established to better support vulnerable victims and give residents a say, this finding flies in the face of these objectives. The problem again raises itself that if organisations believe the process to be about finding fault, they are going to be reluctant to proactively promote it.
- Where an application does meet the threshold and continues on to a review meeting, the role of the Chair is incredibly important. What appears to be happening in some cases is that the Chair is not objective, rather they were involved in the original case management that has led to the review request. The best value from the Community Trigger processes arises where a fresh pair of independent eyes are able to look over the case and put forward suggestions that were not previously considered. Having the same person review the case is likely to result in the same outcome. Given the fact that recommendations can be made during the review, it is also important that the Chair has a level of seniority that allows them to delegate resources, as well as having the credibility to ensure that other agencies will take on board the recommendations.
- Perversely, whilst the Community Trigger was introduced to support victims of ASB, the wording of some locally devised processes appear to shift the focus away from the victim. This is clear through the lack of communication, as well as the fact that the review of the case appears to become an exercise in checking that the organisation’s policy and procedure have been followed, rather than looking for creative solutions or alternative opportunities to resolve the issues. After the point of referral, most applicants have very little involvement in the remainder of the process.
So what can organisations do to improve the current situation?
- Use the five year anniversary as an opportunity to review the policy and change the culture. It is really important to ensure that the policy adequately reflects the purpose of the Community Trigger, whilst also being clear when something is more suitable being dealt with as a service complaint.
- Ensure all front line staff are briefed on what the Community Trigger is and how it can be activated. This includes all staff that are responsible for taking first point of contact calls, such as contact centre staff. Ideally, this information should be built into the induction programmes. There is also clear benefit in making other teams and services aware of the Community Trigger; those who may come into contact with victims of ASB such as social services, mental health teams etc.
- Promote the process clearly and proactively – the key partners (the Council, Police and local registered providers) should all have consistent and reader-friendly information on their websites about accessing the Community Trigger. Consideration should also be given to making victims aware in the initial interview and including details in the case closure letter. Where organisations have the message right about the purpose of the Community Trigger, the thought of being proactive about promoting the process because far less worrying.
- The role of the Chair – careful consideration should always be given to who the Chair is for any review. It should be an officer who is more senior than the original case manager and has an appropriate level of objectivity. This will help prevent the review meetings from spiralling into a game of backside covering and defensiveness. The panel as a whole should have enough operational knowledge to recognise the different options that might be available in each case. In addition, all members of the panel should be clear that their role is not to conduct bureaucratic checks to identify whether there has been any maladministration, but rather, to see whether any other solutions exist.
- The victim’s voice – it is recognised good practice for the victim to have the opportunity to contribute to the review meeting. This may be in person and time can be carved out of the agenda to allow them to attend part of the meeting. Giving them a specific time slot removes any concern about data protection as they will not be present for the entire meeting. Some victims may not wish to attend in person, a prospect that understandably could be seen as intimidating, but steps should still be taken to gather their views through written information, the Chair having a telephone conversation with them before the review or through a third party being nominated as an advocate.
ASB Help provides organisations with a great deal of information and support about the Community Trigger which can be accessed via their website: www.asbhelp.co.uk.
“This article was originally prepared for RHE Global and published to the ASB forum in Communities. The forum allows users to share best practice, seek advice and discuss any challenges. Further details about accessing this forum can be found here