Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council was the first in the country to meet new best practice standards for the Community Trigger developed by ASB Help. The trigger process is now more victim-focused, with a greater emphasis on partnership work to resolve problems.
The local context
The Community Trigger (CT) process brings local agencies together to take a joined-up, problem-solving approach to finding a solution for victims of ASB. In 2019, Sandwell’s ASB Team Manager, Andrew Clarke, recognised that the existing CT process, policy and infrastructure was in need of a thorough refresh. Colleagues, statutory partners and stakeholders agreed. At the same time, national charity ASB Help was developing a new measure of best practice for councils to work towards.
Sandwell and ASB Help agreed to work together, which served a dual purpose: Sandwell received assistance in developing a policy compliant with best practice, while ASB Help could test their new PLEDGE Standard assessment process against a service provider.
The PLEDGE Standard includes six commitments:
- Promote awareness: actively encourage the use of the CT to residents and partner agencies.
- Legality: confirm your organisation is legally complaint and embracing the spirit of the CT.
- Ensure accessibility: publicise the CT so that the most vulnerable know what it is and how to invoke it.
- Develop your process: embrace the full potential of the CT by continually reviewing and learning from best practice.
- Generate inclusivity: use CT review meetings to work collaboratively and strategically, formulating solutions to end the anti-social behaviour.
- Establish a precedent of using the CT to put victims first and deter perpetrators.
New policy and process
Sandwell Council consulted with its statutory partners, other stakeholders and the community during its CT review. The revised policy includes some changes to improve the service for victims – including a ‘triple package’ offer of support, advocacy and representation at the case review for any victim where the threshold is met; and a new threshold allowing cases that don’t meet the primary criteria to be referred to a case review by a senior manager from one of the statutory partners.
A suite of guidance documents, forms and template letters has been created to provide greater clarity for victims and to assist staff in effective decision making. These include a new pack for panel chairs which guides them through the process of formulating an action plan. Meeting the PLEDGE Standard required significant staff training and awareness-raising across front-line council services. Several hundred officers from the contact centre, libraries, regulatory services and housing teams, along with councillors and MPs’ caseworkers, were briefed on the trigger process.
Andrew Clarke said: "A key aim of this refresh and awareness-raising is a change in culture from ‘blaming’ to ‘finding a resolution’.
We assured our partners, stakeholders and staff that the aim of the trigger is not to find fault but to identify solutions by taking a joined-up approach, and to arrive at a set of actions that lead to a positive outcome.
New publicity literature has been distributed to council offices, libraries and partners. Information is accessible online but CT requests can also be raised by contact centre staff, either over the phone or in person. ASB Help recommends having options for people who prefer to phone, fill in a form or visit a contact centre, as many victims don’t use the internet.
Impact and outcomes
The new policy and process was approved by Cabinet in February 2020, and Sandwell became the first council to attain the PLEDGE Standard. The number of CT applications is increasing year on year: six in 2017/18, 11 in 2018/19, and 19 in 2019/20 (although 12 of those did not meet the threshold).
In 2020/21, 35 applications had been received by mid-February, more than in any previous year. Quarter three (October to December 2020) was the busiest period on record, with 11 applications during those three months (against a mean average of 3.5 per quarter for the three preceding years). Factors behind the increase include the large programme of staff training and awareness-raising, more accessible information for residents and local media coverage.
The policy review aimed to reduce crime and ASB, provide greater protection for victims and build confidence that Sandwell is a safe place for everyone. Effective use of the trigger can change lives, as demonstrated by feedback from a resident after an action plan was agreed: “My mother has been dealing with this for the past 10 years and we have never had as much help that [officer] has provided. She has done so much more for us over the past two months than anyone else has done for the past 10 years.”
Sandwell plans work with ASB Help to review how the refreshed policy has worked in its first year. Resourcing will continue to be an issue and the ASB team has taken on an extra officer, initially on an emergency basis, to reduce the impact on others. Another idea is to provide workshops to train people from partner agencies, such as housing associations, to do the initial investigation work as a way of sharing the workload more evenly.
- The more people, councils and organisations that embrace the trigger, the more you can move away from any question of impartiality.
- There were 15 pages on crime/ASB on Sandwell Council’s website, now streamlined to four, making the CT page much easier to find.
- Making the effort to get the police and housing associations on board and involved, for example chairing panels, has been important.
- There are ongoing issues where residents may use the CT and the internal complaints process; this is being discussed with the head of service to identify potential solutions.
- Encouraging residents to contact third party services (such as ASB Help) and inviting them to attend CT panels can be an invaluable tool for getting additional ideas.