Letter to Merseyside Police about Knowsley Housing Trust
Today’s I’ve written, on the basis that someone had to do so, to the Chief Constable Merseyside Police (hyperlinks added for info), about Knowsley Housing Trust’s letter to tenants threatened with eviction and now, arguably, with the removal of their children. I understand that this is not the only letter of its type going out from housing bodies.
Dear Chief Constable
Letter by Knowsley Housing Trust: Administration of Justice Act 1970
I enclose for your review and possible investigation a copy of a standard letter from the Income Manager at Knowsley Housing Trust, which I understand to have been sent recently to several of the Trust’s tenants.
I seek your review because I believe the sending of the letter may have constituted an offence under the Administration of Justice Act 1970 Section 40, para (1) & (1) (a), which states that:
A person commits an offence if, with the object of coercing another person to pay money claimed from the other as a debt due under a contract, he…..harasses the other with demands for payment which, in respect of their frequency or the manner or occasion of making any such demand, or of any threat or publicity by which any demand is accompanied, are calculated to subject him or members of his family or household to alarm, distress or humiliation.
In addition, paragraph 2 of Section 40 states that:
A person may be guilty of an offence by virtue of subsection (1)(a) above if he concerts with others in the taking of such action as is described in that paragraph, notwithstanding that his own course of conduct does not by itself amount to harassment.
It is my lay view that the contents of the final paragraph of the letter may have been “calculated” to cause just such alarm or distress, in order to exact payment of rent arrears. People receiving the standard letter may, from the wording, have been extremely concerned, to the point of alarm or distress, that their children might be removed from them if they become homeless. This impression would be inextricably linked to non-payment of arrears, and may therefore be construed as a demand for payment accompanied by action calculated by the author of the letter (or others requiring that such a letter be sent) to cause such alarm or distress.
This is not to suggest that Knowsley Housing Trust do not have a duty of referral when a family is at risk of homelessness. However, the letter makes no reference to the justification for that referral, namely that it is a step taken to ensure that children and families receive the most appropriate support from the local authority during a difficult family time. I believe it is a reasonable to expect a professional body to have given consideration to this.
Of course, I understand that it would be a matter for the court to decide the extent to which the letter is “calculated” to cause alarm or distress, but at this stage I would contend that a) there is sufficient evidence to suggest to the Crown Prosecution Service that a prosecution under the Administration of Justice Act 1970 might successfully be brought b) that it is in the public interest to consider prosecution, given the fact that the letter comes from a professional body of whom the public might reasonably expect high standards of conduct