Tackling Racist Incidents - A Toolkit for Scottish Housing Providers

Section 1. Overview

1.1 Committee Responsibilities

Below is an action checklist for your management committee (for housing associations/co-operatives) or Housing Committee (for the local authority).

    Action checklist

  • Agree that a policy and procedures to deal with racial harassment should be adopted.

  • Agree an additional clause should be included in the tenancy agreement referring to harassment and agree a timetable for this to be done.

  • Designate a senior member of staff to be responsible for implementing the policy.

  • Agree a programme of training for staff and committee members about the new policy and procedures and monitor this training for outcomes.

  • Monitor the policy: Once the policy has been established, the committee's task is to monitor its effectiveness. The key points to monitor are: number of incidents reported each month/quarter/year; nature of the incidents; the victim's wishes; actions taken by staff; outcome.

1.2 What is Racial Harassment?


The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry (1999) defines a racist incident, which includes racial harassment, in the following terms.

"A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person".

The Inquiry recommended that the term 'racist incident' must be understood to include crimes and non-crimes in policing terms, and that this definition be adopted by the Police, local authorities and other relevant agencies

The Lawrence definition is accepted by the Scottish Executive, Communities Scotland, COSLA, CIH Scotland and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations along with other public authorities, the police and the criminal justice system more generally.

For the Police, the term 'hate crime' is applied when an incident amounts to a criminal offence and is motivated by prejudice or hate against a particular social group. This covers crimes of harassment or violence committed against people because of their identity; including those motivated by racism, homophobia and against disabled people

For the Courts, evidence of racial motivation is an aggravation which means that the sentence is increased. Provisions set down two ways in which racial aggravation may be demonstrated. Firstly, the behaviour of the accused 'immediately before, during or immediately after carrying out the course of conduct or action' may imply 'malice or ill-will' towards the complainer which is based on that person’s 'racial group'. (Crime and Disorder Act 1998). Secondly, it is also possible to prove racial aggravation by direct evidence of a racial motivation, for example membership of a racist group or the displaying of racist insignia.

Generally, however, proof of racial aggravation is derived from the course of conduct or action since this is usually easier to prove. The use of certain language is particularly likely to be used as evidence of malice or ill-will, thus meeting the requirement of racial aggravation. Such language may be in common use among certain groups, typically abuse which includes pejorative terms describing the victim.

Forms of racial harassment

There are different forms of racial harassment and abuse; this may either be criminal or non-criminal depending on the severity of the incident. While this list is not exhaustive it indicates the range of unacceptable behaviour.

•  Physical attacks;

•  Threats of violence;

•  Racist graffiti;

•  Damage to property;

•  Nuisance incidents such as noise or door knocking;

•  Written or verbal abuse;

•  Offensive or dangerous material through a letterbox;

•  Behaviour such as wearing racist badges or insignia.

1.3 Adopt a Victim Centred Approach

Using the Lawrence definition of a racist incident during an investigation does not prejudge the alleged perpetrator's intention. After thorough investigation of an incident it may be clear that the harassment is not racially motivated. But using a victim-centred approach ensures that any racial motivation is fully considered while the incident is investigated.

In implementing the harassment policy, respect the victim's belief that the incident was racially motivated unless there is clear evidence to the contrary.

Put the victim's interests at the centre of any investigation. Addressing personal safety issues are a first priority. Ensure the victim is fully involved and informed at every stage.

Ensure your investigation is sympathetic and sensitive to the victim's needs. Remember: it is not your job to provide counselling. The most effective thing you can do is to take prompt and effective action to end the harassment.

Ensure that you provide the victim with all the possible options so that s/he is able to make an informed choice about possible courses of action.

Do not proceed against the victim's wishes. Seek agreement before taking any action or involving other agencies. Confidentiality should be protected unless agreed otherwise.

Care should be taken when making first contact with victims of racial harassment, particularly when the initial report has been received from a third party source or witness. This is a complex area with much guidance available in the following sources:

Discussion of any action should be accompanied with a written action plan and a support pack. This support pack could take various forms but should contain information informing your tenant of:

•  how to record and report incidents;

•  what happens next, what they can expect from you, including timescales;

•  information and timescales on emergency repairs and re-housing;

•  practical advice on personal and home safety;

•  contacts for local support groups;

•  details of your complaints procedures.

Consider translating this into the main languages of your tenants.

A best practice example from Bristol City Council can be downloaded here .
Further information from Bristol is available at: http://www.bristol.gov.uk/
Another best practice example from Exeter City Council can be downloaded here .

Both the victim and witnesses should be given the name of a member of staff whom they will be able to contact throughout the investigation for up-to-date information and support. Keep in touch and check if there have been further incidents.

When interviewing someone who does not have English as a first language, ask if they wish to have an interpreter. More information on working with interpreters is available in section 1.12.

1.4 How do crimes amounting to racial harassment differ from other crimes?

Racist crime has a damaging effect on individual victims and their communities as well as the development of a multicultural society. If it is tolerated and if government and justice agencies do not respond appropriately, perpetrators are emboldened, Victims' vulnerability is increased and mistrust grows. (Scottish Executive Research Summary 2002).

Racial harassment victims are likely to be victims again

Crimes which form part of a campaign of racial harassment are different in that the motive of the crime is not money, but racism. The victims are chosen because of their ethnic origin or that of a family member.

Racist crime is often repetitive. While some incidents in isolation may appear minor, if repeated over time the impact can become devastating. (Scottish Executive research 2002).

Racial Harassment and Anti-social Behaviour

There is no comparison between racial harassment and most acts of anti-social behaviour, which is usually committed by people who do not care who suffers. Racial harassment is behaviour committed by people who want a particular family or person to suffer simply due to their ethnicity.

In addition to this, a 2005 study suggests that members of an equality group are more than twice as likely as the general population to experience non racial anti social behaviour.

Racial Harassment and Neighbour Disputes

Racial harassment may be committed by a neighbour. To that extent alone, it could be classed as a neighbour dispute. However, a classification of neighbour dispute is misleading because it is assumed that two parties are partly to blame. A wide variety of grievances go unacknowledged by being labelled as neighbour disputes. Racial harassment should not fall into that category.

Racial Harassment is a type of racial discrimination

The Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 and the 2003 regulations, which incorporate the EU race discrimination directive into UK legislation, places a general statutory duty on public authorities in Scotland to promote race equality. Racial harassment is covered under the race equality duties imposed by the 2000 Act which places a duty directly on public authorities and indirectly on RSLs to ensure that they eliminate unlawful harassment. This translates to practical duties to impact assess policies to ensure that racial harassment by tenants and residents is addressed. More information is available from this PDF document from equalityhumanrights.com

1.5 Make your organisation's stance on racial harassment clear

Committee, staff, tenants and residents should be in no doubt about your organisation's 'zero tolerance' of racial harassment.

•  Inform existing and new tenants of the policy and what actions you will take to deal with perpetrators.

•  Include the policy in your tenants' handbook.

•  Inform the local police, tenants' groups and local community groups of your policy and get them involved in supporting your 'zero tolerance approach'. The police can advise on gathering evidence. Tenants' groups can publicise your message to members. Community groups will be more confident to refer complaints on behalf their service users. . Detailed information on multi-agency working is available at: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/coderi.pdf

•  Display 'zero tolerance' posters and leaflets publicly. This sends out a clear message to perpetrators and gives confidence to potential victims.

•  Model posters and leaflets are provided with this toolkit for you to adapt. Better still, get local schools involved in designing the posters and leaflets and award a prize for the best ones!

Devise a racial harassment support pack for your tenants. Details of which are available in section 1.3

By taking effective action against perpetrators you are demonstrating to your tenants and the wider community that you will not tolerate racial harassment and will act to stop it.

1.6 Include a 'no harassment' clause in the tenancy agreement

•  Include a clause in your tenancy agreement which specifically prohibits racial harassment.

•  It should clearly state that racial harassment breaches the conditions of the tenancy and will lead to action which may include eviction.

•  The clause could also include other forms of anti-social behaviour.

•  The types of behaviour covered by the clause should be clearly stated.

•  Alert new tenants to the clause in the tenancy agreement and the landlord's policy on tackling racial harassment

1.7 Your allocations policy

Some housing providers suspend applicants from their waiting list if they became aware that the applicant has been charged or convicted of a racially motivated crime or have a history of complaints against them for racial harassment. This can be done while the housing provider carried out a risk assessment around any possible negative affects housing the applicant may have.

Ensure that racial harassment is given high priority within your allocations policy,

•  identify harassment as a housing needs factor;

•  award maximum points for those suffering severe racial harassment;

•  suspend from your waiting list those who have been convicted of a racially motivated crime or have a history of complaints against them for racial harassment;

•  give priority to victims of racial harassment in the transfers policy; [The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations suggest three levels when categorising the seriousness of racial harassment i) those not safe in their home ii) those not safe in their immediate environment and iii) those not safe in their neighbourhood].

1.8 Referral arrangements with other housing providers

Set up referral arrangements with other housing providers to allow victims of racial harassment the maximum opportunities for rehousing. This is particularly of benefit when the landlord might find it difficult to offer suitable transfers because of the victim's fear of being targeted for harassment if rehoused in the same area.

1.9 Nomination agreements

Consider nomination agreements with Black & Minority ethnic organisations to assist potential tenants who are suffering racial harassment to be rehoused in a safe area.

1.10 Encourage reporting

A Glasgow University study found that up to 80% of racist incidents are not being reported to Strathclyde Police. The report identified a lack of trust or confidence in the police as a major deterrent to reporting.

Many service users approaching Positive Action in Housing for assistance have suffered racist abuse for months yet have not reported it to the police or landlord. When asked why, caseworkers are most often told "they don't take it seriously" or "nothing is ever done about it".

Those that have newly arrived in this country are often unaware of what racial harassment is or how to report it when it happens (Positive Action in Housing Annual Report 2006).

To overcome these barriers you must:

Recognise that people are unlikely to report racist incidents unless they believe that your organisation is competent to tackle racist behaviour effectively and is committed to using its power and resources to do so.

Be proactive in identifying racial harassment. You can improve the investigation of all harassment by asking open ended questions that may allow those reporting harassment to identify the racial element i.e. “is there any reason why you think you are being harassed”

Recognise also that race hate crime will occur in all multiracial communities, whether in urban or rural areas. Expect to receive complaints from your tenants. If you don't, find out why, and whether you are getting the true picture.

Consider setting a target to increase the number of racist incidents reported . Given the tendency toward under-reporting, increasing numbers of reports should not automatically be seen as an indication that the level of harassment is getting worse (although landlords should of course investigate spikes in reports). A rise in reports may reflect greater confidence by tenants that something will be done and may be an initial indicator of success.

One long term target may be that all incidents of racial harassment are reported, the numbers of which may be used as a performance indicator. For a typical social landlord an initial target to increase reports by 25% over the first year would be realistic and a useful first step. This could be replaced over time by more sophisticated measures focusing on outcomes of cases and the action taken.

Develop and participate in local networks of "third party reporting" and where victims may be more willing to report incidents. For example, Positive Action in Housing has a third party reporting agreement with Strathclyde Police so that individuals can complain to caseworkers who will forward complaints to police and liaise on the victims' behalf.

Remember that anyone can report an incident as racially motivated: the victim, a witness, a friend or family member.

See also section 1.5 on 'making your organisation's stance on racial harassment clear'

1.11 Working with Communities

Work closely with the police, local authorities, schools, youth groups and other relevant agencies. Pay particular attention to local minority ethnic groups, independent advocacy organisations and victim support agencies.

Housing offices can act as 'third party' reporting centres for the local police. However, staff must always ask for the victim's consent before giving personalised information to other organisations. Anonymous information may be recorded and passed on for monitoring purposes. A full discussion of the issues around data collection and the disclosure of information on racist incidents is provided in page 18 and 21-24 of this Home Office PDF document

Consult local crime prevention officers for advice, including assessments of home security, personal safety training for tenants, the use of neighbourhood wardens and requesting extra police patrols in areas where persistent incidents are occurring.

Deal quickly with any racist graffiti on or close to housing stock. Local authority environment protection services may provide 24 hour free phone lines to report graffiti. [see emergency and supporting action]

1.12 The use of interpreters

Language and communication difficulties are particularly acute barriers to services. However, this should be seen as an issue for the service provider to address rather than the victim's problem alone.

Remember if the victim's first language is not English; ask if they would wish an interpreter to be present for key meetings where complex issues may be addressed.

Ensure the victim is happy with their interpreter. Pay attention to gender and other issues including that of minorities within minorities.

Although friends and family may provide helpful assistance in routine matters, they may be inappropriate for more formal meetings. Never use children as interpreters. The experience could cause them embarrassment or distress.

Staff should be made equally aware of the need for interpreters and should receive training in how to make the most of such a valuable resource.

There are many interpreting agencies now set up across Scotland to provide interpreters as well as ‘Happy to Translate' schemes.

1.13 Training

Ensure that all staff who come into contact with tenants in their day to day work receives training to ensure they have a clear understanding of what your organisation's racial harassment policy means and how it applies to their own role; whether it is the receptionist, the concierge or the housing manager.

Good training is crucial as it gives staff the knowledge and confidence to identify and investigate racist incidents effectively and take relevant action. It can also improve staff confidence and overcome anxieties over handling cases sensitively. Training should include:

•  The impact racial harassment has on victims and their families

•  The context in which racial harassment takes place;

•  The policy and procedures

•  Interviewing skills;

•  Legal remedies;

•  Working with other organisations

•  Involve local tenants organisations, community organisations, or the police in staff training; it raises awareness and can lead to joint working.

•  The theory and practical details of taking a 'zero tolerance' approach.

Training needs in this area should be included within line management and supervision procedures.

Full training on using this toolkit to tackle racial harassment, and developing your own policies and response, is available. Please contact for more info.

This toolkit will be continually updated to provide the latest best practice tips and training on offer.
See the latest version at www.challengeracism.com

Challenge Racism Toolkit is by Positive Action in Housing 2007

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