The Association of Tenancy Relations Officers
Reducing risk and dealing with violence
Action following violence
Further protection measures
1. The Association of Tenancy Relations Officers
The Association of Tenancy Relations Officers (ATRO) is a body principally made up of Tenancy Relations Officers (TROs) which provides advice and information for its members, represents the views of TROs, and campaigns for legislative and procedural change to establish and maintain effective and efficient Tenancy Relations services throughout England and Wales.
This Guidance Note is designed to provide advice on good practice and policy to Tenancy Relations Officers and their employers.
Violence, whether increasing or not, is at a high level in our society. Local authority employees are always subject to the possibility of a violent attack. While it is recognised that violence can never be eliminated ATRO is concerned about the general lack of personal safety measures to protect Tenancy Relations Officers. This is particularly because TROs may be more at risk than most employees because of the nature of their work.
There may or may not already exist Council policy on what is to be done in the event of an assault on a member of staff and these notes are intended for TROs to take some practical steps themselves, and to assist in the establishment or revision of broader Council strategies and policies.
TROs come into contact with members of the public in confrontational situations. TROs are often presented with demands for services which they are unable to meet or problems which they are unable to solve. TROs inevitably have to say “No” and this increases the risks of violence against them.
Serious acts of violence, attacks on other people, damage to property etc. occur relatively infrequently. Should a violent incident actually occur the consequences could be serious. These guidelines are intended to enable TROs to pre-empt the violent incident or to deal with the incident appropriately.
In implementing these procedures, TROs will need to exercise their judgement and should seek advice from their line managers if in doubt. TROs should not put themselves at risk. No employee can be required to put themselves at risk.
3. Reducing risk and dealing with violence
The office environment
The reception area for members of the public should be kept as pleasant as possible with toilets, a parent’s baby changing room, sufficient chairs, good decoration, aesthetically pleasing furniture, including plants, publications, a playpen and children’s toys.
Reception areas and interview rooms should be kept as tidy as possible.
Separate interview rooms, reasonably soundproof, should be provided for confidentiality, and no-one should be interviewed in a public reception area.
Interview rooms and reception desks should be fitted with panic alarms. Officers should always carry out interviews where they can easily reach a panic alarm.
Prevention of violent incidents
Violence is often triggered by some small event “the last straw”. TROs should be careful that they do not provide the trigger, by some innocent remark or joke for example.
Interviewers should never speak down to the interviewees. Flippancy or disinterest could lead to an escalation of the incident. Never be patronising. Try to place yourself in their predicament and have empathy – however difficult this may be!
Do not lie or make insincere promises.
Do not behave in a hostile manner as this may make the interviewee feel that s/he must be aggressive.
TROs faced with a potentially violent situation should remain calm, confident, and objective. Speak in calm tones.
Talking and listening should be the first line of defence.
Make a slow gradual approach to people, and do not crowd people; give them, and yourself, space.
Avoid continued eye contact in the potentially violent person as this can be seen as challenging.
A TRO who feels in danger or potential danger when in an interview should terminate the interview as soon as possible, whether or not the purpose of the interview has been achieved.
Violent incidents may be avoided by recognising impending aggression and tactfully handling difficult situations. The following body language signs in interviewees should be watched for:-
departure from their normal behaviour
tension or agitation
voice pitch/volume may increase
s/he may answer questions abruptly and/or with gesticulation
failure to answer questions
signs of muscular tension in the face or limbs
s/he may clench and unclench hands to make a fist
s/he may bang fists into palm of other hand, or on nearby object
changes in respiratory rate
trembling sweaty hands
kicking at a piece of furniture could indicate that a violent episode is imminent
TROs should be alert to signs of alcohol or drug abuse
An office movements diary should be kept and used including the following details:
which officer is going
where the officer is going
when the officer is going
who the officer is going to see
when the officer is likely to return to the office
If an officer is unsure about the potential behaviour of an interviewee s/he should, in the first instance, try to get the interviewee in to the office. If a home visit is necessary then two people should carry it out. Officers could be responsible for making their own arrangements for finding a colleague to accompany them and only consult their line manager if they are unsuccessful in finding someone.
If it is felt to be desirable then a police officer should be requested to accompany the officer on the visit.
When driving to visits it is a good idea to leave the car nearby, but not too close to the address to be visited. This reduces the chance of the car being identified and followed later.
Driving at only 20 mph is a good way to avoid being followed without you knowing about it. Everybody will overtake unless there is some reason why they want to stay behind you, and you can then easily identify them and drive to a police station.
Vary your route to and from work.
Take particular care at the start and the finish of your journeys, which is when most attacks occur.
After dark visiting should be reduced whenever possible.
State clearly, and reinforce if necessary, the purpose of your visit.
Kitchens can be a dangerous environment. Try to conduct the interview in another room.
Be aware that an invitation to a bedroom may indicate a sexual connotation.
In the unlikely event of an actual violent incident occurring officers should take reasonable steps to protect themselves.
If attacked an officer should attract attention by shouting and/or may throw something through a window to attract attention.
After visits officers must report back to the office, perhaps by phone, to inform colleagues whether or not they are safe. If this cannot be done until after the office has closed a message should be left on the office answerphone, or perhaps with a colleague at their home.
Procedure for dealing with violent or potentially violent Interviewees.
Files of clients who have been violent or have displayed threatening or aggressive behaviour should be flagged by means of a red sticker or mark on the outside of the file. If it is always done in the same way it is easier to notice; e.g. the top right hand corner.
The decision to flag files should be taken by a section head/manager following a request and discussion with the case-worker or interviewing officer.
Panic alarms are to be activated when an imminent risk of assault arises or an actual assault occurs.
Panic alarms are to be tested at the beginning of each week.
When a panic alarm is activated it is essential that it is understood who responds, and how.
It may be sensible to make it a responsibility for all officers within an office to respond. If this is too many people then certain defined people, or people within a certain defined area at the time, may be the ones under a responsibility to respond. It may be that there are security personnel who have this responsibility.
It is possible that the sound of the alarm and the appearance of other people will be sufficient to remedy a situation. The main purpose is to remove the interviewing officer to safety. The officers attending will have to use their own discretion as to whether they can achieve this themselves, or will need to summon further assistance.
If the police need to be called officers should dial 999 and ask for immediate assistance if violence has already occurred, or is likely to occur.
An ambulance should be called too if necessary.
When faced with a violent situation do not intervene until assistance has arrived unless absolutely necessary.
The degree of forced used in dealing with a violent person must be the minimum necessary to control the situation. It should be applied in a manner that calms and does not provoke further aggression.
Clothing rather than limbs should be used to restrain the violent person. If limbs do have to be grasped they should be near to a major joint, thereby reducing leverage and the possibility of a fracture or a dislocation.
A bearhug from behind pinioning the arms to the sides is advised following which the violent person should be wrestled to the floor. Weight should then be placed on the hips and the trunk, for example by lying across his/her body.
If there are attempts at biting the hair should be grasped firmly and the head held still.
Do not let go of the person, even if s/he stops struggling, until sufficient help has arrived.
Keep talking to the person to calm them down, even if they do not answer.
4. Action following violence
Be aware of the employer’s procedures for reporting incidents and follow them. Local authorities should provide clear procedures, and these should include funding and representation in any legal action the TRO needs to take against a perpetrator of violence.
5. Further protection measures
Tenancy Relations Officers may be subject to calculated rather than spontaneous violence and are probably more at risk than other officers.
Special care should be taken not to reveal the home address of any officer to anybody without authority. Managers should always be consulted when such a request is made.
Officers at particular risk can ask to be exempt from the Poll Tax public register. At the time of writing it is not clear but a similar exemption is likely to exist for the new Council Tax.
A number of local authorities have now provided their TROs with mobile phones. These can be lifesavers. The police can be called if a violent incident appears to be developing, or if an incident has occurred and the TRO manages to get away even for a brief period. The fact that an officer has a mobile phone itself may be a deterrent to the would be aggressive person.
Anybody who has ideas on how measures may be improved should report those ideas to his/her line manager and any ATRO committee member. We may then include these ideas in any future updated version of this note.
6. Further information
Follow the links below for further information on personal safety