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Harassment if you're disabled

One in five disabled Scots has experienced harassment because of their disability. This page looks at what you can do if you are a disabled person and are being harassed.

What is harassment?

Under the Equality Act 2010 harassment is any behaviour which:

  • violates your dignity, or
  • creates an intimidating or hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you.

Harassment can range from verbal abuse to violence and assault. Harassment can include:

  • name calling
  • offensive remarks and jokes
  • inappropriate references to your disability
  • rude or unpleasantly patronising treatment
  • unwelcome physical contact
  • nuisance phone calls, texts or emails
  • vandalism of your property
  • bullying, intimidation and threats
  • physical abuse or violence.

You may have experienced harassment at work, at home, or when out and about. This page looks at how to deal with harassment in housing situations. For example, if you are being harassed by your landlord, the council, your neighbours or other people in your local area, or family members.

Harassment when you're renting

The Equality Act protects you against harassment:

  • when buying or renting property
  • when dealing with the council.

You are protected both when are you are renting and when you are applying to rent somewhere. For example, you are protected if:

  • your landlord or letting agent is harassing you, for example by using intimidation or threats to get you to leave your home or they make offensive remarks when you are applying to be put on the council housing waiting list
  • your landlord or letting agent allows other people to harass you in your home - this could include other tenants or anyone who works for your landlord, such as tradespeople or cleaners
  • you are being harassed by anyone else responsible for running the premises you live in, such as a tenants' management committee.

How should I deal with harassment?

Never feel that you have to put up with harassment and that it's just something disabled people have to accept. Often people are afraid to take action against people who are harassing them, because they fear it will make the situation worse. If you are upset, offended or made to feel uncomfortable by the behaviour of your landlord, a neighbour or anyone else, there are things you can do to put a stop to it.

Should I try talking to the person who's harassing me?

So long as you feel it's safe to do so, your first step should be to tell the person who's harassing you that you find their behaviour offensive and inappropriate. People of different ages, cultures or backgrounds have different standards, and it's possible they don't realise how their conduct is affecting you.

Don't try and make light of it and don't apologise for bringing the subject up. You may want to ask a friend, family member or carer, or someone else who has been affected by the person's behaviour to come with you. If you can't face confronting them in person, you could write a letter instead - keep a copy if you do.

Can I take further action?

If tackling the issue directly doesn't work or you don't feel safe confronting the person, you may be able to take further action. At this point, it's a good idea to discuss your options with an adviser at a disability advice service or Citizens Advice or at the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), or talk to a solicitor.

If the harassment is making you depressed, anxious or frightened and you need some emotional support, you can call the Samaritans free and in confidence on 116 123.

However you choose to deal with the situation, it will help if you collect evidence to back up your claims, for example by:

  • recording details of any incidents that take place in a diary
  • keeping any notes, letters, texts or emails sent to you
  • taking photographs of any damage caused
  • talking to other people (for example, other neighbours or tenants) who may have been affected by the person's behaviour.

The page on dealing with antisocial behaviour has more information on how to do this, and also has practical advice on confronting people who are upsetting you.

Harassment in other circumstances

You may have experienced harassment in situations that aren't covered by the Equality Act. For example, you may have been harassed by:

  • your neighbours
  • other people in your local area
  • ex-partners or family members.

Remember, if the neighbours or other residents who are harassing you have the same landlord as you, your landlord has to deal with the situation. You can take legal action under the Equality Act if they fail to do so.

In these situations, the options open to you include:

How can the council help me?

Harassment and antisocial behaviour

Harassment is a form of antisocial behaviour, so if you are being harassed by a neighbour or anyone else in your area, you may be able to get help from your local council. They may be able to use antisocial behaviour laws to bring the harassment to an end. For example, they can apply for an antisocial behaviour order (ASBO) in respect of the person or people who are harassing you. The section on antisocial behaviour explains how this may help.

Help for council and registered social landlord (RSL) tenants

If you rent your home from the council or a RSL (housing association or housing co-op) and are being harassed by other council or RSL tenants, you should report the situation to your landlord. The council or RSL must take action to help put a stop to the harassment. For example, they may:

  • help you increase security around your home
  • put right any damage (for example, remove graffiti) immediately
  • confront the person who's been harassing you (with your permission)
  • in extreme circumstances, evict the person who's been harassing you.

Your council's website should have more information on this.

How can the police help?

If someone is harassing you, they may well be committing a crime, and you should report them to the police as soon as possible. To contact the police, dial 999 in an emergency or call your local police station and ask to speak to an officer and report a crime. If you don't want to speak directly to the police, contact a local disability advice service or Victim Support office - an adviser will be able to help you make the report.

What happens when I report a crime?

In order to investigate the case, the police will need to interview you and take a statement detailing as much information as possible about the harassment. You can ask for an interpreter (for example, a sign language interpreter) to attend the interview with you. The police will also need to question the person or people who have harassed you. If there is enough evidence, they will charge and arrest them.

The police will then send a report to the procurator fiscal. The procurator fiscal works in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and is responsible for deciding whether or not to prosecute someone who has been charged with committing a crime.

The procurator fiscal will prosecute the person who has harassed you if they believe that:

  • there is enough evidence for them to be tried in court, and
  • it will be in the 'public interest' to do so.

Otherwise, they may decide not to take the case any further, or issue a written warning or a fine.

The Scottish Victims of Crime website has more information about police procedure and what happens if the person is prosecuted and the case goes to trial. The Witnesses in Scotland website tells you more about what happens if you have to go to court as a witness, including special measures you may be able to get if you are particularly vulnerable.

Disabled people and hate crime

Hate crime is crime motivated by prejudice against a particular group of people. If a person stands trial for hate crime, the court must take into account the fact that their crime was motivated by prejudice and can give them a heavier sentence as a result.

The Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Act 2009 recognises hate crimes relating to disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. It means that courts, when sentencing crimes motivated by malice or ill-will based on a victim's actual or presumed disability, must take into account the motivation for the offence. This may mean an alternative or more severe sentence.

What if the person isn't charged?

Even if there isn't enough evidence for the police to charge the person harassing you, it's a good idea to have the incident down on record. This will help strengthen your case in the future, if the person continues to harass or abuse you, or it may help the police build a case against them if they go on to harm someone else. If you're worried about the person harassing you further, you could consider taking legal action to keep them away from you.

Where can I get help and support?

Reporting a crime and going to court can be difficult and stressful, and you may feel you need some advice and support. Victim Support Scotland offers practical help and emotional support to anyone who has been a victim of crime. You can also get help and support from the Crown Office's Victim Information and Advice service (VIA).

Can I get compensation?

If you have been injured as a result of violent crime, you may be able to claim compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA).

What legal action can I take?

If the police are unable to charge the person with a crime, you may be able to take legal action yourself, to keep the person away from you and stop them from harassing you further. There are two court orders you can consider applying for:

  • a non-harassment order
  • an interdict.

What is a non-harassment order?

A non-harassment order bans the person who has been harassing you from behaving in a certain way. For example, stopping them from shouting abuse or making nuisance phone calls to you. If they continue to behave in this way, they will be committing a criminal offence and the police can arrest them.

The behaviour you want to prevent must have taken place at least twice before you can apply for a non-harassment order in court. This may be behaviour which is not in itself unlawful, but which is making you feel distressed or afraid. For example, you may want to prevent an abusive neighbour from posting offensive material through your letterbox.

Find out more about non-harassment orders.

What is an interdict?

An interdict is a civil court order that tells a person not to do something or to stay away from you, your children or a specific place, such as your home. If a person doesn't stick to an interdict, the police can arrest them if the interdict gives them the power to do so.

Read more about interdicts.

Can I get compensation?

If you have suffered loss as a result harassment you may be able to raise a claim for damages. For example, if your property has been damaged or you have been forced to take time off work and have lost earnings. A solicitor will be able to tell you more about this.

Where can I get help to take legal action?

Before taking any action, you'll need to get legal advice from a solicitor. They can tell you whether or not your application is likely to be successful, and can apply for a  non-harassment order or interdict on your behalf.

Solicitors are entitled to charge a fee for the advice they give you and any work they do on your behalf, so remember to ask how much it will cost when you phone to make an appointment. If you receive benefits or are on a low income, you may be able to get legal aid to help with court costs. You may be able to get a free initial interview with a solicitor through Citizens Advice or law centre.

What if I want to move away?

If the situation is unbearable, you may wish to leave the area altogether. If you rent from the council or a housing association, you can apply for a transfer to a new area. You should get priority on the waiting list if you need to move because of harassment and/or are vulnerable due to a disability. However, due to housing shortages, you may have to wait a long while before you're offered a home, particularly if you need a home that's specially adapted.

The section on finding a place to live has more information on your housing options.

Remember, if you currently rent your home, you must end your tenancy properly before you move. If you need to move before your tenancy ends, you may be able to get housing benefit for two homes to cover your notice period.

If you have nowhere safe and permanent to go, you can apply to the council as homeless.

Scotland map Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.
This content applies to Scotland only.
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