Domestic and Neighbour Dispute and Reconciliation Service
Team Convener and ASM plus director
ASM Plus already provides a cost effective and time saving family dispute resolution service with plenty of options. We entirely understand that the processes of family breakup and divorce are amongst the most demanding and stressful events that people will ever encounter.
ASM Plus also appreciates that because of the current health crisis, the enforced confinement can put considerable strain on domestic and family living arrangements and relationships with neighbours. As part of our commitment not only to assisting in cases of family breakdown but to help minimise any related difficulties for a very modest charge, three of our family team members, offer a specifically focused on-line, 90 minute facilitated discussion service.
The purpose of this service is to help those affected by the emergency to address the difficulties that they may have with family or neighbours and achieve solutions that will facilitate the process of them having to reside very closely together, at least in the short term. Resolving differences will not only help families and neighbours to communicate and get along better in the short term but will help avoid existing disputes worsening and being more difficult to resolve at a later date.
The online facilitated discussions offered by ASM Plus can be a real boost in difficult family situations and because they encourage the all-important processes of listening and communicating effectively, they can be the difference between the instigation of an agreement and/or a healing process and the breakdown of a relationship.
If you are feeling the effects of the current lockdown or know someone who is and who may benefit from our help all you need do is press the contact button below and send us a short message.
The ASM Plus domestic and neighbour dispute service is offered by our director, Paul Sandford, Suzy Miller who is an experienced relationship and divorce expert, and David King, an accomplished facilitator and mediator.
Case Study 1. Tips on how to survive family crises during the current lockdown and what ASM Plus can do to help
Of late we have noted a number of very positive anecdotal accounts on the internet of families who have taken the opportunity of being confined at home to bond and do things together that they might not have had time for earlier this year.
However, we have also encountered the opposite. In recent weeks the Guardian newspaper has reported that the number of calls to domestic violence helplines has substantially increased with one organisation reporting a 125% increase in requests for assistance. Families and neighbours who previously had not been getting on that well may possibly find themselves in a very pressured situation. Some may find that “the little things” that annoyed prior to the lock down have become really contentious issues and others may find being apart from partners and loved ones to be very stressful. If for present purposes one takes it that the lockdown will continue for some time to come, it is likely that tensions will increase and already volatile situations could get worse.
In some instances, family members may be able to take the pragmatic approach, talk through their differences and reach some form of agreement or adjust their living arrangements to minimise the likelihood of contentious situations arising.
Even in a relatively stable domestic environment, having “the conversation” may be quite a daunting thing to initiate. What appears to be reasonable to one person may be seen as unreasonable by another. Input from family members such as parents or a dominant spouse may be resented and there is always the danger that some people will shy away from contentious issues and “give in for a quiet life”.
The following tips may assist:
· In any discussions, try to maintain a moderate, even tone and avoid any potentially negative body language
· Avoid confrontation but at the same time do not simply “agree” if you “disagree” or nod “yes” if you mean “no”
· Avoid too many interruptions
· Put the emphasis on listening and empathy
· Look for positives, not negatives
· Be prepared for the need to compromise, even if only a little
· Look for simple solutions and try not to over complicate matters
· Accept that “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and focus on realistic outcomes even if they may take a little time to implement.
· Do not leave it too long before raising issues that are giving cause for concern
· Try and see things through and avoid any temptation to give up at the first hurdle
· Do not necessarily expect people to come round to your point of view and accept that you may have to “agree to disagree”.
· If there are long-term issues, consider mediation or a facilitated discussion as a way forward
If all else fails, contact Suzy Miller, David King or Paul Sandford of the ASM Plus family team. For a very modest charge Suzy, David and Paul offer family members in confined and difficult circumstances the opportunity to have an easy to arrange, low-cost facilitated discussion which will help to open the channels of communication.
Case Study 2 – an account of a 90-minute facilitated meeting involving Thomas and James which shows just how effective a little talking and listening can be. (1) - A domestic/house sharing conflict se successfully resolved by Paul Sandford, the ASM Plus director
A few months ago, I facilitated this case on line. It very clearly demonstrates how effective mediation can be in a domestic setting. Additionally, it resonates very strongly in the context of the current health crisis in which families and house mates who share accommodation have found themselves living together for protracted periods in cramped or difficult circumstances.
As he got older, Thomas whom some of his friends have described as “a surly confirmed bachelor who likes having his own way” and had lived on his own for many years, developed respiratory problems which latterly left him very significantly disabled. By the time he met James approximately three and a half years ago he had reached the point that he was more or less completely house bound. He was able to drive but was barely able to manage the 10-metre walk from his home to his car without the support of two walking sticks and another person. The process of getting up in the morning, taking the shower which, he invariably needed because of his proneness to night sweats and then dressing would take him two hours. Because he was finding food preparation to be very difficult, Thomas was more or less entirely reliant on unhealthy fast food and takeaways and had put on a considerable amount of weight which further impaired his mobility. He also had a small dog, Buster, whom he was unable to exercise and who had started to mess inside the house.
At the time that he met Thomas, James, who was reputed to be rather unreliable and very bad at managing money was homeless and sleeping rough. Initially, Thomas occasionally invited James to stay over for a night or two with his dog, Lassie. In return, James would help out by doing some cooking, cleaning and shopping. His overnight stays became more frequent and subsequently it was agreed that he would move in on a permanent basis and become Thomas’ carer.
It was also envisaged that James would apply for Carers Allowance and that he would undertake tasks such as cooking, cleaning, shopping, dog walking and accompanying Thomas to his many hospital appointments, equivalent to the statutorily required period of 35 hours a week. No rent would be charged but James would make a 50 per cent contribution towards quarterly gas and electricity bills, maintain his own mobile telephone, make a contribution towards Thomas’ monthly Internet standing order and maintain separate food shopping and catering arrangements. Additionally, Thomas very specifically agreed that beyond this he would not make any excessive demands and indicated that he was very happy for his new friend to resume his previous occupation as a self-employed painter and decorator.
Initially the arrangement worked very well. However, after a few weeks, James found that he was doing more and more for Thomas. On the rare occasions that he found work, James would be frequently interrupted by Thomas telephoning him and insisting that he return home immediately, often for no good reason. The agreed 35 hours of care input doubled with Thomas expecting James to wait on him, hand and foot. James found it very difficult to build up his business and realised that rather than gaining new customers that he was losing existing ones. Despite being taken out for walks on a regular basis, Buster continued to soil the house leaving James with the unenviable task of cleaning up.
On the other hand, despite receiving his Carers Allowance on a regular basis and getting some income from his work, James was constantly short of money. He made few of his agreed financial contributions and was forever “borrowing” Thomas’ mobile phone to make lengthy peak rate personal calls. James’ requests for short term loans that were never repaid became ever more frequent. Thomas often ran out of food because the impecunious James had been raiding his larder and found that he was being expected to make frequent car trips to a Builders’ merchant without any suggestion of a contribution towards petrol costs. James would often refer to Thomas as being a “miserly so and so” and would accuse him of being “financially extortionate” and “a bully boy”. Lassie was unsettled and was aggressive towards both Thomas and Buster.
Prior to their facilitated meeting Thomas and James were muddling along in a state of almost total disharmony and many harsh things had been said. Their arrangement survived only because each of them very grudgingly conceded that to some extent they needed each other and because whatever else, James maintained his caring obligation. Thomas, who wanted to avoid being moved into a care facility at all costs, knew full well that he was never likely to find an alternative carer who would be prepared to put up with him. James, who had no other accommodation options was desperate to avoid being thrown out and having to sleep rough again.
A neighbour who was heartily sick of being forced to listen to the ongoing arguments between Thomas and James suggested mediation which led to my involvement and my recommendation of a 90-minute facilitated meeting.
It is fair to say that the opening 20 minutes in which both parties were invited to make a short opening statement did not go well. Thomas and James both behaved very aggressively and made a number of inflammatory remarks in which they wholeheartedly blamed each other. Neither party came across as remotely conciliatory and 30 minutes into the meeting I wondered if the process would last another 10 minutes, let alone 60. I invited Thomas and James to consider what might happen if they did not reach an agreement and subsequently progress was made.
Thomas did rather begrudgingly acknowledge that whatever else, James was a good and diligent carer and that Buster “could be a bit of a nuisance”. Initially, James brushed these potentially significant concessions aside. However, with the benefit of a short break both parties were able to reflect and confirmed that they would like to continue with the discussion. Albeit without conceding that he was in any way “to blame”, James indicated that he was very concerned about being asked to leave Thomas’ house and suggested they could both as he put it “renegotiate” their arrangement.
In the brief but very positive discussion that ensued, although there were more harsh words, Thomas agreed that he would stop making continued and repeated demands on Jame’s time and working arrangements. In return, James agreed to start trying to manage his money better and a payment schedule for the not inconsiderable sums of money that he conceded were owed to Thomas was devised. Thomas reluctantly agreed that Buster should sleep in an outdoor kennel and James said he would control Lassie. Additionally, they both agreed to review their agreement from time to time and that rather than keeping things to themselves they would mention concerns when they arose and as Thomas put it, “not let things get out of hand”.
It would be wrong to suggest that Thomas and James have “lived happily ever after”. However, because they acknowledged to one another that they both had a vested interest in maintaining arrangements and that there should be an element of “give and take” they were able to continue living together in some degree of harmony. At the end of the session I was reminded that even in seemingly hopeless cases there is often some room for manoeuvre. James kept his home and has repaid quite a lot of the money he owed whilst Thomas has been able to maintain an acceptable quality of life. The modest charge for the facilitated meeting has been “repaid” several times over.
(1) Obviously, the parties’ names and some of their details of their case have been changed to protect their identities.
Case study 3 - The hidden costs of overseeing disputes and the benefits of an ASM facilitated meeting involving neighbours who were in dispute – an actual case handled by the ASM Plus director, Paul Sandford.
Recently I successfully facilitated discussion in connection with a neighbour dispute involving two adjacent tenants. The process was instigated by their landlord, a small, publicly funded Housing Association. In essence one party had made significant allegations of noise nuisance made by one party against the other. Matters had been dragging on for two years. The person who had instigated the complaints felt nothing was being done by the Association. The alleged wrongdoer alleged innocence and also claimed that partly because the association had done nothing, the complaining neighbour had been unjustifiably lodging complaints and was effectively guilty of harassment.
During the process that followed both parties acquitted themselves very well and both were very disappointed that mediation had not been suggested to them earlier. After the process was finished, I had a brief word with the housing officer who had made the arrangements and we discussed the cost benefits for his association. At that point he said that the tenant who had instigated the complaints had been doing so on a fortnightly basis for the past two years and that a number of the Association’s senior managers, an MP and a local councillor had all been contacted. Not surprisingly all of these officials wrote to the officer requesting explanations and detailed time-consuming responses were provided.
We estimated that the officer/team responsible for the area in which the parties resided had probably been spending around four hours a fortnight which over two years amounts to about 100 hours. In terms of cost whilst the officer did not have precise figures to hand, we assumed a nominal hourly rate the housing association of £50. Therefore, we concluded that this dispute had cost the Association something in the region of £5000. The officer confirmed that in as much as he was diverted from doing other work some of which involved ensuring all-important rent payments were both made and properly accounted for, there was a further, significant cost element.
Even though the officer did not have the precise figures to hand in order to make an exact calculation he was of the opinion that this additional cost figure was very significant. The officer had not been criticised but his senior managers agreed that time spent on this particular dispute meant that from an accounting/costs management point of view there was a significant loss of productivity which would ultimately have a negative impact on the Association’s finances.
My charge as ASM Plus director for helping to resolve this dispute was £50 plus vat for 90 minutes on line work
I also agreed with the housing officer also agreed that pure arithmetical terms the aforementioned dispute the “cost” to the housing association ran into hundreds of pounds. I should add that the mediation was successful and the agreement that the parties reached has been adhered to. The officer also agreed that the cost benefits that were demonstrated by this case could be replicated in other instances including internal workplace/ employment disputes, disrepair claims, disagreements about service charges, and compliance by tenants with the terms of their tenancy agreements.