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30 Neighbourhood and Community Disputes
4. What is mediation?
If you find a direct personal approach doesn’t work (or you don’t think it will), the next step is to try mediation. Mediation is a way of sorting out disagreements, where a mediator helps the people in dispute to find their own solution to their problem.
Mediation takes a common-sense approach to helping people solve their problems by:
In this way, mediation is different to the legal process, which is often about finding out who is to blame and who is ‘guilty’.
Mediation is generally cheaper and quicker than going to court. It can be used to settle disputes in a range of situations. It is a very good way of stopping them becoming worse. It is best to try to start the mediation process as soon as possible after the problem starts, instead of leaving the situation and hoping it will get better on its own.
How can mediation help?
Talking through your situation with an independent mediator can help in several ways:
Most types of mediation start when one person requests it. A mediator then contacts all the people involved to see if they will agree to take part. No one has to take part, and if they change their mind after starting mediation, they can stop at any point.
Mediators then usually visit everyone separately. In most community and neighbourhood disputes, mediators will work in pairs. They will ask each person to explain how they see the current situation, and how they would like it to be in the future. The mediators will also ask for each person’s suggestions for sorting out the disagreement.
Information you give the mediators, including things you tell them during mediation, is kept private and confidential unless everyone agrees it can be shared with the other people involved. However, if someone tells the mediators about an incident of serious abuse, the mediators have to tell the police. Also, if mediation ends with a signed written agreement, this will not be kept private.
Mediations often take place without the different sides meeting face to face. In these cases the mediators carry information from one person or group of people to another. However, it is best to have face-to-face meetings, because they offer more chance of a lasting agreement between the two sides.
If both sides agree to come to a meeting, this is what happens:
Why is mediation often a good way to sort out problems?
Mediation works because:
How can I find a mediation service?
Many communities have a mediation service, which is usually free to people who have a dispute. To find your nearest service, call Mediation UK (see ‘Further help’). If there is not one in your community, a mediation service in a nearby area may be willing to help.
What if the neighbour has been or may be violent?
If you are afraid that your neighbour may attack you if you try to discuss the problem, it is obviously best not to approach them. In this case, you should contact the police. If you have a good reason for believing the neighbour will be violent, there is a chance the police already have a record of violence or the threat of violence from them. The police can use powers such as an anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) to protect you and to try to stop the neighbour’s behaviour. See ‘Anti-social behaviour orders’.
People’s behaviour can sometimes seem strange, especially when they are under stress, and you may feel that you cannot reason with them. Mediation may still help you find a solution to the problem. A mediator will be able to assess whether mediation is possible. If you feel someone is dangerous – a risk to themselves or others – you should contact social services or the police.
Some mental health problems, alcohol or drug abuse make sorting out a dispute harder. You should always consider your personal safety and not put yourself in a position where you might be at risk of violence.
What if my neighbour is racially harassing me?
If you are being harassed by a neighbour because of your race, you should report this to the police. Racial harassment is a crime and the police should take action to stop it. However, remember that many disputes arise between neighbours because people have different lifestyles and cultures.
The Commission for Racial Equality can provide information and advice to people who think they have been racially harassed or discriminated against. See ‘Further help’ for details.
The leaflets are regularly updated but the law may have changed since they were printed so the information in them may be incorrect or out of date.
Last updated on 15 July 2019
CLS Legal Info Leaflets