"NEIGHBOURS from hell" will be stripped of their housing benefit under proposals that could become law by the end of the year.

The government has insisted people who inflict misery on their neighbours should no longer enjoy a "subsidy from the taxpayer".

Now City of York Council has been asked to put forward its views on how the controversial scheme should be put into practice.

District councils across North Yorkshire, which have responsibility for housing and paying benefit, will also be contacted by Ministers.

One option is for housing benefit to be docked from anyone who is convicted in a court of an offence involving antisocial behaviour.

But a separate proposal - favoured by Ministers - would give local authorities themselves the power to act after receiving complaints from neighbours.

Andrew Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, said the scheme could either be introduced nationwide or simply target problem estates.

He said: "The aim of a housing benefit sanction would be to provide a workable measure that could be applied swiftly and fairly in response to such behaviour."

Mr Smith said any sanctions would have to avoid excessive bureaucracy, be accepted as fair and not increase poverty.

Critics have warned that the proposals breach human rights law and would make vulnerable people homeless - increasing problems of antisocial behaviour.

Jane Moet, director of Safer York Partnership, said: "There has to be a balance between housing needs and also dealing with anti-social behaviour.

"On the face of it, it looks fantastic for neighbours who live next door, but, if you give people no means with which to live, it can often make the problem worse."

Sue Redfearn, assistant chief executive of Ryedale District Council, said: "There would have to be an awful lot of liaison between the police and other groups.

"It is mixing two areas which, at the moment, are quite distinct.

"It is an interesting concept, but it is how it would be delivered on the ground."

The consultation ends in August - which could allow the sanction to be introduced as part of the Antisocial Behaviour Bill currently before Parliament.

Housing benefit is paid, by the local authority, to tenants on low incomes, depending on their earnings, savings, age and other benefits received.

It is paid up to the level of the "eligible rent" - the maximum rent that the local authority considers appropriate for a particular property.

Updated: 11:05 Wednesday, May 21, 2003