Poverty and Inequality

21.05.18

Local authority’s enhanced powers ‘ripe for misuse’ for convicting hundreds of homeless, new figures show

People sleeping rough on Britain’s streets have been fined, given criminal records, or even imprisoned due to enhanced council powers to reduce homelessness.

New figures obtained in a Freedom of Information request by the Guardian have found at least 51 people have been convicted of breaching public space protection orders (PSPOs) – legislative powers giving councils increased capabilities in removing those loitering or begging in town and city centres.

The protection orders — installed in 2014 by then home secretary Theresa May — allowed local authorities to issue fines of up to £1,100 to rough-sleepers.

Breaching a PSPO can lead to a £100 fixed-penalty notice. Offenders can also face a summary conviction or criminal behavior order (CBO), banning them from future begging and a fine of up to £1000 if they are unable to pay. Failure to pay the fine could land some in prison for five years.

One case included a man in Gloucester jailed for four months for breaching a criminal behavior order for begging.

Rosie Brighouse, a lawyer for Liberty Human Rights, told the Guardian: “We warned from the start that PSPOs were far too broad and ripe for misuse by over-zealous councils wanting to sweep inconveniences off their streets."

"Now we see dozens of local authorities using them to target marginalised groups and fine people for being poor... This approach just pushes people into debt or the criminal justice system."

Last week, reports claimed that a lack of investment in affordable housing from local councils is contributing to the rise of homelessness, with 98% of councils labelling their need for affordable housing as severe or moderate.

Last month a report found the estimated amount of rough sleepers has soared by 169%.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are clear that PSPOs should be used proportionately to tackle antisocial behaviour, and not to target specific groups or the most vulnerable in our communities.

“We set this out clearly when in December last year we refreshed the statutory guidance for frontline professionals on the use of the antisocial behaviour powers.

“It is for local agencies to determine whether their use of the powers is appropriate, and that they are meeting the legal tests set out in the legislation. The government is committed to tackling and reducing homelessness and to offer support to the most vulnerable in our society.”

 Image credit: jax10289, iStock images

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