MORE and more councils are using “busybody” powers that criminalise homelessness, research published today shows.
Latest figures from councils across England and Wales show that the use of Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) has quadrupled. A total of 1,906 fines were issued last year, up from 470 in 2015.
Campaigners argue that the powers unfairly discriminate against the homeless by allowing local authorities to fine people for sleeping rough, busking, begging and loitering.
Councils are also fining people for a range of “offences” deemed anti-social, including swearing, spitting, leafleting, playing music too loudly and dog-walking.
Big Issue head Stephen Robertson said expanding definitions of anti-social behaviour risked “stigmatising” rough-sleepers further.
Civil liberties group the Manifesto Club dubbed PSPOs a “blank cheque” for arbitrary use of power.
Manifesto Club director Josie Appleton said councils banning rough sleeping, bin-raking and begging were turning “social destitution into a sort of criminality.”
This month, Oxford Council was accused by the Green Party of harassing the homeless with warnings they could be fined up to £2,500 for leaving their belongings in doorways.
And earlier this year, Kettering Council prosecuted 10 people either for public drinking or begging, landing them with fines of up to £1,000. The council warned they face jail if they “re-offend.”
Ms Appleton said: “Councils were at first slow to use PSPOs, but now the powers are being whipped out in response to a wide variety of local disputes or problems.
“The result is a patchwork of vague, absurd criminal law, which people do not understand and which cannot be enforced with any consistency.”
Local Government Association chairman Simon Blackburn defended PSPOs as an “effective way” of tackling the “persistent anti-social behaviour problems” that local residents and businesses raise.