Despite the success of Liberty and grassroots campaigners, towns and cities across the country continue to implement Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) which chip away at civil liberties.
PSPOs allow councils to criminalise activities which have a “detrimental effect on the quality of life on those in the locality”. Breaching this legislation can mean an on the spot fine of up to £100, with a Magistrates Court appearance and a £1000 penalty if the original fine isn’t paid.
In the past month, Liberty has been in contact with both Newcastle City Council and Rushcliffe Borough Council warning that their plans to criminalise those sleeping rough are misguided and potentially unlawful.
Newcastle hopes to simply ban “aggressive begging”, but has a city-wide ban on sleeping rough buried within its text. Rushcliffe Borough Council says it aims to stop people littering, urinating or behaving aggressively. But these activities are not specifically tied to sleeping on the streets – and are either already criminal offences or could be specifically prohibited under a PSPO.
Gravesham Borough Council has already adopted a PSPO with bans on lying down or sleeping in any public place – including Woodlands Park. When Liberty expressed their concerns, a council representative said not to worry as enforcement officers will use their “common sense”.
The council has since employed Kingdom Security to enforce the other aspects of its PSPO. Under a Freedom of Information Act request Liberty discovered the authority pays the firm £45 for every correct issued fine – directly incentivising enforcement officers to issue as many as possible.
Kingdom’s operations in nearby Maidstone – where it keeps 50 per cent of money received from fines – where recently suspended after a resident was charged £80 for littering when she was actually just feeding the ducks.
Reports (again – from Liberty) suggest Gravesham Council is now also locked in a dispute with Kingdom over it’s activities.
Liberty has written to the council asking for a firm commitment that Kingdom will never be permitted to enforce the PSPO in relation to those sleeping rough. Liberty await a response and I will, if I hear about the response, post it in the comments section of this blog post.
Until the Government scraps the power to create PSPOs once and for all, vulnerable people will continue to suffer at the hands of those who are supposed to support them