One in ten local councils are using powers created to prevent anti-social behaviour to criminalise homelessness, new figures show.
Freedom of information requests to local authorities by the VICE.com website found that 36 local authorities were targeting rough sleepers with Public Space Protection Orders.
PSPOs are local regulations which can be used by councillors to ban anything with a “detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality”.
In 36 of 78 cases the orders are being used to make activities common amongst homeless people illegal, an analysis by the website shows. There are 375 local authorities in England and Wales.
Anyone found in breach of a PSPO has to pay a £100 penalty fine and can face a criminal record and £1,000 if they fail to pay – as a person lacking a home or reliable income might.
The power to introduce PSPOs was created by the Coalition Goverment with the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 201
Hackney Borough Council in north London scrapped plans for a similar PSPO after a backlash against the plans.
“It is absurd to impose a fine of £1,000 on somebody who is already homeless and struggling,” petitioner Zahira Patel wrote last summer during the row.
“People should not be punished for the 'crime' of not having a roof over their head - there is nothing inherently 'anti social' or criminal about rough sleeping.”
Housing and homelessness charities including Crisis warned that any move to ban rough sleeping would be “counterproductive”.
The Local Government Association, which represents councils, has previously defended PSPOs.
“PSPOs can be used to address anti-social activities in public spaces which are having a detrimental effect on the quality of life of local people,” a spokesperson for the organisation said last year.
“Anti-social behaviour offences, such as aggressive begging, public drinking or the sale of legal highs, are far from “bizarre”. For victims and communities affected, they are serious issues and councils are keen to protect them from offenders who can make the lives of those they target a misery.
“Crime and anti-social behaviour by its very nature varies from place to place and that is why different councils are responding in a variety of ways.”
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