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Public Spaces Protection Order criminalises rough sleepers

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Some Local Authorities in London have recently introduced the Public Spaces Protection Order (‘PSPO’) which is designed to deter antisocial activity. This allows authorities to ban and regulate certain activities in some public places. The Local Authorities using these orders have stated that these activities are banned due to the “likely detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality.” Anyone who breaches the terms of this order can face a fine of up to £1000 and a criminal record. One of the antisocial activities that is included in the Public Spaces Possession Order is when a person sleeps rough.

The PSPO’s have sparked outrage from all sectors of society including leading homelessness charity Crisis. Crisis have stated their concern over Local Authorities including rough sleeping in the list of antisocial behaviour they want to ban. Crisis have described the PSPO’s as “criminalising the homeless”.

Hackney Council are one of the Local Authorities which recently had the PSPO in place to tackle “antisocial behaviour”. Other areas of London such as London fields, Broadway Market, Mare Street and Regents Canal are also ‘designated hotspots’. The PSPO gives the police and council officers the power to give rough sleepers a £1000 on the spot fine if they are found in any of the ‘designated hotspots’.

Oxford City Council held a full consultation before introducing their PSPO. There was public outcry and a petition which 72,000 local residents signed against including rough sleepers in the list of antisocial activities. It was stated by local residents that to include rough sleepers would “treat rough sleepers as a problem to be dealt with rather than as individual human beings”.

On Monday 08 June 2015, the pressure from local residents and protestors forced a change in Hackney Council and they removed rough sleeping as an activity which could constitute antisocial behaviour. The campaigning and petitions for this issue must carry on to stop rough sleepers from being criminalised against when they are in fact some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Branding rough sleepers as antisocial is wrong.

Cheshire West and Chester Council have also been given the go-ahead to consult the community over introducing a three year PSPO. If this goes ahead the areas it will cover are, Chester City Centre, Newton and part of Boughton. In a draft order it was stated that people who breach this order will face a maximum £100 fixed penalty notice or a fine of up to £1000 on conviction at Court if they continue with banned activities within the designated area. 

Effective prevention by Local Authorities to tackle homelessness at an early stage will help provide people with ways to meet their housing needs. Early prevention may help people to remain in their current home or help them find alternative accommodation before it is too late. Local Authorities provide a broad range of advice for those in housing need and they can provide help before a person has to become homeless.

If you are at risk of Homelessness and need some advice please contact our specialist housing law team on 01616 966 229.

By Katherine McEvoy, graduate paralegal in the dispute resolution team.