Penalising Poverty: Liberty urges Chelmsford City Council to scrap unjustified PSPO plans

08 January 2016

Liberty has today written to Chelmsford City Council urging it to abandon plans that would criminalise the poorest and most vulnerable people in the city.

A consultation into the Council’s proposed Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) closes today (8 January). 

As drafted, the Order covering the city centre places a total ban on begging. It also bans rough sleeping where it causes anti-social behaviour and accommodation is available for that person.

The PSPO gives police and council officers the power to issue on-the-spot penalties of up to £100. If those in breach are unable to pay, they could face prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000.

Liberty believes the Order may, if implemented, breach the rights of the people of Chelmsford under the Human Rights Act. The Council is bound by the Act not to behave in a way which would disproportionately affect those rights.

Disproportionate, counter-productive, unlawful

In today’s letter, Rosie Brighouse, Legal Officer for Liberty, advises the Council to abandon its “disproportionate, counter-productive and potentially unlawful” plans, highlighting Liberty’s concerns that:

  • The proposal does not define “anti-social behaviour”. Therefore, any person’s perception of the term could be used to justify enforcement action.
  • It is not clear who will assess whether accommodation is actually available to a rough sleeper. There is also no caveat allowing an objective evaluation of whether such accommodation is suitable for the person concerned.
  • The proposed blanket ban on all begging, anti-social or otherwise, appears to contradict the Council’s previously stated intentions – to tackle only “anti-social behaviour arising from begging”.
  • The Council may be in breach of its obligations under the Equality Act 2010 as no equality assessment appears to have been undertaken.
  • PSPOs should only be used to restrict activities which have a persistent detrimental effect on local residents’ quality of life – but the Council has proceeded with the consultation on the basis of very little evidence justifying the inclusion of the provisions relating to rough sleeping and begging. Proceeding with a lack of evidence would be unlawful.

Rosie Brighouse, Legal Officer for Liberty, said: “Begging and rough sleeping are the result of poverty and it is both ridiculous and counterproductive to slap unaffordable fines on the destitute. PSPOs do not help alleviate hardship – they simply fast-track the vulnerable into the criminal justice system.

“Similar harsh proposals have been considered and rejected by numerous other local authorities. We urge the Council to follow their lead and protect the rights of the people of Chelmsford by scrapping these misguided plans.”

Notes to editors:

For more information, or for a copy of the letter sent to Chelmsford City Council, contact the Liberty press office on 020 7378 3656, 07973 831128 or pressoffice@liberty-human-rights.org.uk.

About PSPOs

  • Created in 2014 by the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, PSPOs enable local authorities to criminalise activities that have a persistent and unreasonable detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the area.
  • Liberty opposed their creation on the basis that they are too widely drawn, with vague definitions of what can be criminalised and disproportionately punitive sanctions, and would result in the fast-tracking of vulnerable individuals into the criminal justice system.
  • Liberty is campaigning to end the use of unfair, overbroad PSPOs which penalise the most vulnerable in our societies. In June 2015, Liberty wrote to Oxford City Council calling on it to scrap plans to criminalise rough sleepers and buskers. The PSPO was passed in October with the Council making significant concessions.
  • Liberty wrote to Birmingham City Council in July 2015 in opposition to an intended PSPO placing a blanket ban on the use of amplification. In September, the Council dropped its plans.
  • Similarly, Liberty wrote to Cheshire West and Chester Council in October 2015. The Council dropped plans to ban rough sleeping from a draft PSPO in November.
  • Newport City Council radically overhauled its planned PSPO in November after pressure from Liberty. The Council completely removed provisions relating to rough sleeping.
  • Earlier in November, Liverpool City Council abandoned similar plans on the basis that they were simply “a bit daft.”