Despite updated Home Office guidance at the start of the year, homeless people are still being fined, receiving criminal convictions and being imprisoned for begging and rough sleeping.
In 2014, local authorities were given strengthened powers to combat anti-social behavior through the introduction of Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs). New guidance tell councils not to misuse antisocial behavior laws by targeting homeless people and says PSPOs, “should not be used to target people based solely on the fact that someone is homeless or rough sleeping”.
However, evidence shows that homeless people continue to be targeted by PSPOs, despite the more than fifty councils using the power insisting this is not the case; PSPOs have resulted in hundreds of fixed-penalty notices, fines of up to £1,100 and convictions for “begging”, “persistent and aggressive begging” and “loitering”.
Recent statistics showing that the number of people sleeping rough in the UK has increased for the seventh straight year. The causes of homelessness are often complex and numerous, from a lack of affordable housing, relationship and family breakdown, loss of employment, to addiction and abuse. While it is right that councils have the ability to protect public spaces, unfairly targeting rough sleepers with fines they can’t pay or imprisonment won’t reduce homelessness. Nor will it provide the opportunities and support that these vulnerable people deserve to create pathways out of poverty.