Dozens of council orders now illegal under new government guidance

The Home Office has published new Statutory Guidance governing Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs), a power that has been used to ban a wide range of public activities, including ball games, rough sleeping and standing in groups.

We have carried out FOI surveys into the use of the PSPO power in the period up until June 2017 (this data is available in one report published in February 2016, and another in July 2017). Using this data, we estimate that around a fifth of existing PSPOs are explicitly prohibited, or strongly advised against, by the new guidance.

The important change is that the new Statutory Guidance makes clear that orders should only target the specific behaviour that is causing nuisance or harm, rather than activities that are in themselves harmless (see our analysis of the Guidance changes).

The Guidance states that ‘councils should ensure that the Order is appropriately worded so that it targets the specific behaviour or activity that is causing nuisance or harm and thereby having a detrimental impact on others’ quality of life’.

It also states that PSPOs ‘should not be used to target people based solely on the fact that someone is homeless or rough sleeping’, and that they should not target ‘everyday sociability, such as standing in groups which is not in itself a problem behaviour’.

The Guidance strongly advises against the banning of activities for young people, such as skateboarding, stating: ‘It is important that public spaces are available for the use and enjoyment of a broad spectrum of the public, and that people of all ages are free to gather, talk and play games.’

Our surveys of PSPOs found that, up until June 2017, there had been 319 PSPOs issued by 152 local authorities. Of these, we judge that 64 PSPOs, or a fifth of all orders, either openly violate or strongly go against the terms of the new Statutory Guidance.

This means that dozens of councils have passed orders which violate the new guidance, since they target behaviours that are essentially innocuous.

These include:

30 bans on loitering or congregating in groups: the guidance explicitly states that standing in groups ‘is not a problem behaviour’;

14 PSPOs introducing dispersal powers (allowing council officers to disperse people from an area): this fails to target a ‘specific behaviour or activity’;

3 bans on the wearing of face or head coverings: this activity does not in itself cause nuisance or harm;

7 bans on rough sleeping or sleeping in public: the guidance states that rough sleeping itself should not be targeted;

7 restrictions on everyday activities in public spaces that are so broad as to be unjustifiable for the aim of preventing detrimental behaviour;

3 orders targeting the activities of homeless people, where their behaviour is not actually causing nuisance or harm.

A list of examples of these orders is below.


DISPERSAL POWERS: Councils that have used PSPOs to create dispersal areas include: Mansfield, Barnsley, Wigan, Birmingham, South Derbyshire, and Liverpool. Barnsley council has issued 222 notices banning people from the area for 48 hours.

BANS ON FACE/HEAD COVERINGS: The wearing of face coverings was prohibited by Birmingham City Council, Sefton and Halton councils (Sefton also banned head coverings).

BANS ON ROUGH SLEEPING: Rushcliffe Council banned sleeping in the open air, a vehicle, or a caravan; Wrexham banned sleeping in the bus station; Gravesham banned lying down in a public place; Teignbridge banned sleeping in one area after the hours of darkness; Wrexham banned sleeping after the hours of darkness in one area; Shepway banned sleeping in public places;

LOITERING OR CONGREGATING IN GROUPS: Blaby District Council banned 10-17 year olds from standing in groups of four or more; Bassetlaw Council banned under-16s from gathering in groups of three or more in Worksop and Retford town centres; Staffordshire Moorlands banned congregating or loitering in a group of five or more unless waiting for a bus; Bolsover Council banned congregating in groups in alleyways off the marketplace; Guildford Council banned loitering and gathering in groups of two or more persons in one area; Oxford Council banned remaining in a public toilet without reasonable excuse; Blackpool Council banned loitering around cash machines; Hillingdon Council banned gathering in groups of two or more unless waiting for a bus; Kettering introduced a curfew for under-18s, who are banned from going out alone between 11pm and 6am.

UNREASONABLE RESTRICTIONS ON EVERYDAY ACTIVITIES: Mansfield banned cycling in the town centre; North East Derbyshire Council prohibited carrying golf equipment in one recreation area; Kettering Council banned skateboarding; Wolverhampton banned playing any ball games in the street; Blackpool City Council banned the sale of lucky charms and and engaging in card tricks; Tamworth Council banned the playing of music between 8pm and 6am; Swindon Council banned chalk pavement art.

UNREASONABLE RESTRICTIONS ON HOMELESS PEOPLE: Stockport banned sitting within 5m of a shop or ATM machine; Southampton banned ‘loitering for the purposes of begging’; Sunderland banned ‘bin-raking’.