Gloucester City Council is planning a PSPO which would ban begging, assertive charity collection, and give council officers the power to remove homeless people’s unattended belongings.
The consultation is available here (open until 2 April). Here below is our response to the consultation.
Dear Gloucester City Council
We have severe concerns about elements of your draft PSPO, which we believe are illiberal, unnecessary, and in violation of the new government statutory guidance governing this area.
There is a requirement in the new statutory guidance that the ‘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.’
There is also a requirement that councils do not ‘target people based solely on the fact that someone is homeless or rough sleeping’. In addition, ‘Consideration should be given to how the use of this power might impact on the most vulnerable members of society’.
Here are a list of our concerns:
1. Your proposed ban begging is problematic, since in itself begging is not an activity ‘causing nuisance or harm’. A person sitting with a hat, or asking for loose change, is not threatening or otherwise harming people in the locality.
2. A similar case could be made for your planned prohibition on ‘assertive’ charity collection. Aggression is one thing, but assertiveness is necessary in order to stop anyone in a busy public place, and does not cause harm, and therefore should not be criminalised.
3. Your prohibition of ‘unattended items’ is clearly targeting homeless people, who have no choice but to leave certain items (e.g. sleeping bags) unattended, when entering shops or other spaces. Your permission for these items to be removed is very concerning, in the light of recent cases of homeless deaths after sleeping bags were confiscated/destroyed.
4. Your proposed ‘direction to leave’ is illegal under the law providing for PSPOs. The PSPO power allows for the prohibition (or requirement) of certain activities (http://www.legislation.gov.
A PSPO, therefore, must target an ‘activity’. Your ‘direction to leave’ power does not mention an activity, to be banned or required. Instead, you are attempting to use a PSPO to pass a dispersal order, which is a separate power provided for in the same act as PSPOs. This dispersal power can only be used by the police, and is subject to various controls. It is completely inappropriate, and illegal, to use the PSPO power in order to invoke a dispersal power.
5. Finally, we object to the prohibition of harassment, alarm and distress (HAD). Causing of HAD is already an offence under the Public Order Act 1986. PSPOs should not duplicate existing criminal offences, which should be dealt with by the police and court system.
I would be happy to discuss my concerns in more detail, if you would be willing to do so.