The Manifesto Club has been campaigning against Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) since the introduction of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act in 2014.
We obtained changes to the Statutory Guidance at the end of 2017, which imposed a number of limits upon the use of PSPO powers, including:
- That PSPOs should target the activity causing nuisance or harm;
- That PSPOs should not target rough sleeping;
- That PSPOs should not restrict the everyday uses of public places.
These changes to the Statutory Guidance were introduced after the Home Office recognised that PSPO powers were being used in too broad a manner, and against some of the most vulnerable in society.
Yet our recent FOI requests show that councils are failing to abide by this Statutory Guidance. Councils are introducing more PSPOs than ever, and are continuing to target homeless and vulnerable people, as well as targeting everyday activities that are not in themselves harmful.
How many PSPOs?
We contacted all 347 councils in England and Wales to ask about their use of PSPO powers. 308 councils responded to our FOI request. In total, 147 councils introduced 276 PSPOs in the 18-month period between August 2017 and January 2019.
This is more than in previous periods for which we have collected FOI data. There has been an 89% rise in the rate of councils issuing PSPOs, from 8 per month in the first period of data, to over 15 per month in the most recent period. (This means that, on average, one PSPO has been issued every two days in the most recent period).
|No. of PSPOs issued
|No. of local authorities
|Average no. of PSPOs issued per month
|November 2014 – February 2016 (previous Manifesto Club FOI)
|March 2016 – July 2017 (previous Manifesto Club FOI)
|August 2017 – January 2019
- Note: The latest figures exclude any conversion of old alcohol and dog zones, which occurred within this period; they also exclude the updating or reissuing of previously issued PSPOs. When a council introduced a large number of dog zones these were counted as one order.
What was banned?
The vast majority of orders included some form of restriction on alcohol, either powers of confiscation for council officials, or bans on open containers of alcohol. Other banned activities included:
– 22 councils banned begging, including West Suffolk which banned sitting with receptacle to beg. Welwyn Hatfield council banned sitting on ground to invite donations.
– 3 councils banned rough sleeping. Doncaster banned sitting or lying in shop doorways and sleeping overnight in the town centre; Tunbridge Wells banned rough sleeping associated with ASB; Brentwood banned sleeping on the street when accommodated. 3 councils banned leaving belongings in public, a measure targeted at homeless people, who have no choice but to leave their belongings when they enter shops or move around town. Rother District Council banned depositing sleeping materials in public place. Shropshire and Poole banned leaving belongings unattended.
– 15 councils banned swearing or foul language. Ashford and Cheshire East banned foul/abusive language. Stoke-on-Trent, Dartford and Canterbury banned swearing/shouting.
– 3 councils banned free running and urban sports. Oldham banned climbing on structures; Horsham banned unauthorised climbing on buildings; and Canterbury banned climbing on any council building.
– 3 councils (Wandsworth, Runnymede and Liverpool) banned face coverings.
– 3 councils regulated sexual activity in public: Haringey banned sexual acts in public; Redbridge banned buying sexual services; and Richmond banned lewd behaviour.
Drop offs and pick ups
– 2 councils (Three Rivers and Waltham Forest) banned drop offs and pick ups outside schools. Brent Council banned operating a minibus for casual workers, or to offer or seek casual work.
Gathering in groups
– 6 councils banned gathering in groups. Staffordshire Moorlands banned congregating/loitering as part of group of 6 or more people; Conwy banned under-18s banned from gathering in groups of 3 or more.
– 10 councils banned loitering, including Ealing, Haringey, and Slough.
Feeding the birds
– 5 councils banned feeding the birds. West Dorset and Weymouth and Portland councils banned feeding the gulls; Havant and Wiltshire banned feeding pigeons. Richmond banned feeding animals.
Miscellaneous and bizarre
– Slough banned the possession of any catapult or slingshot, as well as the possession of stones, pellets or sticks. Richmond banned people from displacing any turf or stone, and from carrying out fitness training classes. Fylde banned dogs from ornamental water features. Kirklees banned fireworks and sky lanterns. Wandsworth banned unloading sound equipment. Pendle introduced a 9pm curfew for under-16s.
How many fines were issued?
Our FOI requests also show a substantial increase in the number of on-the-spot fines issued for violating a PSPO. Previous statistics on fixed penalty notices (FPNs) were obtained by the Press Association. Our figures show that fines have increased more than fourfold in two years, from 1906 fines in 2016 to 9930 in 2018.
|Number of FPNs for PSPO violation
|2015 (Press Association)
|2016 (Press Association)
|2018 (Manifesto Club)
This large increase is partly the result of some councils employing private companies to issue fines on commission. The four largest finers all employ private companies to issue FPNs; between them they issued a total of 6010 fines for PSPO violations in 2018.
|Number of fines in 2018
|Offence for which fines were issued
|Private company employed
|21 urination; 13 failure to disperse; 1533 unauthorised cycling; 861 spitting
|1467 cycling in restricted area; 22 dog control
|Not known – PSPO offences include begging, leaving engine running, noisy remote control vehicles
|Not known – PSPO offences include aggressive begging, spitting, nuisance groups
Several councils issued fines for drinking alcohol in public, including 265 in Fenland District Council. Greenwich fined 63 people for having an open container of alcohol, and Bristol fined 80 people for the same offence.
Several councils issued fines for begging: Derby City Council fined 2 people for begging and one for loitering, Newcastle issued 9 fines for begging, Poole fined someone for sitting down with a receptacle, and Barking and Dagenham fined 8 people for begging.
Other notable fines include:
– Colchester fined 4 people for putting up an A-frame;
– Rotherham fined one person for unauthorised charity collection; Newcastle fined two people for ‘chugging’;
– Caerphilly fined one person for loitering at the bus station;
– Kensington and Chelsea issued 39 fines for nuisance vehicles;
– Ashfield fined 16 people for not producing dog fouling receptacles, and 17 for car cruising. Boston fined 6 people for failing to produce a receptacle to pick up;
– Lambeth fined 40 people for the use and supply of nitrous oxide in a public place;
– Brent issued fines for offering casual work;
– Newham issued 20 fines for anti-social vehicle use;
– Canterbury fined 6 people for swearing or shouting in a public place;
– Neath Port Talbot fined 134 people for taking their dogs on Aberavon beach;
– Three Rivers issued 20 fines for school drop offs;
– Conwy fined people for jumping off a bridge;
– Ashford fined one person for foul/abusive language, and 6 for fishing from undesignated swims;
– Shropshire fined 5 people fined for leaving their belongings unattended;
– Horsham fined people for racing horses on an A-road, and for carrying out vehicle repairs on the road;
– Haringey fined someone for loitering in Wickes car park and asking for casual work.
Of these fines, 192 cases proceeded to prosecution, which could mean larger fines and a criminal record, even imprisonment in some cases.
Shropshire prosecuted one person for the offence of returning to the restricted area, and three cases of leaving belongings unattended. Horsham prosecuted two people for repairing vehicles in the road. Three Rivers prosecuted two people for school drop offs, and York prosecuted one person for refusal to stop drinking.
Our FOI data shows that the problem with PSPOs is far from solved; indeed, it has increased notably since the issuing of the Statutory Guidance. On-the-spot fines are now being issued at much higher levels, and more people are entering the court system for prosecutions for PSPO violations (at these prosecutions it must only be shown that they violated the PSPO, not that the PSPO order is reasonable or lawful).
It is almost impossible to challenge PSPO orders through legal appeal: legal aid is not available for PSPO challenges, and High Court challenges are extremely costly, out of the reach of most national organisations let alone individuals or local groups. The grounds for legal appeal are extremely narrow and difficult.
Therefore, it is clear that the changes to the Statutory Guidance have not worked, and that the legal mechanism for checking orders in the courts is not fit for purpose. We must conclude that the only remedy to these overbearing powers is a wholescale scrapping of the statutory legislation in which they are contained. This is what we will campaign for in the months and years ahead.