Thursday, December 08, 2016

Homeless in UK risk fines of £100 for accepting food donations

Homeless people could be "criminalised" and "penalised" as UK councils attempt to crack down on begging, it has been claimed.

Introduced in 2014, Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO) let local authorities tackle anti-social behaviour they deem to be "detrimental to the local community's quality of life".

Under a PSPO introduced by South Tyneside Council, a £100 fine can be handed to those deemed to be begging - prompting fears the homeless could be "penalised" for accepting a donation.

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Father Christopher Fuller of St Hilda's Church in South Shields said he understood the orders were being "introduced by lots of local authorities across the country".

He said: "My concern is that people who are vulnerable, but also people who are good-willed ... they see someone sitting on the street and have a pang of conscience and want to get them a tea, coffee or sandwich.

"They buy them something and innocently give it to them, without the vulnerable person necessarily saying anything - they could potentially get fined £100."

There are a number of PSPOs in place across the borough of South Tyneside that it is claimed target both alcohol consumption and begging.

Notices of their imposition were put up in the areas where the orders applied, but South Tyneside Council said these have since been removed.

The orders forbid "verbal, non-verbal or written requests, including the placing of hats or containers for money, donations or goods".

Father Fuller said: "The problem is if these individuals begging on the streets get fined £100, where is this money going to come from? They certainly won't have it themselves."

He agreed there was a need to stop people drinking on the streets and causing anti-social behaviour, but said: "Someone just sitting quietly wanting money isn't that big an issue."

Councillor Allan West, lead member for housing and transport, said no fines had been issued for begging and that tackling homelessness was a "core priority".

He said: "These orders are in no way aimed at people in genuine hardship. However, we understand that the posters may have been open to misinterpretation.

"We have taken on-board people's concerns and these posters are no longer in circulation."

Josie Appleton, director of the Manifesto Club think tank, said the homeless were the "main victims" of PSPOs, which she said allows councils to "criminalise" behaviour they believe detrimentally affects life quality.

"It is a very subjective category in which people take to mean anything they don't like or because they think something looks messy," she said.

"Homeless people are not being treated as citizens. They are having a complete stripping of any kind of respect or rights to be in a space."

She said although there had been lots of orders - with a variety of "innocuous" activities banned around the UK under PSPOs - the group that had suffered the most was the homeless.

Newcastle Council has been consulting on banning begging and Sunderland City Council has considered banning "bin-raking" - the action of searching and taking of unwanted items from bins.

Southampton City Council have PSPOs in place that prohibit "loitering for the purpose of begging" or "begging or asking members of the public for money" in designated areas.

And Rushcliffe Borough Council has approved a PSPO aimed at tackling anti-social behaviours associated with "with street-drinking and rough sleeping".

The council said they were taking a "proactive approach" to homelessness and that issuing a £100 fixed penalty notice was a "last resort".

Rosie Brighouse, legal officer for the Liberty human rights organisation, said the orders were "increasingly being used to criminalise the very people authorities should be helping".

She said: "These orders are blunt instruments, incapable of addressing the many complex issues that may lead people to beg or sleep rough."

Calling PSPOs against the homeless "absurd", she said: "As Christmas approaches and temperatures drop, councils considering using these powers should turn their focus to helping, not penalising, the homeless."

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