NEW on-the-spot fines for beggars have been condemned as “pest control” for the homeless.
Worthing and Adur Councils has decided to introduce new public spaces protection orders (PSPOs), which mean local authority officers or the police could slap beggars with £50 on the spot fines.
Campaigners against the new law said they feared the most vulnerable members of our communities would be the worst affected.
The leader of the council, who pushed for the new laws in the wake of claims of a rise in aggressive begging, said yesterday he had only experienced one example of such behaviour but couldn’t give any details.
Daniel Thompson, of Worthing People’s Assembly, which collected 5,000 signatures against the plans, said: “At the end of the day these are people. The council seems to be talking about this as a form of pest control.”
Josie Appleton, of civil Liberties group Manifesto Club, said: “It is entirely ineffective legislation.
“People are not committing offences other than not having a home or much money.
“The existing laws within the Vagrancy Act are extremely draconian, but there seems to have been this drift back towards them. It seems to just be about trying to sweep homeless people off the streets. It’s not a solution.
“If you are trying to tackle the problem of homelessness then it is completely ineffective.”
Liberty has a long running campaign against the orders being imposed across the country, and said the orders “fast-track vulnerable people into the criminal justice system – rather than divert them away from it”.
Legal officer Rosie Brighouse said: “It’s deeply disappointing that Worthing has become the latest council to use these dangerous and blunt powers to criminalise the most vulnerable in the town. Begging and rough sleeping are not anti-social behaviour – they’re the result of poverty.
“The council should be helping those in need – not hitting them with criminal records and crimes they can’t possibly pay. We hope it will follow in the footsteps of other authorities around the country and scrap this misguided PSPO.”
Worthing’s Conservative council leader Daniel Humphreys defended the new laws – but said he had only experienced one instance of aggressive begging.
He refused to give details of the incident and admitted references to his daughter being scared of walking into Worthing because of “foul” behaviour were not based on any genuine experience. - but rather a theoretical example of people potentially being scared.
WE QUESTION WORTHING COUNCIL’S LEADER DANIEL HUMPHREYS ABOUT THE CONTROVERSIAL NEW POWERS
How do these new powers work?
Both council officers and the police will have the powers to issue fines.
This strengthens existing powers and gives council officers the power to issue tickets as they do with littering offences.
First of all people will be asked to stop doing this, to move on or go somewhere else. Then if they refuse they can be given a fine.
Why is it necessary given existing laws against begging (particularly aggressive begging)?
This is necessary because we have identified a problem in Worthing which has been raised with us over the last few years.
Moreover, in the last year there has been a problem on the streets of aggressive begging as well as in the last year people putting up tents and parking up and staying in the town centre.
That’s part of the reason we felt it was necessary to toughen up.
Does this mean the police aren’t implementing the laws adequately?
The existing laws, like those for being drunk and disorderly, mean that you will be arrested and taken to the police station and cautioned or charged. In a way we are simplifying the system.
By being dealt with in this way people are being given the alternative to walk away rather than going into the criminal justice system in the custody of the police.
There’s no blanket rule about how we are going to enforce it.
If someone is drunk and disorderly they are still going to be charged by the police.
But if someone is drinking a can or bottle of alcohol in the town centre they can use these powers to ask them to move on.
There won’t be one blanket way of dealing with it.
Have you actually witnessed any aggressive begging personally?
I have seen an incident of aggressive begging but it is certainly something business people are reporting with people hanging around shop doorways and approaching people at cash machines.
Can you tell us more about your experience of aggressive begging?
No. I’m not going to go into details.
Businesses in the town have been coming to us saying it’s a problem and that absolutely backs it up. The problem is when I go into my own stories it just becomes anecdotal.
I appreciate people might need money but [begging] is not the way to do it and it is not right for people to feel intimidated.
We know from homeless charities it is not helpful to homeless people to be dolling out cash to them.
LAW IS SIMILAR TO ASBOs
PUBLIC spaces protection orders (PSPOs) are akin to geographic antisocial behaviour orders (ASBOs) – criminalising normally legal activities within a certain area.
They are normally enforced with on-the-spot fines, which can be issued by council officers like traffic wardens as well as the police.
Breach of an order is a criminal offence which can result in a court appearance and a fine of up to £1,000.
Oxford, Hackney and Newport councils have introduced PSPOs for begging, which is already a criminal offence under the Vagrancy Act 1824 – and also applies to vagabonds, pedlars and prostitutes behaving in a riotous and indecent manner.
Under the law any person “placing himself or herself in any public place, street, highway, court, or passage, to beg or gather alms, or causing or procuring or encouraging any child or children so to do; shall be deemed an idle and disorderly person.”
In 2003 the offence was made a recordable offence by then police minister Hazel Blears.