Human rights group renews attack on Southend Council over PSPO plans

A leading human rights group has branded a policy that will allow fines to handed out to the homeless “cruel” and a misuse of power.

Southend Council’s Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) is aimed at helping to address anti-social behaviour on the High Street and bring an end to ‘aggressive’ begging.

But rights groups have been critical of broad measures that are aimed at the homeless, such as banning people from “sleeping in a public place in a manner that has a detrimental impact on the quality of life of others in the locality”.

They have also raised concerns about bans on pitching tents and begging.

A lawyer working for the rights group Liberty, Lara ten Caten, said: “If you become homeless, councils like Southend will target you with fines you can’t possibly pay.

“In the run up to the festive season and as temperatures begin to drop, councils should be doing everything they can to extend supportive services.

“Instead, some are misusing these blunt powers to criminalise poverty. For Southend to choose to enforce this PSPO now is nothing short of cruel, more fitting of a Charles Dickens’ novel.

“The council should scrap the order.”

It is the latest attack on the council by Liberty after the group’s solicitor Rosie Brighouse wrote a six-page letter in March to warn that proceeding with the policy would be “unlawful and unreasonable”

The PSPO will be enforced with £100 fines that can be handed out by police officers and the council’s community safety team within a ‘restricted zone’.

It will include the town centre and seafront, as well as Southchurch Hall Gardens, Hamlet Court Road and York Road.

Labour Councillor Matt Dent hit back at criticisms, claiming that Liberty had “ignored the wider context”.
He said: “The idea of saying Southend, which has an exemplary record in supporting rough sleepers, is persecuting the homeless is wrong-headed and it is premature to raise the concern.

“It is targeted at anti-social behaviour and that is why we wanted it. There is anti-social behaviour in the town centre, and it is specifically aimed at that.

“I agree it doesn’t say in the PSPO itself about it not being used to persecute rough sleepers but it makes it clear in Home Office guidance that anyone using the powers in that way would be way outside of their own authority and jurisdiction and misusing the PSPO itself.

“Regardless of the text you need to look at context around this as well.”

Simon Ford, the head of community safety at Southend Council, said: “The PSPO is being introduced as a measure to tackle those who persistently refuse support and are undertaking aggressive begging or levels of anti-social behaviour in the town centre.

“This often leads to town centre users feeling intimidated by their behaviour and it is something we were seeing in the summer of last year when it reached heightened levels.”

“I want to reaffirm these powers are a last resort”

Mr Ford added that every use of the PSPO will be heavily scrutinised and monitored, with officers being expected to produce a report on the reasons why the power was used.

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter