The Government has published new guidance warning councils against abusing anti-social behaviour powers after charities claim Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) are being used to target people unfairly.
The Home Office says the revised statutory guidance on the use of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 is designed to provide local authorities with ‘greater clarity’ on how best to use powers such as PSPOs.
It is also supposed to discourage councils from using the powers against rough sleepers, buskers and other groups who gather in town centres without necessarily causing a nuisance.
According to the anti-PSPO campaign group the Manifesto Club, 107 local authorities issued a total of 189 PSPOs between March 2016 and June 2017. 19 of these councils have restricted begging and four have criminalised busking.
The Government says particular concerns have been raised by charities and other groups around the use of the orders against the homeless, buskers, dog walkers and people gathering together in small groups who were not engaged in anti-social behaviour.
The new guidance emphasises that councils must consult the police and community representatives before issuing PSPOs to ensure groups such as local residents associations, buskers and park users have an opportunity to comment.
‘We know that these powers are being used to very good effect by the police and local councils across England and Wales, and we are very keen to encourage their continued use,’ said the minister for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability Victoria Atkins.
‘But we are also clear that the powers should be used proportionately to tackle anti-social behaviour, and not to target specific groups or the most vulnerable in our communities.
‘The revised guidance published today will empower local agencies by providing even greater clarity on where and when these powers should be applied, helping them to keep our public spaces, communities and families safe.’
Responding to the new guidance, Cllr Simon Blackburn, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) safer and stronger communities board, said: ‘Councils will take a proportionate approach to using the tools at their disposal to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour.
‘We look forward to studying the revised guidance on how best to use these powers in a consistent, fair and transparent way to tackle genuine nuisance behaviour to protect people from distress or alarm.
‘Powers such as Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) are used following public consultation in response to local concerns.
‘Like any other council service, they are also subject to scrutiny by democratically elected councillors and can be amended if needed.’