William Eichler 08 April 2016

Essex council forced to amend law banning ‘rough sleepers’

An Essex council has amended a controversial law that criminalised ‘rough sleeping’ after public outcry.

Chelmsford City Council has changed the criteria for a proposed Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) designed to restrict activities it views as having a detrimental impact on residents.

The initial PSPO prohibited ‘rough sleeping where it is resulting in anti-social behaviour and an appropriate offer of accommodation has been made’.

This caused a backlash with campaigners arguing the legislation led to homeless people being victimised.

The protest group Chelmsford Momentum started a petition for a ‘Homelessness is not a crime’ campaign and managed to collect 4,000 signatures.

Representatives from the council met with Momentum and agreed to drop the clause on ‘rough sleeping’ and change the section on begging to say ‘aggressive begging’.

The leader of Chelmsford City Council, Cllr Roy Whitehead, said: ‘We sought the views of our residents during a formal consultation period and as a result have amended our proposal.’

There has been a lot of controversy over PSPOs ever since they were introduced by the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act in 2014.

Last year the Manifesto Club, an anti-regulation group, condemned PSPOs for allowing town halls to ‘ban pretty much anything’ and create a ‘patchwork of criminal law’.

Chelmsford is not the only council to use the contested legislation. Last year Hackney Council passed one to ban rough sleeping and begging, but was forced to drop it after 80,000 people signed a petition opposing the policy.

Freedom of Information requests made earlier this year by the VICE news outlet revealed one in 10 councils have introduced policies banning behaviour linked to homelessness.  

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