Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) were introduced by the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 as part of a toolkit given to Local Authorities to help them tackle anti-social behaviour.
They were introduced against an interesting political backdrop: increasing public concern about anti-social behaviour frustrated the Government, who were in fact seeing overall crime rates decrease at record rates. In a telling article in the Telegraph, Max Chambers of think-tank Policy Exchange said: “If people don’t believe things are getting better, the Government will struggle to take the credit for successfully cutting crime even while cutting budgets”.
The Government needed to be seen to tackle anti-social behaviour in order to protect their reputation. Enter PSPOs.
PSPOs are designed to protect public spaces from behaviour deemed to have a ‘detrimental effect on the lives of people in that locality’. Councils can use them to prohibit or require certain behaviours within a defined public area and have ended up with a huge amount of freedom as to what behaviours or pet peeves to target, and to what political ends.
Outright ridiculous to deeply unjust
This has given rise to Councils straying far from the original intention of protecting community spaces, instead banning behaviours ranging from outright ridiculous to deeply unjust. Fast-forward five years and we have people in Kent being fined £100 for playing music too loudly in their cars, it is an offence to be in possession of golf equipment within certain areas of Derbyshire and it has become a criminal act to walk more than six dogs at a time in Richmond. Here in Greater Manchester, you breach a PSPO if you dare to swear in Salford Quays or skateboard or scoot annoyingly in Rochdale town centre. Without a thorough search of all PSPOs in force throughout the UK any of us could fall foul of a fine for something that the Council have taken a disliking to, even though we had no idea could lead to such punishment.
Whilst it is easy to laugh at the absurd application of these orders, there is a darker side to the PSPO story. They are more and more frequently being used to justify criminalising the behaviour of groups already subject discrimination. In Ealing PSPOs have been used to ban protesters and here in Manchester they have banned the gay community from walking the canal at night for risk of offending local residents.
Homelessness is not anti-social behaviour
Now Manchester City Council are proposing a PSPO that will further criminalise homelessness. The draft PSPO order (difficult to find on the Council’s consultation website –link) targets a wide range of behaviour that people who are homeless will find more difficult to avoid than those who are housed- begging in a way likely to cause a nuisance or annoyance, sleeping in doorways and pavements, drinking on the street, eating in a tent. Those caught must pay a fine on the spot or risk being taken to court and the fine increasing to £1000.
Home Office guidance on the use of these powers clearly states that PSPOs should not be used to target homeless people. The Home Office, (who have some expertise in the creation of hostile environments), specifically speak out against PSPOs instilling a blanket ban on behaviour that is not in itself anti-social but rather a symptom of a wide issue, such as rough sleeping.
As anyone who looks at the actual text of Manchester’s proposed PSPO will see, the Council’s attempts to assert that homeless people are not the target of the vast majority of the proposed prohibitions is (putting it nicely) disingenuous.
Let’s protect our public spaces and attack homelessness, not homeless people
The root causes of homelessness are complex. PSPO fines were never intended to be (even part) of the homelessness solution.
However, the use of such powers to provide the means to cleanse a massive area of central Manchester of people whose sleeping bags, tents, homelessness and poverty may damage the reputation of the Council and the GMCA, illustrates perfectly the dangers predicted by those who opposed the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act five years ago.
Maybe this PSPO won’t affect you, or your family or friends. Maybe you and your loved one’s will never face the problems that can so easily and quickly turn a life upside down.
But, maybe the next one will and if you don’t want a private security officer, a council worker, or anyone else authorised by the Council, to be able fine you on the spot and prosecute you in the Magistrates court for something that isn’t a crime, please sign the Tenant’s Union Petition, respond to the on-line consultation and if you live in Manchester contact your local councillors to urge them to vote against the proposed PSPO.
The Consultation closes on the 7th April 2019.
By GMLC volunteer Josie Hicklin. Having recently finished the LPC Josie Hickin is a volunteer in the law centre’s housing department. She is also a yoga teacher exploring how to make yoga accessible to vulnerable and marginalised groups.
 Anti-social behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 s.59 (2)
 Local Government Association (February 2018). Public Spaces Protection Orders – Guidance for councils. London: Local Government Association. 3.
 Summers v London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames 2018
 Dulgheriu and Orthova v The London Borough of Ealing 2018