01/10/2018 16:50 BST | Updated 02/10/2018 12:01 BST

Nottingham Council Denies New PSPO Proposals Could 'Criminalise' Homeless People

It comes as a human rights campaign group said the measures essentially ban rough sleepers.

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Nottingham City council has denied that new proposals to prevent anti-social behaviour in the city centre will harm homeless people in the area.

The local authority is undertaking consultation on measures for its Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) which they say will provide a “safe, clean, vibrant and attractive environment for all”.

It comes as Liberty, a human rights advocacy group, urged the council to scrap the “cruel” proposals which they fear could end up criminalising the area’s most vulnerable people.

Introduced in 2014, PSPOs are drawn up by local councils to prevent anti-social behaviour in public spaces, specifically conduct deemed detrimental to the area’s quality of life.

Plans by Nottingham City council include prohibiting members of the public from making “unauthorised requests” for money, personal items or other donations.

Under the proposals, the PSPO would also ban obstruction of building entrances and exits and could make it a criminal offence to give out free items to someone unknown.

Those in breach of the PSPO would be liable to a fine of up to £100, and offenders could be prosecuted if unable to pay.

The council’s consultation is due to close this Wednesday.

Liberty said the council’s consultation on Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) punishes charitable acts in a bid to “airbrush their streets” and said proposals would “essentially ban homelessness” in the move which they said ignores Home Office guidance.

It claimed that such plans would “criminalise acts of kindness towards those in need”, and expressed concerns that the city’s most vulnerable will be needlessly pushed into the criminal justice system.

They should be helping those in need – not outlawing acts of charity in a bid to airbrush their streetsLara ten Caten, lawyer for Liberty

Lara ten Caten, a lawyer for Liberty, said: “The council’s plans ignore Home Office guidance, inappropriately dismiss poverty as antisocial behaviour and will make it near-impossible for any homeless person to avoid breaking the law.

“They will punish some of the most vulnerable people in Nottingham, pushing them into the criminal justice system for trying to survive.

“The council may try to argue that their intention is not to criminalise homelessness – but that will be the effect of this PSPO regardless. They should be helping those in need – not outlawing acts of charity in a bid to airbrush their streets. We hope they will rethink these cruel and counter-productive plans.”

The council said the group had “totally misunderstood” the proposals which are meant to target commercial activity, not homeless people.

Councillor Toby Neal told HuffPost UK: “Liberty have totally misunderstood this proposal. We’re seeking to place restrictions around on-street commercial activity, not create issues for homeless people – the notion that fines would be issued for showing someone an ‘act of kindness’ is utter nonsense.

“We carried out extensive public consultation ahead of this proposed Public Spaces Protection Order, speaking to hundreds of Nottingham residents, visitors and workers. This clearly showed that people did not like being approached in the street by businesses and charity workers distributing commercial leaflets and promotional flyers, trying to sell them things, or sign them up to direct-debit payments.

 “We thank Liberty for their submission and will consider it along with all the other consultation responses, but it is simply wrong and misleading to suggest that the council is targeting the homeless. While many local authorities have reduced funding for homeless people, we have increased our long-term commitment to provide a dedicated outreach team and clear No Second Night Out policy.”

In December, the Home Office revised its guidance on the use of the anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act to clarify to front-line workers such as police and local authorities how to enact PSPOs.

Changes included putting greater focus on targeting nuisance behaviours and preventing blanket bans of of non anti-social behaviours, including rough sleeping.

It reminded councils that they should not use the PSPOs to target behaviour that is not having a “detrimental effect on the community’s way of life”.

The changes followed feedback from charities concerned that original plans would disproportionately target small social gatherings, buskers, homeless people and who are not causing distress or alarm.

A Home Office spokesman told HuffPost UK: “We are clear Public Spaces Protection Orders should be used proportionately to tackle anti-social behaviour, and not to target specific groups or the most vulnerable in our communities.

“We set this out clearly last year when we refreshed the statutory guidance for frontline professionals on the use of the anti-social behaviour powers. It is for local agencies to determine whether their use of the powers is appropriate, and that they are meeting the legal tests set out in the legislation.”