Homeless people are being fined, getting criminal convictions and even sentenced to prison for begging and rough sleeping.
At least 51 people have reportedly been convicted of breaching a public space protection orders (PSPO) for begging or loitering and failing to pay fines up to £1,100 since 2014, while hundreds of fixed-penalty notices have been issued.
The figures, obtained by the Guardian, show that over 50 local authorities have PSPOs in place, despite updated Home Office guidance at the start of the year instructing councils not to target people for being homeless and sleeping rough.
Cases are said to include a man jailed for four months for breaching a criminal behaviour order (CBO) in Gloucester for begging – about which the judge admitted: “I will be sending a man to prison for asking for food when he was hungry”. In another case a man was fined £105 after a child dropped £2 in his sleeping bag.
Breaching a PSPO can lead to a £100 fixed-penalty notice, but offenders face a summary conviction, sometimes a criminal behaviour order (CBO) banning an individual for future begging and a fine of up to £1,000 if they fail to pay. Violating a CBO can result in five years in prison.
It comes as the number of people sleeping rough in England is at a record-high following a 73 per cent increase over the last three years. There were 4,751 people recorded sleeping on the streets on any given night in autumn last year – a figure that has more than doubled since 2010.
The annual Homelessness Monitor shows that 70 per cent of local authorities in England are struggling to find any stable housing for homeless people in their area, while a striking 89 per cent reported difficulties in finding private rented accommodation.
As a result, many councils have found themselves forced to place ever more homeless people in emergency housing, including B&Bs and hostels, leading to urgent calls for more permanent and genuinely affordable homes to be built.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are clear that PSPOs should be used proportionately to tackle antisocial behaviour, and not to target specific groups or the most vulnerable in our communities. We set this out clearly when in December last year we refreshed the statutory guidance for frontline professionals on the use of the antisocial 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. The government is committed to tackling and reducing homelessness and to offer support to the most vulnerable in our society.”